ConsRep1505D

Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect. ~Chief Seattle, 1855

Announcements

Cuba Bird Survey
Survey birds with us in Cuba February 6-15, 2016!

BirdWatching magazine and the Caribbean Conservation Trust will lead a bird-survey trip to Cuba this February, and you’re invited to come along!

Join Editor Chuck Hagner, famed Cuban ornithologist Arturo Kirkconnell, and other expert Cuban naturalists as they observe and count birds as part of conservation

efforts in Cuba’s western mountains, the Zapata Swamp, and Atlantic Archipelago — some of the best bird habitat on the island.

Our legal, licensed 10-day program is coordinated under U.S. government authorization, and our leaders have over 19 years’ experience

negotiating and navigating Cuba. We’ll enjoy excellent birding without sacrificing comfort. Come with us!

Find trip details, information about the conservation program, prices, a complete itinerary, and a registration form on BirdWatchingDaily.com.

Questions? For more information, contact Gary Markowski, Executive Director, Caribbean Conservation Trust, at cubirds@aol.com or (203) 733-1162.

Of Interest to All

Pipeline Spews 21,000 Gallons of Oil Along California Coast

A broken pipeline spewed oil into the Pacific Ocean Tuesday, creating an oil slick four miles long on some of the state’s most beautiful coastline at Refugio State Beach just north of Santa Barbara. An estimated 21,000 gallons of oil spilled, according to an early Coast Guard estimate. Refugio State Beach and area fisheries are closed, and it is unknown when the beach will reopen.

“I’m a surfer, I’m a fisherman—I like sitting out here and breathing it in,” construction worker Josh Marsh, who was part of the clean-up crew, told the Los Angeles Times. “To see it like this, to see it destroyed—it hurts.”

After  people reported a foul smell, Santa Barbara first responders found an onshore pipeline spilling into a culvert and then into a storm drain that empties into the ocean. It was shut off by a Coast Guard crew about three hours after discovery.

“Channelkeeper is sickened to learn of the oil spill in the Santa Barbara Channel and is extremely concerned about its inevitable impacts on water quality and marine life,” said Kira Redmond, executive director of the environmental watchdog group Santa Barbara Channelkeeper. “We will be out on the water to investigate the extent and impacts of the spill, monitor the containment efforts, keep the public updated, provide any assistance we can with the clean-up and ultimately ensure that the responsible party cleans up the oil that has marred our precious beaches, ocean and marine life.”

That “responsible party” is Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline. It issued a statement saying, “Plains deeply regrets this release has occurred and is making every effort to limit its environmental impact.”

“Oil spills are never accidents. They are the direct result of substandard oversight of fossil fuel companies who put their profits above human and environmental impacts,” Greenpeace Executive Director Annie Leonard said. “Now is the time for our leaders to take responsibility for the oil companies they let run rampant in our country. This doesn’t have to be our future.  If our leaders don’t have the courage to stand up to the oil industry, we’ll continue to see spills from California to Alaska and beyond. We must demand better from President Obama as he looks forward in greenlighting risky drilling projects like Arctic drilling that endanger our oceans and the climate.”

The Sierra Club said that the incident illustrates the unreliability of oil infrastructure and the danger it presents to the surrounding environment.

“Every time we hear about an oil spill, we hold our breath and hope it won’t get worse,” said the group’s California director Kathryn Phillips. “So now we are hoping this Santa Barbara spill is rapidly contained and cleaned up. Just weeks ago, we learned that the state agencies have been allowing the oil industry to inject dirty oil waste water into clean groundwater. Now we have this spill that nobody caught until several barrels of oil had already tumbled into the ocean. How many more signals do we need from the oil industry that public health and the environment aren’t at the top of its list when it decides how much to invest in creating its products? It’s time we all demand better from this incredibly wealthy industry.”

“Unfortunately with accidents and oil development, it is not a question of if, but of when,” said Owen Bailey, executive director of the Santa Barbara-based Environmental Defense Center. “But to see this level of spill into such a sensitive and treasured environment is devastating to watch. These waters are known as the Galapagos of North America with numerous species of endangered whales migrating through marine protected areas and off the iconic and beloved Gaviota Coast.”

Yesterday’s spill occurred in the same oil-rich waters as a major spill in January 1969 when an offshore oil rig blew out, dumping 3 million gallons of oil into the ocean and killing thousands of seabirds and marine animals. It was the worst oil spill in U.S. waters at the time and still ranks third behind 1989’s Exxon Valdez incident in Alaska and the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. It is widely credited with being a key impetus behind the modern environmental movement.

“The oil spill near Refugio State Beach is a stark reminder of the dangerous risks expanded oil drilling poses to Santa Barbara County’s environment and its residents’ quality of life,” said Food & Water Watch’s Santa Barbara County organizer Becca Claassen. “This incident is all the more reason to ban fracking both offshore and onshore to help prevent future spills and protect Santa Barbara’s beautiful beaches and coastal environment.”

Anastasia Pantsios|May 20, 2015

Announcing the 2015 Audubon Photography Awards

Calls to Action

  1.   Say NO to Monsanto’s Dream Bill – here
  2. URGE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION TO START Using the HUGE IMPACT OF SUN –  – here
  3. President Obama Must Step In to Protect the Bees – here
  4. Tell your Senators: PROTECT LITTLE LUNGS FROM SMOG. – here
  5. Ban Monsanto’s artificial growth hormone in milk – here
  6. Tell EPA to protect clean air from oil and gas pollution! – here
  7. Protect the Endangered Species Act from political attacks – here
  8. Tell Mt Laurel Township Council Starving Feral Cats is Not Okay – here

Birds and Butterflies

Why ‘Boreal Birds Need Half’

On International Migratory Bird Day, a new campaign showcases the importance of Canada’s boreal forest as an avian sanctuary

 

Grebe

© Connor Stefanison/BIA/Getty Images

Red-necked grebes nest in marshes on small boreal lakes.

“For as long as we human beings can remember, we’ve been looking up. Over our heads went the birds—free as we were not, singing as we tried to.” Margaret Atwood

For billions of migratory birds, spring is the season of flight, of journeys that begin with the fresh promise of renewal.

As warming temperatures break winter’s grip on North America’s coldest lands, skies fill with birds making their annual trip to distant summer nesting grounds. Some travel overland in flocks large and small, forming classic geometric patterns against backdrops of blue sky.

Others—such as the tiny blackpoll warbler or the Hudsonian godwit shorebird—take a longer and lonelier path from winter homes as far away as Central and South America. Often out of sight, these avian endurance champions fly high over the Gulf of Mexico or the Caribbean Sea on their long trips north.

Whatever flyway they follow, the destination is often the same—the boreal forest. The vast boreal region, stretching from Alaska and across Canada from the Yukon to Newfoundland and Labrador, has been aptly dubbed North America’s bird nursery.

Each spring, 1 billion to 3 billion birds wing their way to the boreal. After a successful breeding season, as many as 3 billion to 5 billion make return trips south.

This northern forest plays a crucial role in sustaining healthy bird populations throughout North, Central and South America. Its importance as a refuge and breeding ground for birds is among the many reasons The Pew Charitable Trusts has been working since 2000 to conserve 1 billion acres of boreal forest in Canada.

To mark International Migratory Bird Day on May 9, Pew is supporting the Boreal Birds Need Half campaign, an important new effort to build broader support for protecting 50 percent of the region from industrial development.

The campaign was launched in March by the Boreal Songbird Initiative and Ducks Unlimited, partners with Pew in the International Boreal Conservation Campaign. Organizers aim to enlist support from individuals, conservation groups, and businesses in Canada and the United States.

In a 2014 science report, the two organizations recommended that at least half the boreal forest remain free of large-scale industrial disturbance and that leading-edge, sustainable development principles be applied on the remainder. The Boreal Birds Need Half campaign also recommends that any protections and development proceed only with the “free, prior, and informed consent” of Indigenous communities.

“Modern conservation science shows that protecting at least 50 percent of the boreal forest is necessary to preserve the ecological health of the forest and its biodiversity,” said Jeff Wells, Ph.D., who is science director for the Boreal Songbird Initiative and an adviser to Pew.

“The importance of boreal forest habitat for birds will only increase in the future because climate change has already begun pushing bird ranges farther north. The boreal forest will be an important refuge—a ‘Noah’s Ark’ for birds,” Wells added.

In all, more than 300 bird species rely on the boreal forest for nesting or migratory stopover habitat. Nearly 100 species are particularly reliant on the boreal, with the region serving as the breeding grounds for more than 50 percent of their populations.

Here are seven species that need a healthy, intact boreal forest for their survival:

Canada Warbler

Canada Warbler

© Getty Images

The threatened Canada warbler has suffered an 80 percent population decline in recent decades.

With its steel blue back and bright yellow breast overlaid with a necklace of black stripes, the Canada warbler has a striking appearance that makes it a favorite among birders. But this iconic species is in trouble: It has lost more than 80 percent of its population over the last four decades and faces threats from forestry, mining exploration, and conversion of breeding habitat to urban or agricultural use. It is listed as threatened under Canada’s Species at Risk Act. An estimated 64 percent of the Canada warbler’s population breeds in the boreal forest. The bird winters in northwestern South America.

Rusty Blackbird

Rusty Blackbird

© Shutterstock

About 70 percent of the rusty blackbird’s North American population breeds in Canada’s boreal forest.

The rusty blackbird is listed as a species of special concern under Canada’s Species at Risk Act and faces threats in both its Canadian breeding grounds and its winter home in the southern United States. It has experienced one of the steepest declines of any North American bird, with estimates that more than 85 percent of its population has been lost over the past 40 years. In summer, it nests in wetlands throughout the boreal region.

Olive-sided Flycatcher

Flycatcher© Glenn Bartley/Getty Images

The olive-sided flycatcher has the longest migration of any North American flycatcher.

This little-known songbird is listed as threatened under Canada’s Species at Risk Act. It is notable for its emphatic three-note whistled song, which some say sounds like “quick-THREE-beers.” The Canadian government says the causes of its population decline are unclear but “are likely related to habitat loss and alteration.” An estimated 57 percent of its global population breeds within the boreal forest.

Surf Scoter

Scoter

© Tom Vezo/Getty Images

The surf scoter is also known as the “skunk head.”

The surf scoter derives its nickname from the white patches on its forehead and nape. Found only in North America, an estimated 83 percent of its population breeds in the boreal forest. It winters almost entirely on the ocean. According to Ducks Unlimited, surf scoter populations are thought to be declining.

Solitary Sandpiper

Sandpiper

© Shutterstock

True to its name, the solitary sandpiper rarely associates in flocks.

The solitary sandpiper migrates to the boreal region each spring from as far south as Argentina. Ninety percent of its global population nests in the boreal during the summer. Its populations are thought to be stable but estimated at roughly 25,000. The species is facing threats from changes to its preferred wetland habitats in the boreal.

Common Loon

Common Loon

© Shutterstock

The common loon, which is featured on Canada’s $1 “loonie” coin, is arguably the most iconic bird in Canada.

The eerie, late-night call of the common loon is one of the most recognizable sounds of Canada’s boreal forest. The naturalist John Muir described it as “a strange, sad, mournful, unearthly cry, half laughing, half wailing.” About three-quarters of its North American population breeds in the boreal forest. The species is widespread but faces threats from recreational development around boreal lakes.

Whooping Crane

Boreal Crane

© Shutterstock

The whooping crane stands almost 5 feet tall and has a 7-foot wingspan.

Driven to near extinction in the mid-20th century, the whooping crane has made a comeback thanks to intensive habitat protection, assisted migration, and captive breeding. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates the species’ overall population at just over 600, compared to only 16 in 1941. Whooping cranes remain listed as endangered in Canada and the United States. The species nests and breeds within Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta and the Northwest Territories. It migrates between the boreal forest and wintering grounds on the Gulf Coast of Texas and the Arkansas National Wildlife Refuge.

International Boreal Conservation Campaign|May 08, 2015

Bird Photography by John & Fish

 Florida Panthers

Panther depredation update ‏

The FWC has updated the “Panther Pulse” page with depredation information through May 18, 2015. Panthers are a top predator and prey on a variety of wildlife such as deer, hogs, raccoons, armadillos and rabbits. Unfortunately, they sometimes prey on domesticated animals such as goats, sheep, calves and even pets. When a panther or other wild animal preys upon or injures a pet or domestic livestock it is called a depredation. Depredation information can be viewed at: http://www.floridapanthernet.org/index.php/pulse/

People can protect pets and other backyard animals from panthers and other predators by following the advice available at: http://www.floridapanthernet.org/index.php/handbook/LivingInPantherCountry/.”

Endangered Species

Today, May 23rd, is World Turtle Day.

pictures:

A picture of loneliness: you are looking at the last male northern white rhino

The image of Sudan the rhino, surrounded by the armed guards who protect him from poachers, shows how little humans have learned since the ice age

Sudan the last male northern white rhino

‘Sudan doesn’t know how precious he is. His eye is a sad black dot in his massive wrinkled face as he wanders the reserve with his guards.’ Photograph: CB2/ZOB/Brent Stirton/National Geographic

[This article was amended on May 14, 2015 to clarify that Sudan had his horn cut off to deter poachers.]

What is it like to look at the very last of something? To contemplate the passing of a unique wonder that will soon vanish from the face of the earth? You are seeing it. Sudan is the last male northern white rhino on the planet. If he does not mate successfully soon with one of two female northern white rhinos at Ol Pejeta conservancy, there will be no more of their kind, male or female, born anywhere. And it seems a slim chance, as Sudan is getting old at 42 and breeding efforts have so far failed. Apart from these three animals there are only two other northern white rhinos in the world, both in zoos, both female.

It seems an image of human tenderness that Sudan is lovingly guarded by armed men who stand vigilantly and caringly with him. But of course it is an image of brutality. Even at this last desperate stage in the fate of the northern white rhino, Sudan is under threat from poachers who kill rhinos and hack off their horns to sell them on the Asian medicine market – despite the fact that he has had his horn cut off to deter them.

Sudan doesn’t know how precious he is. His eye is a sad black dot in his massive wrinkled face as he wanders the reserve with his guards. His head is a marvelous thing. It is a majestic rectangle of strong bone and leathery flesh, a head that expresses pure strength. How terrible that such a mighty head can in reality be so vulnerable. It is lowered melancholically beneath the sinister sky, as if weighed down by fate. This is the noble head of an old warrior, his armor battered, his appetite for struggle fading.

Today, immense love is invested in rhinos, yet they are being slaughtered in ever greater numbers

Under his immense looming shoulder, his legs protrude like squat columns from the tough tank of his body. The way his foreleg emerges from his thick coat of skin reminds us how long human beings have been wondering at the natural spectacle that is the rhino. For Sudan does not look so different from the rhinoceros that Albrecht Dürer portrayed in 1515. They have the same little legs stuck out of a majestic body and they even lower their heads in the same contemplative way. Dürer was a Renaissance artist picturing an exotic beast from the exotic lands that Europe was starting to see more and more of. In 1515 a live Indian rhinoceros was sent by the ruler of Gujarat to the king of Portugal: he in turn sent it to the Pope, but on the way it died in a shipwreck.

Human beings – we always kill the things we love. We have been doing so since the ice age. There are beautiful pictures of European woolly rhinos in caves in France, that were painted up to 30,000 years ago. These ancient relatives of Sudan share his heroic bulk, mighty power and paradoxical air of gentleness. A woolly rhino in Chauvet cave seems agile and young, a creature full of life. But the same people who painted such sensitive portraits of ice age rhinos helped to kill them off. As climate turned against the woolly megafauna with the end of the last ice age, human spears probably delivered the coup de grace.

Today, immense love is invested in rhinos, yet they are being slaughtered in ever greater numbers. The northern white rhino is the rarest species of African rhino. There are far greater numbers of southern white rhinos and black rhinos. But the demand in Asian countries such as Vietnam for rhino horn as a traditional medicine believed to cure everything from flu to cancer is fuelling a boom in poaching. From 2007, when just 13 rhinos were killed by poachers in South Africa, the killings have grown horrifically. Last year 1,215 rhinos were slaughtered for their horns in South Africa. This year already looks certain to beat that dreadful record.

This is a photograph from the front line of a crisis. The vulnerable northern white rhino has been hunted virtually to extinction – in spite of every precaution, in spite of these guards and their guns – and other varieties of African rhino are under a sustained attack from poachers that is totally out of control. The Javan rhinoceros is also on the verge of extinction. India has successfully protected the Indian rhinoceros after it was almost wiped out by British hunters in colonial times, but here too poaching is a menace. What a majestic creature this picture records, and what futile human destructiveness. Have we learned nothing since the ice age? Can the better angels of our nature not defeat the impulse to kill?

Jonathan Jones|12 May 2015

Hong Kong Says No to Shark Fin Soup

Survey results, government actions show rising support for shark conservation and stronger management

In the past five years, almost 70 percent of Hong Kong residents have reduced or entirely stopped eating shark fin soup, and 81 percent of those who have decreased consumption of the luxury dish said they have done so because of environmental concerns. The welcome news comes from a survey conducted by the Social Sciences Research Centre of the University of Hong Kong. The work was done in collaboration with BLOOM, a marine conservation organization, and supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts, as a follow-up to a similar study in 2009.

On April 16, I took part in a Hong Kong press conference about the survey results with Stan Shea, BLOOM’s chief marine program coordinator, and John Bacon-Shone, director of the Social Sciences Research Centre at the University of Hong Kong. And the results are truly astonishing.

Consider this: In just five years, the acceptability of excluding shark fin soup from wedding menus increased from 78 percent in 2009 to 92 percent in 2014. In addition, a large majority of respondents said they were using other foods, such as vegetarian shark fin soup, instead. Less than 1 percent, meanwhile, said they see shark fin soup as an irreplaceable part of a banquet.

Action by the Hong Kong government on marine conservation issues has helped spur this good news. About 93 percent of those surveyed found the government’s 2013 decision to stop serving shark fin soup at all official functions acceptable, and almost 92 percent agreed that the government should do more to regulate the international trade in sharks.

“The momentum we are gaining for the goal of sustainable shark resourcing is encouraging,” Shea said, though he cautioned that there is more to be done. “As long as endangered species of shark and other marine species are still being traded, review and enforcement of trade regulations are necessary.”

But there is good news on this front, too. Despite the fact that Hong Kong is one of the world’s largest traders of shark fin-related products and handles about 50 percent of the globally traded volume every year, its government now plays an important part in efforts to save these threatened species.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) voted in 2013 to protect five species of sharks—oceanic whitetip, three species of hammerhead, and porbeagle. These protections require tight global trade regulations, and each of the 181 countries that are parties to CITES must enforce them.

Pew teams have traveled the world since 2013 to help countries implement these trade protections; Hong Kong has been front and center in this work. Megan O’Toole, who works on international policy for Pew’s global shark campaign, helped host an implementation workshop in late April in Hong Kong, along with Shea and Debbie Abercrombie, a shark expert from Stony Brook University in New York.

The workshop, held with officers from Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department (AFCD), focused on shark fin identification. One hundred twenty participants learned how to identify the fins of the CITES-listed species, a skill essential to ensuring that illegally traded fins do not enter the market.

Taken together, the survey results and the AFCD workshop demonstrate shifting attitudes about sharks in Hong Kong. Despite a long tradition of shark fin consumption, opinions are changing, and decision-makers are enforcing the new laws. As vital steps are taken to stem the consumption of shark fins and meat, it’s possible to imagine that Hong Kong will one day no longer be seen as the hub of the world’s shark fin trade.

Imogen Zethoven|director of global shark conservation|Pew Charitable Trusts.

Good News For These 4 Amazing Animals

Finding terrible news about the animals around us is, sadly, incredibly easy. It seems every day a new story emerges where wildlife is suffering and humans are likely to blame. Let’s take a few minutes and celebrate the positive stories about the animals around us.

Asiatic Lion Population on the Rise

Although the Asiatic Lion’s territory used to stretch from the Middle East to Central Asia, the Gir Forest National Park, located on the west coast of India, is the only place in the world where you can still find them. For years, conservationists worried over how to increase their numbers, especially when populations fell to only a dozen in the wild.

Yet there’s been a great increase in the Asiatic Lion, and today’s census puts the number around 525, with a large number of offspring. In fact, in just the past five years alone there has been a 27 percent increase in these lions.

A drop in hunting, combined with better environmental protections are to thank for the population growth. The Prime Minister Narendra Modi even took to Twitter to celebrate the news saying, “News that made me very happy- 27% increase in Asiatic lions. Kudos to locals, officials & wildlife lovers whose efforts led to this.”

Uganda’s Elephants Enjoy Greater Safety

War is very difficult on wildlife, and the 1970s-1990s in Uganda saw three wars that hit nature particularly hard. Afraid of gunfire and poachers, parks that were once teeming with wildlife grew desolate.

However, in the relative safety since the LRA insurgency was driven out of Uganda, the Uganda Wildlife Authority began to witness something amazing. In areas of national parks, where it was once thought large mammals no longer existed, elephants began to emerge in startling numbers. Almost as if they’d been hiding throughout the conflict.

Out west near the border with the DRC, Uganda has also experienced a large migration of elephant herds who came into Queen Elizabeth National Park and decided to stay. This is likely thanks to the relative peace and safety of the area, where increased ranger patrol and training has slashed poaching by 70 percent in the past five years.

Urban Coyotes Enjoy Greater Freedom

If you live in an American city, chances are, you’re not that far from a coyote. And these wandering carnivores are now learning how to coexist in many American towns. Although coyotes have a bad reputation for going after family pets and into people’s garbage cans, it’s largely undeserved. In fact, coyotes do a lot more good than most realize, helping stave off troublesome infestations of rodents.

This is because the majority of an urban coyote’s diet is made up of rodents (42 percent) with fruit, deer and rabbits making up the rest. In fact, when the scat of urban coyotes was studied, just 2 percent of the scat had human created trash, while just 1.3 percent had any cat remains.

Urban Coyote stick mostly to parks, and coexistence plans have gone up around the nation thanks to Project Coyote who helps create understood barriers between the animals and humans (and vice versa). In Denver, where a number of coyotes began to “trot” after runners in the parks, Project Coyote set up a non-lethal system to deter these unwanted behaviors with great success; meaning animals and humans can happily share these spaces.

Humpback Whales Surge in Population

Humpback whales have just about found their way off the Endangered Species List thanks to a tremendous population growth. Hunted for oil, cosmetic filler and fertilizer, their numbers fell by a staggering 90 percent before 1966 when hunting was banned.

Now, in 2015, it looks like the whales have made a grand comeback. According to one report, “In 1966, there were only about 1,400 humpback whales in the North Pacific Ocean. Today, that number has risen to approximately 21,000 humpbacks.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) put out a release in late April praising conservation efforts, and proposing scientists begin to target different populations specifically (since a number of populations had seen a large regrowth and no longer qualify as endangered). Eileen Sobeck, an assistant NOAA administrator hailed the progress, saying, “The return of the iconic humpback whale is an ESA success story.”

Lizabeth Paulat|May 17, 2015

Emirates Airlines Bans Hunting Trophies of Lions, Rhinos

The world’s biggest international carrier joins South African Airways in banning transport of trophies of exotic wildlife such as elephants and rhinos.

Emirates Airlines will no longer transport sport-hunted trophy animals such as elephants, shown here in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, and rhinos.

Emirates Airlines will stop carrying hunting trophies of elephants, rhinos, lions, or tigers on its planes, the company announced this week.

The decision is meant as a step “to eliminate illegal trade and transportation of hunting trophies worldwide and save wildlife heritage,” according to a statement from Emirates.

By banning trophies on their flights the airline is essentially leapfrogging the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which regulates and allows for the sale of certain animal species.

“As part of our efforts to prevent the illegal trade of hunting trophies of elephant, rhinoceros, lion and tiger,” said an Emirates SkyCargo spokesperson, the airline “has decided that effective 15th May 2015, we will not accept any kind of hunting trophies of these animals for carriage on Emirates services, irrespective of CITES appendix.”

Lion trophies in particular have become increasingly popular among wealthy foreign hunters visiting Africa, who pay large fees to shoot wild or captive-bred animals, have their bodies stuffed, then take the trophies home. (Read: “Is Captive Lion Hunting Really Helping to Save the Species?”)

Emirates’ decision comes as a movement to end the practice of lion hunting in South Africa seems to be gaining traction. In March, Australia banned the importation of hunting trophies, and talks are now under way with officials in the European Parliament to also instigate a ban.

Elephants, tigers, rhinos, and lions are all threatened in the wild to varying degrees because of poaching and illicit international trading in their body parts.

Even so, under CITES, hunting of lions, elephants, and rhinos is still sanctioned by some countries, including the United States.

In March, the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service controversially approved permits to import two black rhino trophies from hunts sanctioned in Namibia. (Read: “US Will Allow Hunters to Bring Home Rhino Trophies.”)

This week’s decision by Emirates Airlines follows a recent ban on the transport of hunting trophies on all flights operated by by South African Airways (SAA) Cargo.

South African Airways made the decision after a consignment of illegal ivory on one of its flights was intercepted while in transit in Australia. In South Africa, the shipment, destined for Malaysia, had been declared as machinery spare parts.

Tlali Tlali, an SAA Cargo spokesman, said the airline had to “act swiftly to curb the problem of illegal transportation of animals.”

In a separate statement, SAA’s country manager for Australasia, Tim Clyde-Smith, said the carrier would “no longer support game hunters by carrying their trophies back to their country of origin.”

Now, an onlinepetition is calling for Delta Airlines—the only United States carrier flying direct to South Africa—to ban the transport of exotic animal trophies. So far, 60,000 people have signed it.

Chris Green, who initiated the petition, is a Delta frequent flyer and chair of the American Bar Association’s Animal Law Committee. He called on the airline’s CEO, Richard Anderson, to “refuse to play a role in the wildlife trafficking supply chain.”

Delta Airlines has not responded to requests for comment.

Chris Mercer, head of the global Campaign Against Canned Hunting, is impressed by the airlines’ boldness in making independent decisions.

“When public anger causes corporate social responsibility to leapfrog CITES,” he said, “then conservation authorities should understand that they’re making themselves irrelevant, and it’s time for a radical shake-up and restructuring of the whole conservation regime.”

Paul Steyn|National Geographic|May 14, 2015

WHITE HOUSE RELEASES HISTORIC POLLINATOR PROTECTION STRATEGY

Xerces applauds the White House for the National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators, released today, which we hope will lead to better habitat protection and management as well as improved pesticide regulation.

Pollinators are an essential part of both productive agriculture and a healthy environment and the White House’s action places their protection squarely on the national stage. Protecting, restoring, and enhancing habitat for bees and butterflies, including the monarch, is a major focus of this national strategy.

“Pollinator conservation is an issue of national importance and I am very pleased that the White House has taken a leadership role,” said Scott Hoffman Black, executive director of the Xerces Society and an ex officio member of the U.S. Monarch Butterfly High Level Working Group. “The success of this strategy lies in adequate funding and appropriate implementation. We will continue to work with and support the White House and federal agencies as they move forward.”

The Xerces Society has long-established partnerships with several of the key federal agencies tasked with implementing the National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators. Our work includes:

  • A team of pollinator specialists working jointly with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service to provide technical support and training to NRCS staff nationwide;
  • A conservation biologist working jointly with the Fish and Wildlife Service on the conservation of monarch butterflies and milkweeds in the Pacific Northwest;
  • A multi-year partnership with the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to manage land for rare butterflies, work which led to the partners receiving the Wings Across the Americas 2012 Butterfly Conservation Award;
  • Collaboration with NatureServe to write a report, “Conservation Status and Ecology of the Monarch Butterfly in the United States,” for the U.S. Forest Service;
  • Participation in the U.S. Geological Survey Powell Center Monarch Butterfly Workshop to work toward a conservation plan for the monarch; and
  • Membership of the U.S. Monarch Butterfly High Level Working Group.

“Working closely with the NRCS and other agencies has shown me that these agencies are full of highly skilled and motivated staff,” noted Mace Vaughan, pollinator program co-director at the Xerces Society and Joint Pollinator Conservation Specialist at the NRCS. “I am confident that implementation of the White House strategy will be in good hands.”
One area where the pollinator strategy falls short is protecting pollinators from pesticides, especially systemic insecticides like neonicotinoids. Neonicotinoids are the most widely used insecticides in the world and there are demonstrated links between their use and declines in bees and other wildlife. We had hoped that the Environmental Protection Agency would take strong comprehensive action to address the risk that these insecticides pose to pollinators.
“The national strategy includes valuable long-term plans that could, over time, strengthen the pesticide regulatory system,” stated Xerces Society pesticide program coordinator Aimee Code. “But, it fails to offer pesticide mitigations to address issues currently facing pollinators.”
For over forty years, the Xerces Society has worked to protect invertebrates and their habitat, and in the last twenty years has built an internationally respected pollinator conservation program. The Society now has the largest pollinator conservation team in the world.

Xerces Society|5/19/15

Record rhino horn seizure reported in Mozambique

A staggering 65 rhinos horns, together with 1.1 tons of elephant ivory, have been reportedly seized by police in Mozambique.

One Asian national is said to have been arrested on the outskirts of the capital Maputo at a house where the stash was stored.

Official details from the case are sketchy, but if the reports are confirmed, the 65 horns would make this the largest ever rhino horn seizure made anywhere during the current rhino poaching crisis that commenced in 2008.

“While authorities in Mozambique are to be warmly congratulated on this significant seizure, it is now absolutely vital for a full and thorough investigation to be carried out, both by enforcement authorities in Mozambique and with their counterparts in whichever Asian and other countries are implicated in this seizure,” said Tom Milliken, TRAFFIC’s rhino expert.

“The opportunity must not be squandered to exploit fully this unique opportunity for smashing an international rhino and ivory trafficking syndicate and we hope that INTERPOL will become involved.”

International criminal syndicates have long used Mozambique as a major hub for conducting illegal trade in wildlife, especially elephant ivory and rhino horn.

“Mozambique currently has the opportunity to be at the forefront of international efforts to tackle wildlife crime,” said Milliken.

“TRAFFIC hopes this huge and highly significant seizure and arrest signals a new chapter in Mozambique’s history of wildlife trade law enforcement.”

3D Printing Gives Sea Turtle a New Jaw

We’ve seen the miracles that 3D printing has brought to the medical field, from custom hip implants to “magic arms” for a young girl, but a large proportion of 3D printing medical interventions are happening in animals. 

The technology works so well in these cases because it’s fully customizable to the exact injury, and species, at hand. The latest example is a sea turtle that was injured after being hit by a boat propeller off the coast of Turkey. It’s beak was shattered and the turtle was found floating almost lifeless in the sea.

It was brought to Dalyan Iztuzu Pamukkale University (PAU), Sea Turtle Research, Rescue and Rehabilitation Center where it was given medical attention and fed by hand. It was on its way to recovery, but without any way to survive in the wild without a working jaw. That’s where Turkey’s medical 3D printing company, BTech, stepped in.

© BTech

The company had plenty of experience creating custom 3D printed implants for human patients, but this would be its first animal recipient. The company performed CT scans on the turtle and converted the scans into 3D models. Working with veterinarians and surgeons, the BTech team designed a replica of the turtle’s beak that recreated its powerful upper and lower jaws and their specific movements.

The beak was then 3D printed in medical-grade titanium and airmailed to the surgical team. The turtle had to undergo a long and tedious surgery, but it was a success. The world has seen its first 3D printed turtle jaw implant.

The turtle is still recovering from surgery and receiving antibiotics, but he’s doing so well his caretakers plan to release him back into the wild once he has fully healed.

Below is a video about the sea turtle’s operation. It’s in Turkish, but a commenter on the page transcribed it into English, although the images tell the story just as well.

(See 5 animals helped by 3D printing.) Watch Video

Megan Treacy|TreeHugger|May 18, 2015

New remedy helps bats survive white-nose syndrome

Scientists have successfully treated and released dozens of bats that had white-nose syndrome, an invasive fungal epidemic that’s wiping out some of North America’s most important insect-eaters.

The fungal epidemic has killed about 6 million bats in 26 U.S. states and five Canadian provinces since 2006, pushing several species near the brink of extinction. Losing any species is bad, but bats are especially helpful to humans. One little brown bat can eat hundreds of mosquitoes per hour on summer nights, and insect-eating bats overall save U.S. farmers an estimated $23 billion per year by eating crop pests like moths and beetles. Many insects simply avoid areas where they hear bat calls.

But while the outlook is still bleak for North America’s bats, there are finally a few glimmers of hope. In one of the brightest glimmers yet, scientists released several dozen bats in Missouri on May 19 after successfully ridding them of white-nose syndrome. The disease often wipes out entire bat colonies in a single winter, and it has long defied our best efforts to control it, so that’s a pretty big deal.

“We are very, very optimistic” about this new treatment, says U.S. Forest Service researcher Sybill Amelon, one of the scientists who helped heal the infected bats. “Cautious, but optimistic.”

White-nose syndrome (WNS) is caused by a cold-loving fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, that attacks bats while their body temperatures are low during hibernation. It’s named after the telltale white fuzz that grows on the noses, ears and wings of infected bats. After its 2006 debut at a cave in New York, the fungus is now obliterating bat colonies from Ontario to Alabama, threatening to wipe out some species forever. Scientists think P. destructans invaded North America from Europe, where hibernating bats seem resistant to similar fungi. It’s not clear how it crossed the Atlantic, but a leading theory suggests traveling spelunkers unwittingly carried spores on their shoes, clothes or equipment.

From saving bananas to saving bats

So how did the Missouri bats survive? The researchers enlisted a common bacterium, Rhodococcus rhodochrous (strain DAP-96253), that’s native to an array of North American soils. Humans already use R. rhodochrous for a few industrial purposes like bioremediation and food preservation, and microbiologist Chris Cornelison of Georgia State University found its bat-saving potential on a whim.

“Originally, we were investigating the bacteria for various industrial activities,” Cornelison tells MNN. “In some of those earliest experiments, in addition to delaying the ripening of bananas, we noticed the bananas also had a lower fungal burden. I was just learning about white-nose syndrome at the time. But I thought that if this bacterium could prevent mold from growing on a banana, perhaps it could prevent mold from growing on a bat.”

Apparently it can. And while another team of researchers also recently identified bat-wing bacteria that suppress WNS, Cornelison has shown that R. rhodochrous can help bats recover without even touching them. That’s because the bacteria produce certain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that stop P. destructans from growing. That’s a key detail, since applying any medicine directly to entire colonies of hibernating bats is inefficient at best. It’s also not easy to find a treatment that kills P. destructans without also killing harmless native fungi or otherwise disrupting the cave ecosystem.

Cornelison began studying R. rhodochrous and WNS in 2012, along with Amelon and wildlife biologist Dan Linder, also of the Forest Service. Backed by funding from Bat Conservation International, he published a study about R. rhodochrous last year, describing the discovery as “a major milestone in the development of viable biological control options” for WNS. Since then, he has worked at caves in northeastern Missouri with Amelon and Linder to investigate how these VOCs affect bats with WNS.

A wing and a prayer

“The bats were treated for 48 hours, and they were exposed in the same areas where they hibernate,” Amelon says. “We put the bats into small mesh containers where they’re comfortable. Then we put them inside a cooler, and placed volatiles in the cooler but not in direct contact, so the volatiles filled the air.”

The researchers did this with 150 bats, about half of which were released May 19 at Mark Twain Cave in Hannibal, Missouri. Those six dozen — mostly little brown bats, but also some northern long-eareds — are seemingly cured of WNS, with no detectable signs of the fungus or the disease, and they all took test flights before the release. Still, Amelon adds, it’s too soon to know if they’re really out of the woods.

“It’s a complicated process with this disease,” she says. “These guys could certainly be considered survivors of this winter. But we are not sure if they have any long-term benefits, or whether they could redevelop the disease next season. Prevention is much better than a cure in this case.”

Cornelison agrees, noting that rehabilitating and releasing sick bats isn’t the long-term plan. Now that they’ve shown what R. rhodochrous can do, the real goal is to stop WNS before it gets out of hand. “We think it has the highest potential for prevention,” he says. “We’re exploring a number of different application technologies that target the spores. If you can prevent the spores from germinating and proliferating, you can greatly reduce transmission and disease severity.”

The researchers decided to release some of the treated bats now because May is when they’d normally emerge from hibernation. Some of the treated bats have too much wing damage to be released, but some healthy ones are also being kept for further study of their long-term recovery. The released bats are wearing ID tags on their forearms, so researchers will be keeping an eye on their progress, too.

There hasn’t been much good news about WNS in the past decade, so breakthroughs like this are cause for celebration. But the epidemic is still spreading ferociously across the continent, and with lots of physical and ecological variables at bat caves, it’s unlikely a silver bullet will be found. Instead, Cornelison says, we’ll need a deep arsenal of science to fend off this fungus.

“It’s very promising, but what we need are a variety of tools to take an integrated disease-management approach,” he says. “They use a lot of diverse habitats and different hibernacula, so we may need to use a lot of different tools. And the more tools we have, the more flexibility we have.”

Read more

First Loggerhead Turtle Nest of Season Spotted

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTM Research Reserve) Marine Turtle Patrol volunteers have spotted the first loggerhead sea turtle nest of the nesting season, which runs from May to September.

The Marine Turtle Patrol program is a volunteer-based effort for monitoring and evaluating sea turtle nests on the GTM Research Reserve’s beach. In April, volunteers began monitoring and evaluating sea turtle nests seven days a week. Volunteers also educate the community about sea turtles and the patrol program through interactions with beachgoers and the reserve’s educational lecture series.

“Our Marine Turtle Patrol volunteers are very dedicated,” said Shannon Rininger, volunteer coordinator at the GTM Research Reserve. “Some drive long distances and arrive before the sun is up to prepare for their morning patrol.”

The Marine Turtle Patrol begins at dawn each morning, traversing the almost 8 miles of reserve beach looking for new turtle crawls. When a new crawl is located, the patrol team determines if it’s a nest or a false crawl, which is when nesting turtles come onto the beach but do not lay eggs. Nest locations are documented with a GPS reading and then staked and ribboned off to protect the section from surface disturbance. The nest is numbered, and a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission sign is placed at the site, informing individuals that those who disturb the nest are subject to fines and imprisonment according to Florida Law Chapter 370 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

An average marine turtle nest contains between 80 and 120 eggs. If incubation goes well with little to no predation or overwashing, hatchlings will emerge 50 to 60 days later. Three to five days after the hatching, the patrol returns to the nest to determine its success rate: how many eggs hatched or did not and the status of any remaining hatchlings. If found early enough in the morning, any remaining hatchlings will be released on the beach to find their way to the water. This action helps the turtles imprint on their natal beach, where they will return in about 30 years to nest on their own.

Loggerhead turtles are considered an endangered species and are the largest of all hard-shelled turtles, with characteristic large heads, strong jaws and a reddish-brown shell or carapace. During the three months that a female loggerhead breeds, she will travel hundreds of miles to nest, lay more than 35 pounds of eggs and swim back to her home foraging area, all without a significant meal.

During sea turtle nesting season, the public is encouraged to avoid any interaction with nesting turtles and remain clear of all marked sea turtle nests. Beachgoers are encouraged to flatten sandcastles, fill in any holes dug in the sand and take all personal items such as chairs or toys when leaving the beach. These items can become obstacles to nesting turtles and could cause them to abort their nesting attempt or could cause the turtle to become entangled. Residences on or near the beach must adhere to a “lights off” policy for beach-facing lights or use special fixtures to shield the lights from the beach after 9 p.m. Artificial lighting can deter females from nesting or cause emerging hatchlings to become disoriented, risking desiccation and death.

For more information about volunteering for the Marine Turtle Patrol program, click here or contact Shannon Rininger, volunteer coordinator at 904-823-4500.

To fight bee decline, Obama proposes more land to feed bees

The Obama administration hopes to save the bees by feeding them better.

A new federal plan aims to reverse America’s declining honeybee and monarch butterfly populations by making millions of acres of federal land more bee-friendly, spending millions of dollars more on research and considering the use of fewer pesticides.

While putting different type of landscapes along highways, federal housing projects and elsewhere may not sound like much in terms of action, several bee scientists told The Associated Press that this a huge move. They say it may help pollinators that are starving because so much of the American landscape has been converted to lawns and corn that don’t provide foraging areas for bees.

“This is the first time I’ve seen addressed the issue that there’s nothing for pollinators to eat,” said University of Illinois entomologist May Berenbaum, who buttonholed President Barack Obama about bees when she received her National Medal of Science award last November. “I think it’s brilliant.”

Environmental activists who wanted a ban on a much-criticized class of pesticide said the Obama administration’s bee strategy falls way short of what’s needed to save the hives.

Scientists say bees — crucial to pollinate many crops — have been hurt by a combination of declining nutrition, mites, disease, and pesticides. The federal plan is an “all hands on deck” strategy that calls on everyone from federal bureaucrats to citizens to do what they can to save bees, which provide more than $15 billion in value to the U.S. economy, according to White House science adviser John Holdren.

“Pollinators are struggling,” Holdren said in a blog post, citing a new federal survey that found beekeepers lost more than 40 percent of their colonies last year, although they later recovered by dividing surviving hives. He also said the number of monarch butterflies that spend the winter in Mexico’s forests is down by 90 percent or more over the past two decades, so the U.S. government is working with Mexico to expand monarch habitat in the southern part of that country.

The plan calls for restoring 7 million acres of bee habitat in the next five years. Numerous federal agencies will have to find ways to grow plants on federal lands that are more varied and better for bees to eat because scientists have worried that large land tracts that grow only one crop have hurt bee nutrition.

The plan is not just for the Department of Interior, which has vast areas of land under its control. Agencies that wouldn’t normally be thought of, such as Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Transportation, will have to include bee-friendly landscaping on their properties and in grant-making.

That part of the bee plan got praise from scientists who study bees.

“Here, we can do a lot for bees, and other pollinators,” University of Maryland entomology professor Dennis van Englesdorp, who led the federal bee study that found last year’s large loss. “This I think is something to get excited and hopeful about. There is really only one hope for bees and it’s to make sure they spend a good part of the year in safe healthy environments. The apparent scarcity of these areas is what’s worrying. This could change that.”

University of Montana bee expert Jerry Bromenshenk said the effort shows the federal government finally recognizes that land use is key with bees.

“From my perspective, it’s a wake-up call,” Bromenshenk wrote in an email. “Pollinators need safe havens, with adequate quantities of high-quality resources for food and habitat, relatively free from toxic chemicals, and that includes pollutants as well as pesticides and other agricultural chemicals.”

Berenbaum said what’s impressive is that the plan doesn’t lay the problem or the solution just on agriculture or the federal government: “We all got into this mess and we’re going to have to work together to get out of it,” she said.

The administration proposes spending $82.5 million on honeybee research in the upcoming budget year, up $34 million from now.

The Environmental Protection Agency will step up studies into the safety of widely used neonicotinoid pesticides, which have been temporarily banned in Europe. It will not approve new types of uses of the pesticides until more study is done, if then, the report said.

“They are not taking bold enough action; there’s a recognition that there is a crisis,” said Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director for the advocacy group Center for Biological Diversity. She said the bees cannot wait, comparing more studies on neonicotinoids to going to a second and third mechanic when you’ve been told the brakes are shot.

“Four million Americans have called on the Obama administration to listen to the clear science demanding that immediate action be taken to suspend systemic bee-killing pesticides, including seed treatments,” Friends of the Earth food program director Lisa Archer said in statement. “Failure to address this growing crisis with a unified and meaningful federal plan will put these essential pollinators and our food supply in jeopardy.”

But CropLife America, which represents the makers of pesticides, praised the report for its “multi-pronged coordinated approach.”

The report talks of a fine line between the need for pesticides to help agriculture and the harm they can do to bees and other pollinators.

Lessening “the effects of pesticides on bees is a priority for the federal government, as both bee pollination and insect control are essential to the success of agriculture,” the report said.

Seth Borenstein|AP|May 19,2015

Monsanto joining forces with bee supervillain ‏

Agrochemical giant Monsanto is poised to take over Syngenta, another massive pesticide company. This monster merger would give Monsanto an iron grip on farmers around the world — gravely threatening

This is the deal that could create the ultimate super villain. Monsanto wants to launch a takeover bid of its key competitor Syngenta, one of the biggest pushers of bee-killing pesticides in the world. The new megacorp would boast a combined revenue of $30 billion and control over 35% of the world’s seed supply.

Imagine this: Monsanto eliminates one of its biggest competitors and tightens its grip on the global farming industry. Our precious wildlife like bees, birds, and butterflies suffer as Monsanto spreads its pesticides further and wider. More and more small-scale farmers are bullied if they refuse to buy Monsanto’s seeds.

The deal’s not sealed and we can stop this now. Syngenta shareholders have already rejected Monsanto’s initial $45 billion offer, but Monsanto’s planning a new offer. Anti-trust regulators in the US and Europe are already skeptical of big corporate mergers, and have the power to stop this. With strong, targeted pressure from a concerned public, we can make this deal unravel.

No single corporation should be allowed to wield the sort of power that comes from a near-monopoly on our global food system. And from the very beginning, the SumOfUs community has been working hard to fight back against both Monsanto and Syngenta and limit the power of massive agribusiness corporations.

We’ve been piling pressure onto Monsanto and its toxic pesticides, terminator seeds, and chronic, aggressive abuse of local farmers — and we’ve been making waves. In January, a whopping 1 out of 5 shareholders (that’s 20%!) supported a SumOfUs-backed shareholder proposal calling out Monsanto’s CEO for being his own boss and pushing for independent management oversight.

And what about Syngenta — Monsanto’s soon-to-be partner in crime? Syngenta asked United States regulators for a 40,000% increase in the legal limit of bee-killing neonicotinoids. But we’re well on the way to curbing its destructive practices — nearly a million SumOfUs members stood up to home improvement chain Lowe’s and got it to drop neonics from its stores worldwide.

Together, we’ve stopped monster mergers that would give way to massive monopolies. Recently, we helped stop a potential monster merger between Time Warner and Comcast in the United States, which would have given Comcast a monopoly over the Internet.

Monsanto already had its initial offer rejected, but it’s not backing down. Our impact is in numbers, and we can stop this nightmare of a merger if we come together to demand that international regulators stop Monsanto’s destructive ambitions in its tracks now.

Tell antitrust regulators to say no to this monster merger and stop Monsanto’s takeover now.

Kaytee Ray-Riek|SumOfUs.org|5/23/15

Wild & Weird

Rats will help to save fellow rats in trouble

Far from deserting a sinking ship, rats will help save a mate from possible drowning

Researchers have found that rats are more altruistic than previously thought and will save other members of their species even if doing so is not particularly to its advantage.

For example, if one rat is in danger of drowning, another will extend a helping paw to rescue it. This seemed to be especially true for rats that had experience of a similar dangerous situation themselves, says Nobuya Sato and colleagues of the Kwansei Gakuin University in Japan, published in Springer’s journal Animal Cognition.

Sato’s team conducted three sets of experiments involving a pool of water. Rats dislike being soaked but one swimming in the pool could only gain access to a dry and safe area in the cage if its cage mate opened a door for it.

The team found that rats quickly learned that to help their fellow rat they had to open the door, and they only opened the door when there was actually a distressed cage mate nearby who needed to be saved.

The experiments also showed that those rats which had a previous experience of being immersed in water were much quicker at learning how to save a cage mate than those who had not been immersed.

The researchers also watched what happened when rats had to choose between opening the door to help their distressed cage mate or accessing a different door to obtain a chocolate treat for themselves.

In most cases, rats chose to help their cage mate before going for the food. According to Sato this suggests that, for a rat, the relative value of helping others is of greater benefit than a food reward.

The results indicate that rats show empathy and can share in the emotional state of members of their own species.

“Our findings suggest that rats can behave pro-socially and that helper rats may be motivated by empathy-like feelings towards their distressed cage mate,” says Sato, who believes that studies of sociality, such as empathy in rodents, are important for understanding the underlying neural basis of pro-social behavior as well as evolutionary aspects.

Watch Cows Listening to Live Music

Why it Rains Spiders in This Australian Town

Providing nightmare fodder for arachnophobes everywhere, millions of spiders floated down from the sky recently in a phenomenon known as “spider rain.”

Pity the poor spider-fearing souls with the misfortune of living in the arachnid-rich town of Goulburn, Australia. Last week, millions, yes millions, of tiny spiders reportedly fell from the sky along with swaths of their silky threads.

“If you look toward the sun there are millions of them and really high up here, like over 100 meters [325 feet] or more up, there is also a cotton like substance coming down that is kinda like spider web but not exactly…” wrote local resident Ian Watson on a Goulburn Community Forum Facebook page.

Cloudy with a chance of spiders. Egad. How in the world do millions of spiders pour down from the heavens? If this doesn’t scream “the end is near,” nothing does.

Fortunately, we have brave scientists who study spiders to explain such scenarios of arachnopocolypse. Live Science talked to Rick Vetter, a retired arachnologist at the University of California, Riverside, who said the spider storm was likely a form of spider transportation known as ballooning. Spider migration techniques like this, experts believe, are why spiders can be found on every continent.

“Ballooning is a not-uncommon behavior of many spiders. They climb some high area and stick their butts up in the air and release silk. Then they just take off,” Vetter says. “This is going on all around us all the time. We just don’t notice it.”

The reason this doesn’t generally doesn’t turn into the newsworthy stuff of bad LSD trips is that it’s uncommon for this behavior to happen amongst millions of spiders simultaneously and then for them to the land in the same area, says Todd Blackledge, a biology professor at the University of Akron in Ohio.

“In these kinds of events, what’s thought to be going on is that there’s a whole cohort of spiders that’s ready to do this ballooning dispersal behavior, but for whatever reason, the weather conditions haven’t been optimal and allowed them to do that. But then the weather changes, and they have the proper conditions to balloon, and they all start to do it,” Blackledge told Live Science.

In the area of New South Wales where the recent spider rain occurred, however, it happens several times a year. There are a number of small spider species and hatchlings of larger species that balloon during May; and so although they might generally all go about it on their own schedule, given weather changes or an unusual wind pattern and the whole spider shebang balloons together and lands in the same godforsaken area.

Though residents of Goulburn need not fear much personal harm from the invasion, the vast blanket of spider silk could pose a threat to crops by inhibiting sunlight. But at the very least, it must be quite a sight to see. As Watson told Yahoo, “The whole place was covered in these little black spiderlings and when I looked up at the sun it was like this tunnel of webs going up for a couple of hundred metres into the sky.”

Melissa Breyer|Treehugger|May 18, 2015

 

Everglades

Negron to pursue money for land south of Lake Okeechobee despite death of U.S. Sugar option

State Sen. Joe Negron said Friday he’ll continue “full-speed ahead” seeking $500 million to buy land south of Lake Okeechobee, even though the option of getting it from the U.S. Sugar Corp. is dead.

On Thursday, the South Florida Water Management District board voted unanimously to terminate its option to buy 46,800 acres of U.S. Sugar land by October. The land includes a 21,600-acre parcel for a proposed reservoir to hold excess lake water and send it south to Everglades National Park rather than to the St. Lucie River, where the water causes widespread environmental damage.

District officials estimated the U.S. Sugar land would have cost from $500 million to $700 million.

Negron said he didn’t support the board’s decision: “I would have preferred that the U.S. Sugar land still be one of our options.”

During the state Legislature’s regular session this spring, Negron proposed using Amendment 1 money to issue bonds to generate up to $500 million to buy land to help reduce environmentally destructive Lake O discharges to the St. Lucie River. Now he’ll try to get the money approved during the upcoming special session scheduled to meet June 1 to 20.

Tyler Treadway|TCPalmTreadway|Matt Dixon May 15, 2015

Water Quality Issues

8 Shocking Facts About Water Consumption

Water is a finite resource. And its preciousness has been driven home by water wars in California, where record drought has agricultural users, fracking interests and home consumers vying for the same supply; in the southwest where the water levels in the rivers, aquifers and reservoirs that provide waters to major communities like Phoenix and Las Vegas are dropping; and in the battles being fought over withdrawing water from the Great Lakes. Reducing our water footprint is essential to conserving this life-giving substance.

We actually have two water footprints: direct and indirect. Many of us are familiar with direct water-use footprint, and mat already be taking steps to reduce it: taking shorter showers, not letting the water run while we’re brushing our teeth, doing fewer loads of laundry, flushing the toilet less often or even installing low-flush toilets.

We probably don’t think of our indirect water footprint often if at all, which involved the water used to make the products and services we use. Author Stephen Leahy, an Ontario-based environmental journalist, wrote about some of them in his book Your Water Footprint: The Spublished earlier this year.

“A ‘water footprint’ is the amount of fresh water used to produce the goods and services we consume, including growing, harvesting, packaging and shipping,” he says. “From the foods we eat to the clothes we wear to the books we read and the music we listen to, all of it costs more than what we pay at the checkout.”

Here are some things you can do to reduce your indirect water footprint.

1. Leahy reveals that 95 percent of our water footprint is hidden in our meals. While a pound of lettuce costs about 15 gallons of freshwater and a slice of bread only 10 gallons, chocolate can cost an astronomical 2,847 gallons a pound and beef can run us 2,500 gallons. Given that raising livestock is particularly water-intensive, eating vegetarian is one good way to reduce your water footprint. Better yet, go vegan: all animal products, including cheese, eggs, butter and milk take a lot of water to produce. Chicken has a much lower water footprint than beef though, so even giving up red meat can help.

2. Think about what you drink. Tell people you’re passing on the soft drink and going for a beer because its water footprint is lower. And it is. A beer takes about 20 gallons of water to create, while soft drinks can be close to 50, depending on packaging and what sugars are used. And drink tea instead of coffee. Coffee consumes about 37 gallons of water in the production process, tea takes only 9 gallons.

3. The clothes we wear also consume vast amounts of freshwater to produce with cotton T-shirts and denim jeans exceptionally high in water use. One pound of cotton requires 700 gallons of water. Shop secondhand, thrift and vintage stores, or buy well-made clothes intended to last.

4. Actually, buying to last is a good way to reduce water consumption in general. Virtually all manufactured products consume a lot of water in the process. To manufacture a smartphone requires 240 gallons of water. Do you really need to trade in your phone every time a new model comes out?

5. Take public transportation (or better yet walk.) Not only do cars consume tens of thousands of gallons of water during manufacturing, but the gas required to run them uses more than a gallon of water for each gallon of gas.

6. Don’t install or use a garbage disposal. It’s water intensive. Compost instead.

7. Cut your plastic use! Making one pound of plastic requires 24 gallons of water. Use less and recycle what you can. Look for items with less packaging.

8. If you have a garden, install rain barrels to conserve water instead using that hose. Rain barrels hook up to your downspouts and collect rain water to reuse. You can make one from a 55-gallon drums (more recycling) and a easy-to-find little hardware. There’s a big movement among artists to paint rain barrels so that you can also have a distinctive and colorful work of art outside your house.

“The saying that ‘nothing is free’ applies more to water than anything else we consume, considering just three percent of the world’s water is drinkable and that we are using more of it than ever before,” says Leahy. “Many experts predict dire water shortages if we continue on our current path. Factor in climate change, population growth and pollution and we have an unsustainable situation.”

There’s lots more information about your water footprint and what you can do to reduce it at WaterFootprint.org. They even have a calculator so you can figure out your own water footprint.

Anastasia Pantsios|December 15, 2014

Corps cuts Lake O releases pending toxic-algae lab test results

The Army Corps of Engineers intends to cut the flow of water it is dumping from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie Estuary and Caloosahatchee River on Friday.

According to a news release issued by the corps this morning, releases to the estuary will be cut by about 70 percent, from a weekly average of 700 cubic feet per second to 200 cubic feet per second. The corps also plans to reduce flows to the Caloosahatchee River on the west side of the lake.

The announcement comes two days after Sewall’s Point Commissioner Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch and Mark Perry, executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Society in Stuart, asked the corps to cut all releases of lake water into the estuary because of recent algal blooms.

A toxic algal bloom in April prompted Martin County Health Department officials to post warnings against touching the water near the lock and dam that controls water that is released from the lake. Results from water samples collected earlier this week are expected to be released today or tomorrow.

Christine Stapleton|Staff Writer|Palm Beach Post|May 21, 2015

Great Lakes & Inland Waters

Review finds successes in protecting Great Lakes
Efforts to prevent water diversion proving successful

Protections put in place about a decade ago to prevent large-scale diversion of Great Lakes water have been successful. However, the Great Lakes states and Canadian provinces must remain vigilant and utilize emerging technologies and scientific advances to maintain the positive momentum of the past decade, according to the consultants reviewing the measures.

The protections were installed following a Canadian entrepreneur’s plan to export Lake Superior water via tanker ships to Asia in 1998. The Ontario Ministry of the Environment approved that plan before public outcry scuttled it.

The Canadian and U.S. governments asked the International Joint Commission — which oversees Great Lakes water issues — to examine how to protect the lakes from large-scale diversions, and the agency issued recommendations in a 2000 report. The governments required the IJC to review progress after three years and every 10 years thereafter. This year marks the first of the 10-year reviews.

The review was conducted by Ralph Pentland, President of Ralbet Enterprises and acting chairman of the Canadian Water Issues Council at the University of Toronto, and Dr. Alex Mayer, Professor of Environmental and Geological Engineering at Michigan Technological University.
They found many areas of success:

­ The policy gaps identified in 2000 have largely been filled.

­ The eight states and two Canadian provinces on the Great Lakes have made significant progress in implementing water protection measures, especially the Great Lakes Compact and parallel agreement with Ontario and Quebec.
­
Consumptive uses of Great Lakes water have declined in the past decade.

“Moving forward, it is important to remember that there really is no ‘surplus’ water in the Great Lakes Basin. From an ecosystem perspective, it is all in use, even in periods of high supply,” the consultants’ report states.

Great Lakes governments must be mindful of uncertainties that can impact the Great Lakes going forward, such as climate change and “the sheer threat of the unexpected,” the report states.

The public can read the 10-year review and comment on it at the IJC’s website, http://ijc.org/en_/submit _comment_protection_of_the_waters.

KEITH MATHENY|MICHIGAN.COM|5/20/15

Offshore & Ocean

  See why it is important to protect our oceans

Restoring The Marinescape At Biscayne National Park

The deafening roar of the 225-horsepower Mercury engine propelled our skiff across the turquoise expanse of Biscayne Bay. It was hard to imagine that less than an hour earlier I’d been sipping a café cubano in the heart of downtown Miami. Here we were though, making headway toward an offshore reef to explore some of South Florida’s renowned marine habitat.

The early morning sun glistened atop the ocean waterscape before us, backlighting the salty spray of the waves as they broke across our bow. According to the forecast, poor weather would move in by the early afternoon, so with the rough chop already hammering our little boat, and the intended destination another 4 miles offshore, we decided to moor at one of the closer reefs.

We were eager to explore, and donned our snorkel gear and made the plunge into the pleasantly warm 76° F water. We floated on the surface, above the colorful marine oasis. It provided a sense of tranquility. Streaks of sunlight illuminated the anemones, which swayed gently back and forth on the seafloor, mesmerizingly in the rolling swell. It was a stark contrast to the rough voyage just moments before. The only sound was the soft rumble of the waves, and a steady rhythm with each breath: in and out.

While most national parks are dominated by landscapes, Biscayne National Park is unique in that 95 percent is covered by water. There are 10,000 years of colorful human history here nestled among mangrove forests, coral reefs, sea grass meadows, lighthouses, and shipwrecks. The setting has been shaped by Native Americans, farmers, smugglers, fishermen, pirates, and presidents.

The watery underworld has historically featured a wondrous and bountiful array of species, from bonefish, tarpon and oysters to groupers, barracuda, spiny lobster, and lustrous parrotfish. However, of the few hundred species that inhabit the park’s waters, 150 have faced population pressures from recreational and commercial fishing, according to the National Park Service.

It’d been 10 months since I had been on the ocean, since departing my home on the east coast of Australia. It felt great to be back in the water. With the guidance of our Park Service companions, we identified several Purplemouth Morays, Sergeant Majors, Gray Angelfish, and plenty of invasive lionfish, not to mention a beautiful conch species. We explored the reef, and later, a sunken pontoon boat. It was an exhilarating experience, one I never wanted to end. What was missing, unfortunately, were larger species that I’d seen just a week earlier in Key West.

According to the National Parks Conservation Association, “Coral reef health and fish populations in Biscayne National Park have been on the decline for decades due to overfishing and over-use, leaving some species on the verge of collapse.” That explains it. In 2001, scientists warned that the park’s fisheries were facing “imminent collapse” without immediate help and protection.

Preservation is one of the National Park Service’s foremost of goals, so how had this come about? True, when the National Park Service was created in 1916 its mission also called for providing a public place, “or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” But the National Park Service Organic Act also emphasized that the “fundamental purpose of the parks is to conserve the scenery; natural and historic objects; and the wildlife therein,” thus leaving them “unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

With that in mind, a proactive protection plan for Biscayne National Park would seem relatively straightforward. Unfortunately, for the past 15 years officials, environmentalists, anglers, and boaters have struggled to agree on an appropriate strategy, leaving the future of America’s largest marine park, and part of the only tropical coral reef system in the continental United States, unresolved.

“Biscayne is a national park,” Superintendent Brian Carlstrom told The New York Times late last year. “If this were national park land there would be no question of what resources can be extracted from here.”

Though managed by a federal agency, the park’s enabling legislation places much of Biscayne’s waters under regulations from the State of Florida. An exception has been given that allows Park Service rule-making authority for areas that fall within the boundaries of the original Biscayne National Monument when it was established in 1968. Thus, politics and economics have become entwined to cast an ecosystem out of balance.

With the nation’s fourth-largest metropolitan area within sight of the park, fishing stocks are under immense pressure not only from South Florida’s booming population but also commercial operations. Advancements in fishing technology have made it easier to locate and catch fish than ever before.

Fortunately, the state and federal governments appear to have reached a compromise, with a finalized General Management Plan (GMP) expected to be released this summer. To date there have been seven proposed alternatives, each with varying levels of effectiveness and complexity. In a very public debate, members of the public and other stakeholders were encouraged to comment on each.

While the public comment period ended on February 20, 2014, integrating the comments — with no small amount of political pressure — into a final GMP hasn’t been quick or easy. With so many different voices and proposed alternatives, many in the community couldn’t keep track.

Caroline McLaughlin, NCPA’s Biscayne restoration program analyst, told me, “I think one of the problems is a lack of information, or misinformation going around. This is really an opportunity to preserve the resources of Biscayne, address problems in relation to a significant decline in reef ecosystem health, and fisheries populations, in order to preserve those ecosystems for the future.”

Many in the fishing community, continued McLaughlin, had actually shown “a great deal of support” for tighter regulations in the form of a “no-take” Marine Reserve Zone (MRZ) at some of the critically affected areas within the park’s boundaries, noting that in other MRZs the fishing was often best just outside those areas.

Vanessa McDonough, Biscayne National Park’s fishery and marine biologist, sympathized with the need for an MRZ, as well as increased public awareness and education on some of the issues facing the park. She noted that restrictions at land-based national parks are generally understood and accepted, but people often don’t apply the same ideology to underwater resources. “You can’t shoot bison in Yellowstone,” she said. “National parks should be held to a higher standard.”

Exactly how the final GMP will integrate an MRZ is unclear. But going into the final draft, the proposed MRZ would cover approximately 7 percent of the park’s waters, or 10,522 acres, and protect 2,663 acres of the park’s coral reefs. Significantly, placing that acreage of coral reefs into a marine reserve would contribute towards the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force’s goal of having 20 percent of Florida’s reefs within such reserves.

Under an MRZ designation—which could be applied to areas within the original Biscayne National Monument’s boundaries—recreational and commercial fishing would be banned to encourage long-term protection and recovery of the reef ecosystem, although recreational boating, snorkeling, and diving would be permitted.

This approach has been scientifically proven as the preferred course of action, according to environmentalists. An open letter, co-signed by Jean-Michel Cousteau founder of the Ocean’s Future Society, National Geographic Explorer- in-Residence Sylvia Earle, and Senior Scientist Emeritus Jeremy Jackson at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell stressed this: “The establishment of a marine reserve is the best, most effective method for protecting Biscayne’s severely threatened coral reef ecosystem.”

Proof of the ecological benefits of such a reserve can be found off of Florida’s southern tip at Dry Tortugas National Park. That park’s Research Natural Area has led to “increases in the size and abundance of many overexploited species within the reserve areas and spillover of more and larger fish occurred outside of reserve boundaries,” the letter adds.

A combination of draft Alternative 4 (creation of a Marine Reserve Zone) and Alternative 7 (a special recreation zone that would prohibit some types of fishing year-round and close recreational fishing during the summer months) outlined in the supplemental draft GMP appears to preview what General Management Plan likely will look like.How it will be received by the state, and the angling public, will go a long way to determining how soon Biscayne’s defining aspect can heal itself from decades of overuse.

Jameson Clifton|May 17, 2015

Water quality efforts boost Tampa Bay’s sea grasses to levels not seen since 1950s

MANATEE — Even with the amount of development occurring in the Tampa Bay region, seagrass levels have returned to the levels that existed in the 1950s when there was a lot less population and development, officials say.

“This is a unique situation in Tampa Bay,” said Robert Brown, Manatee County’s environmental protection division manager in the parks and natural resources department. “If you look nationally and worldwide, most of our estuaries in coastal waters are degrading, going backwards, getting worse. I can’t think of any other ones where we are seeing development going on and seeing improvements at the same time. It just shows the management strategies we’ve implemented are working.”

Today, Tampa Bay has 40,294 acres of seagrass baywide, an increase of more than 5,650 acres between 2012 and 2014, according to the Southwest Florida Water Management District’s 2014 seagrass survey released last week. SWFWMD’s Surface Water Improvement and Management Program assesses seagrass coverage in the bay about every two years.

With the seagrass levels being restored to levels in the 1950s, the water quality in Tampa Bay has improved, because seagrass acts as a measure to determine the bay’s water quality, Brown

said. They are also working to maintain Sarasota Bay’s seagrass levels.

“This is a remarkable achievement, made even more so when you consider that the bay region has grown by more than 1 million people in the last 15 years,” Tampa Bay Estuary Program Director Holly Greening said in a news release.

With seagrass levels around 25,000 acres in 1995, the Tampa Bay Estuary Program set out a goal to restore levels to the baywide total of 38,000 acreages that existed in the 1950s. The seagrass levels today are more than 2,000 acres above the goal set more than 20 years ago.

The 1950s were selected because it was before a lot of development took place and aerial photos documenting the conditions existed.

“The conditions in the bay are similar to what they were prior to major development and influx of millions of people in the Tampa Bay area,” Brown said, noting that the struggle will be maintaining the levels as growth continues.

The restoration of the bay’s seagrass levels was a joint effort among various sectors of the Tampa Bay community, including local governments, industries, community groups and citizens, totaling in more than 500 projects and actions that have been implemented to result in bay water clarity levels similar to the 1950s.

Among those efforts in Manatee County include the county’s fertilizer ordinance, agriculture drip irrigation and multiple restoration projects along the coast, including Robinson Preserve. The management program in Tampa Bay has been a model for other agencies.

“We will continue on that management strategy to develop programs to reduce nitrogen loads in the future,” Brown said.

Nutrients are the main culprit in seagrass loss. To help maintain the levels, the public should be mindful of things such as pet waste, grass clippings and fertilizer from entering the bay, Brown said.

Without the collaboration, the goal couldn’t have been achieved.

“It couldn’t happen without all the partners,” Brown said. “Without that collaboration with all the stakeholders, it wouldn’t be possible to do that. It is a monumental achievement when you really think about it.”

CLAIRE ARONSON|bradenton.com|May 19, 2015

Divers remove thousands of tires from failed reef

State environmental officials are undertaking a massive two-year project to remove 90,000 tires from the bottom of the ocean floor in Fort Lauderdale.

The failed 1970s tire reef project off Hugh Taylor Birch State Park was an attempt dispose of tires in an environmentally friendly way. An estimated 700,000 tired were dropped into the ocean in hopes of attracting fish and providing a foundation for corals to grow. The project kicked off with great fanfare in 1972 when more than 100 boats full of tires were dumped into the water while the minesweeper USS Thrush looked on.

But few corals grew and, even worse, the tire bundles broke apart and drifted onto the natural reefs and kill coral. Now the lifeless vista of tires stretches across 35 acres.

“There are just tires for as far as you can see,” said Pat Quinn, a biologist for Broward County who is serving as local project manager. “People who see it for the first time come to the surface and say, ‘Oh, my God.'”

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection budgeted $1.6 million for the work and the Sun Sentinel (http://tinyurl.com/l2l6qek ) reports divers started cleaning up the mess this past week. Military divers removed 72,000 tires several years ago, meaning half a million tires will still be left on the ocean floor after the project is completed.

Scuba divers, tethered to a barge, are removing the tires from a strip of ocean floor about 1,000 feet long and 150 feet wide, next to the edge of the middle reef.

“They’re piled on top of each other up to five deep,” Quinn said.

But some tires will stay for now because they would be extremely difficult to remove and may be crusted with marine life and would stir up silt as they came up. As for the loose ones, Quinn said, “We’re going to evaluate our options.”

Once retrieved, the tires are dropped off at Port Everglades where they travel by truck to the Tampa area to be burned for electricity.

Massive Swarms of Jellyfish Are Wreaking Havoc on Fish Farms and Power Plants

As the oceans get warmer, jellyfish are causing pain beyond their sting. 

The marine animals have shut power plants from Sweden to the U.S. while killing thousands of farmed fish in pens held off the U.K. coast. GPS devices normally used to track the behavior of house cats were attached to 18 barrel-jellyfish off the coast of northern France. The study upended previous assumptions about their movement. 

Climate change may be one reason more jellyfish are congregating in large numbers known as blooms, which can encompass millions of the creatures over tens of kilometers. Researchers are seeking to develop a system, akin to weather forecasting, to help predict their movement and prevent fish deaths, such as the loss of 300,000 salmon off Scotland last year, or power outages that shut a Swedish nuclear plant in 2013. 

“Jellyfish blooms may be increasing as a result of climate change and overfishing,” Graeme Hays, the leader of the group from Deakin University in Australia and Swansea University in the U.K. that did the research, said by phone Jan. 28. “They have a lot of negative impacts — clogging power station intakes, stinging people and killing fish in farms.” 

The study was conducted in 2011 with results published online in January by the journal Current Biology. Hays plans to replicate the work in Tasmania, Australia, where salmon farming is an industry valued at about A$550 million ($430 million) a year. 

Warmer Oceans 

Combined land and ocean surface temperatures have warmed 0.85 of a degree Celsius since 1880, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group established in 1988 by the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organization to review information relevant to climate change. Global warming is “unequivocal” and many observed changes since the 1950s are “unprecedented over decades to millennia,” it said in a 2014 report. 

“Warmer water is a dream come true for jellyfish,” Lisa-ann Gershwin, a marine scientist who has studied the creatures for about 25 years and author of Stung!: On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean, said by phone Feb. 4. “It amps up their metabolism so they grow faster, eat more, breed more and live longer.” 

Diablo Canyon 

A bloom of jellyfish from the genus Aurelia, known as Moon Jelly, that can grow as large as 40 centimeters (16 inches) in diameter, shut Sweden’s biggest nuclear reactor on the Baltic coast for two days in 2013 after blocking the cooling water inlet. The creatures caused similar outages in the U.S., Japan and Scotland, including at Electricite de France SA’s Torness plant in 2011. 

“It’s a very rare phenomenon and on average has affected us only once every ten years,” Sue Fletcher, a spokeswoman for EDF, said by e-mail Feb. 6. 

While local fisherman helped EDF clear the jellyfish that halted Torness, power plants employ a number of methods to try and stop marine creatures. Diablo Canyon, a nuclear station on the California coast operated by PG&E Corp., has automated screens that remove the animals at the intake, and can deploy an air bubble curtain system to disperse and deflect incoming hordes, the company said in an e-mail Feb. 20. 

The lack of long-term data makes it difficult to conclude if blooms are increasing as oceans warm, according to scientists Hays and Gershwin. While more study is required, jellyfish continue to disrupt operations, contributing to the death of salmon at a Loch Duart Ltd. farm off Scotland in November. 

Fish Farms 

“Once the bloom is at the net, you’ve really got a problem,” Nick Joy, the managing director of Loch Duart, which lost almost 20 percent of its stock after a horde of Pelagia noctiluca invaded pens and stung the fish, said by phone Feb. 13. “A prediction system would be as useful to us as a weather forecast, it would be crucial.” 

Jellyfish of various sizes affect aquatic farms. Smaller creatures can slip through the mesh of a pen and clog or sting gills, while larger animals can push up against a net and restrict the flow of water, starving the fish of oxygen, Marine Harvest, the world’s largest grower, said by e-mail Feb. 14. 

The research group that monitored the barrel-jellyfish off France established that the marine creatures can swim against the current, rather than drift passively, providing an insight into how they form blooms, according to Deakin University’s Hays. Further study is required to determine if this is a feature of all, or only some species, Hays said. 

The ocean globally will continue to warm during the 21st century and marine organisms will face progressively lower oxygen levels, the UN panel said in its report. Jellyfish have the ability to store oxygen in their tissue, allowing them to survive in a deficient environment, according to Gershwin, director of the Australian Marine Stinger Advisory Services. 

“Blooms are our best visible indicator that something is wrong with the ocean,” she said. “Stinging is the least of our worries.” 

Bloomberg|5/20/15

Brevard County Gets Permit To Dredge Muck In Indian River

BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA — The Brevard County Natural Resources Management Office has received a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit to allow muck removal from the mouth of Turkey Creek.

With this permit in hand, the Turkey Creek project will be the first muck removal funded by the Florida Legislature to benefit the Indian River Lagoon.

The Lagoon is suffering from the cumulative impacts of more than a century of various types of pollution. There is no quick or simple solution.

Sustainable lagoon restoration is possible but requires a multi-faceted approach that includes Reducing current sources of pollution, Removing old deposits of pollution, and Restoring the lagoon’s natural filters.

The specific actions we take to Reduce, Remove and Restore should be based on Research.

Old pollution deposits can be removed by dredging out the muck. Due to the regional and national importance of this estuary, the County continues to seek financial assistance from outside Brevard County for dredging costs.

After successfully obtaining the federal permit, the first muck dredging project is anticipated to begin in July at the mouth of Turkey Creek, funded by the Florida Legislature. Up to 240,000 cubic yards of muck will be removed, subject to available funding.

Muck dredging in Cocoa Beach will begin a bit later, pending federal permits.

Dave Netterstrom, Mayor of Cocoa Beach said, “the City of Cocoa Beach is looking forward to partnering with Brevard County and the Florida Legislature to help the Indian River Lagoon through muck removal.”

The city continues to work diligently toward acquiring the necessary federal permit. Additional funds are being sought through the state legislature to assure completion of the Turkey Creek project and also remove muck from other priority sites throughout the lagoon.

Beyond the muck dredging efforts, Brevard County has embarked on an aggressive restoration strategy for the lagoon to reduce excess nutrient inputs, restore the filtration system (oysters, clams and wetlands) and ensure that sound research is the basis of the effort.

As part of this restoration strategy, the removal of the legacy load (muck) is critical to overall success.

Space Coast Daily|May 20, 2015

Are Seals Really to Blame for Cod Shortages in Scotland’s Waters?

Over-fishing has been pegged as the prime culprit for many fish shortages, but a new study suggests that grey seals actually may be to blame for extenuating cod shortages in Scottish waters.

Researchers from the University of Strathclyde wanted to investigate why cod stocks are not recovering at the rate that had been expected now that the EU’s heavy restrictions on fishing have been in place for some time.

In recent decades cod stocks have plummeted as a result of over-fishing and the EU was forced to devise a recovery plan that limits the amount of fishing that can be done for those particular fish. The fishing industry as a whole has a respected that recovery plan and has taken steps to limit by-catch which could have inadvertently still impacted cod numbers. 

However, since grey seals were granted protection status in the 1970s, their numbers have increased and they are now estimated to have a population around 40,000 to 50,000.

Publishing this month in the Journal of Applied Ecology, the Strathclyde researchers say that their figures show that while cod fishing has halved, this growing population of seals is potentially taking more than 40 percent of the total stock of cod fish.

Using a variety of models the study demonstrates that up until 2005 fishing was the main factor that dramatically destroyed cod numbers. It’s worth repeating that fishing, not seals, was one of the main reasons that cod numbers dropped so low in the first place. However, at those reduced rates, the study shows that cod numbers probably can’t recover because of seal predation, and that’s despite the fact that cod isn’t even the seal’s main food source.

Dr. Robin Cook who led the study is quoted as saying that:

In recent years, cod stocks off the west coast of Scotland had declined to barely 5% of the value they had in 1981. … It appears that fishing played a major part in the decline of the cod but increasing predation by seals is preventing the stock from recovering, even though the amount of fishing has reduced. Fishery managers face striking a difficult balance. With high predation by seals, the cod stock will struggle to improve and the recovery plan may not deliver the expected results. We may have to live with smaller cod stocks if we want to protect our seals.

The fishing industry has blamed seals for a number of fish shortages. In nearly every case, and particularly in the case of Atlantic cod stocks plummeting off eastern Canada, those accusations have been unfounded or have had a partial truth but, as in this case, were usually the result of over-fishing which drove fish numbers dangerously low in the first place. Still, the fishing industry is calling for intervention, and no one can ignore that one of the measures the industry has lobbied for in other areas has been a controlled cull.

The research does not suggest a course of action in this regard. What it does say is that the EU has to factor in predation by seals in order to help cod stand a chance of recovering, presumably to a level where wider-scale fishing might once again be a possibility.

So is this study evidence enough to back a controlled cull? The answer is most definitely not. We’ve already altered the food chain in our seas by driving cod stocks so low. The problem is, if we were to cull grey seals we do not know what the effect would be on other fish stocks and the way in which this in turn might alter biodiversity in our seas–indeed, that could even end up harming other commercial fishing interests.

There are steps that can be taken to investigate this problem to see if a solution might present itself, for instance if creating non-lethal exclusion zones around known cod areas could help to bolster the fish stocks without harming the seals, but these are very difficult to implement. Animal wildlife groups though are expected to heavily resist any calls for any change in the law which might allow for a controlled cull.

The hard fact for the fishing industry now though is that thanks to irresponsible fishing cod numbers have been driven far too low, and while grey seals may be stopping a return to pre-population exhaustion numbers, that’s not the seals’ fault. The industry may just have to accept that the days of wide-scale fishing for cod in Scottish waters is now over.

Steve Williams|May 20, 2015

Wildlife and Habitat

Single-crop farming is leaving wildlife with no room to turn

Monocultures – vast expanses of a single crop – may look pretty, but mounting research shows they are likely bad for environment. And in turn that’s bad news for farms as well.

Rolling plains of wheat, endless fields of flowering canola, row upon row of fruit trees: these agricultural landscapes are the stuff of stunning photographs.

Filling these paddocks with just one crop, known as monoculture, is a relatively easy, common and efficient way to produce food and fiber.

But international research shows that these monocultures can be bad for the environment and production through effects on soil quality, erosion, plants and animals, and ultimately declining crop yields. Research I have published this week in the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability shows a possible link between monoculture landscapes and fewer wild pollinators.

Is there a better way to grow our food?

Monocultures don’t exist in nature. Natural ecosystems that appear to be dominated by one plant or tree species (such as grasslands or some temperate forests) also have many other plant species growing under and around them.

This diversity of plant species and sizes supports diverse wildlife communities, and this diversity supports ecosystem services such as pollination and biological control.

When this diversity disappears, the results can be disastrous. The Dust Bowl years on the American Great Plains showed us what can happen when natural ecosystems are overwhelmed by intensive, single-crop farming.

My research focuses particularly on almond orchards. Large fruit tree plantations differ from field crops because they are permanently embedded in the landscape for more than 10 years. Therefore, they may have more serious, long-term impacts on the environment than an annual crop.

If a plantation is inhospitable to an animal species, it won’t be able to move through the plantation to find food or shelter. This essentially creates a landscape barrier for that species.

Such effects have been found on bird, ground beetle, reptile and marsupial species living in landscapes dominated by pine plantations in south-eastern Australia.

Unlike pine trees, fruit trees rely on insect pollination, an ecosystem service, to produce fruit. But very little research has looked out how plantations of fruit trees might affect the ecosystems around them, and in turn the pollinators that the fruit trees depend on. With all the agricultural stressors influencing honey bee colony losses in other parts of the world, understanding how wild pollinators respond to farming practices is critical.

In the mallee woodlands and shrublands of southern Australia, probably one of the most understudied and important ecosystems for conservation, almond plantations are rapidly expanding.

Research from California on commercial almond plantations shows that numbers of wild pollinator and parasitoid insects (unmanaged insects that enhance yields through pollination and biological control) increased with plant diversity.

My PhD research has found similar effects in north western Victoria: there were more pollinators where there were more types of plants.

What does this diversity mean? Monoculture crops are intensively managed to remove as many plants that aren’t crops as possible. In the middle of a monoculture almond plantation, for instance, you will see little else but almond trees and bare soil for hundreds of hectares around you.

In the new paper, I found a possible link between more wild pollinators and more complex landscapes.

In a “simple” landscape dominated by multiple monoculture almond plantations, native bees and hoverflies (both important pollinator groups) were only found near almond trees within 100 metres of native mallee vegetation.

In contrast, in a “complex” agricultural landscape made up of small mosaic patches of many different crops, gardens and remnant native vegetation, native bees and hoverflies were found at almond trees further than 100 metres from native vegetation.

The critical difference was the diversity of resources available to wild pollinators throughout the year. In “complex” landscapes food, water and nesting resources were all available to pollinators within their typical home range (usually less than 1-2 km).

A sustainable farm isn’t just efficient to manage or designed to produce maximum yields per hectare. It also depends on conservation of biodiversity, ecosystem function and diversification of crops and/or livestock.

Maintaining biodiversity in plantations supports important ecosystem services that can increase yields, such as unmanaged pollination, biological control and waste disposal services. This agroecological approach to food production minimises risks through stable yields and limited resource use. It is good for the farmer and the environment.

Research and development of agroecological systems are now internationally recognised as vital to sustainable food and fiber production. France recently incorporated agroecology into their legal and political frameworks, while academic institutions in the UK and USA are leading the way with ground-breaking research into ecologically-sustainable agriculture.

With our unique natural environment and strong agricultural communities, Australia is uniquely-placed to contribute to the global discussion on sustainable agriculture.

Manu Saunders|May 13 2015|Post-doctoral Research Fellow (Ecology)|Charles Sturt University

Forestry

Agreements working to stop beef ranches destroying Brazil rainforest says study

The destruction of large areas of rainforest in Brazil to provide pasture for beef herds has been positively affected by “zero deforestation agreements” between the Brazilian government and ranchers.

A recent study conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison and published in the journal Conservation Letters, assesses the impact of these agreements on the country’s rainforests.

The team found that these zero deforestation agreements prompted ranchers to swiftly register their properties in an environmental registry, led slaughterhouses to actively block purchases from ranches with recent deforestation, and saw lower deforestation rates among supplying ranches.

“We show that concurrent public and private supply-chain pressures could be a game changer, and help to finally break the link between deforestation and beef production,” says Holly Gibbs, a professor of geography and environmental studies in the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment, who led the study.

Gibbs suggests that further investment by the beef industry and the Brazilian government to improve the agreements would pay high dividends for forest conservation.

Historically, expansion of cattle pastures has driven deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, where these pastures cover about two-thirds of all the deforested land. The state of Para, where the study was based, has the largest cattle herd in the Amazon biome.

In 2009, under concurrent pressure from Greenpeace-Brazil and the federal prosecutor’s office in Para, the region’s largest slaughterhouse owners publicly committed to buy cattle only from those ranchers who ceased clearing rainforests and who registered their properties with Brazil’s rural environmental registry.

The three largest companies — JBS, Marfrig, and Minerva — also vowed to set up monitoring systems to track deforestation on their supplying properties.

Gibbs and her team focused on JBS, the world’s largest meatpacking company, and began by mapping the locations and land use histories of every cattle ranch that sold to JBS, before the agreements and after.

They also interviewed ranchers to gain on-the-ground perspective about the changes they were or were not making following the agreements.

They found that prior to the agreements, only two per cent of JBS’ suppliers had registered their properties. However, 60 per cent were registered within the first five months of the zero-deforestation agreements and, by 2013, nearly all suppliers were registered.

While saying these are important and encouraging results, Gibbs also says much work remains to be done, since many ranchers are able to bypass the agreements. For example, the study found that slaughterhouses currently only monitor the fattening ranches from which they directly buy.

“In Brazil, cows are moved around to multiple farms before they reach the final fattening farm that sells directly to the slaughterhouse,” says Gibbs.

Nevertheless, Gibbs is encouraged by the findings and the potential for industry to help drive change through such market-driven agreements. She has observed what she calls “a gradual sea change”, which has gained momentum over the last year or two.

For instance, another research study she recently published in Science describes the impact of an agreement brought about with support from major retailers, like Walmart and McDonald’s, to stop buying from producers in the Brazilian Amazon that clear tropical rainforest to grow soy.

“Every few weeks we see a major global corporation come forward and commit to removing deforestation from their supply chain,” says Gibbs. “These multinational companies have long profited from the exploitation of tropical forests, but they’re now at the forefront of an environmental movement to reduce the deforestation caused by agricultural expansion.”

More information about the link between deforestation agreements and the cattle industry can be found at a new website created by the National Wildlife Federation at www.zerodeforestationcattle.org

Global Warming and Climate Change

A 10,000-Year-Old Ice Shelf May Soon Disappear Before Our Eyes

Environmental history is happening right before our eyes. And unfortunately, it’s not positive: Antarctica’s Larsen B. Ice Shelf could be completely shattered by the end of the decade.

Shatter Into Hundreds of Icebergs

As reported in Phys.org, a NASA study reveals that by the end of the decade, Antarctica’s Larsen B ice shelf will most likely shatter into hundreds of icebergs. You might remember that in 2002, the ice shelf partially collapsed. Since then, Larsen B has only become weaker and thinner.

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The ice shelf has stood the test of time for over 10,000 years. Soon it will be reduced to hundreds of icebergs. While scientists are awed by the rare event, it’s not a spectacle that we should exactly celebrate.

It’s bad for our planet, and it’s bad for us. Ice shelves, like Larsen B, are vital gatekeepers between glaciers and the ocean; the shelves keep the glaciers from moving directly into the ocean from Antarctica. Ala Khazendar from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) led the study, and Khazendar remarks, “What is really surprising about Larsen B is how quickly the changes are taking place. Change has been relentless.”

It’s not the good kind of change, either. Hundreds of shattered icebergs rushing into our oceans will only dangerously raise our sea levels, reports Climate Central. While Larsen B is in the worst predicament, it isn’t the only weak ice shelf; they’re all thinning thanks, in part to, global warming. Ice shelves are big — bigger than the state of California — and they’re optimally very thick. This wouldn’t happen overnight, but hypothetically “Antarctica holds enough ice, if it all melted, to raise sea levels more than 200 feet.” That would take between a few hundred to a few thousand years to happen, but it’s still a scary idea.

Amidst our global warming crisis, researchers, like the coauthor of the NASA study Eric Rignot, hope that tracking Larsen B can prepare us for the next ice shelf crisis, particularly “how the ice shelves farther south, which hold much more land ice, will react to a warming climate.”

3 Easy Ways You Can Fight Global Warming

We don’t want another ice shelf crisis anytime soon. So we’re going to have to do our part to stall global warming. Here are three easy ways that you can help the global warming cause:

1. Go veg: There are so many reasons to eliminate, or reduce, your consumption of animal products, and global warming is one of them.

2. Use eco commonsense: Reducing, reusing and recycling works. And in this time of drought, saving water is just the smart thing to do (desalination won’t solve all of our problems).

3. Commute smarter: In a perfect world, we’d all be cruising in fuel-efficient, low-greenhouse gas vehicle cars. But even if that’s something you can’t (or don’t want to do), you can always make eco-friendlier choices: walking, biking, public transportation, carpooling, etc.

For more tips and information on what you can do, visit the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Jessica Ramos|May 18, 2015

Alaska’s Famous ‘Ice Road’ Is Closed By Extreme Flooding

Traffic along Alaska’s famous Dalton Highway has stalled at a time when hundreds of truckers would typically be transporting critical supplies to the state’s northern oil fields. The highway known as the Ice Road in the popular History channel series “Ice Road Truckers” is the only overland route to these lucrative operations, but the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities closed a stretch of the road Monday morning due to extreme flooding. The road is covered by up to 2 feet of water in places and the agency expects it will remain closed for four days to a week.  

Earlier this spring, the Dalton was closed for a week when overflow from the Sagavanirktok River froze on the roadway in thick layers of ice. On an average day, at least 100 truckers travel the corridor — it runs more than 400 miles from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay — to supply more than a dozen companies including ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and BP that operate at nearby oil fields.

The route represents a key source of revenue for both oil companies and Alaska’s state government, which is largely funded by oil tax revenue. The flooding comes at a time when low oil prices are shredding the state’s budget. Gov. Bill Walker vetoed $3 billion in spending on Monday in a $5 billion proposed budget put forth by legislators. Walker has proposed moving $90 million from a $10 billion reserve fund to cover the shortage but the legislature remains divided on that idea. He has warned state employees that they could face layoffs if lawmakers do not approve a budget by July 1.

There is no sign that the flooding will threaten oil production since companies keep their facilities well-stocked with reserves of food and fuel to account for such interruptions. Once the water subsides, the Department of Transportation expects to see erosion and damage to the highway. Before the closure, the agency had already planned a project to elevate the road to 7 feet above its present grade, and that much-needed lift is still on track for this summer. 

Amy Nordrum|ibtimes.com|May 19 2015

President Obama: Climate Change Is an ‘Immediate Risk to Our National Security’

When President Obama delivered the keynote address at the Coast Guard Academy graduation ceremonies Wednesday, the theme was one he’s been hitting with increasing frequency as he nears the end of his time in office: climate change. He has emphasized its impact on the economy, public health and national security. He focused on the latter at the Coast Guard ceremony, with an increased sense of urgency.

As Republicans in Congress fight against Obama’s climate measures such as the Clean Power Plan while also raising the alarm about terrorism and trying to position themselves as the party best equipped to fight it, the President appears to be painting them into a corner.

“This cannot be subject to the usual politics and the usual rhetoric,” said Obama to the Coast Guard graduates, even as Republicans are applying ideological rhetoric to virtually every environmental issue.

The President stressed the importance of the missions that the graduates will participate in, saying, “We need you to safeguard our ports against all threats, including terrorism. We need you to respond in times of disaster or distress and lead your rescue teams as they jump out of perfectly good helicopters. We need you in the Middle East; in the Gulf; alongside our Navy; in places like West Africa, where you helped keep the ports open so that the world could fight a deadly disease. We need you in the Asia Pacific, to help our partners train their own coast guards to uphold maritime security and freedom of navigation in waters vital to our global economy.”

Then he said, “This brings me to the challenge I want to focus on today—one where our Coast Guardsmen are already on the front lines, and that, perhaps more than any other, will shape your entire—and that’s the urgent need to combat and adapt to climate change. As a nation, we face many challenges, including the grave threat of terrorism. And as Americans, we will always do everything in our power to protect our country. Yet even as we meet threats like terrorism, we cannot, and we must not, ignore a peril that can affect generations.”

“Cadets, the threat of a changing climate cuts to the very core of your service,” he continued. “You know the beauty of the sea, but you also know its unforgiving power. Here at the Academy, climate change—understanding the science and the consequences—is part of the curriculum, and rightly so, because it will affect everything that you do in your careers. Some of you have already served in Alaska and aboard icebreakers, and you know the effects. As America’s Maritime Guardian, you’ve pledged to remain always ready—Semper Paratus—ready for all threats.  And climate change is one of those most severe threats.”

He then moved into the meat of his presentation.

“I’m here today to say that climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security, an immediate risk to our national security,” he said. “And make no mistake, it will impact how our military defends our country.”

Climate change, he said, “will shape how every one of our services plan, operate, train, equip and protect their infrastructure, their capabilities, today and for the long term.” And given that so many military facilities are coastal, that could threaten their readiness for action, he said.

He pointed out some of the risks that today’s and tomorrow’s Coast Guard might have to cope with. They included rising seas forcing people from their homes and creating more refugees.

“I guarantee you the Coast Guard will have to respond,” he said, just as they are part of the international relief teams responding to humanitarian disasters such as Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

He pointed to food shortages due to drought and increases competition for resources as another threat and mentioned two instances of instability and violence they’d led to: “Severe drought helped to create the instability in Nigeria that was exploited by the terrorist group Boko Haram. It’s now believed that drought and crop failures and high food prices helped fuel the early unrest in Syria, which descended into civil war in the heart of the Middle East.”

He said that responding to the impacts of climate change would ultimately not be enough: “As men and women in uniform, you know that it can be just as important, if not more important, to prevent threats before they can cause catastrophic harm. And only way—the only way—the world is going to prevent the worst effects of climate change is to slow down the warming of the planet. The world has to finally start reducing its carbon emissions—now.”

The President enumerated again the steps he’s already proposed to do so, including making building more energy efficient, investing more in research on renewable technologies, cutting carbon emissions from power plants and working with other countries to strike international greenhouse gas reduction agreements.

He hit one jarring note, given his recent approval of Shell’s plan to drill for oil in the fragile Arctic seas ecosystem, a move widely condemned by environmental groups.

“Climate change means Arctic sea ice is vanishing faster than ever,” he said. “We’re witnessing the birth of a new ocean—new sea lanes, more shipping, more exploration, more competition for the vast natural resources below. The U.S. is an Arctic nation, and we have a great interest in making sure that the region is peaceful, that its indigenous people and environment are protected, and that its resources are managed responsibly in partnership with other nations. I believe that our interests in the Arctic demand that we continue to invest in an enduring Coast Guard icebreaking capacity.”

Obama took another sly stab at the climate deniers in Congress.

“Now, I know there are still some folks back in Washington who refuse to admit that climate change is real,” he said. “And on a day like today, it’s hard to get too worried about it. There are folks who will equivocate. They’ll say, ‘You know, I’m not a scientist.’ Well, I’m not either. But the best scientists in the world know that climate change is happening. Our analysts in the intelligence community know climate change is happening. Our military leaders—generals and admirals, active duty and retired—know it’s happening. Our homeland security professionals know it is happening. And our Coast Guard knows it’s happening.”

Anastasia Pantsios|May 21, 2015

Extreme Weather

Droughts, Floods and Heatwaves: Blame It on Climate Change

As temperatures soar to record heights, blame it on global warming—but only about three-quarters of the time. And when the rain comes down by the bucketful, you can attribute one downpour in five to climate change.

Yet another team of research scientists has looked at the probabilities, and has linked extremes of weather with global warming.

A dried-out reservoir in California, which is already in the grip of ongoing severe drought. Photo credit: Ian Abbott / FlickrA dried-out reservoir in California, which is already in the grip of ongoing severe drought.
Photo credit: Ian Abbott / Flickr

Extremes have always happened and are, by definition, rare events. So, for the last 30 years, climate scientists have carefully explained that no particular climate event could be identified as the consequence of a rise in global average temperatures driven by the release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels.

But some events that were once improbable have now become statistically more probable because of global warming, according to Erich Fischer and Reno Knutti, climate scientists at ETH Zurich—the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

They report in Nature Climate Change that they looked at simulations of probabilities and climate records for the period 1901 to 2005, and projections for the period 2006 to 2100.

Rise in temperatures

Then they settled down to calculate the likelihood that a proportion of past heatwaves or floods could be linked to a measured average rise in planetary temperatures so far of 0.85°C.

They worked out how these proportions would change if the average planetary temperatures reach 2°C above the “normal” of the pre-industrial world, and they found that human-induced global warming could already be responsible for 18 percent of extremes of rain or snow, and 75 percent of heatwaves worldwide.

If the temperatures go up to the 2°C that nations have agreed should be the limit, then the probability of precipitation extremes that could be blamed on global warming rises to 40 percent. They are less precise about heatwaves, but any rise could be sharp.

“If temperatures rise globally by 2°C, we would expect twice as many extreme heat events worldwide than we would with a 1.5 percent increase,” Dr Fischer says.

“These global warming targets, which are discussed in climate negotiations and which differ little at first glance, therefore have a great influence on the frequency of extremes.”

The researchers are talking about probabilities: it will still be difficult ever to say that one event was a random happening, and another a result of climate change. In such research, there are definition problems. What counts as extreme heat in northern England would not be extreme in India or Saudi Arabia.

But such distinctions could become increasingly academic for people who live in the path of unusual heat and extended drought, or flash floods and catastrophic hailstorms.

A scientist recently told the European Geosciences Union that some regions of the planet will see unprecedented drought, driven once again by climate change, before 2050.

Ignored warnings

Yusuke Satoh, of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, warned that under the notorious business-as-usual scenario −where nations ignore such warnings and just go on burning fossil fuels—13 of 26 global regions would see “unprecedented hydrological drought levels” by 2050. Some would see this parching much earlier—the Mediterranean by 2027, and the western U.S. as early as 2017.

Such studies are calculated to help provoke governments, states and water authorities into preparing for climate change, but it just may be that the western U.S. is already feeling the heat. California, in particular, has been in the grip of unprecedented drought, and researchers have already linked this to climate change.

Reservoirs and irrigation systems are built on historical data. “But in the next few decades, these historical data may no longer give us accurate information about current conditions,” Dr Satoh says. “The earlier we take this seriously, the better we will be able to adapt.”

Tim Radford|Climate News Network|May 17, 2015

5 Signs the California Drought Could Get Worse

California is entering its fourth year of drought, with high temperatures, water shortages and increased wildfires. The state has taken some steps to address the impacts of that, including addressing greenhouse gas emissions and rationing its diminishing water supply. But there are signs that the impacts of drought on the state could get even worse.

1. A new study shows that if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise at current rates, some parts of Los Angeles area could be experiencing temperatures over 95 degrees for periods as long as two to three months by the end of the century, up from about 12 days now. Researchers at UCLA’s Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences found that downtown Los Angeles could see many many as 54 such days, up from an average of four, while desert areas could see many more. And in the surrounding mountainous areas, days with temperatures below freezing could be cut in half.

2. Fewer freezing days in mountainous areas will certainly impact the snow pack which is currently at record lows. Its April assessment set a record for the lowest level in the state’s history, triggering Gov. Jerry Brown’s order that residents and governments cut water use by 25 percent. Shuttered ski resorts are the least of the resulting problems. The runoff from the snow pack melting in the spring replenishes the state’s rivers, streams and reservoirs—but not so much anymore. In an L.A. Times editorial, NASA scientist Jay Famiglietti warned that California reservoirs have only a year’s supply of water left in them. With the rate of replenishment dropping, that spells trouble.

3. Many Californians are up in arms that certain businesses are continuing to use water like the supply was unlimited. Bottled water companies in particular have drawn outrage from activists as they tap into city water supplies and private wells, while citizens are being told to cut back their water use. While their water use is only a drop in the bucket, so to speak, the optics are really bad, so bad that Starbucks’ Ethos Water brand has announced it will move west coast bottling operation out of the state to Pennsylvania. A group called the Crunch Nestle Alliance has mounted protests against the Nestle bottled water plant near Sacramento, which buys water from the Sacramento municipal system and ships spring water from northern California. Meanwhile, Crystal Geyser is opening a new plant in Mount Shasta that will draw water from an aquifer that feeds the Sacramento River, which provides drinking water for millions of people.

4. Another business that continues unabated in its water use is the fossil fuel extraction industry. California has traditionally been an oil-producing state, but in recent years, it’s stepped up its oil extraction through the water-intensive fracking process. Again, while the amount is small compared to uses such as agriculture, which consumes 80 percent of the state’s available water supply, fracking itself is regarded negatively by much of the public. And it doesn’t help that there have been signs that fracking fluid—wastewater containing toxic chemicals used in the fracking process—could be leaching into aquifers and contaminating already scarce drinking water supplies.

5. Companies are looking for extreme solutions to a potentially extreme problem. There are more than a dozen projects under consideration to build desalination plants along the California coast to turn ocean water into usable water for drinking and agricultural purposes. Some have dismissed the idea as expensive and unfeasible on a large scale, while others claim the costs are falling rapidly enough to make the idea viable. The technology is already in use in the Middle East and Australia. A plant is currently under construction in Carlsbad, California that is expected to be up and running by sometime in 2016 to produce 50 million gallons of water a day and provide seven percent of the drinking water consumed by San Diego. It would be the largest such plant in the Western Hemisphere. The privately built plant would be paid for with rate increases on San Diego water customers; the cost to the county is double the price of its currently most expensive water source and it’s on the hook whether it needs the water or not.

Anastasia Pantsios|May 18, 2015

Tornado Alley earns its name as storms roar in

Little relief was in sight Sunday for nine states where violent storms and tornadoes damaged and destroyed homes, flipped cars and downed power lines this weekend.

The storms, including 31 reported tornadoes, and flash flooding raked across parts of Minnesota, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Iowa, Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, AccuWeather senior meteorologist Tom Kines said.

The angry weather roared through the heartland just one week after a line of storms and tornadoes blasted the nation‘ s Tornado Alley, killing five people in Arkansas and Texas. No deaths or injuries had been reported this weekend.

In beleaguered Johnson County, Texas, just south of Dallas-Fort Worth, authorities reported “multiple swift-water rescues” from homes and vehicles, some with National Guard assistance. The county already had been under a disaster declaration after several tornadoes touched down there April 26.

“Crews have responded to 10 water rescues, three are on going to include one down in Rio Vista,” the county emergency management department tweeted early Sunday. And hours later: “The last rescue was complete by Texas Military Forces. There are no pending rescue calls.”

A National Guard helicopter plucked Bill Kastel and his wife to safety after their mobile home was swamped by floodwaters, WFAA-TV reported.

“My wife looked out the window and said, “Oh my God, the water’s under the house!’ ” Bill Kastel told WFAA Chief Meteorologist Pete Delkus. “We’ve been living here for 20-25 years, and we never experienced any flooding like this.”

Tornadoes were reported early Sunday in Iowa and Louisiana as a line of storms ripped down the middle of the nation, The Weather Channel reported.

“The severe weather threat is moving farther north,” Kines said Sunday. “The primary threat will be wind and hail in Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri, probably down into Arkansas late Sunday.”

The National Weather Service warned of “large hail, damaging winds, and perhaps a few tornadoes are possible, especially from southeastern Minnesota into northern Illinois.”

JOHN BACON|USA TODAY

Washington State Is In A Drought ‘Unlike Any We’ve Ever Experienced’

Citing historically low snowpack, falling river levels, and rising temperatures, Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA) declared a statewide drought emergency for Washington on Friday.

“We’re really starting to feel the pain from this snowpack drought. Impacts are already severe in several areas of the state,” Inslee said. “Difficult decisions are being made about what crops get priority water and how best to save fish.”

Sectors that rely heavily on melting snowpack, like agriculture and wildlife, are expected to be hit hardest by the drought, with the Washington Department of Agriculture anticipating $1.2 billion in crop losses this year.

Statewide, snowpack levels are currently 16 percent of normal, ten percent lower than the last time a statewide drought emergency was declared in 2005. Of 98 snow sites measured at the beginning of the month by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), 66 were snow free — 11 of them for the first time in history. Along with record low snowpack, the NRCS found that 17 of 34 long-term measuring sites recorded their earliest peak on record, occurring on average 48 days earlier than normal.

“This drought is unlike any we’ve ever experienced,” Maia Bellon, director of the Washington Department of Ecology, said. “Rain amounts have been normal but snow has been scarce. And we’re watching what little snow we have quickly disappear.”

A map showing drought conditions in Washington state as of May 12, 2015.

A map showing drought conditions in Washington state as of May 12, 2015.

CREDIT: National Drought Mitigation Center

Bellon’s department has called for $9.5 million in funding for drought relief, to be split between things like agricultural irrigation projects, municipal emergency funding, salmon and trout protection, and conservation education. To preserve remaining water resources, some irrigation districts in the Yakima Basin — the state’s most productive agricultural region — are shutting off water deliveries to farmers for weeks at a time. State officials are hoping to minimize agricultural losses with a kind of triage, according to the New York Times, diverting water to high-value crops like cherries or wine-grapes while allowing certain seasonal crops to go fallow.

For the state’s salmon and trout populations, dwindling snowpack and low stream flows hinder their migration to spawning grounds. In April, the U.S. Geological Survey reported that 78 percent of the state’s streams were running below normal, with some reaching historic lows. Some wildlife managers are planning on creating temporary channels to help the fish navigate low waters, but others might have no choice but to trap the salmon and trout and move them to cooler spawning grounds upstream.

“We’re working hard to help farmers, communities and fish survive this drought,” Bellon said.

The drought is also expected to contribute to a particularly volatile wildfire season, as wildfire managers expect the season to begin earlier and at higher elevations than normal. Last year, Washington experienced the largest wildfire in the state’s history, which burned an area 4.5 times the size of Seattle. Even before the drought emergency was declared, forecasters predicted that below-average precipitation might translate into an especially difficult wildfire season throughout much of the Northwest.

Areas like the Olympic Mountains and the Cascades, which are usually some of the wettest areas of the state, are especially dry this year, providing wildfires with fuel necessary to turn a routine burn into a blaze.

“There’s a lot of heavy fuel out [on the Olympic Peninsula],” Peter Goldmark, Washington’s commissioner of public lands, told the Seattle Times. “The stream flows are going to be low, and barring a miracle, that landscape’s going to be bone dry.”

Cities like Seattle or Tacoma, which rely largely on rain-based reservoirs, aren’t expected to bear the brunt of the drought. In addition to being lucky with rainwater, Inslee said, urban water systems have been investing in water storage and collection, which help urban areas weather periods of low snowpack.

Washington isn’t the only Northwest state dealing with drought despite normal rainfall amounts. Seven counties in Oregon are already under a governor-declared drought emergency, with eight more already submitted to Gov. Kate Brown (D-OR) for consideration. Unlike California’s current drought — brought on by a combination of heat and lack of precipitation — both Washington and Oregon’s droughts have been called “wet droughts,” characterized by normal precipitation but above-average temperatures that cause winter snow to fall as rain instead.

With the Pacific Northwest expected to warm between three and ten degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, this year’s record-breaking winter — the warmest on record for Washington and the second-warmest for Oregon — could become the region’s new normal.

Natasha Geiling|May 18, 2015

Extreme Heat Exposure Up 4 to 6 Times by Mid-Century

    Heat kills. Vulnerable populations, like the elderly and children, are highly affected — but the hazard extends to workplaces too, where heat has significant economic costs in addition to costing otherwise healthy workers their lives each year.

I came across a new study by The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) on the same day I found the usual late Spring reminder on the issue of heat hazards in the workplace in my email. The folks at Industrial Safety and Hygiene News (ISHN) succinctly highlight the risk:

“If the body cannot rid itself of excess heat, it will store it. When this happens, the body’s core temperature rises and the individual becomes sick. As the body temperature approaches 104ºF., the situation becomes life-threatening. At 106ºF, brain death begins.”

extreme-heat-2070.jpg.662x0_q70_crop-scale

© UCAR

UCAR predicts “the average annual exposure to extreme heat in the United States during the study period (2041-2070) is expected to be between 10 and 14 billion person-days, compared to an annual average of 2.3 billion person-days between 1971 and 2000.” The UCAR study takes a two-pronged approach: it looks not just at warming due to climate change, but also at population trends.

They found that increased exposures to extreme heat due to climate change alone account for only about a third of the projected trend. Another third can be attributed to a combination of increasing temperatures and the growth of populations in those locations where that warming will result in extreme heat days. A final third of the increase in at-risk person days comes from population growth alone — higher birth rates in and people migrating to areas that have higher heat exposure.

Obviously, the population growth trends may reverse if the extreme heat gets too hot, and that could change the bright colors on the growth charts considerably. But this also comes at an economic cost: areas that become too hot to handle will find their populations dwindling.

Where people can manage the heat waves with air conditioning, economic costs and hospitalizations may be reined in, but the vicious cycle of using energy for air conditioning and increases to the urban heat island effects will contribute to both global and local warming.

Taken altogether, this study should get people thinking about how warming will impact people as well as how businesses and political centers can plan for the future.

Christine Lepisto|TreeHugger|May 20, 2015|This post originally appeared on TreeHugger.

Genetically Modified Organisms

Is Glyphosate in the Food on My Plate?

As Chipotle goes GMO-free, Monsanto’s worst fear is coming true

Next to MacDonalds, Burger King and KFC, Chipotle’s Mexican Grill is a minnow, writes Jonathan Latham. But its decision to go GMO-free will ultimately compel all America’s consumer-facing food brands to follow suit – because that’s what their customers want. Could this be the beginning of the end of GMOs? That’s what Monsanto, Dupont, Bayer and Syngenta fear.

A race to match Chipotle and get GMOs out of their product lines is a strong possibility. And for agribusiness titans who have backed GMOs, like Monsanto, Dupont, Bayer and Syngenta, that’s the ultimate nightmare scenario.

The decision of the Chipotle restaurant chain to make its product lines GMO-free is not most people’s idea of a world-historic event. Especially since Chipotle, by US standards, is not a huge operation.

A clear sign that the move is significant, however, is that Chipotle’s decision was met with a tidal-wave of establishment media abuse.

Despite the company’s clear and rational explanation of its move, Chipotle has been called irresponsible, anti-science, irrational, and much more by the Washington Post, Time Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, the LA Times, and many others.

A business deciding to give consumers what they want was surely never so contentious.

The media lynching of Chipotle has an explanation that is important to the future of GMOs. The cause of it is that there has long been an incipient crack in the solid public front that the food industry has presented on the GMO issue.

GMOs are essential to agribusiness – but not to consumer-facing brands

The crack originates from the fact that while agribusiness sees GMOs as central to their business future, the brand-oriented and customer-sensitive ends of the food supply chain do not.

The brands who sell to the public, such as Nestle, Coca-Cola, Kraft, etc., are therefore much less committed to GMOs. They have gone along with their use, probably because they wish to maintain good relations with agribusiness, who are their allies and their suppliers. Possibly also they see a potential for novel products in a GMO future.

However, over the last five years, as the reputation of GMOs has come under increasing pressure in the US, the cost to food brands of ignoring the growing consumer demand for GMO-free products has increased. They might not say so in public, but the sellers of top brands have little incentive to take the flack for selling GMOs.

From this perspective, the significance of the Chipotle move becomes clear. If Chipotle can gain market share and prestige, or charge higher prices, from selling non-GMO products and give (especially young) consumers what they want, it puts traditional vendors of fast and processed food products in an invidious position.

Who’s next? Kraft? MacDonalds?

Kraft and MacDonalds, and their traditional rivals can hardly be left on the sidelines selling outmoded products to a shrinking market. They will not last long. MacDonald’s already appears to be in trouble, and it too sees the solution as moving to more up-market and healthier products.

For these much bigger players, a race to match Chipotle and get GMOs out of their product lines, is a strong possibility. That may not be so easy, in the short term, but for agribusiness titans who have backed GMOs, like Monsanto, Dupont, Bayer and Syngenta; a race to be GMO-free is the ultimate nightmare scenario.

Until Chipotle’s announcement, such considerations were all behind the scenes. But all of a sudden this split has spilled out into the food media.

On 8th May NY-based Hain Celestial, which describes itself as “a leading natural and organic food and personal care products company in North America and Europe” told The Food Navigator: “We sell organic products … gluten-free products and … natural products. [But] where the big, big demand is, is GMO-free … “

He added that 99% of the company’s products already contain no GMOs, 500 have been formally verified as GMO-free, another 650 are undergoing verification, and many more are in the pipeline.

According to the article, unlike Heinz, Kraft, and many others, Hain Celestial is actively seeking to meet this demand. Within the food industry, important decisions, for and against GMOs, are taking place.

Significantly, Chipotle is also working to take its GMO-free policy a stage further by sourcing only beef from pure grass-fed herds – and thus avoiding the GMO corn and soya based animal feeds that most cattle are fattened up on.

Herbicide residues – why the pressure to remove GMOs will grow

The other factor in all this turmoil is that the GMO technology wheel has not stopped turning. New GMO products are coming on stream that will likely make crop biotechnology even less popular than it is now. This will further ramp up the pressure on brands and stores to go GMO-free. There are several contributory factors.

The first issue follows from the recent US approvals of GMO crops resistant to the herbicides 2,4-D and Dicamba. These traits are billed as replacements for Roundup-resistant traits whose effectiveness has declined due to the spread of weeds resistant to Roundup (Glyphosate).

The causes of the problem, however, lie in the technology itself. The introduction of Roundup-resistant traits in corn and soybeans led to increasing Roundup use by farmers (Benbrook 2012).

Increasing Roundup use led to weed resistance, which led to further Roundup use, as farmers increased applications and dosages. This translated into escalated ecological damage and increasing residue levels in food. Roundup is now found in GMO soybeans intended for food use at levels that even Monsanto used to call extreme (Bøhn et al. 2014).

The two new herbicide-resistance traits are set to recapitulate this same story of increasing agrochemical use. But they will also amplify it significantly.

A trajectory of ever-more herbicide on GMO crops

The specifics are worth considering. First, the spraying of 2,4-D and Dicamba on the newer herbicide-resistant crops will not eliminate the need for Roundup, whose use will not decline (see Figure).

That is because, unlike Roundup, neither 2,4-D nor Dicamba are broad-spectrum herbicides. They will have to be sprayed together with Roundup, or with each other (or all of them together) to kill all weeds. This vital fact has not been widely appreciated.

Confirmation comes from the companies themselves. Monsanto is stacking (i.e. combining) Dicamba resistance with Roundup resistance in its Xtend crops and Dow is stacking 2,4-D resistance with Roundup resistance in its Enlist range. Notably, resistance to other herbicides, such as glufosinate, are being stacked in all these GMO crops too.

The second issue is that the combined spraying of 2,4-D and Dicamba and Roundup, will only temporarily ease the weed resistance issues faced by farmers. In the medium and longer terms, they will compound the problems. That is because new herbicide-resistant weeds will surely evolve.

In fact, Dicamba-resistant and 2,4-D-resistant weeds already exist. Their spread, and the evolution of new ones, can be guaranteed (Mortensen et al 2012). This will bring greater profits for herbicide manufacturers, but it will also bring greater PR problems for GMOs and the food industry.

GMO soybeans and corn will likely soon have “extreme levels” of at least three different herbicides, all of them with dubious safety records (Schinasi and Leon 2014).

The first time round, Monsanto and Syngenta’s PR snow-jobs successfully obscured this, not just from the general public, but even within agronomy. But it is unlikely they will be able to do so a second time. 2,4-D and Dicamba-resistant GMOs are thus a PR disaster waiting to happen.

A pipeline full of problems: risk and perception

The longer term problem for GMOs is that, despite extravagant claims, their product pipeline is not bulging with promising ideas. Mostly, it is more of the same: herbicide resistance and insect resistance.

The most revolutionary and innovative part of that pipeline is a technology and not a trait. Many products in the GMO pipeline are made using RNA interference technologies that rely on double-stranded RNAs (dsRNAs).

dsRNA is a technology with two problems. One is that products made with it (such as the ‘Arctic’ apple, the ‘Innate’ potato, and Monsanto’s ‘Vistive Gold’ soybeans) are unproven in the field. Like its vanguard, a Brazilian virus-resistant bean, they may never work under actual farming conditions.

But if they do work, there is a clear problem with their safety which is explained in detail here (PDF).

In outline, the problem is this: the long dsRNA molecules needed for RNA interference were rejected long ago as being too hazardous for routine medical use (Anonymous, 1969). The scientific literature even calls them “toxins”, as in a 1969 paper in Nature by Absher & Stinebring (see references).

As further evidence of this, long dsRNAs are now used in medicine to cause autoimmune disorders in mice, in order to study these disorders (Okada et al 2005).

The Absher and Stinebring paper comes from a body of research built up many years ago, but its essential findings have been confirmed and extended by more modern research. We now know why dsRNAs cause harm.

They trigger destructive anti-viral defence pathways in mammals and other vertebrates and there is a field of specialist research devoted to showing precisely how this damages individual cells, whole tissues, and results in auto-immune disease in mice (Karpala et al. 2005).

The conclusion therefore, is that dsRNAs that are apparently indistinguishable from those produced in, for example, the Arctic apple and Monsanto’s Vistive Gold Soybean, have strong negative effects on vertebrate animals (but not plants). These vertebrate effects are found even at low doses.

Have they forgotten that humans are ‘vertebrate animals’?

Consumers are vertebrate animals. They may not appreciate the thought that their healthy fats and forever apples also contain proven toxins. And on a business front, consumer brands will not relish defending dsRNA technology once they understand the reality. They may not wish to find themselves defending the indefensible.

The bottom line is this. Either dsRNAs will sicken or kill people, or, they will give opponents of biotechnology plenty of ammunition. The scientific evidence, as it currently stands, suggests they will do both. dsRNAs, therefore, are a potentially huge liability.

The last pipeline problem stems from the first two. The agbiotech industry has long held out the prospect of ‘consumer benefits’ from GMOs. Consumer benefits (in the case of food) are most likely to be health benefits (improved nutrition, altered fat composition, etc).

The problem is that the demographic of health-conscious consumers no doubt overlaps significantly with the demographic of those most wary of GMOs. Show a consumer a ‘healthy GMO’ and they are likely to show you an oxymoron.

The likely health market in the US for customers willing to pay more for a GMO has probably evaporated in the last few years as GMOs have become a hot public issue.

The end-game for GMOs?

The traditional chemical industry approach to such a problem is a familiar repertoire of intimidation and public relations. Fifty years ago, the chemical industry outwitted and outmaneuvered environmentalists after the death of Rachel Carson (see the books Toxic Sludge is Good for You and Trust Us We’re Experts).

But that was before email, open access scientific publication, and the internet. Monsanto and its allies have steadily lost ground in a world of peer-to-peer communication. GMOs have become a liability, despite their best efforts.

The historic situation is this: in any country, public acceptance of GMOs has always been based on lack of awareness of their existence. Once that ignorance evaporates and the scientific and social realities start to be discussed, ignorance cannot be reinstated. From then on the situation moves into a different, and much more difficult phase for the defenders of GMOs.

Nevertheless, in the US, those defenders have not yet given up. Anyone who keeps up with GMOs in the media knows that the public is being subjected to an unrelenting and concerted global blitzkrieg.

Pro-GMO advocates and paid-for journalists, presumably financed by the life-science industry, sometimes fronted by non-profits such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are being given acres of prominent space to make their case.

Liberal media outlets such as the New York Times, the National Geographic, the New Yorker, Grist magazine, the Observer newspaper, and any others who will have them (which is most) have been deployed to spread its memes. Cornell University has meanwhile received a $5.6 million grant by the Gates Foundation to “depolarize” negative GMO publicity.

The anti-GMO movement is only growing in strength and numbers

But so far there is little sign that the growth of anti-GMO sentiment in Monsanto’s home (US) market can be halted. The decision by Chipotle is certainly not an indication of faith that it can.

For Monsanto and GMOs the situation suddenly looks ominous. Chipotle may well represent the beginnings of a market swing of historic proportions. GMOs may be relegated to cattle-feed status, or even oblivion, in the USA. And if GMOs fail in the US, they are likely to fail elsewhere.

GMO roll-outs in other countries have relied on three things: the deep pockets of agribusinesses based in the United States, their political connections, and the notion that GMOs represent ‘progress’.

If those three disappear in the United States, the power to force open foreign markets will disappear too. The GMO era might suddenly be over.

Jonathan Latham|20th May 2015

No weeds are in the lawn,
dandelions are gone.
A potent dose of glyphosate,
that’s what sealed their fate.

There are no honey bees
in flowers or in trees.
Were they slain by glyphosate?
Is that why they’ve been absent as of late?

Soda pop, chicken, eggs and meat,
all the things that we love to eat,
everything on our plate
is laced with glyphosate.

The milk in the cow’s teat,
every slab of meat,
all foods made from corn or wheat,
glyphosate is in everything we eat.

If your gut’s all bloated and wound up
is it because lunch had traces of Roundup?
Monsanto’s name for glyphosate,
it was likely in everything you ate.

It is a baneful truism:
cancer, chronic disease and autism
have increased at a dire rate
since the earth was bathed in glyphosate.

Is humanity doomed to the weeds’ fate?
Does our extinction have a firm date?
Or can we rally–if it’s not too late–
and liberate our world from glyphosate?

Floyd D. Anderson|May 17th, 2015

GMH: Genetically Modified Humans?

In addition to the ethical questions and the serious unintended health consequences, this would also open the door to patenting human DNA. 

Late last month, a group of Chinese scientists published a study that tried to answer the question, “Is it possible to edit the genetic makeup of human embryos?”

It’s a question that has occupied scientists and medical researchers for some time. An estimated 12 million Americans are affected by genetic disorders like hemophilia, cystic fibrosis, Huntington’s disease, and many others. While treatments exist for some of these, other conditions have no known cure. This has led to research in genetic manipulation as a means of curing disease.

Scientists recently developed CRISPR, which stands for “Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat.” The Chinese scientists used this genome-editing technique in their study to target and manipulate specific genes.

The idea for CRISPR came from studying bacteria’s ability to fight viruses. Bacteria create molecules that can attack specific stretches of a virus’s DNA. Why not use this, the scientists reasoned, as a way to attack and replace the mutated genes that are causing disease in humans with properly functioning DNA? Or, to go one step further, why not attempt to “fix the mistake” early on in the embryo and replace the faulty genes from the outset?

This is precisely what the Chinese scientists set out to accomplish. Using defective embryos that would never grow into babies, the team hoped to end with an embryo that had precisely altered DNA in each cell and no other damage.

Out of eighty-six human embryos, not a single one met that criteria of success by the end of the study. Seventy-one embryos survived long enough to study, but most of these either died before the study was completed, or else the target gene never altered. In a few cases the researchers were able to successfully alter the gene—but these resulted in potentially disastrous problems with wide-reaching implications, like unintended mutations and genetic “mosaics” where some cells in the embryo were edited while others were not.

The study caused quite a controversy in the scientific community. One of the Chinese researchers said their study was rejected by the journals Nature and Science for ethical reasons. Dr. George Daley, an expert in stem cell research at Harvard Medical School, said, “Their study should be a stern warning to any practitioner who thinks the technology is ready for testing to eradicate disease genes.” Before the study was even published, a group of scientists published a letter in Science warning that this was dangerous ground. A few days after the study was published, the National Institutes for Health reaffirmed its ban on funding any research that involves gene editing in embryos.

Setting aside the widely publicized trepidation of many scientists and government agencies about the ethics of experiments like this, there are other major concerns about this type of research:

  • Even if the government agrees not to fund embryo gene-editing research, there are other ways for the research to continue. In fact, there is at least one US genetics center using CRISPR on abnormal embryos rejected by in-vitro fertilization clinics—and this center is far less transparent about its work.
  • We recently reported that the US Patent and Trade Office (USPTO) is considering a different framework for determining the patent eligibility for natural substances. If a patent claim describes “a law of nature, a natural phenomenon, or an abstract idea,” it must amount to “significantly more” than what is found in nature to be eligible for a patent. The Supreme Court has previously struck down patents on human genes, but if a company is able to successfully create a novel process of genetic alteration of human DNA, this sort of loose definition of “natural” could be enough to give that company a patent. As we’ve noted before, the change in USPTO’s framework could also allow Big Pharma to steal natural supplements and monopolize previously affordable substances like bioidentical estriol and 17P.
  • While some of the more alarming scenarios are still a long way off, there are more immediate dangers in editing human genes. Genetic manipulation in humans, rather than curing disease, could create a host of new and even more dangerous diseases and genetic mutations. Changing the genetic makeup of the germ line—which includes the egg, sperm, and embryo—could have severe consequences for a research subject’s descendants. Scientists simply do not know what the effect will be of genetic alterations passed down from generation to generation.

anh-usa|GMO News|May 19, 2015

In unusual move, German scientists lobby for GM labeling

BERLINWhen it comes to labeling genetically modified (GM) food, the battle lines are usually clear: Those who oppose genetic engineering want it labeled, and those who support it see no need. But today, a group of German scientists and other proponents of GM organisms launched a campaign to require labeling of anything that contains or has been produced with the help of GM organisms.

Their unusual plea is a political gamble; rather than making it more difficult for GM products to reach consumers, they hope the new law will show Germans just how widespread such products already are—whether it’s in food, clothes, drugs, or washing powder—and that there is nothing to be afraid of.

The petition to the German parliament, which will go online tomorrow, asks the German government to prepare a law that requires GM labeling for all food, feed, drugs, textiles, chemicals, and other products that have been produced using genetic engineering. The petition also calls on the government to advocate a similar law at the E.U. level.

The text was written by Horst Rehberger, who leads a group called Forum Grüne Vernunft (Forum Green Reason), and has the backing of several prominent scientists, including Nobel Prize winner Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, as well as some politicians. If it receives more than 50,000 signatures in the next 4 weeks, the German parliament has to consider the proposal.

Germany already requires GM crops to be labeled as such; the same is true for foods produced directly from them, such as oil made from GM soy beans. Yet many products in which genetic modification played an indirect role require no labeling. Pork can be certified GM-free, for instance, if the animals didn’t eat GM feed in the 4 months prior to slaughter. “The current system is inadequate and sometimes even misleading,” Rehberger says.

Greenpeace and several other environmental groups agree that products from animals raised on GM feed require labeling, but not many other products in which genetic modification played some minor role; that would distract consumers from the real issues, they say. “There is a difference between a piece of tofu produced from 100% genetically modified soy beans and milk from a cow that as a calf received vitamins, one of which was produced with the help of a genetically modified bacterium in a closed system,” says Stephanie Töwe-Rimkeit of Greenpeace in Hamburg. The proposal is designed to negate these differences, making consumer decisions harder instead of easier, she charges.

The proposal does not specify what the labels should look like. Several scientists supporting the petition say labeling needs to be graded, distinguishing for instance whether a product contains GM organisms or has just been processed by them. “I think we just need to be honest and transparent to consumers,” says Wilfried Schwab, a professor of biotechnology of natural products at Technische Universität München.

The proposal is a chance to change the conversation about GM organisms, says geneticist Hans-Jörg Jacobsen, who helped develop pea plants resistant to several fungi. Jacobsen, who retired last year, says his line of research has become all but impossible in Europe; his peas are now being field-tested in Canada. “I think it was a mistake not to label GM food from the beginning,” Jacobsen says.

How consumers would react if GM labels proliferated on supermarket shelves is unclear; there is some research suggesting that they might not be as concerned as genetic modification proponents believe. In one study, consumers in Germany and five other countries were offered three options at a fruit stall: “organic,” “conventional,” and “spray-free genetically modified” fruit. When prices were the same, one-fifth of the consumers opted for GM fruit. Modeling suggested that if GM fruit was sold at a 15% discount and organic fruit at a 15% premium—which the authors say is most likely—GM products would get more popular; in three countries, including Germany, they might even have the highest market share.

With time, a GM label could even become a positive sign, Jacobsen says, just like “Made in Germany,” which was originally introduced in Great Britain to mark inferior import products. “Look how that turned out,” he says.

THERE IS NO SCIENTIFIC CONSENSUS ON THE SAFETY OF GMOs

GMO LABELING MUST BE MANDATORY

Though the debates continue, experts agree that there is no consensus on the safety of GMOs. Organizations aligned with the agrichemical/biotech industry often mislead the public with claims of absolute safety when, in fact, the safety of GMOs is fully inconclusive. In the absence of a consensus on the safety of GMOs, it is recommended that mandatory labeling standards be enacted to allow the public a choice whether they consume Genetically Engineered/GM food or not.

GMO_Safety_ThereIsNoConsensus_LabelGMOs_20141024

Agrichemical/biotech proponents say that the scientific consensus is that GMO foods are safe, but the truth is that the IAASTD Global Report, co-sponsored by the WHO (World Health Organization) and six other world organizations, says GMOs have NOT been proven safe. Following are 124 other health or science related organizations from around the world that are in agreement with the IAASTD report, and/or support mandatory GMO labeling.
Also, read Food & Water Watch’s September 2014 Issue Brief titled “The So-Called Scientific ‘Consensus': Why the Debate on GMO Safety Is Not Over” to learn how GMO advocates misinform the public. Download the Issue Brief PDF HERE.

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Chipotle Under Attack for Going GMO Free

Since when do the mainstream news media, in a country that worships at the altar of capitalism and the free market, launch a coordinated attack against a company for selling a product consumers want? When that company dares to cross the powerful biotech industry. How else to explain the unprecedented negative coverage of Chipotle, merely because the successful restaurant chain will eliminate genetically modified foods (GMOs)?

The biotech industry has a long history of discrediting scientists who challenge the safety of GMOs. That intimidation campaign worked well until consumers connected the dots between GMO foods (and the toxic chemicals used to grow them) and health concerns. Once consumers demanded labels on GMO foods, the biotech industry responded with a multimillion dollar public relations campaign.

Yet despite spending millions to influence the media, and millions more to prevent laws requiring labels on products the industry claims are safe, Monsanto has lost the hearts and minds of consumers. The latest polls show that 93 percent of Americans support mandatory labeling of GMO foods.

Chipotle has made a sound business decision, which has forced the biotech industry to stoop to a new low: vilifying businesses. Sadly, the mainstream media appear all too happy (manipulated?) to go along with the attack.

Only in the U.S. does the biotech industry wield such power, which is arguably having a negative effect on the free market. Take McDonald’s. In the U.S., the fast-food chain is in trouble. In Britain (and other countries), where McDonald’s is GMO-free, it is profitable.

In March, 17 leading cancer researchers concluded that glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, widely used on GMO crops, is a “probable” carcinogen. In 1985, Environmental Protection Agency scientists drew the same conclusion. According to hundreds of scientists worldwide, there is no consensus on the safety of GMO foods.

A growing number of consumers don’t want GMO foods. Chipotle is responding to that demand. Biotech’s attack on Chipotle is an act of desperation. The mainstream media’s complicity is a failure of the institution of journalism.

Ronnie Cummins|May 20, 2015

Energy

Did We Almost Lose New York?

For the third time in a decade, a major fire/explosion has ripped apart a transformer at the Indian Point reactor complex.

News reports have taken great care to emphasize that the accident happened in the “non nuclear” segment of the plant.

Ironically, the disaster spewed more than 15,000 gallons of oil into the Hudson River, infecting it with a toxic sheen that carried downstream for miles. Entergy, the nuke’s owner, denies there were PCBs in this transformer.

It also denies numerous studies showing serious radioactive health impacts on people throughout the region.

You can choose whether you want to believe the company in either case.

But PCBs were definitely spread by the last IP transformer fire. They re-poisoned a precious liquid lifeline where activists have spent decades dealing with PCBs previously dumped in by General Electric, which designed the reactors at Fukushima.

Meanwhile, as always, the nuclear industry hit the automatic play button to assure us all that there was “no danger” to the public and “no harmful release” of radiation.

But what do we really know about what happened and could have happened this time around?

At an integrated system like a reactor complex, are there really any significant components whose impacts are totally removed from the ability to touch off a nuclear disaster?

A “non nuclear” earthquake, 120 kilometers away, caused Fukushima One to melt, and then explode. “Non nuclear” backup power sources failed after being flooded by a “non nuclear” tsunami, leading to still more melt-downs and explosions. “Non nuclear” air crashes, either accidental or as at 9/11, or bombs or terror attacks could rapidly convert Indian Point and any other commercial reactor into an unimaginable nuclear disaster.

At Indian Point, “non nuclear” gas pipelines flow dangerously close to highly vulnerable reactors. In an utterly insane proposal that almost defies description, corporate powers want to run another gas pipeline more than 40 inches in diameter within a scant few yards of the reactor epicenters. An explosion that could obliterate much of the site would of course be “non nuclear” in origin. But the consequences could be sufficiently radioactive to condemn millions of humans to horrifying health consequences and render the entire region a permanent wasteland. Indian Point, in Buchanan, New York, is about 45 miles north of Manhattan.

The real dangers of this most recent fiasco are impossible to assess. But Indian Point sits all-to-near the “non nuclear” Ramapo seismic fault line which is more than capable of reducing much of it to rubble. Twice now—in Ohio and Virginia—earthquakes have done significant damage to American reactors. With 20 million people close downwind and trillions of dollars worth of dense-packed property, a Fukushima-scale hit at Indian Point would easily qualify as an Apocalyptic event.

But its owners would not be financially liable beyond the sliver of cash they’ve contributed to the $12-odd billion federal fund meant to cover such events. Likely damage to health and property would soar into the trillions, but this is none of Entergy’s concern. Small wonder the company has no real incentive to spend on safety, especially when a captured regulatory agency lets it do pretty much whatever it wants.

Aside from the magnitude of its kill zone, Indian Point is unique in its level of opposition. Andrew Cuomo, governor of the nation’s fourth-most populous state (behind California, Texas and Florida), has been demanding its closure for years. New York and numerous downwind cities, towns and counties have gone to court on issues ranging from water quality to evacuation to earthquake dangers and more.

Even the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) concedes that Indian Point—among other reactors—has been out of compliance on simple fire protection standards for years. To “cure” the problem, the NRC—which depends financially on the industry it’s meant to regulate—has simply issued waivers allowing Indian Point to operate without meeting established fire safety standards.

Unique (so far) among American reactors, Indian Point Unit Two doesn’t even have a license to operate.

But Unit Three’s is about to expire, with no hint the NRC might actually shut either. So if America’s atomic reactors are now allowed to operate without actual licenses, and with known safety violations, what’s the point of any regulation at all?

Meanwhile the paltry power generated by these antiquated clunkers can be gotten far more reliably, cheaply, cleanly and safely from renewable sources and increased efficiency. But since that doesn’t fit Entergy’s peculiar bottom line, and since its parent industry still has sufficient political pull to keep going, we all remain at risk. 

So in an industry where technical information is closely held, we can’t fully evaluate the threat imposed by this latest malfeasance. The only thing certain is that it will happen again.

This newest fire at Indian Point should remind us that we are all hostage to an industry that operates in open defiance of the laws of the public, the economy and basic physics.

Sooner or later all three will demand their due. We can passively hope our planet and our species will survive the consequences.

Or we can redouble our efforts to make sure all these reactors are shut before such a reckoning dumps us into the abyss.

Harvey Wasserman|May 14, 2015

Indian Point Fire Raises Huge Concerns Over Siting of Spectra Pipeline

The recent transformer fire at the aging Indian Point nuclear power facility in Buchanan, New York in Westchester County just 30 miles north of New York City, garnered wide coverage in the global media including a visit to the site by New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Throughout the coverage, there was little mention of Spectra Energy’s proposed new 42-inch diameter, high-pressure gas pipeline which presents a serious new hazard to the troubled plant that has been on the federal list of the nation’s worst nuclear power plants and has had its share of accidents since its operations began in 1973.

For over a year, local, county, state and federal elected officials, as well as the public, have joined the calls by pipeline, nuclear power and medical disaster and safety experts for a full independent risk assessment of the siting of a massive new gas pipeline 105 feet from vital structures at the aging nuclear plant. In fact, Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties and several municipalities passed resolutions last year calling for independent health and risk assessments and other protective measures prior to any decisions about the pipeline that were dismissed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Both FERC and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) signed off on the project despite numerous unresolved questions and unverifiable claims made by Entergy, the nuclear power plant’s operator, in its own internal analysis of the safety of the plant in connection with the risk posed by Spectra Energy’s Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) high pressure gas pipeline. The transformer fire last week dramatically demonstrates that a comprehensive, independent and transparent risk assessment must be implemented immediately and the findings fully addressed before the pipeline company takes further action. NRC and FERC approvals for the AIM project warrant immediate retraction in the absence of a thorough independent risk analysis.

Rick Kuprewicz of Accufacts, a renowned pipeline expert, engaged by the town of Cortlandt to evaluate the project’s impacts on the Indian Point plant, and Paul Blanch, a nuclear power expert with more than 45 years of nuclear safety experience, analyzed the Entergy hazard study that was confirmed by the NRC, and believe the analyses severely underestimate the risk of catastrophic failure at the plant in the event of a pipeline rupture. Kuprewicz said, “in the event of a pipeline rupture in this sensitive location, the system dynamics will substantially delay the recognition and appropriate shutoff and responses such that the gas will explode and burn for quite a period of time.”

Blanch submitted a formal petition to the NRC in October 2014 and was recently notified by the Petition Review Board that “the staff’s overall conclusion is that both Indian Point units could safely shut down.” Blanch strongly disagrees with this conclusion and stated, “The gas isolation valves designed to terminate gas flow and prevent core damage must be designed and operated in accordance with NRC’s requirements specified within 10 CFR Part 50. The NRC is delegating its exclusive responsibility for nuclear safety requirements and enforcement to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). The NRC position is unacceptable, unprecedented and unparalleled in the history of commercial nuclear power.” Blanch has requested a local public venue near Indian Point for a final presentation to the Petition Review Board. A local meeting would be in compliance with NRC guidelines regarding public participation because it would enable all stakeholders, including U.S. Senators Schumer and Gillibrand of New York, Congresswoman Lowey, Gov. Cuomo and the public, to attend this critically important presentation.

The more than 20 million residents living within the 50 mile radius of the Indian Point nuclear power facility are keenly aware of the fact that the plant has been under scrutiny for many years and that there are many problems associated with its operation. For example, concerns regarding Indian Point’s location in a significant seismic zone and its highest risk of earthquake damage of any nuclear power plant in the country became even more concerning after the Fukushima disaster in 2011. Last spring, the NRC ordered Entergy to do a full seismic study that will not be completed until June 2017. Just a few months later in July, a 2.5 magnitude earthquake occurred only 10 miles from the plant. The introduction of a major risk from the new gas pipeline is unfathomable. As Gov. Cuomo stated at the site on Sunday, “This plant is the nuclear plant that is closest to the most densely populated area on the globe. If something goes wrong here, it can go very wrong for a lot of people. So it’s always been a priority for us.”

Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Earth Institute and professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University expressed concern about the proposed plan to expand the Algonquin pipeline without a thorough, objective review of the environmental impact and potential public health risks that might be posed by this project and stated, “Of particular concern is the proximity of the project to a significant seismic zone and the Indian Point nuclear plant. This combination of factors presents a real risk of major disaster with profound, long-term impact on the region.” He further stated, “I truly hope that the time and resources will be made available to assess the safety of the project and reassure the public that every possible risk has been properly examined.”

Thousands of New York tri-state area residents have been calling upon Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, Congresswoman Lowey, Gov. Cuomo and other leaders to fulfill their most fundamental responsibility to protect the health and safety of more than 20 million people who live and work in the region by publicly insisting that the NRC allow Blanch to present locally, that FERC rescind its approval of the AIM project immediately and that an independent and transparent risk assessment be fully implemented.

The public’s awareness is growing about the alarming rates of unintended gas pipeline failures. According to the DOT’s Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, there were 119 incidents in gas transmission pipelines in 2014 alone. Research reveals that almost 100 percent of pipeline ruptures result in ignition, yet, the document confirmed by the NRC inexplicably claims the probability of an explosion after a pipeline rupture is only 5 percent, a number that is not supported in any of the cited references.

Entergy’s document, approved by the NRC, claims that in the event of a pipeline rupture, the gas flow could be shut down in three minutes. According to Blanch, “There’s absolutely no basis for the number; we don’t know where it came from. A more realistic number is between 30 minutes and three hours.”

It took 95 minutes to shut down gas flow in 2010 when a San Bruno, California pipeline explosion that involved a 36-inch diameter pipeline with much lower pressure killed eight people, injured close to 60 and destroyed or damaged more than 100 homes. Gas flow shutdown took three hours when a 36-inch diameter pipeline ruptured in Edison, New Jersey in 1994 that injured more than 100 people and destroyed more than 300 homes.

With no local shut off valves on the AIM pipeline, operations are remotely controlled 1,000 miles away at Spectra Energy’s facilities in Houston, Texas. A pipeline rupture within 120 feet of Indian Point’s fuel oil tank, switchyard and other vital structures and within several hundred feet of its 40 years of highly radioactive spent fuel rods could have catastrophic impacts. The most basic question has yet to be answered. In the event of a pipeline rupture, could the nuclear reactors at Indian Point be safely and securely shut down? According to the safety experts, someone needs to demonstrate that would not be a problem, but no one has done that.

Ellen Weininger|May 19, 2015

How Fossil Fuel Companies get Paid to Pollute

You may have seen a new ad from the American Petroleum Institute, telling us that oil and gas companies cannot afford to–and don’t want to–spend money to clean up their pollution. Using outright lies to bolster their position, they claim that strong smog protections are expensive, and unnecessary.

But here’s what they don’t want to advertise: American taxpayers are supporting fossil fuel companies–to the tune of billions–while they are making record profits.

This is an industry that spent 1.8 BILLION DOLLARS on lobbying between 2010 and 2014.

A few examples, as recently reported by The Guardian news team:

  • Shell gets $1.6 billion from Pennsylvania taxpayers for a proposed petrochemical refinery–a deal made in 2012 when Shell made $26.8 billion in annual profits.

  • ExxonMobil gets $119 million from Louisiana taxpayers to upgrade a refinery–starting in 2011, when ExxonMobil made $14 billion in profit.

  • Marathon Petroleum gets $78 million from Ohio taxpayers for a jobs subsidy scheme–starting in 2011, when Marathon made $2.4 billion in profit.

Every minute, $10 million in subsidies–that’s taxpayer money–are going to fossil fuel companies. 

We are giving companies our money while they are making record profits–and paying nothing for the harm they do us with their pollution.

These are the companies that are against subsidies for clean energy–but they’ll take subsidies for dirty fuel.

They are against strong smog standards–and they’ll ignore the significant health benefits of such standards when they “calculate” the costs. 

They are against pollution control–and they’ll spend millions on a PR campaign to avoid paying for the damage they do to our health.

They are against taking action on climate change–and they’ll try to convince you it’s not their job to clean up the pollution that’s wreaking havoc on our world.

So what does the American Petroleum Institute stand for, exactly? 

We know what we stand for: Health. Clean air. A stable climate. 

Dominique Browning|Moms Clean Air Force|5/19/2015

Fossil fuels subsidized by $10m a minute, says IMF

‘Shocking’ revelation finds $5.3 trillion subsidy estimate for 2015 is greater than the total health spending of all the world’s governments

Fossil fuel companies are benefitting from global subsidies of $5.3tn (£3.4tn) a year, equivalent to $10m a minute every day, according to a startling new estimate by the International Monetary Fund.

The IMF calls the revelation “shocking” and says the figure is an “extremely robust” estimate of the true cost of fossil fuels. The $5.3tn subsidy estimated for 2015 is greater than the total health spending of all the world’s governments.

The vast sum is largely due to polluters not paying the costs imposed on governments by the burning of coal, oil and gas. These include the harm caused to local populations by air pollution as well as to people across the globe affected by the floods, droughts and storms being driven by climate change.

Shell, ExxonMobil and Marathon Petroleum got subsidies granted by politicians who received significant campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry, Guardian investigation reveals

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Nicholas Stern, an eminent climate economist at the London School of Economics, said: “This very important analysis shatters the myth that fossil fuels are cheap by showing just how huge their real costs are. There is no justification for these enormous subsidies for fossil fuels, which distort markets and damages economies, particularly in poorer countries.”

Lord Stern said that even the IMF’s vast subsidy figure was a significant underestimate: “A more complete estimate of the costs due to climate change would show the implicit subsidies for fossil fuels are much bigger even than this report suggests.”

The IMF, one of the world’s most respected financial institutions, said that ending subsidies for fossil fuels would cut global carbon emissions by 20%. That would be a giant step towards taming global warming, an issue on which the world has made little progress to date.

Ending the subsidies would also slash the number of premature deaths from outdoor air pollution by 50% – about 1.6 million lives a year.

Furthermore, the IMF said the resources freed by ending fossil fuel subsidies could be an economic “game-changer” for many countries, by driving economic growth and poverty reduction through greater investment in infrastructure, health and education and also by cutting taxes that restrict growth.

Another consequence would be that the need for subsidies for renewable energy – a relatively tiny $120bn a year – would also disappear, if fossil fuel prices reflected the full cost of their impacts.

“These [fossil fuel subsidy] estimates are shocking,” said Vitor Gaspar, the IMF’s head of fiscal affairs and former finance minister of Portugal. “Energy prices remain woefully below levels that reflect their true costs.”

David Coady, the IMF official in charge of the report, said: “When the [$5.3tn] number came out at first, we thought we had better double check this!” But the broad picture of huge global subsidies was “extremely robust”, he said. “It is the true cost associated with fossil fuel subsidies.”

The IMF estimate of $5.3tn in fossil fuel subsidies represents 6.5% of global GDP. Just over half the figure is the money governments are forced to spend treating the victims of air pollution and the income lost because of ill health and premature deaths. The figure is higher than a 2013 IMF estimate because new data from the World Health Organisation shows the harm caused by air pollution to be much higher than thought.

Coal is the dirtiest fuel in terms of both local air pollution and climate-warming carbon emissions and is therefore the greatest beneficiary of the subsidies, with just over half the total. Oil, heavily used in transport, gets about a third of the subsidy and gas the rest.

The biggest single source of air pollution is coal-fired power stations and China, with its large population and heavy reliance on coal power, provides $2.3tn of the annual subsidies. The next biggest fossil fuel subsidies are in the US ($700bn), Russia ($335bn), India ($277bn) and Japan ($157bn), with the European Union collectively allowing $330bn in subsidies to fossil fuels.

The costs resulting from the climate change driven by fossil fuel emissions account for subsidies of $1.27tn a year, about a quarter, of the IMF’s total. The IMF calculated this cost using an official US government estimate of $42 a ton of CO2 (in 2015 dollars), a price “very likely to underestimate” the true cost, according to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The direct subsidizing of fuel for consumers, by government discounts on diesel and other fuels, account for just 6% of the IMF’s total. Other local factors, such as reduced sales taxes on fossil fuels and the cost of traffic congestion and accidents, make up the rest. The IMF says traffic costs are included because increased fuel prices would be the most direct way to reduce them.

Christiana Figueres, the UN’s climate change chief charged with delivering a deal to tackle global warming at a crunch summit in December, said: “The IMF provides five trillion reasons for acting on fossil fuel subsidies. Protecting the poor and the vulnerable is crucial to the phasing down of these subsidies, but the multiple economic, social and environmental benefits are long and legion.”

Barack Obama and the G20 nations called for an end to fossil fuel subsidies in 2009, but little progress had been made until oil prices fell in 2014. In April, the president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, told the Guardian that it was crazy that governments were still driving the use of coal, oil and gas by providing subsidies. “We need to get rid of fossil fuel subsidies now,” he said.

Reform of the subsidies would increase energy costs but Kim and the IMF both noted that existing fossil fuel subsidies overwhelmingly go to the rich, with the wealthiest 20% of people getting six times as much as the poorest 20% in low and middle-income countries. Gaspar said that with oil and coal prices currently low, there was a “golden opportunity” to phase out subsidies and use the increased tax revenues to reduce poverty through investment and to provide better targeted support.

Subsidy reforms are beginning in dozens of countries including Egypt, Indonesia, Mexico, Morocco and Thailand. In India, subsidies for diesel ended in October 2014. “People said it would not be possible to do that,” noted Coady. Coal use has also begun to fall in China for the first time this century.

On renewable energy, Coady said: “If we get the pricing of fossil fuels right, the argument for subsidies for renewable energy will disappear. Renewable energy would all of a sudden become a much more attractive option.”

Shelagh Whitley, a subsidies expert at the Overseas Development Institute, said: “The IMF report is yet another reminder that governments around the world are propping up a century-old energy model. Compounding the issue, our research shows that many of the energy subsidies highlighted by the IMF go toward finding new reserves of oil, gas and coal, which we know must be left in the ground if we are to avoid catastrophic, irreversible climate change.”

Developing the international cooperation needed to tackle climate change has proved challenging but a key message from the IMF’s work, according to Gaspar, is that each nation will directly benefit from tackling its own fossil fuel subsidies. “The icing on the cake is that the benefits from subsidy reform – for example, from reduced pollution – would overwhelmingly accrue to local populations,” he said.

“By acting local, and in their own best interest, [nations] can contribute significantly to the solution of a global challenge,” said Gaspar. “The path forward is clear: act local, solve global.”

Watch a https://embed.theguardian.com/embed/video/environment/video/2015/mar/16/the-biggest-story-in-the-world-why-we-need-to-keep-fossil-fuels-in-the-ground-video“>Video

Damian Carrington|18 May 2015

It’s Official: Texas Prohibits Local Fracking Bans

Yesterday Texas Gov. Abbott signed HB 40 into law. Written by former ExxonMobil lawyer Shannon Ratliff, the statute forces every Texas municipality wanting common sense limits on oil and gas development to demonstrate its rules are “commercially reasonable.” It effectively overturns a Denton ballot initiative banning fracking that passed last November.

“HB 40 was written by the oil and gas industry, for the oil and gas industry, to prevent voters from holding the oil and gas industry accountable for its impacts,” said Earthworks’ Texas organizer Sharon Wilson. Wilson, who played a key role in the Denton ballot initiative, continued, “It was the oil and gas industry’s contempt for impacted residents that pushed Denton voters to ban fracking in the first place. And now the oil and gas industry, through state lawmakers, has doubled down by showing every city in Texas that same contempt.”

By a 59-41 percent vote, including 70 percent of straight ticket Republican voters, the residents of Denton banned hydraulic fracturing within city limits. The ban was a last resort after more than five years of fruitlessly petitioning oil and gas companies, the city and the state for help. “By signing HB40 into law, Governor Abbott just declared that industry profits are more important than our health, our homes and our kids,” said Adam Briggle, president of the Denton Drilling Awareness Group and a leader in the Frack Free Denton effort. He continued, “The letter of Texas law now says no city can ‘effectively prevent an oil and gas operation from occurring,’ no matter the threat to families’ health and safety or damage to private property.”

Earthworks|Denton Drilling Awareness Group|Earthjustice|Natural Resources Defense Council|May 19, 2015

Activists blockade Seattle port to protest Shell’s Arctic drilling plans

For the second time in three days, Seattle is the vibrant center of the global climate movement. On Saturday, hundreds of “kayaktivists” took to the water to protest the recent arrival of a Shell oil drilling rig. On Monday, hundreds of activists blocked road traffic to the port where the rig is stationed, preventing the majority of port workers from getting to their jobs.

The immediate target of protest is Shell’s Polar Pioneer rig, which arrived in Puget Sound last Thursday. Shell intends to use Seattle as a staging ground for oil drilling operations in the Arctic. Activists are concerned about the high potential for spills and accidents in the remote, icy area off the Alaska coast, but they’re particularly outraged that Shell plans to drill for oil in the melting Arctic. Climate scientists have said Arctic oil must stay in the ground if we’re to prevent the worst of climate change. And they’re furious that Shell is bringing its dirty business to green Seattle.

The protesters began marching into the Port of Seattle before 7 a.m. on Monday. They successfully blocked traffic on the West Seattle bridge early in the morning and then created a blockade at the port’s Terminal 5, where the Polar Pioneer is parked. They were serious about their cause — but also serious about having some fun.

Rallying cries of “Shell No!” rang out across the terminal, activists displayed beautifully hand-painted banners and picket signs, local DJs started blasting some tunes and began a dance party, a flock of humans dressed as pelicans showed their moves, and two Alaskan natives performed traditional songs and told stories about their tribes’ ways of life. The terminal was flanked by Seattle police officers on bikes; both they and the protesters remained peaceful and no arrests were made.

The #ShellNo protests came together without any designated leadership, said Ahmed Gaya, an organizer for Rising Tide Seattle, an environmental activist organization.

“The fact that we turned about 500 people out at 7 a.m. … to come down and risk arrest from the Port, I mean that in and of itself is a tremendous show of strength. We said we were going to hold a festival of resistance at Terminal 5 and I think we’ve definitely made do [on that]. We’ve successfully blockaded the gates and created a festive environment that is open and welcoming. You see families here, kids here. We’ve made this very aggressive action accessible to a wide range of people and that’s been really beautiful,” Gaya said.

And indeed the protestors were a diverse group of people –university students, old-school activists, professionals in suits, and even a corgi or two.

“In my two and a half years of organizing in Seattle, I have never seen anything like this,” said Emily Johnston, an organizer with 350 Seattle. “Everybody has jumped in, everybody is passionate, everybody is pretty unified.”

Zoe Buckley Lennox, a Greenpeace activist who scaled and camped out on the Polar Pioneer drilling rig last month while it was en route to Seattle, was excited by the turnout. “It’s fulfilling that the story is going and people are still fighting this,” she said.

People who couldn’t attend in person tracked the #ShellNo action via social media. Two supporters from the East Coast even had pizzas delivered to the protesters, said Johnston.

George Pletnikoff, an Alaskan native from St. Paul Island in the Bering Sea, said the Seattle protests have been inspiring to him and the Unangan community in the Aleutian Islands. In Alaska, the climate movement is on the rise, he said, because people are seeing the impacts of global warming first-hand.

Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant also attended the protest. Sawant, a staunch advocate of workers’ rights and economic justice, was elected to the Seattle City Council in 2013 running on a platform advocating raising Seattle’s minimum wage to $15 per hour. A version of her proposal passed last year and started going into effect at the start of this year. She has since broadened her scope and become a vocal anti-Shell advocate, as have many other city leaders.

“We’re here today because elected leadership at every level has failed … If you look globally, if you observe who are the worst hit with environmental devastation, you will see that it’s systematically low-income people, the poor, those who are politically marginalized. …  There is no doubt that the movement for environmental sanity really is a movement for environmental justice,” said Sawant.

While activists who attended the event marked the protest as a victory, they all know that the fight has just begun. They hope to get the Polar Pioneer ejected from the Port of Seattle. Port commissioners approved Shell’s plan in January, but the mayor and the city council oppose it. Two weeks ago, Mayor Ed Murray declared that the Port of Seattle must reapply for a new permit to lease terminal space to Shell, which could delay the company’s Arctic drilling plans by weeks or months.

Meanwhile, activists will be cooking up more protests and direct actions, so expect Seattle to remain in the spotlight for a while.

Ana Sofia Knauf|18 May 2015

Flagler Commissioners Formalize Opposition to Fracking and Seismic Testing for Oil and Gas

Two weeks ago Flagler County commissioners said they wanted to formalize their opposition to off-shore oil and gas drilling and to fracking, the technique of drilling for oil through hydraulic fracturing of soil and rock beneath the surface. This evening, commissioners are expected to approve to resolutions to that effect.

Currently, some 90 percent of federally owned coastal waters are closed to drilling. Drilling off of Florida’s Gulf coast is banned until at least 2022.

But in January, the Obama administration—in a surprise—presented a plan that would allow oil and gas drilling off the Atlantic coast along the coastline of southern states. Leases would be issued in waters starting in Virginia and ending in Georgia, but not off of Florida. That followed a move by the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management last summer to allow seismic testing related to oil and gas exploration offshore along the entire coast—including off of Florida waters.

Sen. Bill Nelson, the Florida Democrat, sees the seismic testing allowance as a first step toward actual drilling. He failed to get the administration to back off of such testing. In late April, he filed a bill, S. 1171, that would impose an open-ended moratorium on oil and gas-related seismic activity. The moratorium would be lifted only if the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration determines that such activity’s effects on individuals or populations of marine mammals, sea turtles, or fish “are minimal.”

“Drilling off Florida’s Atlantic coast would be unwise and impractical,” Nelson said. “It would interfere with military operations off of Jacksonville and rocket launches from Kennedy Space Center and Patrick Air Force base, not to mention the environmental hazards it would pose. If you’re not going to drill there, then why do the seismic testing?”

Seismic testing triggers largely unknown effects on marine life. In March, 75 leading ocean scientists wrote Obama, urging him to halt the use of seismic testing off the Atlantic coast, claiming the activity “represents a significant threat to marine life throughout the region.” Gov. Rick Scott, too, asked the administration in late March to halt testing.

At a May 4 Flagler County Commission meeting, Commissioner Barbara Revels asked the county administrator to draft a resolution supporting Nelson’s and the governor’s opposition to seismic testing, and urging Congress to pass Nelson’s bill. The “enormity of environmental and ecological risk, in addition to that of public health and human safety,” the Flagler resolution  reads, “surpass the desire to expand oil and gas exploration and drilling in the advancement of strategic private business goals and objectives.”

The resolution makes note of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, and ties the county’s opposition to oil and gas drilling to Flagler’s tourism industry.

“Long term damage to marine life, ecosystems, business, and tourism around Florida’s Panhandle and along the coast has illustrated the gravity of economic and environmental danger oil and gas related catastrophes pose for the entire State should well-drilling in this region be permitted by Congress,” the administrator’s memo to the commission reads. “Flagler County is a hub for tourism in Florida and as a Coastal County, relies heavily on a clean ocean and beach environment to attract this new business both local and abroad.”

Revels also sought a similar statement opposing fracking, even though no such exploration appears likely in the county in the near future.

“I’m trying to think if you can even do fracking in Flagler County,” Commission Chairman Frank Meeker said.

But fracking has been drawing increasing attention and causing controversy because of its potential to heavily damage the environment, even though out of view. Fracking is conducted by drilling beneath the soil’s surface and injecting shale layers with mixtures of water and chemicals at extremely high pressures to release oil and gas trapped in rock. The relatively new exploration method led to a surge in oil and gas production in the United States, especially in North Dakota, Wyoming and Texas, but it has also been tied to small earthquakes and to the poisoning of water aquifers.

A bill filed in the Florida Legislature in the last, abbreviated session would have called for studies on fracking’s effects. The bill died.

“You talk about Florida’s water system, and all of our porous lime rock, and they start pumping that goo into our state and we will never have” clean water, Revels said.

And the problem with the limestone is it so easily can dissolve and collapse, and all of a sudden I’ve got a building falling,” Meeker said.

It is “the sense of this Board that the potential high-risk negative impact on the local and regional environment imposed by the process of mass hydraulic fracturing in the State of Florida is too perilous to allow these practices before the conclusion of a responsible scientific study and a potential moratorium by the people of this State,” the Flagler resolution reads.

The same day Flagler commissioners said they wanted to make the local government’s position known on fracking, the Texas legislature passed a bill prohibiting local governments from banning any sort of oil and gas drilling within their boundaries, including fracking. It was a hint of what’s ahead in the political debate over oil and gas exploration.

FlaglerLive|May 18, 2015

AP: Wind Turbines Being Installed in Sensitive Bird Habitat on Massive Scale

New research supported by American Bird Conservancy (ABC) shows that more than 30,000 wind turbines have been installed in areas critical to the survival of federally-protected birds in the United States and that more than 50,000 additional turbines are planned for construction in similar areas. More than 27,000 of these turbines exist in or are planned for federally identified or designated areas, including 24,000 turbines in the migration corridor of the Whooping Crane, one of the nation’s rarest and most spectacular birds, and, almost 3,000 turbines in breeding strongholds for Greater Sage-Grouse, a rapidly declining species recently considered for Endangered Species Act protection.

“Attempts to manage the wind industry with voluntary as opposed to mandatory permitting guidelines are clearly not working,” said Dr. Michael Hutchins, Director of ABC’s Bird Smart Wind Energy Campaign. “Wind developers are siting turbines in areas of vital importance to birds and other wildlife, and this new data shows that the current voluntary system needs to be replaced with a mandatory permitting system.”

The Associated Press (AP) independently calculated data on which the ABC based its report and reached a similar conclusion that large numbers of turbines are being built in important bird habitats.  The AP report is available at http://www.bostonherald.com/business/business_markets/2015/05/advocacy_group_wind_turbine_rules_needed_to_protect_birds.

The analysis was based on an interactive Wind Development Bird Risk Map produced by ABC that identifies specific areas across the United States where birds are likely to be particularly vulnerable to impacts from wind energy development. These include major migratory routes, breeding areas, and other sensitive bird habitats. Key areas on the map are colored red or orange to indicate the level of potential risk to birds, with red areas regarded to be of “Critical Importance”—the highest level of risk. According to ABC, these red areas have high potential for negative impacts on federally protected birds, but comprise less than nine percent of the total U.S. land area.

Locations of wind turbines analyzed in the study were derived from data supplied publicly by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for proposed turbines, and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) for existing turbines. These data sets provide specific locations for individual wind turbines in GIS format.

In February 2015, ABC updated and re-filed an earlier petition with the federal government requesting that it regulate the wind industry with regard to bird impacts. It now appears that they are beginning to see the shortcomings in the current federal guidelines for the wind industry. In December 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) solicited comments on the government’s efforts to manage the wind industry and stated: “We are currently in the process of evaluating the efficacy and use of the Guidelines, and the Service is considering regulatory options.” Additionally, FWS commented that the current guidelines, in some cases, have not been “…successful in preventing wind energy facilities from being constructed in areas of high risk to wildlife.”

Because of the threat of rising bird mortality and the explosive growth of the wind industry, ABC and a coalition of more than 70 conservation organizations earlier requested that the U.S. Department of the Interior develop a National Programmatic Wind Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to identify appropriate areas for wind energy development, as well as areas where development should be avoided completely to conserve federally protected birds and especially sensitive habitats. However, in a letter dated July 31, 2014, Interior responded that they “currently do not have the resources to undertake the nationwide process.” Such resources, however, could be made available under a paid permitting system already proposed by ABC.

By 2030, it is estimated that more than 1.4 million birds could be killed annually by wind turbines, not including losses at associated transmission lines and towers. There is currently a once-only opportunity to minimize this mortality through mandatory permitting, leading to proper siting and mitigation for bird fatalities before tens of thousands more turbines are built. Read more about the study at http://www.abcbirds.org/abcprograms/policy/collisions/wind_siting.html.

  From Steve Holmer|American Bird Conservancy

Department of Energy: Taller turbines would bring wind energy to Florida

Florida has wind-energy potential with new breed of turbines.

The U.S. Department of Energy reported that Florida could exploit wind energy by installing super-tall wind machines called turbines. So far, wind energy is mostly unknown in Florida. Here’s how a turbine works. (Source: Department of Energy)

Turbines as tall as nearly two football fields are long would be the ticket to Florida wind energy.

Long dismissed as a wasteland by wind-energy producers, it turns out Florida does have enough breeze to generate lots of electricity — but it will take some reaching to get it, according to new federal findings.

The U.S. Department of Energy released a report Tuesday that argues wind energy can spread from 39 states to the rest of the nation by installing taller generators.

Those propellers on poles would have to be more than incrementally higher to tap profitable winds at higher altitudes. They would need to grow from a typical 260 feet tall to as much as 460 feet tall.

Those heights merely are at a hub that anchors three blades. With one of those blades pointing up, the machine, called a turbine, would be nearly 660 feet tall, or more than 200 feet taller than Orlando’s tallest building, the SunTrust Center.

Jose Zayas, DOE director for Wind and Water Power Technologies, said the study found wind velocities at higher altitudes that would make it economically worthwhile to install a new breed of turbines.

Wind supplies more than 4 percent of the nation’s electricity, with most wind farms spread along a swath of the nation’s interior, in California and Oregon and in Texas, the nation’s biggest producer.

“States primarily in the Southeast, as well as in the West and the Northeast, really started glowing, per se, with a potential that many believed did not exist,” Zayas said of the report’s conclusions.

In Midwestern states, turbines chop away at robust winds that can blow around the clock.

Release of the DOE report was pegged to the annual American Wind Energy Association in Orlando this week.

Solar and wind are touted as clean forms of energy that are free of emissions linked to smog, acid rain and climate change, and consume little water. But they also are dogged by criticism by some as visual blight and for taking a large toll on a variety of birds, including eagles.

Under development in Europe now, the super-tall turbines would need technology advances for transporting such large pieces of machinery in the U.S. and for keeping them standing in Florida during a hurricane. Also needed would be a new generation of monster construction cranes.

Advocates think those challenges will be conquered soon.

“Wind-turbine technology has advanced in just a few decades from the Model T era to more like that of a Tesla Model S,” association CEO Tom Kiernan said.

A leading maker of turbines, Siemens Corp., is ready to share its tall-turbine experience in Europe.

“Taller wind towers represent a significant growth opportunity for wind energy in the United States,” said Orlando-based Jacob Andersen, CEO of Siemens Wind Power and Renewables Onshore Americas.

Gulf Power became the leading Florida utility in wind energy recently by agreeing to buy electricity from the Kingfisher Wind plant in Oklahoma, which goes into production this year. The Panhandle utility will buy the output of 89 turbines, or enough to supply nearly 51,000 homes.

The parent company of Florida Power & Light Co., NextEra Energy, describes itself as the biggest owner of wind energy in North America, producing enough power for a city the size of Chicago.

But FPL nixed a major test of wind energy and has not opted to import wind-generated electricity, choosing to rely on natural gas, nuclear and a small but growing amount of solar. The company has not reviewed the DOE report, a spokeswoman said.

Orlando Utilities Commission is considering a small-scale test of wind technology.

“In reality we wish we had wind,” said Byron Knibbs, OUC vice president. He said it would be a good fit with the utility’s pursuit of solar because wind can make power at night and during cloudy weather.

“But I’m looking out from my office right now, and I can’t see a leaf move,” Knibbs said.

Kevin Spear|Orlando Sentinel|5/20/15

[South Florida Audubon Society opposes wind turbines in Florida because of the proximity to the Atlantic Migratory Flyway. These 460’ turbines with their 200’ long blades turning at 18 RPM would spin at a minimum peripheral speed of 129 MPH, making contact with one of them lethal if a bird should fly into it.]

Advocates: Turbine rules needed to protect birds
Voluntary approach falls short, say leaders

PORT AUSTIN — Federal guidelines from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service urge wind energy developers to locate turbines with special care in places such as the “Thumb” region of Michigan’s mitten-shaped Lower Peninsula — or avoid them altogether, to prevent fatal collisions between birds and the towers’ whirring blades.

But an advocacy group says the government’s voluntary approach is allowing too many wind farms to be built or planned in important nesting areas and flight paths across large sections of the nation.

A new analysis by the American Bird Conservancy said more than 30,000 of the existing 48,000 turbines are in places that government agencies or nonprofit organizations such as the National Audubon Society describe as having special significance to birds. More than 50,000 others are planned for construction in such locations — about half of all turbines on the drawing board nationwide, according to the study, which the conservancy provided to The Associated Press.

Locations that the group considers sensitive range from the Prairie Pothole region of the Great Plains, home to the threatened piping plover, to the entire state of Hawaii, where 32 bird species that exist only there are listed as endangered or threatened. Another is Huron County, at the tip of Michigan’s Thumb, where 328 turbines already generate power and local officials have approved 50 more.

Preaches ‘bird smart’ energy

“Wind turbines are among the fastest-growing threats to our nation’s birds,” said Michael Hutchins, coordinator of a conservancy program that encourages “bird smart” wind energy production.

The AP produced similar results after independently calculating data on which the conservancy based its report. The group used data from the U.S. Geological Survey, which keeps records of existing turbines, and the Federal Aviation Administration, which developers are required to notify before building new ones.

The conservancy said more than 96,000 planned turbines nationwide were listed in the FAA database, even after eliminating those it considered likely to be canceled because the agency designated them as posing a high-risk to air traffic. But the American Wind Energy Association, which represents the industry, said even that adjusted total is overstated.

Wind industry disputes numbers

A spokesman for the wind association, Tom Vinson, said the FAA figures aren’t meaningful because many will be scrapped because of wildlife concerns, inability to find a purchaser for the power or secure land agreements, high transmission costs or other reasons. “It won’t be anywhere near 96,000, and certainly not over the next several years,” Vinson said.

Spokesman Paul Takemoto said the FAA doesn’t track which projects on its list eventually are completed, although developers are required to remove ones from the list that are abandoned.

The wind industry also said some of the high-risk areas are too broadly defined, and some birds fly high enough not to be endangered by turbines.

Location is important — but how much is an unsettled question, said Andrew Farnsworth, a bird migration expert with the Cornell University ornithology laboratory. There is little peer-reviewed scientific research about the relative risk posed by the density of turbines in an area, their siting and height, nocturnal lighting and the habitat needs of particular bird species, he said.

Estimated death toll

What’s certain is that lots of birds have fatal encounters with turbines, Farnsworth said. Studies have produced varying numbers, he said, but the most recent and comprehensive analysis estimated the annual death toll between 140,000 and 328,000. The wind energy association says that’s a small number compared to the millions that collide with buildings and telecommunications towers or are killed by cats. Parr said the conservancy is concerned about all those threats but is focusing on wind power because it’s a “large-scale, newly developing threat to birds,” especially during migration.

JOHN FLESHER|ASSOCIATED PRESS|5/20/15

[It may be a small number in comparison to other lethal actions, but it is still a number, and one that wouldn’t exist without the turbines. The preceding article points out that to be effective in Florida, the height of the turbines should be increased to 460’, which, with their 200’ long blades, puts their overall height at 660’, increasing the potential number of strikes with birds that fly higher than the lower turbines.]

Wind Power Without The Mills

Vortex Bladeless is a radical company. It wants to completely change the way we get energy from the wind. Think wind stick instead of a massive tower with blades that capture blowing winds.

Wind stick. Really. Lest you think I’m mad, I’ve included a picture of this bladeless generator that helps with the visualization and explains the company name.

See? There are no blades. What that “stick” (the company prefers, mast) does is capitalize on an effect of the wind which has been a very serious problem for architects and engineers for decades.

When wind hits a structure and flows over its surfaces the flow changes and generates a cyclical pattern of vortices at the tail end of the flow. This is known as the vortex shedding effect which creates something known as vorticity and that is what Vortex Bladeless uses to generate energy. For those who need a explanation that exceeds my ability to fully explain, check out this link from Columbia University on the subject and then come back and join the rest of us who won’t wait for you. (you’re clearly ahead of us anyway)

If you are still here with me, the company likes to give a classic example of vorticity that is immediately understandable; the collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge that came apart three months after it opened in 1940. This clip posted on YouTube from a film made as the bridge undulated, wavered and ultimately shows the very dramatic effect of vortex shedding. Powerful stuff. Engineers immediately changed the way they designed and built bridges as a result of this incident.

What the engineers at Vortex Bladeless are doing is embracing this effect instead of avoiding the aerodynamic instabilities to capitalize on the oscillation and therefore capture the energy. The mast is designed to oscillate in the wind (which is very different from Blowing in the Wind). As you can see in the picture above, this is not your usual wind turbine. It consists of a fixed mast, a power generator that has no moving parts which come into contact with each other and a semi-rigid fiberglass cylinder. The power generator is a system of magnetic coupling devices which means there are no gears needing lubrication and an overall system needing less maintenance.

Vortex 6m PrototypeAccording to David Suriol Puigvert, one of the company’s co-founders (there are 3), the costs of a Votex system are dramatically lower than traditional wind turbines. The company publically claims maintenance costs that are 80% below a traditional wind turbine with manufacturing costs that are 53% lower. The lower maintenance & manufacturing costs add up an estimated lower cost per kilowatt.

 

In addition to the lower carbon footprint of a wind turbine, Vortex claims even further reductions. Because there are no spinning blades, no birds are caught up and sent to their deaths in the name of greener energy. And the lack of blades means something else; much lower noise. Did you know there is a bi-annual conference for the purpose of resolving noise complaints from the large utility-scale turbines? I didn’t. Having driven by large wind farms in the mid-west I can say that I never noticed a problem yet it’s good to know a lot of attention is being given to the issue.

The fly in this very cool ointment is that the technology is a proven concept and is currently is being tested and fine tuned in the field. This means we are about a year away from the reality of Vortex generated electricity. Initially, the co-founders were looking at large generating devices. That remains a longer-term goal but a much shorter range goal is a device of 4kW Vortex that would be about 13 meters tall (40’) and weigh about 220lbs. The company sees this generator being used in conjunction with solar generation for homes that are either off the grid or want to be off the grid. They are also developing a 100W device that will stand about 3 meters (9’) tall weighing about 22lbs. It is named the Vortex Atlantis and the company believes it can be used in off-grid areas to bring power to third world/developing villages where power could be a matter of life and again, used with solar generation. Those devices are forecast to be on the market in roughly a year.A 1MW generator is currently forecast to be about 3 years from market.

Just a quick word about the company before wrapping up. Vortex is a Spanish tech start-up. Its funding, so far, has come from a Repsol Foundation Grant, a loan from the Spanish Government and venture capitalists in Spain (Spanish Angels). In February of this year, Vortex Bladeless relocated to Boston. Here it is working with Harvard University, SunEdison, IDEO and is working with venture capitalists for its next round of Series A funding. Due to public interest in investing in the company, they will launch a crowdfunding campaign on June 1. As always, look before you leap. This is very exciting technology but let your brain guide your investing not your excitement.

We cannot accept risky loopholes in oil-drilling legislation

One thing we have learned from irresponsible oil drilling practices that took place at the Hogan well in Collier County is that fracking-like activities in Florida can come in many forms. Our unique geology of very porous limestone allows drillers to fracture (aka “frack”) or dissolve rock underground with acids. They then pump toxic chemicals underground for stimulating increased oil production.

The Dan A. Hughes Co. used both at the Hogan well. However, the state regulatory agency did not object to the acid stimulation method, even though it used many of the same dangerous fracking chemicals as when the well was later fracked.

Legislation filed this session also turned a blind eye to acid stimulation with toxic fracking fluids – only addressing some forms of fracking that involves “high-pressure well stimulation” using more than100,000 gallons of fluid total.

The problem is that this would exclude regulating two of the three forms of fracking-like activity that actually were pursued or performed at the Hogan well: one encompassing fracking with less than 100,000 gallons total and another involving acid stimulation with fracking chemicals but without high pressure.

California has recognized that acid stimulation with fracking chemicals, otherwise known as acidization, is potentially as dangerous as acid fracking or standard fracking. California passed legislation in 2013 to study and regulate all of these well-stimulation techniques. The first part of the California study recently released states that acid stimulation is more effective in carbonate reservoirs, which California doesn’t have. However, Florida does – including right here in Southwest Florida.

Wh ile some assert these acid stimulation techniques with fracking fluids have been done for decades here, it is the very different acid well cleaning that has been done for decades. No one is suggesting our legislation should require studying and suspending acid cleanings. But without the definition in Florida’s current legislation broadened to remove the 100,000-gallon and high pressure thresholds, we will be regulating only a small subset of fracking-like techniques.

Meanwhile, fracking using less than 100,000 gallons of fluid total and fracking-like acid stimulation using the same toxic chemicals will not be studied, suspended or the chemicals used appropriately disclosed.

Instead, they will continue to be allowed virtually unregulated and in almost complete secrecy – posing a continual unacceptable risk to our public water supplies.

Legislation that only addresses some forms of dangerous fracking-like techniques and not others can provide false assurance that the public is getting basic regulatory protection that it is not.

While it has been stated that some legislation is better than none so we should accept and support the current legislation, we at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida will not support legislation that lacks these most minimal of safeguards to regulate the various well-stimulation methods that use toxic chemicals.

The silver lining of the bills not passing in regular session is there is still the potential to improve them. Having these bills come back next session, or perhaps even in special session next month, gives our community a second chance to push for the legislation we need and deserve.

Getting more meaningful legislation to study and regulate all forms of fracking-like extraction, however, will require a concerted effort among all public interest stakeholders including the Collier County Commission.

The Conservancy has been willing to compromise on many important elements to work together in a good-faith effort toward achieving that.

Unfortunately, the commission (with the exception of Commissioner Penny Taylor) instead decided recently to send the Legislature a letter expressing support for the current bills, stating they will not be lobbying for amendments to address deficiencies that even their own staff characterized as “loopholes” in the bills.

We call upon the commission, and all those in this community who believe in promoting responsible resource extraction that does not jeopardize our water supplies or quality of life, to come together to use this opportunity to get more meaningful legislation passed.

We appreciate the efforts to advance legislation to address this issue, but proposed bills that do not close these significant loopholes leave our community and natural resources at risk. We cannot be lulled into complacency by bills that fall short in the most fundamental ways, for if they pass, it will not be a step in the right direction so much as an excuse to move on to other issues – leaving us without knowing where and when these other dangerous techniques are being used or the power to do anything about it.

Rob Moher|President and CEO|Conservancy of Southwest Florida

Born from Disaster: Japan Establishes First Microgrid Community

Following the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan, one city decided to transition to a clean, renewable future and became Japan’s first microgrid community.

Although Japan’s Fukushima prefecture is most commonly associated with the 2011 disaster due to the nuclear power melt-down, Miyazaki prefecture, located north of Fukushima, suffered the largest death toll, close to 10,000, and the largest flood damage in the nation.

Located on the coast, Higashimatsushima city was no exception. It had a catastrophic tsunami-caused flood, which put 65 percent of the city under water, with over 1,100 lives lost. Approximately 10,000 residents lost their homes and were forced to evacuate.

“After the disaster, some parts of the town didn’t get electricity for up to three months,” said Tohoru Ishigaki at the office of Future City Initiative under the city’s Department of Disaster Recovery Policy. “We strongly felt [after the disaster] that our responsibility was to provide reliable energy.”

Turn Local Tragedy Into a New and Vibrant Vision

To create a safe, resilient and sustainable society for the remaining population of 40,000, the city decided to deploy distributed, clean renewable energy sources. Under post-disaster recovery and reconstruction plans, the city set a bold goal to become a Net Zero Energy City by 2022, supplying the entire city with locally produced energy.

As a first step, the city turned a flood-affected former city park into a 2-MW solar photovoltaic (PV) project. This project symbolizes the city’s commitment to energy self-sufficiency. Mitsui & Co., Ltd, one of the largest trading company in Japan, completed this system in the summer 2013. The company also built PV carport systems with a total capacity of 270 kW at three locations on high ground, away from the vulnerable coastline. These sites are designated for evacuations and solar power will provide emergency power.

Higashimatsushima city is currently building Japan’s first microgrid community called Higashimatsushima Disaster-Prepared, Smart Eco-Town. The community not only can provide backup power for the grid in case of emergencies, but can allow the community to be more energy independent and environmentally friendly.

This microgrid community is a joint project between the city and Sekisui House, the Japan’s leading house developer, with a research funding from the Ministry of Environment. The community consists of 70 detached, single-family homes and 15 multifamily apartment buildings, all of which are owned by the city and are rented to 85 families who lost homes four years ago.

“The homes are earthquake-resistant, high-insulating steel framed buildings with advanced energy efficiency,” explained a Public Relation manager at Sekisui House. The homebuilder had already built three Zero Net Energy (ZNE) housing communities in other disaster-affected areas in Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures. The community in Fukushima, which includes solar, fuel cell, and energy storage systems, was the first ZNE community ever built in Fukushima.

Sekisui House is currently finishing up constructions at the Smart Eco-Town, and by this August it will be open for new tenants who are eagerly looking forward to coming back to the hometown.

The community also includes four hospitals, a few public buildings and a park.  Energy loads at this community will be served by the integration of distributed, clean energy — PV systems (470 kW) and bio-diesel generator (500 kW) together with a large-scale energy storage (500 kWh). When the centralized power grid becomes unavailable, the community will be able to function autonomously.

There are three PV systems in this community: a 400-kW PV system over a reservoir, a 60-kW system on the apartment buildings, and a 10-kW system at the assembly hall, which serves as a community-gathering place in case of emergencies. Any excess electricity generated from these PV systems during the day will be stored in the battery system and used at night.

When disconnected from the traditional grid, the town can supply three day’s worth of everyday energy needs for residents and buildings in the town. During a prolonged power failure, the town can still provide minimum energy needs for the hospitals and assembly hall.

City Operated Electrical Grid Infrastructure

What is more unique about this project is the town’s electrical grid infrastructure is developed and owned by the city, instead of by a regional electric power company, which operates as a regulated monopoly. “The city has invested in a smart grid infrastructure, building grid lines, poles, distribution substations, and smart meters for this town,” said Ishigaki. 

Having its own distribution system, the city will get an electricity supply contract with Tohoku Electric Company (the regional utility) or renewable energy independent power producers (IPPs) and distribute electricity to each 85 households in the town.

With a Community Energy Management System (CEMS), the city can monitor electricity consumption and generation data via individual smart meters, manage energy storage system for peak-demand shaving, and bill customers. During emergencies, the system will start the biodiesel generator and control and balance energy needs with solar and energy storage.

The city can also lower electricity costs by negotiating electricity contracts on behalf of the entire town. “It is cheaper if we get one contract from electricity providers than having 85 separate contracts,” said Ishigaki. “We will invest the money saved by consolidating electricity contracts into other infrastructures of the town. Eventually we would like to create a community-based, retail electricity provider business (out of the city-owned grid system) to create much needed jobs in the town.”

Zero Net Energy City by 2022

The city of Shigashimatsushima is making a huge transition with an ambitious plan to replace the traditional centralized energy grid with an interactive grid, which would deliver energy from cleaner, more sustainable sources generated from distributed power systems.

“Most importantly, first we need to improve our energy efficiency from the residential and industrial sectors in the city to reduce our carbon footprints, then deploy renewable energy,” said Ishigaki. The city has a goal to reduce its foot print by 8 percent from the 2010 level by 2020.

Furthermore, for the city to provide 100 percent of electricity needs by 2022, it will need to install between 33 and 44 MW of renewable energy capacity from solar, wind, and biomass generation. Currently, the city is conducting extensive feasibility studies on the local renewable resources to address climate change while stimulating a local economy.

Junko Movellan|Correspondent|May 18, 2015

Coast to Coast and Across the Electric System, Microgrids Provide Benefits to All

Microgrids are getting a lot of attention. Yet how they’re developed could dramatically alter today’s electricity system.

At the most obvious level, microgrids could disrupt today’s utilities and their regulated-monopoly business model, because they challenge the centralized paradigm. In a nutshell, microgrids are localized power grids that have the ability to disconnect from the main, centralized grid to operate independently when the main power grid experiences disturbances. This significantly boosts grid resilience. For almost a century, large centralized power plants have generated electricity and delivered that energy over high-voltage transmission lines to customers. But with microgrids, all that could change.

Less obviously, microgrids challenge the basic assumption that the power grid must be controlled by a monopoly electric utility. Multiple microgrids on the south side of Chicago, for example, could be owned by different entities (not just a utility or even a platform provider, which would provide an exchange between customers and distributed energy generators) with contract arrangements among them controlling the sharing of power. Put another way, microgrids open the distribution system to some level of competition and, thereby, engage entrepreneurs and advance innovation.

Types of Microgrids

Interest in microgrids grew substantially after Hurricane Sandy wiped out much of the centralized infrastructure and power lines throughout the Northeast. Even before that major storm, however, concerns were increasing about power grid failures, 80-90 percent of which start at the distribution level, or with local lines. These outages cost the U.S. economy $336 billion between 2003 and 2012.

Microgrids are attractive since they offer the ability to isolate outages and increase reliability. Yet they also have the potential to reduce pollution, embrace clean energy sources, beef up cyber security, and cut costs for utilities and their customers.

These small-scale versions of today’s centralized power grid come in numerous shapes and sizes. Most frequently they are organized around a single campus, such as a hospital or university (e.g., Illinois Institute of Technology), but they could be within an industrial park (e.g., Eastman Business Park) or a mixed-use community (e.g., Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood).

Difference of Opinions, Benefits for All

Stakeholders have different views on microgrids, but most agree, microgrids offer tangible benefits. Environmentalists, for example, tend to see them as opportunities to enable clean, distributed generation, such as community solar farms, yet they want to ensure the microgrid isn’t fueled by dirty, diesel-fired units exclusively. Third-party developers tend to have a similar perspective and hope microgrids offer new business opportunities. Municipalities and rural communities think microgrids enhance reliability, as well as expand local economic development.

Even a growing number of utilities see microgrids as complements to their business models, particularly as they roll out smart meters and advanced wires infrastructure. Commonwealth Edison (ComEd), for instance, just introduced legislation that would allow it to invest $300 million to build several microgrids, including at the Illinois Medical District, the Aurora FAA facility, and the Chicago Heights water pumping and treatment facility.

Yet ComEd, not surprisingly, wants to control the microgrids and own the distributed generators (e.g., solar arrays and cogeneration units) within them, thereby expanding its monopoly to these decentralized power plants, as well as wires. And, utility interest in building, owning, and operating microgrids is spreading across the country: from Central Hudson Gas & Electric in New York to Duke Energy in North Carolina, DTE Energy in Michigan, and Southern California Edison.

While microgrids can advance clean, distributed energy, resiliency, and innovation, their future depends upon policies that ensure market signals advance such goals and minimize monopoly barriers. Microgrids, in fact, force us to confront certain questions: will we support the status quo of centralized, monopoly-owned power plants or embrace innovation and competition? Will we rely solely on regulation or also on contracts to advance clean energy?

Dick Munson|Environmental Defense Fund|May 14, 2015

Where does nuclear power fit in our future?

The debate over nuclear power doesn’t usually appear on the front pages, but when it does, it…

The debate over nuclear power doesn’t usually appear on the front pages, but when it does, it tends to be swamped by mythology and fact-free politics.

One of the many things Americans take for granted is the cheap and plentiful supply of electricity. How long our electricity supply remains so will probably depend on the future of nuclear power generation in America. But what Americans may not realize is that nuclear power itself is as sustainable and inexpensive as any power source.

So why isn’t America investing in nuclear energy?

Our country uses about 25 percent of the electricity used in the world. Today, 99 nuclear power plants operating in 30 U.S. states generate just under 20 percent of America’s total electricity supply.

And yet, as many as 25 of the 99 reactors may be shut down in the next five years. Moreover, the federal Energy Information Administration predicts that about 20 percent of our coal-fired electricity plants may also be closed down by 2020. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., says the coal closings could be replaced by 48 new 1,259 megawatt nuclear reactors. However, it’s very unlikely that those reactors will be built.

Advocates of nuclear power point out that as America’s population and economy grow, so must the electricity supply. They say that such growth must result in a renaissance in nuclear power because it’s safe, efficient and lacks carbon emissions. They say, correctly, that nuclear power is cheaper than renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. And they point to innovations such as those from the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works scientists and engineers who have produced a prototype of a small fusion reactor that they claim could power a city of 50,000 to 100,000 people and would fit on the back of a large tractor-trailer truck.

The opponents say there shouldn’t be an expansion of nuclear power because it’s not safe. They point to the 1979 Three Mile Island incident, to the 1986 Chernobyl disaster and to the 2011 Fukushima incident in Japan to prove their case.

Opponents support sustainable power generation — by which they mean only solar and wind power — because those generation methods don’t burn fossil fuels or emit carbon dioxide (Under that definition, nuclear power is equally “sustainable”). Opponents of nuclear power also claim that the costs of wind and solar power are being reduced sufficiently to make them economically viable.

Before Japan’s Fukushima incident, many developed nations were betting heavily on nuclear power. In the Fukushima events, an earthquake and tidal wave resulted in a substantial release of radioactive gas when three reactor cores melted down because their supply of cooling water was interrupted. Although there were no deaths from radiation sickness, about 100,000 people were displaced for varying periods of time. In Fukushima’s aftermath, Japan began to shut down all of its nuclear power plants. The cost of electricity to Japanese consumers rose almost 60 percent. Now, Japan is reportedly trying to bring many of its nuclear power plants back online.

After Fukushima, German Chancellor Angela Merkel decided to close all of her nation’s nuclear plants by 2022 and shift to sustainable or green power sources such as solar and wind.

But, simply put, the numbers don’t work for Germany or any other advocates of sustainable electric power sources. According to the World Nuclear Association, the cost of generating electricity in 2012 was about 23 cents per kilowatt hour for oil, 4 cents per kWh for coal and gas, about 3.5 cents per kWh for nuclear and about 0.85 per kWh for hydroelectric power. The federal EIA estimate the cost of wind power at over 8 cents per kWh (depending on how hard the wind blows). And, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the price of solar power is between 12 and 30 cents per kWh.

What about safety? Fears over public health and safety have caused politicians in many nations to block development of nuclear power, despite the fact that it is extraordinarily safe. The Soviet Union’s Chernobyl disaster caused at least 50 deaths from radiation poisoning and perhaps thousands more from long-term effects — contrast that with the only major nuclear accident in the United States, the 1979 partial meltdown of the Pennsylvania Three Mile Island nuclear plant. in which a quantity of radioactive gas was released.

An important distinction is that no people were injured by the Three Mile Island event. The Soviet reactors that melted down at Chernobyl were vastly less safe than those built in the West because the standards to which they were built were much lower than U.S. nuclear plants, including Three Mile Island. And in the nearly 30 years since Three Mile Island, U.S. nuclear safety standards have become even more stringent.

When you consider the example set by the U.S. Navy, America’s nuclear power safety record shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Since the first nuclear-powered ship, the submarine USS Nautilus, was launched in 1954, the Navy hasn’t had any significant accidents caused by its shipboard nuclear reactors. That record is the result of what retired Navy Rear Adm. Rich O’Hanlon says are the three pillars of Navy nuclear propulsion. O’Hanlon is the former skipper of the nuclear-powered USS Theodore Roosevelt and former commander of Naval Forces Atlantic.

The first pillar is engineering design. In simplest terms, O’Hanlon told the Washington Examiner, electronic and mechanical safeguards are designed into the reactor so that even if its human operators fail to follow established procedures, it will shut down before it can melt down. The second pillar is procedural compliance. The Navy demands and enforces — to the level of specifying the method in which every order is given — procedural compliance at every step of reactor operation. The third pillar is training.

O’Hanlon, like every other nuclear-qualified officer, had to take a 15-month course to qualify to operate a reactor or to command a nuclear-powered ship. That training is followed by continuous retraining and inspection.

The Navy’s practices boil down to the biggest difference between the Navy and the private sector’s nuclear power plants: The Navy is virtually self-regulating. In contrast, the civilian nuclear industry is regulated as a utility by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, state agencies and the most potent regulatory force: politics.

There should be a burgeoning effort to build new nuclear power plants — to which even the global warmists such as President Obama can’t object — because these plants don’t emit carbon dioxide. They’re entirely sustainable because they only have to be refueled about every five years or so.

So why isn’t there any foreseeable nuclear renaissance on the horizon? As Jack Spencer, vice president of the Heritage Foundation’s Institute for Economic Freedom and Opportunity told the Examiner, the reason for a lack of enthusiasm for nuclear power is antiquated government laws and regulations that add up to a failed national nuclear power policy.

In fact, Spencer said that we really don’t even know how much nuclear power costs because of the overregulated and government-limited market policies.

Spencer pointed to the 2005 Energy Policy Act, which presumed that if a few new nuclear plants were subsidized, support within the private sector would take off and many more would be built. But, as Spencer said, the Act only served to spur the building of the five reactors that it subsidized. (They are two in Georgia, two in South Carolina and one in Tennessee.)

Are we, then, in an endless loop of government regulation, consuming both time and money, that will continue to prevent new nuclear power plants from being built? Spencer thinks the loop can be broken if the government’s legal and regulatory heavy hand is lifted, thereby removing the obstacles that block free market forces.

The problem boils down to this: If there was a strong political movement that demanded more nuclear power, the government’s stifling of market forces could be overcome. But there isn’t one. Until there is, the government’s heavy hand will continue to limit what the nuclear power industry can do. And the cost of electricity to industry and consumers will continue to rise.

Jed Babbin|May 18, 2015

[ it has long been my contention that nuclear power is not safe, as pointed out above, it is not sustainable, because the nuclear fuel (uranium) is a finite resource and it is not clean because it produces a by-product that we cannot safely store.]

Big Oil’s astronomical hand-out: Fossil fuels receive $5.3 trillion in global subsidies each year

We’re not paying the true cost of oil, gas and coal

If fossil fuels are “cheap” — or even affordable — it’s only because the world’s governments are subsidizing the true cost of their impacts.

Those subsidies amount, according to a new report from researchers at the International Monetary Fund, to an astounding $5.3 trillion in benefits per year — or, if you need another way of picturing such an astronomical figure, $10 million per minute.

That means that for every minute during which climate-altering greenhouse gases are being pumped into the atmosphere, protestors are decrying the further development of fossil fuels and politicians are debating whether this global warming thing is even real, we’re forking over cash to help fossil fuel companies preserve the status quo.

The report takes for granted that “subsidies” include more than the money traditionally bestowed upon the industry — a collective $88 billion from the G-20 nations, according to one estimate — to the consequences of burning fossil fuels, which governments are left to deal with. Those include health and environmental impacts both local, as with air pollution, and global, such as sea level rise and extreme weather linked to climate change.

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It was the former, in fact, that contributed to three-quarters of the final figure arrived at by the IMF researchers. “While the large size of our new estimates may be surprising, it is important to put in perspective just how many health problems are linked to energy consumption and air quality,” Benedict Clements, of the IMF’s fiscal affairs department, explained. (One in eight global deaths can be attributed to air pollution, according to the World Health Organization.) It suggests that even beyond the climate benefits of the entire world working together to wean Big Oil and Gas off subsidies, any one government’s work to keep fossil fuels in the ground will carry significant health — and monetary — benefits at a local level.

Indeed, the report found that ending the subsidies could cut in half the number of deaths attributed to outdoor air pollution, saving 1.6 million lives each year. And the money, naturally, could be put to better use: the report cites health, education and infrastructure as areas to which it could be redirected, helping to combat poverty and drive economic growth. It could also, of course, be invested in energy efficiency and renewable energy.

In a nutshell: we’ve just been handed 5.3 trillion more reasons to start saying no to the fossil fuel industry.

Lindsay Abrams|5/21/15 

State of Emergency in California

Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency in Santa Barbara County due to the effects of an oil spill at Refugio State Beach. Up to 105,000 gallons of crude oil spilled from an onshore pipe on Tuesday and approximately 21,000 gallons reached the open water before the pipe was sealed.

“This emergency proclamation cuts red tape and helps the state quickly mobilize all available resources,” Brown said. “We will do everything necessary to protect California’s coastline.”

While the oil companies save face, Environment California will do everything necessary to save our coasts from the real dangers of drilling. This latest spill just reiterates what we already know: We can’t extract oil and transport it without putting our beaches, wildlife, and coastal communities at risk.

The Refugio State Beach spill, which now covers at least 9 miles of California’s natural coastline, is not the first to hit Santa Barbara County. The infamous Santa Barbara oil spill of 1969 spewed an estimated 3 million gallons of crude oil into the ocean, creating an oil slick 35 miles long and killing thousands of birds, fish and sea mammals. It also gave birth to the modern environmental movement.

Unfortunately, it appears we are still fighting the same fight we fought more than 45 years ago. Oil companies and state government pledge to protect our coastline, but overlook the obvious solution: clean, renewable energy.

Our remaining natural coastline is too precious to risk to the dangers of drilling—and we know no amount of safety regulations can prevent a disaster. The sad fact is: when you drill, you spill.

Dan Jacobson|Legislative Director|Environment California

Company whose pipeline burst in Santa Barbara has extensive record of safety violations

Since 2006, the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has logged more than 175 maintenance and safety violations by the company whose pipeline burst in Santa Barbara County, California, Tuesday night. That makes its rate of incidents per mile of pipe more than three times the national average, according to an analysis by the Los Angeles Times, which found only four companies with worse records. But those infractions only generated $115,600 in fines against the company, Plains All American Pipeline, even though the incidents caused more than $23 million in damage.

It was initially reported that 500 barrels of oil had leaked from the broken pipe, but authorities later said the total could be in the realm of 2,500 barrels, 105,000 gallons. The leak contaminated a portion of Refugio State Beach and nearby patches of ocean. A crew from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is handling clean-up on land, while the U.S. Coast Guard is handling the job on the water.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state emergency, a move which frees up emergency state money and resources for the cleanup. Authorities shut down both Refugio and El Capitan beaches, but most people camping in the popular area had already fled because of fumes from the leak. Camping reservations have been canceled through May 28.

Julie Cart, Jack Dolan and Doug Smith report:

The company, which transports and stores crude oil, is part of Plains All American Pipeline, which owns and operates nearly 18,000 miles of pipe networks in several states. It reported $43 billion in revenue in 2014 and $878 million in profit.

The company’s infractions involved pump failure, equipment malfunction, pipeline corrosion and operator error. None of the incidents resulted in injuries. According to federal records, since 2006 the company’s incidents caused more than $23 million in property damage and spilled more than 688,000 gallons of hazardous liquid. […]

Plains Pipeline has also been cited for failing to install equipment to prevent pipe corrosion, failing to prove it had completed repairs recommended by inspectors and failing to keep records showing inspections of “breakout tanks,” used to ease pressure surges in pipelines.

The area tainted by the leak is popular for camping, fishing, surfing, kayaking and watching seals, sea lions and numerous species of birds. Until 2013, the state was responsible for monitoring and inspecting some 2,000 of the 6,000 miles of pipelines in California, but that task was then turned over the federal Department of Transportation.

The company has expressed its regrets for the leak. Perhaps it would regret the situation more if fines for its repeated violations did more than empty out the petty cash drawer for the weekend.

Meteor|Blades

Alaska’s Tricky Intersection of Obama’s Energy and Climate Legacies

WASHINGTON — President Obama’s move to open up vast, untouched Arctic waters to oil and gas drilling as he pursues an ambitious plan to fight climate change illustrates the inherent tensions in his environmental and energy agenda.

As the first president to seriously tackle climate change, Mr. Obama has proposed aggressive new rules to cut planet-warming carbon emissions from the nation’s power plants and is pushing for a major global warming accord. He has also overseen an extraordinary boom in domestic energy production that has made the United States the world’s leading oil producer.

The result, until now, has been an uneasy balance between Mr. Obama’s leadership on climate change and his efforts to ensure that the United States benefits from its newfound oil and gas wealth. But in this latest decision, some oil companies and top energy experts agree with environmentalists that drilling in the Arctic is dangerous enough to upset the balance and put Mr. Obama’s environmental legacy at risk.

The oil industry and environmentalists say that the Chukchi Sea, where Shell intends to explore for oil, is one of the most perilous places in the world to drill. Environmentalists and oil industry officials say that a drilling accident among the icy waters and 50-foot waves of the Chukchi could lead to a disaster far worse than the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion, which killed 11 and sent millions of barrels of oil spewing through the Gulf of Mexico.

“He has done a lot on global warming,” said James Thurber, the director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University and a former adviser to the Energy Department. “But if there is an accident in the Arctic, especially if it’s sooner rather than later, that becomes the history of his environmental work. If that happens, this president will not be known as an environmental president.”

In the administration’s view, the decision to drill in the waters off the Alaska coast is a calculated risk that addresses environmental concerns, continues domestic oil production and manages legal obligations. Mr. Obama, administration officials say, chose to move forward with the Arctic drilling only after pairing the approval with tough new safety regulations.

Before giving conditional permission to Shell, the Interior Department put forward three major new drilling regulations, designed to prevent disasters like the 2010 explosion, and it has granted Shell the right to drill only if it clears additional regulatory hurdles, including acquiring permits from the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and authorizations under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

“This is an administration that truly believes in its technocratic capacity,” said Paul Bledsoe, a former Interior Department official who was a senior policy adviser on the Presidential Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. “It believes proper regulatory oversight can overcome technical challenges. After the Deepwater Horizon, they decided to set up the most stringent oil and gas regulations in the world — and that they were going to expand leasing.”

Throughout the six years of Mr. Obama’s presidency, the nation’s oil and gas development has surged, creating jobs and lowering electricity prices. While Mr. Obama has pushed policies designed to lower the nation’s demand for the fossil fuels that cause climate change, he has also gained politically from the economic benefit of increased supply.

“The president has been pushing hard throughout his time in office to do what he can on climate change,” said Dan Utech, a White House adviser on energy and climate change. “But at the same time, he sees the benefits of domestic fossil fuel production in terms of jobs and revenue. We’ve seen this huge boom in production, and that’s had significant benefits for our economy.”

Aides also point out that while Mr. Obama has opened some new federal waters to drilling, including off the southeastern Atlantic coast, his hand was in part forced on Arctic drilling by his predecessor. The George W. Bush administration was the first to sell federal oil drilling leases in the Chukchi Sea, and Shell, which bought its leases from the Bush administration for $2.1 billion, then applied to the Obama administration for a permit to drill.

Advisers to Mr. Obama say that legally, the administration probably had no choice but to process that permit. If he had wanted to block the drilling, Mr. Obama could have faced legal challenges from Shell and may also have had to buy the leases back from the company at a loss to taxpayers.

“If there was a cost to the government of not moving forward, then that would weigh on him,” said Carol Browner, Mr. Obama’s senior energy and climate change adviser in his first term. “He would consider that. He is very practical in that way.”

The Obama administration had initially granted Shell a permit to begin offshore Arctic drilling in 2012, but the company’s first forays were plagued with numerous safety and operational problems. In 2013, the Interior Department said the company could not resume drilling until all safety issues were addressed.

Even with new safety rules in place, opponents of the Arctic drilling worry that the area is extremely remote, with no roads connecting to major cities or deepwater ports within hundreds of miles, making it difficult for cleanup and rescue workers to reach it in case of an accident.

The closest Coast Guard station with equipment for responding to a spill is more than 1,000 miles away. The weather is extreme, with major storms, icy waters and waves up to 50 feet high. The sea is also a major migration route and feeding area for marine mammals, including bowhead whales and walruses.

Senior executives at Total, a French oil giant, and other major oil companies have publicly expressed doubts about the risks of drilling in Alaskan Arctic waters, saying that the costs of preparing for environmental disasters make such operations too costly. They note that the prospects of high oil prices in the future are in doubt and that there are plentiful shale oil prospects on land in the United States and abroad. ConocoPhillips and Statoil, a Norwegian oil company, acquired leases in the Alaskan Arctic but suspended their drilling plans after Shell had its array of logistical problems.

“The dangers of drilling in the Arctic just dwarf those of most other locations,” said David Goldston, the director of the government affairs program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group.

CORAL DAVENPORT|MAY 12, 2015|Clifford Krauss contributed reporting from Houston.

[President Obama qualified his decision by stating that Shell has developed anti-spill strategies and that, as long as we must continue using fossil fuels in the transition to alternative energy, he would rather see it come from the United States sources. I would rather see it left in the ground.]

Land Conservation

Developers push growth on environmentally sensitive land

A windows-down drive on the eastern side of Corkscrew Road during a humid Florida afternoon takes you away from shopping malls and gated communities and toward farmland, country homes, dusty mines and acres upon acres of preservation land.

Since the early 1990s, South Lee’s sprawling suburbs stayed left of an invisible county firewall known locally as the DRGR, which stands for Density Reduction Groundwater Resource area. Lee created the DRGR, in part, to protect the county’s drinking water supply.

But as Lee’s population creeps toward more than 1 million residents by 2040, county officials are contemplating a shift in the way they control growth and conservation in rural southeastern Lee.

The county has offered two developers legal pathways to increase the number of homes they can build on DRGR land. In exchange, the developers are promising millions of dollars worth of environmental perks, such as wildlife corridors and pricey wetland restoration projects.

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida supports this public-private strategy, even though the group concedes it will bring more rooftops to the DRGR and continue Corkscrew Road’s transition into an urban corridor.

“It’s a trade off,” April Olson, a growth management expert for the Conservancy, said. “The county could not afford to do this kind of restoration.”

Private Equity Group owns WildBlue, a 2,960-acre former mining site at the edge of the DRGR, between Alico and Corkscrew Roads. The Fort Myers firm has asked to build 1,100 single-family homes there, which is 768 residences more than the property is zoned for now.

WildBlue’s developer has said it will complete $7.4 million in restoration work and donate 471 acres – worth another $2.8 million – to Lee County for a regional park.

Camerata Companies, also of Fort Myers, wants to develop a gated community called Corkscrew Farms on a 1,360-acre property that is more than six miles east of Interstate 75 on Corkscrew Road.

According to Camerata’s application, up to 1,325 homes of different types would be built on Corkscrew Farms, ending any chance for mining to occur on land the county has identified as highly desirable for restoration.

Lee Community Development staff has proposed creating individually-tailored zoning overlay districts that reward both developers with extra density to offset restoration costs, said Paul O’Connor, former county planning director.

“We’re trying to come up with a solution that will help the county, that will protect the resource and will restore native habitat,” said O’Connor, who retired in May. “We’re looking at this as an opportunity to take developer dollars and have those good things done that the county has been striving (to do) for 25 years now.”

Wednesday, Lee commissioners unanimously approved sending WildBlue’s application to the state for review. A similar hearing for Corkscrew Farms is expected this summer.

Meanwhile, opposition to the county’s plan is building in the Village of Estero.

East of its interchange with I-75, Corkscrew Road narrows to two lanes. The village council said it is concerned WildBlue and Corkscrew Farms – which would be just outside of the municipality’s jurisdiction but would use the same roads as its residents – would exacerbate traffic problems that existing residents face every day.

Under the conditions of each zoning overlay, the developers would agree to pitch in money for a holistic traffic study of the Corkscrew Road corridor. The deadline for the study is in 2017.

Councilor Jim Wilson, whose represents Estero’s easternmost district, said the traffic study should be done before any proposed neighborhoods are built.

“The cart is probably before the horse, and the cart is the road,” Wilson said. “If we just keep building out on that corridor, eventually Corkscrew Road will have to be six lanes.”

Vice Mayor Howard Levitan has pledged to write a resolution to express Estero’s concerns to the county. Levitan said he personally is against approval of either DRGR overlay.

“This is going to destroy the concept we have for the DRGR,” Levitan said. “You got to stand up and be counted on the environment and be opposed to things that are going to cause considerable sprawl.”

Donald R. Schrotenboer, president of the group that proposed WildBlue, said DRGR policies have failed. If Private Equity stuck with current approvals – known as the “Ginn Plan” for the property’s previous owner – the developer could build more than 332 spread out, single-family homes that would each use septic tanks and wells, he said.

“Which is literally 332 toilets and 332 straws in the ground,” Schrotenboer said.

Instead, WildBlue homes would use water and sewer lines, reducing demand on water resources and minimizing pollution risk, he said.

By clustering development around two lakes on smaller lots, WildBlue will impact fewer acres of land than the Ginn Plan, Schrotenboer said. WildBlue also got rid of the Ginn Plan golf course and replaced it with a tree farm, he said.

Private developers are capable of sustainable, smart growth, he said. WildBlue “sets the bar very high for those who want to follow, and we’re proud of that fact,” he said.

When asked about the possibility that other developers might abuse the overlay concept, Schrotenboer said he cannot “predict the future.”

But, he said, it is his experience that plenty of people are watching developers who want to build on the DRGR.

“You are not going to be able to be reckless,” Schrotenboer said.

Maryann Batlle|naplesnews.com

Air Quality

The Hole in the Ozone Layer Appears to Be Closing

The ozone is crucial for us here on Earth because it shields us from some of the Sun’s most damaging radiation. In the 1980s it was confirmed that a host of chemicals like CFCs that we had been using in manufacturing and, in particular in aerosols, had been breaking down that ozone layer, creating several holes including a worryingly large hole over the Arctic. In the long term our CFC use threatened to destroy this vital shield completely if we did not act.

Fortunately, and in a move that might seem rather rare today, politicians did listen to scientists and in 1989 the Montreal Protocol was brought into force as an international agreement to dramatically cut down on CFCs and begin phasing them out entirely. The Montreal Protocol wasn’t and isn’t a perfect solution, as we’ve detailed previously here, but it was at least a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to gauge the impact of our ozone saving efforts–that is, until now.

A new report based on data gained via NASA’s AURA satellite shows a long term trend that, barring unforeseen hiccups, should see the hole over the Arctic shrink to less than 8 million square miles within the next thirty years. At the moment the hole is about 12 million square smiles, so that represents a rapid rate of repair. What’s more, the rate of repair suggests that the hole could be entirely gone by the end of the 21st century.

The following animation video illustrates how the ozone layer was damaged, and gives an insight into how much we have managed to shrink that large ozone hole today:

NASA has also been able to calculate what might have happened if we hadn’t enacted the Montreal Protocol, and those calculations suggest that today we would be on course for an ozone depletion level of some 67 percent within the next 50 years. That would have meant more exposure to the Sun’s dangerous radiation and, as a result, an almost certain rise in cancer rates among all animals. (For those particularly interested in the details, the model predicts a somewhat surprising collapse of the ozone layer above the tropics, which would hasten overall depletion levels.)

But we did act, and we did have a meaningful impact on this problem. This is excellent news, and it should inform how we approach other environmental issues, a sentiment that has been championed by scientists across the world including a man who was part of the team that confirmed our ozone layer depletion problem three decades ago, Jon Shanklin of the British Antarctic Survey. Shanklin issued a stark warning in April, saying that where once the major environmental issue was ozone layer depletion, today it is greenhouse gasses and, unfortunately, the world isn’t treating this issue with the seriousness it deserves:

“Yes, an international treaty was established fairly quickly to deal with the ozone hole, but really the main point about its discovery was that it shows how incredibly rapidly we can produce major changes to our atmosphere and how long it takes for nature to recover from them,” Shanklin told the Guardian.“Clearly, we still do not understand the full consequences of what we did then because we are still inflicting major changes on the atmosphere. Then it was chlorofluorocarbons; today it is greenhouse gases.”

With ozone depletion we were, in some ways, fortunate because the action that was required of us was relatively (if not politically) simple: we had to stop using products that release ozone depleting gases like CFCs. That enabled us to take robust action relatively quickly. Even so, NASA is predicting it will take until the end of the century before the ozone hole over the Arctic is fully repaired.

Shanklin says that even if we could can sustain and improve on global cooperative efforts to tackle greenhouse gasses and climate change–which, with a Republican controlled Congress in the US and a climate change-skeptic Tory government in the UK, to name just a few problems, isn’t a guarantee–it will take many more years if not centuries before we can reverse the damage we have caused by contributing to changing the Earth’s climate. Even so, we have to commit to doing that because otherwise the problem is only going to get worse.

Fortunately, with climate talks coming up at the end of the year and an agenda that is for perhaps the first time really putting the issue of greenhouse gasses at the top of our global issues, we may be about to make meaningful progress. What the ozone layer fight shows is that together our governments are capable of meeting environmental challenges, and we’ll need more of that same robust action as was shown in the ozone depletion fight if we are to get a handle on greenhouse gases and climate change.

Steve Williams|May 17, 2015

Decade-long study wins Heinz Award after findings include link between air pollution, obesity

Air pollution can make your children fat.

That was just one of the more surprising findings of a decade-long public health study by Frederica Perera, an environmental health researcher at Columbia University and one of five winners of this year’s Heinz Awards.

Dr. Perera’s research tracked the pre- and post-natal health of 720 mother-child pairs in New York City.

She found that in addition to causing infant mortality, low birth weight, allergies, asthma, slower brain development and respiratory illnesses, there is also a correlation between exposure to air pollutants and childhood obesity.

“Exposure to endocrine disruptors in the air can alter the normal hormonal signalling and affect growth and development, so there is a tendency for some children to become more obese,” said Dr. Perera who reviewed the findings of that study, first reported in 2013, at one of four public presentations by Heinz Award winners on Wednesday in Pittsburgh.

Dr. Perera, who founded and is the director of the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health, said Pittsburgh’s air quality remains a serious public health problem for regional residents, and noted that the region is the sixth worst nationally for airborne particle pollution.

“We are concerned about pre-natal exposures because they can cause greater absorption and retention of toxics in the developing child,” she said. “Because such children have immature biological defenses against exposures, chronic diseases that affect someone later in life can be seeded.”

She was joined at the Wednesday event by Philip Johnson, Heinz Endowments director for science and environment, who said the region’s industrial and mobile sources, along with residential wood burning, are producing some of the most polluted air in the nation.

And Deborah Gentile, an allergist and immunologist at Allegheny General Hospital and director of research in the Allegheny Health Network’s Division of Allergies, Asthma and Immunology, said a soon-to-be-released study will show that a quarter to one-third of students in several area school districts have asthma and air pollution can trigger attacks.

Other recipients of the 20th annual Heinz Awards are Aaron Wolf in the public policy category for his work in water resource allocation; illustrator and cartoonist Roz Chast in arts and humanities; William McNulty and Jacob Wood in the Human Condition category for founding Team Rubicon, a program to engage military veterans in global disaster relief efforts; and Sangeeta Bhatia, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher who was recognized in the Technology, Economy and Employment category for her tissue engineering, including the first cultivation of liver cells outside the human body.

The awards are given annually by the Heinz Family Foundation to honor the memory of Sen. John Heinz, who died in a plane-helicopter collision in eastern Pennsylvania in 1991. Each award includes a $250,000 prize.

Transportation

Tesla E-motorcycles Complement SolarCity Microgrids

Batteries are the renewed focus of attention given the launch of Tesla’s PowerWall on April 30. What or where might the next major application be? Utility scale storage appears to be one. My thesis is that launching Tesla e-motorcycles is an equally high-impact, timely, and worthy challenge.

Transport and Electricity Go Together

Though electric vehicles and hybrids — the Tesla Sedan S, Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt, Toyota Prius, Mahindra Reva, and others — are regarded as good for the environment, they would be more so if their battery charging used solar power. This is possible, but the solution is not convenient yet. We use grid electricity for charging. Since electricity generation depends on fossil fuels, we pour coal into our cars instead of gasoline when driving electric vehicles.

It is an open question whether electric cars (EV) are more ecofriendly than internal combustion engine (ICE) ones. Should we increase the miles/gallon (km/liter) of regular cars, or encourage hybrids and e-cars? In driving electric cars, we shift the source of emissions from automobile tailpipes to chimneystacks.

Transport and electricity generation each account for ~40 percent of all CO2 emissions in the United States. Interestingly, transport emissions get lesser emphasis in climate change discussions when compared to emissions from electricity. As the proportion of grid electricity supplied by renewables increases, due to Renewable Portfolio Standards, for example, we improve the “green”-ness of both electricity and transport. Electric vehicles thus do represent progress, though not as significant as we would wish.

If personal clean transport is the goal, it is far easier to charge e-motorcycle batteries with solar panels than cars, and such charging complements solar on rooftops, a Tesla sister company SolarCity’s main business. The complementarities are even greater when the charging is a part of microgrids, as I explain below.

Personal E-transport

The prime markets for solar charging and e-motorcycles are the BRIC nations, South Africa, and other middle-income countries. In the coming decades emissions by these nations, especially India, will increase. Solar electricity is all very well — and India plans to deploy 100 GW by 2022, an impressive number — but transport-related emissions need to be addressed too, through encouraging solar charging of personal transport.

I propose Tesla and others develop batteries for e-motorcycles, e-scooters, and e-bikes, in that order ideally, even simultaneously, and package their sales with matching solar panels-based charging systems.

Solar panels may be installed outside homes, terraces, or in open spaces where the vehicles are parked, and at the destination sites, say, office buildings or factories, with a suitable battery pack. Tesla has already integrated electric motors in their cars; incorporating, electric motors into e-motorcycles may be relatively easy. Many of the design challenges are well described on Honda EV-neo scooter’s website.

When I visited Mahindra Reva’s electric car factory in Bangalore, right at the entrance to the facility were charging “trees,” with cars parked beneath them. Battery powered motorcycles may be similarly accommodated. Of course, solar panels may not be the exclusive, but the preferred way for charging. The e-motorcycles may be charged on mains.

E-motorcycle marketing may parallel what was done for the Tesla Model S. At first introduce a high-end e-motorcycle with exceptional performance, at relatively high prices, say, US $3,000. Follow up by launching a model at the median price point for the everyday user.

The e-motorcycle must give great performance — a sense of power, even when climbing hills, control, and look elegant. It should appeal to the young professionals and college students. 

Extreme usability is a must. Anybody should be able to drive the e-motorcycle without training. Standardized charging stations must become ubiquitous. Rapid charging must be supported. “Range anxiety” must be eliminated; the e-motorcycle should include a display indicating the level of charge, and the number of miles left before recharging.  

Product-Market: Transport Vehicle and Charging Ecosystem As a Dyad

The e-motorbike must be considered as a complement to and an integral part of the charging ecosystem, neither may be viewed in isolation. The combination represents a new personal transport category, a new ecosystem, and a new product-market. It may not be positioned as an e-bicycle, e-moped, e-scooter, or as a battery-powered e-motorcycle alone, for the marketing challenge of selling, not only the product, but also the ecosystem, is unprecedented.  

Positioning must emphasize the benefits of no fuel costs, no visits to gasoline stations, no need to wait in lines, and easily accessible charging. It should emphasize the solution as an answer to known challenges, and under-emphasize, even mask the innovation embodied in the e-motorbike ecosystem. Segway’s experiences are instructive — their product novelty was too visible for ordinary people to readily accept it and undertake the needed new learning.

The early launch segment is clear — students on campuses. And campuses are ideal customers for microgrids, including SolarCity’s own GridLogic microgrid. It is time to launch SolarCity and Tesla e-motorcycles in the BRIC nations, in India in particular, where the sun is plentiful, and students drive motorcycles in the millions.

Mahesh Bhave|Contributor|May 20, 2015

What’s the most bike-friendly city in the U.S.? Not what you’d guess

Wanna know how bike-friendly your city is, for real? The brainiacs at Walk Score got your back. These are the folks who have spent years easing the pain of finding an apartment on Craigslist by figuring out how walkable our neighborhoods are. In 2012, they launched Bike Score, a rating system is driven by real live data — and not just the miles of bike lanes painted on the streets, unlike some of the more subjective ratings you’ll find bouncing around the interwebs.

To compile its annual list of America’s most cycling-friendly cities, the company takes into account bike-lane availability, plus the number of hills in a city, bike-commuting rates, and how often bikers have to de-saddle along their routes, among other factors. This year’s list, which includes 154 cities, has a few surprises.

Sure, there were a handful of unsurprising list-toppers: The beach towns of Santa Cruz and Santa Monica, hippieville Berkeley, and outdoorsy hipster-filled Boulder. Minneapolis is there, too, despite its crazy snow. But Cambridge, Mass. — home of the Car Talk guys? (Er, guy. R.I.P. Tom.) Who would have guessed they’d land at the top of the list!? Just below the top 10 were a couple of real oddballs: Hoboken, N.J. (WHAT) and Arlington, Va. (“Suburban HELL,” according to a Grist staffer who shall remain unnamed). These relatively small-town underdogs beat out the whole dang country!

Here are the top 10, scored out of 100 points:

1) Cambridge, Mass. (92.8)
2) Davis, Calif. (89.3)
3) Berkeley, Calif. (88.8)
4) Boulder, Colo. (86.2)
5) Santa Cruz, Calif. (83.8)
6) Santa Monica, Calif. (82.6)
7) Minneapolis, Minn. 81.3)
8) Fort Collins, Colo. (80.1)
9) State College, Penn. (77.4)
10) Iowa City, Iowa (77.2)

More weirdness: Few major cities, which one would expect to be pretty bikeable, ranked all that high. San Francisco only earned a 75.1 and Portland, Ore., (!) scraped by with a 72. Denver, Boston, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., didn’t even make the top 20.

Heck, Grist’s hometown of Seattle barely made the top 50, coming in at No. 45 on the list with a score of 63. This is a city with a self-proclaimed bike obsession, vibrant bike polo scene, and swarms of business folk donning bike shorts en route to the office, fer cryin’ out loud! The next time I feel like dying as I’m attempting to bike uphill, I’ll just keep Walk Score’s list in mind. Maybe that tiny bit of reassurance will make my calves burn a little less.

To see where your city’s bikeability ranks, check out the full list here.

Ana Sofia Knauf|20 May 2015

Miscellaneous

5 Chemicals in Lawn Fertilizer You Want To Avoid

Lawn chemicals are designed to kill weeds and bugs. But they can harm people, too, which is why so many communities are banning or minimizing their use. According to BeyondPesticides.org, suburban lawns and gardens receive more pesticide applications per acre (3.2-9.8 lbs) than agriculture (2.7 lbs per acre on average).  That’s not even the bad news. According to their site, “Of 30 commonly used lawn pesticides 19 have studies pointing toward carcinogens, 13 are linked with birth defects, 21 with reproductive effects, 15 with neurotoxicity, 26 with liver or kidney damage, 27 are sensitizers and/or irritants, and 11 have the potential to disrupt the endocrine (hormonal) system. “

Wildlife are at risk, too. Fifteen million birds are estimated to die each year from pesticide contamination, reports the Poughkeepsie Journal.

If you want to have a lawn but avoid dangerous chemicals, read the label on the fertilizer bag before you buy. Look for these chemicals of greatest concern:

Bifenthrin – This is the key ingredient in many grub- and insect-control products. It’s listed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a possible carcinogen and is toxic to fish. It is already banned in several counties in southern New York State.

2,4-dichlorophenoxy acetic acid, or 2,4-D – This weed killer is linked in some studies to increased cancer risk (though it’s not classified as a carcinogen by the EPA).

Glyphosate – Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Monsanto’s RoundUp. It is also used to pre-treat seeds as a way to inoculate them against pests and disease. Because it is used so widely, it is inevitably showing up in our air and water. The impacts on human health could be serious. The Pesticide Action Network says that glyphosate can “activate the estrogen receptor in a breast cancer cell line, which means it may be able to mimic the function of the key sex hormone estrogen.” Research also shows it could deform the heads in developing frog and chicken embryos.

Atrazine – This herbicide is used to control broadleaf weeds. It is one of the most widely used herbicides in the U.S., but was banned by the European Union in 2004, when the EU found groundwater levels exceeding the limits set by regulators. Studies suggest it is an endocrine disruptor, which means that it could alter people’s natural hormonal system.

Carbaryl – This chemical is used primarily as an insecticide. It is sold under the brand name Sevin. While it kills mosquitoes, it also targets honeybees, whose populations are under siege nationwide. Carbaryl is illegal to use in the United Kingdom, Germany, and Sweden, but it’s still applied to over a hundred crops in the U.S. It is often produced using the chemical compound methyl isocyanate (MIC). A leak of MIC used to produce carbaryl caused the Bhopal disaster in India, a catastrophe that led to 11,000 deaths and over 500,000 injuries.

In place of these and other toxic chemicals, use organic means to control pests. Beneficial insects and organic fungicides can keep pests and disease under control. It’s also advised to plant native grasses that resist fungus. Corn gluten is a popular organic option to control weeds. Get additional suggestions from your lawn and garden center and your local county extension agency.

Ultimately, the best strategy may be to replace lawns with ground covers, gardens, decorative stones, woodchips, and other materials that require no fertilizers.

Diane MacEachern|May 17, 2015 

Environmental Justice Crusader Is New Sierra Club President

This past weekend, the Sierra Club’s national board of directors elected longtime environmental justice advocate and civil rights leader Aaron Mair of Schenectady, New York, as the Club’s new president. The first African American to hold the office, Mair got his start in environmental activism more than 30 years ago, fighting a waste incinerator in Albany that was disproportionately affecting black residents of the city. He was also a grassroots leader in the fight to clean up the Hudson River, and key to getting the Sierra Club involved in that campaign.

If You Don’t Have a Rain Barrel, You’re Losing Water and Money

Rain barrels have been popping up all over my neighborhood lately. I live in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C., and water is expensive here. It can also be scarce in the summer, especially in the hot months of July and August, when flowers are in full bloom and trees and bushes are supposed to be growing. None of that happens if the plants don’t get enough water. In fact, I’ve had a lot of vegetables, azaleas, hydrangeas and even hundred-year-old oak trees die for lack of moisture.

We’ve turned to rain barrels as a free way to collect water, reduce our water bill, and minimize run-off. A rain barrel is a big barrel, usually a 55 gallon drum made from heavy duty plastic or wood, that collects and stores rainwater from a roof. The barrel is attached to a gutter that drains water off a roof. A lid keeps mosquitoes and debris out. A hose connects to the bottom of the barrel to make it easy to drain the water out. You can install a rain barrel at each corner of your house, a garage, a shed, a barn, or any other structure with a roof.

The U.S. EPA says rain barrels can save most homeowners about 1,300 gallons of water during the peak summer months. Lawn and garden watering make up nearly 40% of total household water use during the summer, so using a rain barrel to get water for free is pretty much a no-brainer. Plus, capturing rain water from your gutters rather than letting it flow aimlessly onto your property or into storm drains significantly reduces the impact of runoff into streams. A rain barrel is an easy way to get clean, fresh water to use outdoors for free.

Most hardware stores and stores with gardening departments sell rain barrels, including Ace, Lowe’s, Home Depot and Wal-Mart. You can also find them online if you search “where to buy rain barrels.” Gardener’s Supply sells options that include a double barrel system with the couplings you need for your hoses. Plow & Hearth sells a beautiful terra cotta urn whose top serves as a decorative planter to hold flowers.

Rain barrels can cost over $100, and upwards of $200 or more. You’ll eventually save that money on your water bill. But you can also make your own water barrel. Care2 shows you how here.

Diane MacEachern|May 18, 2015

Atacama: Where Desert Bursts Into Colorful Flowers

Beyond Yellowstone: 8 Unexpected Parks for Wildlife-Watching

Toxic chemicals you know nothing about ‏

Tens of thousands of untested industrial chemicals are used in products we touch and consume every day.

It’s wrong. And there’s an effort to fix it in Congress. But we have to act now to make sure this change is driven by science, not corporate greed.

America found out the hard way that formaldehyde is deadly. A lax chemical “safety” law passed in the 1970s exempted it from safety testing, much to the relief of manufacturers.

Companies kept using it in carpets, makeup, medicines, and cigarettes. Only years later did we find out it was giving people cancer.

Formaldehyde is just one of 62,000 chemicals that Congress exempted from testing.Only 250 have been tested since. Imagine the health impacts from tens of thousands of chemicals we know almost nothing about.

It’s wrong. And we’re fighting to change it. As we speak, a chemical safety reform bill is moving quickly through Congress. You can help make sure it’s driven by science and truly protects our families’ health by pitching in with a gift to support our campaign to make sure that bill is as strong and effective as possible.

Of the 62,000 unregulated chemicals, fewer than one percent have been tested for safety. We’re fighting for a strong bill that would require chemical companies to prove their products are safe before they can sell them as additives to stuff we touch and smell all day—food packaging, car seats, carpets, and more.

Our biggest single obstacle is the American Chemistry Council, a major trade group representing giants like Dow, Dupont, and Proctor & Gamble.

The Council has been protecting lax chemical safety laws for years, and we are using this history to discredit the Council as a reliable source in the media. We’re organizing scientists to pressure the Council’s member companies to reject underhanded, anti-science tactics. We’re also meeting with key lawmakers and their staff to warn them about loopholes buried in the bill.

And we’ll back up all of these efforts with grassroots pressure from UCS supporters like you. We’ve already delivered nearly 22,000 letters from UCS activists to Congress, and we’re helping scientists prepare to meet with lawmakers—all to ensure the Council isn’t the only voice in the room.

We pride ourselves on using only the most solid science to guide our work. Because of that, corporations, industry groups, and politicians find it hard to refute us. When we combine our expertise with grassroots support from hundreds of thousands of UCS activists, we make big things happen.

Together, we pressured Pfizer to drop its membership in the anti-science Heartland Institute. We did the same convincing Facebook and British Petroleum (BP) to leave the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)—a group that goes all around the country lobbying against laws that protect our health and environment. Our work sends a message that everyday Americans will no longer tolerate corporate support for science denial. And we’ve secured major policy changes to clean up auto pollution, promote renewable energy development, stop tropical deforestation, and more.

UCS members won’t let corporate lobbyists put profits over safety. We never have. We never will. Thank you for fighting for science, and for you generous support.

Ken Kimmell|President|Union of Concerned Scientists

Why California Should Ban Plastic Microbeads

Skin and beauty products that feature microbeads are popular among consumers thanks to their exfoliating properties, but they’ve also caught some heat from California legislators. Later this week, California Assembly members will consider legislation to ban microbeads because of their negative effects on the ecosystem. If you agree with eliminating microbeads, you can encourage California lawmakers to approve this legislation by signing this petition.

While microbeads might be nice and clean for your face, they’re ultimately making rivers, lakes and streams that much more dirty. Obviously, you don’t want these small morsels of plastic to stay on your face, and the trouble begins once they wash down the sink. Because of the beads’ tiny size, most filtration systems cannot separate them out, leaving the bits of plastic to indefinitely linger in oceans and other bodies of water.

From there, marine life ingests some of the plastic — which people end up ingesting in turn when they consume fish — and the rest slowly releases toxins into the water. Either way, the damage is significant enough that consumers ought to find another way to exfoliate. Some conscientious companies have already replaced plastic beads with natural alternatives like cocoa beans or fruit pits and shells.

ADVERTISEMENT

Last year, California politicians took a close look at plastic microbeads and the Assembly voted to ban them throughout the state. Alas, the plastic industry reached out to Republican state senators before the other chamber could vote and effectively shut the legislation down.

Now California has a second chance to get this right. Awareness on the environmental impacts of microbeads has only increased, so with some extra pressure from the public, there’s hope the legislation could become a reality this time around.

California wouldn’t be the first state to pass microbead-focused legislation, but it could still be the first to do it meaningfully. States like Illinois, New Jersey and Maine have had their own laws compromised thanks to amendments snuck in by friends of the plastic lobby. Basically, the laws grant exceptions to products with biodegradable microbeads.

The problem is that there are no legal definitions of “biodegradable” in place in these states to hold manufacturers accountable. With no timeline for how fast a microbead must biodegrade, that still leaves plenty of time for them to be swallowed and pollute before disintegrating. Additionally, since no research exists confirming that the “biodegradable” microbeads companies are using are actually any safer for the environment, many are skeptical of these products anyway.

If a state as large as California rejects these products, we might not even need laws in all of the smaller ones, as companies will be forced to adjust their products’ ingredients to accommodate the law. That’s why it’s pivotal that we encourage California lawmakers to get rid of microbeads – with no Kevin Mathews|May 20, 2015exceptions.

Kevin Mathews|May 20, 2015

Environmental Links

SFAS International Wildlife News Audubon Advocate Audubon Restore Eco-Voice South Florida Wildlife Care Center Sawgrass Nature Center & Wildlife Hospital The Turtle Hospital The Marathon Wild Bird Center Climate change info Audubon’s Coastal Strand Audubon of Florida News Blog Bioenergy News Climate Progress – climate science, politics and solutions Collins Center for Public Policy Comprehensive Everglades Restoration News EcoWatch – feeds from the WaterKeeper Alliance Everglades Foundation – press releases Everglades Hub Fort Myers News – Press Green Front Pages from Florida Newspapers Herald Tribune Newspapers –  Environmental News KeysNews.com Naples Daily News  – Environmental News National Public Radio Eco-News Riverwatch News about the Caloosahatchee Sierra Club Sierra Club Florida South Florida Watershed  Journal South Florida Water Management District Union of Concerned Scientists – news Yahoo News Search: Everglades NASA Climate Information American Littorial Society log NASA Climate Information Sun Newspapers – Lake Okeechobee News Everglades City News  – Mullet Wrapper IFAW’s World of Animals Magazine

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ConsRep 1505 C

Remember when atmospheric contaminants were romantically called stardust? ~Lane Olinghouse

Announcements

Find Birds Near You ‏

National Audubon Society

That’s where the birds, are after all.

Lace up your boots and get outside with Audubon this summer. You can find wildlife sanctuaries, nature centers, and birding groups in your area with our interactive map.

You can also virtually explore the outdoors by watching live Ospreys and Atlantic Puffins right from your computer.

For all the bird lovers out there, it’s never been easier to enjoy nature.

Get Outside

The Sagebrush Sea premieres on PBS’ Nature on Wednesday, May 20

Premiering next week on the award-winning PBS Nature series is a movie by the prestigious Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Please consider not only watching this amazing documentary yourself but sharing this opportunity with your membership (via social media or email)!

This is a family-friendly movie that will keep everyone riveted with the stunning images and in-depth reporting on this rich ecosystem –

from Greater Sage-grouse, Golden Eagles, to mule deer and pronghorn antelope.

please check local listing for times.

Of Interest to All

Ruling creates buffers around Shell ships

A federal judge has ordered Greenpeace protesters to stay away from Royal Dutch Shell PLC ships.

U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason on Friday also prohibited Greenpeace from flying unmanned vehicles over the offshore Arctic area where Shell plans to drill.

The safety-zone injunction is in effect until Oct.31, the Alaska Dispatch News reported. Shell Offshore Inc. sued April 7, one day after six Greenpeace protesters boarded the Blue Marlin, a heavy-lift ship carrying a Transocean Ltd. semisubmersible drilling unit, the Polar Pioneer, as it crossed the Pacific.

The injunction establishes buffer zones from 3 00 feet to about 5,000 feet for all of Shell’s Chukchi Sea fleet, anchor lines and buoys attached to ships.

Shell wants to drill this summer in the sea off Alaska’s northwest coast to determine whether there are commercial quantities of oil and gas. Arctic offshore reserves are estimated at 26 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 130 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, the U.S. Geological Survey estimates.

Shell said it is pleased with the injunction: “We cannot condone Greenpeace’s unlawful and unsafe tactics. Safety remains paramount.”

Greenpeace called the ruling disappointing. “Instead of saying Greenpeace can’t go near Shell, our government should be saying Shell can’t go near the Arctic,” Greenpeace spokesman Travis Nichols said.

Meanwhile in Seattle, Shell wants to park two massive Arctic oil drilling rigs in the waterfront, but it has to get around protesters in kayaks and the city’s mayor.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said last week the Port of Seattle must get a new permit before it can host Shell’s drilling fleet. The mayor urged the port to reconsider its two-year, $13million lease with Foss Maritime, a company that has been in Seattle for more than a century and whose client is Shell.

The 400-foot-long Polar Pioneer is in Port Angeles, Washington, but will head to Seattle sometime in the coming weeks.

Protesters plan to converge by land and in kayaks during a three-day “festival of resistance” starting May 16.

Once the rigs are in Seattle, some say they will do what they can to prevent the fleet from leaving to explore for oil.

ASSOCIATED PRESS|5/10/15

Florida lawmakers in Washington team up to fight oil drilling

WASHINGTON – The Florida delegation is gearing up for another fight over drilling. A bipartisan group of House members today filed legislation to prevent seismic testing for oil drilling off the Atlantic coast.

“Seismic testing is the first step in an effort to begin offshore drilling along the coasts of Florida,” the group said in a release.

The legislation was introduced by Reps. Gwen Graham, Patrick Murphy, Bill Posey, Alcee Hastings, Lois Frankel and Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Sen. Bill Nelson has companion legislation.

“There are strong concerns that these seismic activities can be harmful to undersea mammals like dolphins, disrupting their ability to communicate and navigate. This legislation enacts a moratorium off Florida’s coast so we can study the effects of seismic testing on our sea life,” said Republican Posey.

The bill would reverse a July 2014 decision by the Obama Administration to open the Atlantic Ocean, from Virginia to Florida, for seismic testing for future drilling sites.

Alex Leary|Tampa Bay Times|Washington Bureau Chief|May 13, 2015

Dirty-Energy Supporters Cower before Hurricane Francis Strikes

Some of corporate America’s biggest climate-change deniers — from Exxon-Mobil to the Koch Brothers — are dreading a potent storm that’s gaining strength and headed right at them. It’s the category-5 “Hurricane Francis,” which threatens to overwhelm their flimsy ideological castles.

Rather than extreme weather, this has to do with a diminutive human who’s become a force of nature: Pope Francis.

This summer, he intends to deliver a powerful papal encyclical putting the moral energy of the church solidly behind the urgent imperative to end the industrial pollution that’s causing global warming.

The Pope’s principled, stout-hearted stand is causing fainting spells, gnashing of teeth, and bombastic rants in the lodges of the profiteers and their right-wing, anti-science devotees.Specifically, Francis will lead Catholics in a worldwide campaign to enact sweeping reforms proposed by the United Nations to halt the toxic emissions that profit a few wealthy investors at the expense of humanity itself.

A delegation of climate change deniers from a Koch-funded outfit called the Heartland Institute even scurried off to Vatican City to protest what it calls the “mistake” that Francis is making. And a right-wing writer aptly named Maureen Mullarkey ranted: “Francis sullies his office by using demagogic formulations to bully the populace into reflexive climate action with no more substantive guide than theologized propaganda.”

Whew.

They can wail all they want. But Pope Francis — who chose his papal name in tribute to the patron saint of animals and the natural world — is right. Stopping the looming human disaster of climate change is not only a matter of science, but also of moral duty.

Jim Hightower|OtherWords|May 13, 2015

Potential nightmare.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is considering approving Florida Power and Light’s request to add two new nuclear reactors at Turkey Point — right next to Biscayne and Everglades national parks.

The cooling process alone would be highly water-intensive: First it will use wastewater for cooling, which will release all kinds of nasty things into the air — and when that runs out, it will draw on the Biscayne aquifer and put it at great risk to saltwater intrusion. The altered temperature flows in the water around this massive operation could also upset the conditions needed to support the area’s sensitive wildlife — from corals to crocodiles and manatees.

Besides, no one goes to national parks and preserves to see powerlines or algae blooms overtaking wetlands — or to catch a stiff breeze full of chemicals blown from a nearby reactor.

Please help stop this proposal- sign #2 in “Calls to Action” below.

SFWMD Terminates Contract for U.S. Sugar’s 46,800 Acres

After three months of study and public comment on the issue, the South Florida Water Management District board on Thursday made a formal decision to irrevocably terminate the all-or-nothing 46,800-acre initial option between United States Sugar Corp. and its affiliates and the South Florida Water Management District.

However, the vote, which was unanimous, does not affect the 153,000-acre option that expires Oct. 11, 2020.

“The UF (Water) Study says the No. 1 recommendation is finish the projects,” said SFWMD Vice Chairman Kevin Powers, who made the motion to terminate. “And the No. 2 recommendation is, look for storage north of the lake. I agree. …” He told members of the audience who show up at each meeting to comment, “Let’s continue all these conversations … look for storage north and south and east and west of the lake … and come back next month and the month after that. But all the while we will be advancing projects already under way.”

Some of the more than 50 members of the public who spoke could see the writing on the wall.

Former Martin County Commissioner Maggy Hurchalla, among the leaders of the “Buy the Land” movement, told the board, “I threw out my speech … It occurred to me last night … you do not want to buy the option property. Our frustration comes from the fact that you do not have a plan B.”

Hurchalla, who admitted her interest is the health of the estuaries, suggested the SFWMD board back state Sen. Joe Negron’s plan to ask the Legislature for $500 million to buy land — “the square of land, the perfect piece of land … to send the water south.”

“Storage in the north is only going to stop phosphorus from loading in the lake, it’s not going to stop water from polluting the estuaries,” said Tropical Audubon Society Executive Director Laura Reynolds.

But the U.S. Sugar Corp. contract’s inability to solve the problem of releasing millions of gallons of water from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries was a chief factor in Thursday’s termination vote.

Board member Jim Moran told the audience the reservoir sugar-land proponents envision isn’t the panacea they think. “You want us to try to come up with another $1.5 billion to alleviate the problems for the estuaries … but I understand for that, all you would do is take another 2 inches off the lake.”

Moran, an attorney, derided the contract. “It’s a matter of getting the best bang for the buck,” he said, “putting taxpayers’ money to the best use. U.S. Sugar’s contract was a boondoggle from the day it was signed. We paid almost $200 million for land we couldn’t use. … Even if this option were the answer, which it isn’t, and even if we had the money, which we don’t, U.S. Sugar could still continue to farm 35,700 acres until 2030. The contract is a disgrace.”

Board member Rick Barber said, “I want to see us finish projects. Of 68 projects, we have completed zero. Every year there’s a new shiny thing out there to attract the Legislature. … We need to finish projects.”

In answer to Hurchalla and others who brought up the absence of a fall-back plan, board member Sandy Batchelor said, “We already have a plan B. It’s completing our Restoration Strategies, CEPP and other projects left hanging. We have to do that first before we can move a drop of water south.”
Board member Melanie Peterson perhaps stirred the most controversy among the audience. “Read the UF study,” she said. “The whole study … and consider that 85 percent of the pollution is from local runoff.”

In a formal statement after the meeting, Judy Sanchez, senior director, corporate communications and public affairs for U.S. Sugar Corp., said: “It is not surprising that the Governing Board’s legal action today formalized what the district, the governor and the Legislature have been saying for several years — that their priority for Everglades and estuary ecosystem restoration is completing a $5 billion slate of projects that are already planned and approved and will provide real benefits for the environment throughout the 16-county region.

“U.S. Sugar intends to continue to partner in Everglades restoration efforts. In fact, we commit to working with state and federal parties as well as willing environmental organizations in advancing the restoration projects outlined in the governor’s 20-year plan.”

Nancy Smith|May 14, 2015

South Florida celebrates 100 years of Audubon presence

As 2015 unfolds, Tropical Audubon Society (TAS) is marking the 100th anniversary of local, organized Audubon activity in Miami-Dade County in many meaningful ways.

From environmental advocacy to providing ornithological education, TAS and its predecessors have long been on the front lines of the local conservation movement. Indeed, TAS has come to be known as “South Florida’s Voice of Conservation.”

Audubon activism here can be traced to the birth of the Coconut Grove Audubon Society (CGAS) on Apr. 16, 1915, 10 years after the infamous murder of Game Warden Guy Bradley by a plume hunter near Flamingo. Alocal and national hero who was the first Audubon-funded game warden in the Everglades, Bradley is considered the first martyr of the American environmental movement.

His dramatic death compelled the fledgling CGAS to lobby for more game wardens to enforce Florida’s bird protection laws and hunting regulations. Recognizing the pressing need to protect plume birds in the Everglades, CGAS also provided informational brochures and presentations to local schools, and supported the newly designated Royal Palm State Park in the Everglades. By the early 1930s, CGAS threw its weight behind making Royal Palm State Park the nucleus of an eventual Everglades National Park.

During the first half of the 20th Century, a few other Audubon and ornithological organizations formed in what was then called Dade County, but eventually became defunct. Even CGAS went inactive during World War II. In its wake, a group of conservation-minded men and women met on Jan. 21, 1947, to establish a new Dade chapter of Audubon, which was named Tropical Audubon Society. The last CGAS president transferred the group’s remaining funds and considerable library to the new chapter. The torch formally had been passed.

Looking back, 1947 proved to be a seminal year in the history of South Florida conservation. Along with Tropical Audubon Society’s founding, 1947 saw the publication of The Everglades: River of Grass by Marjory Stoneman Douglas and the longawaited dedication of Everglades National Park. These three milestones soon brought regional environmental struggles into sharper focus.

Throughout the second half of the 20th Century, TAS became increasingly involved in protecting the South Florida environment, particularly the Everglades and Biscayne Bay ecosystems. Significant environmental victories were achieved during this period, including the creation of Biscayne National Park (originally Biscayne National Monument), which essentially blocked the proposed SeaDade and Islandia projects, and the establishment of Big Cypress National Preserve, which laid the proposed Everglades Jetport to rest. TAS also became a founding member of the Everglades Coalition during this era.

In the 1990s, when a plan was introduced to convert Homestead Air Reserve Base, devastated by Hurricane Andrew, into an airport for commercial aviation, TAS and other environmental groups organized to defeat the proposal.

The environmental leadership role TAS had assumed during this turbulent time was made possible in part by a benefactor who looms large in local Audubon lore.

In the mid-1970s, Arden Hayes “Doc” Thomas, a TAS member and prominent South Miami pharmacist, deeded his unique house and property to the society for use as offices and nature center. Located on Sunset Drive east of Red Road in the unincorporated High Pines neighborhood, the property is in an especially convenient location, sandwiched as it is between the South Miami and south Gables business districts, and within walking distance to Metrorail. Shortly after Doc Thomas died on Dec. 31, 1975, TAS received the property and set about restoring the house. While these efforts were underway, TAS commissioned a memorial plaque in honor of Guy Bradley, installing it at the Flamingo Visitors Center in Everglades National Park and dedicating it in March 1976.

By 1977, the charming Doc Thomas House began operations as TAS headquarters. Completed in 1932, it has enjoyed Miami-Dade County Historic designation status since 1982, and in 2014 earned a coveted place on the National Register of Historic Places for its unique Rustic Style and Wood Frame vernacular architecture.

Those not yet familiar with its cozy confines should become acquainted with the historic Doc Thomas House and grounds (now known as the Steinberg Nature Center) in this centennial year of celebration.

In the 21st Century, TAS has ratcheted up its environmental advocacy role. Defending Miami-Dade County’s Urban Development Boundary; developing a more comprehensive public transportation system; bridging Tamiami Trail to completion; expanding the Biscayne Bay Coalition to further benefit Biscayne Bay, and protecting water resources, rare habitats and endangered/threatened species are among the current priorities.

By spreading its wings beyond ornithological programming to also encompass historic preservation and protection of the precious South Florida environment on which all our lives depend, TAS will continue to amplify its “Voice of Conservation” over the next 100 years.

Dan Jones spent more than four decades as an educator in Miami-Dade County, retiring as a principal in 1998, and subsequently consulting with the school district for the next dozen years. The longtime High Pines resident has served Tropical Audubon Society both as historian and advisor since 2013. Most recently, Jones tackled the formidable task of researching and documenting the history of Audubon presence in South Florida.

Community Newspapers

Coordinated Assault on Endangered Species Act

America’s strongest and most important law for protecting wildlife, the Endangered Species Act, is under a coordinated assault. Since January, over 30 bills and amendments have been introduced in the U.S. House and Senate that would dismantle the Act, including eight extreme bills in the Senate that received a hearing last week.

The Endangered Species Act (ESA), passed in 1973, has helped prevent the extinction of numerous species, including the Bald Eagle, Whooping Crane, Brown Pelican, Peregrine Falcon, and more. While many species are recovering thanks to the ESA, hundreds of species continue to be in dire need of its protections. The bills introduced in Congress, however, would only serve to accelerate extinction.

The bills range from a virtual repeal of the ESA, to a combination of attacks representing a back-door repeal. They include S. 855, sponsored by Senator Rand Paul, which would remove at least half of all species from the ESA by eliminating protections for species that exist in only one state, which applies to birds like the Golden-cheeked Warbler, and would automatically delist all species after five years.

The bills also include attacks on key facets of the ESA, including the fundamental provisions related to sound science and critical habitat. Science-based decision making is at the heart of the ESA. Legislation such as S. 736 could require the use of potentially inferior science, while S. 112 would inject more burdensome and unnecessary economic analyses into the process. Under current law, economic impacts are already taken into account, and there is ample flexibility currently to accommodate working lands.

7 Ways Congress is Trying to Destroy the Endangered Species Act

When one of the leaders in charge of setting our nation’s environmental policy boasts about wearing boots made from the skins of endangered species, it is a dark day for anyone who supports the continued protection of creatures great and small. Yet, this is the reality of having Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma heading up the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Inhofe was being flippant when he told a Washington Post reporter that his cowboy boots were probably made from “some endangered species,” adding, “I have a reputation to maintain.”

Indeed, Senator Inhofe has one of the worst environmental voting records of any sitting senator. And now he and his compatriots on the Hill have one of the most popular and important conservation laws in their crosshairs: the Endangered Species Act. Supported by nearly 85 percent of Americans and remarkably successful in recovering some of the nation’s most beloved and iconic creatures—including the bald eagle, American alligator and gray whale—the act is under threat of being dismantled piece by piece, and critter by critter, through legislative fiat.

While the claims of these anti-conservation crusaders are often off the wall, their power to undermine this bedrock environmental law is no laughing matter. Now that their pack has overrun both chambers of Congress, their bite may turn out to be just as strong as their bark.

The following are some of the ways Congress is attempting to tear apart the Endangered Species Act:

1. Bring Together Birds of a Feather.

In 2013, 13 members of Congress came together under the banner of the Endangered Species Act Congressional Working Group to discuss ways in which the act is working well and to identify how it could be updated and how to boost its effectiveness for both people and species.

While it seemed a reasonable enough premise, the team turned out to be a self-appointed group of anti-Endangered Species Act members, all with atrocious voting records on the environment.

So who’s backing the group?

In 2014, the group issued a set of proposals aimed at diluting the power of the act. Four of those made it into a package of bills known as the “21st Century Endangered Species Transparency Act,” which passed the House but stalled in the Senate.

Though the group disbanded this session, iterations of their destructive bills are currently snaking their way through the halls of the Capitol.

So who’s backing the group? The 800 pound gorilla in the room is the oil and gas industry. Of the working group members who were re-elected to this Congress, oil and gas interests were the leading donors to the collective’s 2014 election campaigns, contributing $943,000. Other industries including mining groups, big agricultural interests and pesticide manufacturers also see safeguards for species as hurting their bottom line. But the truth is that the act is straightforward and flexible, and it certainly allows for development and for economic growth. Nonetheless, big industries give big money to legislators who are bent on pecking away at the Endangered Species Act.

2. Form an Anti-Wolf Pack.

The reintroduction of wolves to the Northern Rocky Mountains has been hailed as one of the greatest achievements of the Endangered Species Act. It also positioned the gray wolf as a poster child of the act, and therefore it became one of the biggest targets for foes of the conservation law.

In 2011, members of Congress managed for the first time since the act was enacted to strike protections for an individual species based purely on political motivations and not on science. Congressmen in the Northern Rockies succeeded in delisting wolves in Idaho and Montana from the Endangered Species Act by slipping wording into the bicameral bill to fund the budget, effectively turning the act into a political bargaining chip.

Who’s leading the pack?

Following that lead, several Congressmen have recently set out to eradicate remaining federal protections for wolves across at least four states, turning over control to states that have increasingly hostile wolf management practices.

Who’s leading the pack? Wyoming Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis, who has had wolves in her sights for years, successfully lobbying for their delisting in her home state in 2011. When a court ruled that the state was mismanaging the wolf population and restored protections, she came back this year teeth bared, introducing another bill with Rep. Reid Ribble of Wisconsin that would skirt the court’s legal opinion and leave wolves vulnerable both in the Cowboy State, as well as several Great Lakes states.

What’s the pack howling about? Anti-wolf congressional representatives have relied on fairy tales over facts to garner support for otherwise unpopular anti-wolf actions. Time and again they reject scientific findings about wolf recovery and play up fantastical myths about the animals’ supposed danger to people.

“Nothing is more attractive to a wolf than the sound of a crying baby,” said then-Rep. Steve Pearce in 2007 about a proposed bill to stop the federal Mexican wolf reintroduction program in southern New Mexico.

His statement of course flies in the face of the fact that there has never been a single recorded human death by wolf attack in the Lower-48. That didn’t stop Rep. Don Young of Alaska from perpetuating this myth during a recent exchange with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

“I’d like to introduce [wolves] in your district. If I introduced them in your district, you wouldn’t have a homeless problem anymore,” he said in response to a letter to Jewell from 79 of his congressional colleagues who support continued wolf protections.

3. Declare Open Season on Individual Species.

Emboldened by the success they had delisting wolves in Idaho and Montana, legislators have been aiming to pick off individual vulnerable species one at a time by slipping in riders to often-unrelated bills that would deny protections for these species under the Endangered Species Act.

In other words, legislators could use political cunning to effectively kick a species off the Ark.

Who’s Out Hunting?

Who’s out hunting? Among the Anti-Noahs is Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, who offered an amendment on the Keystone XL pipeline bill that would have removed federal protections for the lesser prairie chicken. Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, Sen. Inhofe and other members of the House and Senate have also pushed legislation to block or remove protections for wolves, burying beetles, the long-eared bat, and other species. In 2014, then-Rep. Cory Gardner of Colorado introduced a bill with the laughable title “The Sage Grouse Protection and Conservation Act,” which would prevent the sage grouse from being listed under the act for a decade.

Why corner single species? Many of the species singled out by congressional attacks are those that happen to live near areas or resources that corporate interests want to develop.

“[Scientists] are saying that the chicken won’t breed if we’ve got the rigs running during their hours of breeding. Now I don’t know about you, but I didn’t ever find breeding to fit conveniently into a time of the day,” said Rep. Steve Pearce of New Mexico at a rally, speaking about the lesser prairie chicken getting in the way of oil extraction operations.

4. Establish No Man’s Lands for Species Protections.

Some legislators have introduced bills that exclude entire states or regions from following conservation requirements under the Endangered Species Act.

Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah has employed this strategy several times over. In 2010, he introduced a bill that would exclude gray wolves from receiving any Endangered Species Act protections in the state of Utah. He also sponsored legislation that would delay listing under the act of two grouse species in 11 states for at least 10 years.

And there’s more …

Rep. Bishop also led a bill in 2011 that would explicitly exempt U.S. Customs and Border Patrol from complying with a wide array of federal environmental protections—including the Endangered Species Act—within 100 miles of the Mexico and Canada borders.

There’s also a current fight in Utah over a species of prairie dog found just within that state. The act is mandated as a federal law under the Interstate Commerce Clause, and some states are making the argument that species that exist only within the boundaries of the state should not be eligible for federal protection. Legislation limiting Endangered Species Act protections to species that live in multiple states would devastate endangered species conservation and lead to more extinctions. Such legislation would, for example, exclude from federal protection every listed plant or animal on Hawaiʻi. As of 2010, roughly 50% of listed species were intrastate species (i.e., species found in just one state).

So far, arguments that the act should only protect interstate species have not held up in any federal appeals court, and the Supreme Court has rejected requests to hear any such case.

5. Blame The Drought on The Fish.

The tiny delta smelt has been blamed for everything, from stealing water from California’s farmers to causing the next Dust Bowl. This supposed monster’s numbers used to measure in the millions, but a 2014 survey only counted nine fish.

The reality is the drought—not environmental protections—is causing the water shortages to California farms, as well as to cities, towns, the fishing industry, the outdoor recreation industry and plenty of other users. The protections in place for the smelt have not affected any of the water allotment to the Central Valley this year.

Who’s Fingering the Fish?

So who’s fingering the fish? Reps. Devin Nunes, David Valadao, Tom McClintock—all legislators from California’s thirsty agricultural nexus, the Central Valley.

What are they saying? Arguing for an environmentally-destructive bill he introduced under the guise of drought relief, Rep. Nunes went on a tirade against Northern California environmentalists and people who live in cities, saying, “I don’t see any of them up here saying that they’re going to tear down this system, dump this water into the Bay to protect their stupid little fish, their little delta smelt that they care about.”

Big Ag is using the crisis of the drought to try and rollback environmental protections like those offered by Endangered Species Act to funnel water from the north directly to the Central Valley farms, which are already responsible for 80 percent of the state’s water consumption.

What’s in the forecast? Rep. McClintock introduced a bill in March that blocks Endangered Species Act protections during drought declarations. The Big Ag-backed trio is expected to propose a California water bill to Congress soon that will almost certainly undermine current protections afforded by the act.

6. Lasso Scientists in Red Tape.

Former Rep. Doc Hastings, backed by the members of that congressional working group, introduced a bill last year that would both bog down scientists in bureaucracy and threaten to further imperil already vulnerable species.

The bill would require federal wildlife agencies to publish online the data underlying all listing and delisting decisions. On its face, open data is a good thing, but the bill does not account for real-world issues involved in such blanket data-sharing, such as exposing some imperiled species to poaching or illegal collection.

And there’s more …

Another bill introduced in the last Congress by Rep. Randy Neugebauer of Texas would require the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to consider all data submitted by state, tribal and county governments as the best available science, no matter what the quality of this data. In other words, a county government heavily influenced by a mining corporation could commission its own report, not necessarily even conducted by actual scientists, and yet the federal wildlife agencies would be required to include this county “data,” which would skew agency decision-making under the act.

Both bills have already been reintroduced in some form in the current Congress.

7. Prevent Citizens from Enforcing the Act.

Congress has long recognized that the government needs average citizens to help enforce all sorts of important laws, including the Endangered Species Act.

Citizen suit provisions, found in civil rights laws, voting rights laws, and environmental laws, allow citizens to go to court to ensure that our laws are upheld.

But now …

One bill introduced by Rep. Cynthia Lummis sought to undermine citizen enforcement of the Endangered Species Act by requiring burdensome agency reporting that focus solely on the costs of enforcing the act without any accounting for the benefits these cases provide. Another bill introduced by Rep. Bill Huizenga of Michigan would restrict citizens’ ability to recover the full costs of litigation when they win enforcement actions in court.

Though neither of these bills made it beyond the House in the last Congress, these ideas have cropped up in other places. Earlier this year, an amendment was offered for the Keystone XL Senate bill that would have undermined Endangered Species Act citizen suits and limited the ability of citizens to hire a lawyer for the enforcement of the act.

The Endangered Species Act is one of the most powerful and effective environmental laws of the land.

The act is based on the principle that we have a responsibility to preserve America’s natural heritage by protecting the plants and animals that are part of it.

But since its enactment over 40 years ago, the act itself has become endangered by the heads of industries that want free rein to dig, blast, extract, and pollute wherever they see fit. These powerful interests and their friends in Congress have made it a priority to rollback protections for our wildlife, fish, and plants and the habitats upon which these species depend.

The law is based in common sense and balanced solutions that offer flexibility to communities, private landowners, and government agencies. When upheld properly and adequately funded, the Endangered Species Act succeeds in pulling species back from the brink of extinction.

EarthJustice|April 23, 2015

Feds May Okay Mega-Mall at Grand Canyon’s Doorstep

The Forest Service is on the verge of making a terrible decision that could damage Grand Canyon National Park, perhaps forgetting the agency’s motto to “sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests…to meet the needs of present and future generations. Unless, of course, you think the park isn’t that grand, and would be improved by hundreds of canyon-close vacation units, a retail village and a day of exfoliating in the local spa’s mud bath (presumably sans Arizona’s native javelina, an adorable, medium-sized pig). If so, then you may think the Forest Service is on the right track after all.

Last month, the Forest Service began paving the way for a sprawling resort development near the south rim of the Grand Canyon in what is now the small community of Tusayan, Arizona. More than 2,100 housing units and three million square feet of retail space, along with hotels, a spa and a dude ranch, may soon overwhelm the 580-resident community that serves as a gateway to the national park’s southern rim.

This new development threatens to transform Tusayan from a small, quiet tourist town into a sprawling resort complex as little as a mile away from the park’s boundary. Combined with another proposed development on nearby Navajo reservation land, Dave Uberuaga, superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park, has this to say:

“These two projects constitute the greatest threat to the Grand Canyon in the 96-year history of the park.”

A former superintendent, Steve Martin, is equally troubled, as he recently detailed in a lengthy letter.

And the National Park Service is right to be worried. The development’s biggest threat should be obvious in the desert southwest: water, or lack thereof.  A new city on the canyon’s edge will require vast quantities of water.  Stilo, the Italian developer behind this project, won’t say where it will get the water, but groundwater pumping is the easy—and most damaging—option.  Pumping groundwater to feed the development could lower the aquifer that feeds seeps, springs and streams that support wildlife and recreation on the park’s south rim.  That same aquifer is also the exclusive source of all water for Havasu Springs, the source of life and culture of the Havasupai tribe.

What’s the Forest Service got to do with this?  Stilo needs road and utility access through the Kaibab National Forest to build on its remote properties. Without a permit, development of these utilities can’t proceed. That means the linchpin for the entire massive development is in the Forest Service’s hands.

The Forest Service doesn’t have to say yes to this mess.  It could reject Stilo’s permit application as not in the public interest.  And it should, which is what we, on behalf of National Parks Conservation Association, Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Trust, and Center for Biological Diversity, told the Forest Service in March.  The Forest Service has so far ignored our advice.

Ted Zukoski|May 13, 2015

Calls to Action

  1. Ask for a 200 Year Moratorium on the Harvest and Sale of Coast Redwood and Products Derived From Same – here
  2. Parks and power plants don’t mix – here
  3. European nature laws are in jeopardy – here

Birds and Butterflies

Rachel the Osprey has three gorgeous eggs!

Rachel and Steve, the beloved couple making their home on the Hog Island Osprey nest, have gotten back into the swing of things without missing a beat. After wintering apart 2600 miles away in South America, they reunited in Maine and began successfully mating, with Rachel laying three cream-colored eggs, wreathed and spotted in reddish brown.

The first egg was laid on May 1st, 2015, so we can anticipate a hatch in about 3 weeks. We’ll keep you up to date as we get closer to hatch watch. Stay tuned to the osprey cam on explore.org to watch the osprey family grow live, 24/7!

Audubon Seabird Restoration Program|May 11, 2015

Piping Plovers at Cape Hatteras National Seashore in Danger Again

Piping Plover chicks on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore are in danger again. The National Park Service is poised to reverse parts of its off-road vehicle (ORV) management plan. Since 2008, wildlife buffers have protected Piping Plovers, other beach-nesting birds, and sea turtles. The birds and turtles build their nests on the beaches—and nests, eggs, and chicks were destroyed by chronic disturbance and sometimes run over before the science-based buffers were put in place. The National Park Service’s new proposal weakens these protections.

Beach-nesting birds, sea turtles, and tourism all have thrived under the National Park Service’s management of beach driving by ORVs. The current management plan safeguards beach-nesting wildlife and pedestrian beachgoers on National Seashore beaches while still allowing beach driving within the park. According to the National Park Service’s own data, prior to the current plan in 2007, there were only 82 sea turtle nests. As many as 254 sea turtle nests have been laid in a single year under the current plan. Before the current plan was in place, the numbers of Piping Plover fledglings were devastating, with no chicks surviving to fledge in 2002 or 2004. Since ORV management practices were implemented in 2008, as many as 15 federally threatened Piping Plovers have fledged in a single year.

Audubon is deeply disappointed in the National Park Service’s proposal to roll back wildlife protection at Cape Hatteras. Thanks to everyone who submitted comments in opposition to this flawed plan; we’ll be sure to keep you updated on the National Park Service’s response.

Easy Ways to Welcome Nesting Birds ‏

Happy Garden for Wildlife Month! This is a special time of the year to rally gardeners, wildlife lovers and anyone interested in going the extra mile for local birds, butterflies and other wildlife.

For many gardeners, there’s no greater thrill than to have a family of birds take up residence in your yard. And because May is a crucial nesting time for many birds, now is a great time to ensure your yard welcomes these feathered friends.

Providing nesting materials can make your garden very appealing to nesting birds.

Some bird-friendly favorites that you can find your own yard include:

  • Twigs (under 4 inches long)
  • Greenery (soft plant matter found on maples, willows, and other trees and shrubs)
  • Fluff (like cottonwood trees or lamb’s ear)
  • Mud
  • Dry Grass
  • Moss

You can also create nesting boxes with these great tips or purchase wildlife-friendly boxes from many stores, including the National Wildlife Catalog.

Bird feeding can be a valuable addition to your wildlife gardening. You are especially welcome to learn how, with your enthusiasm for backyard birds and wildlife, you can enroll your yard as a Certified Wildlife Habitat® — right at home!

David Mizejewski |NWF Naturalist|5/16/15

 Florida Panthers

The Center for Biological Diversity is working to find whoever shot and killed one of Florida’s last remaining panthers. A motorist found the dead panther March 22 and state wildlife officials later determined it died from a gunshot wound. Since 2014, 51 Florida panthers have been found dead out of a population of fewer than 180. Most of the deaths have been human caused, typically by vehicle strikes.

Shooting a panther is a felony, and we need to bring this callous killer to justice.

Panthers once roamed across most of the Southeast, but there are now fewer than 180 left in the wild — 51 have died in the past 18 months. They’ve been gunned down and run down as their habitat is destroyed by development, mining and oil exploration. Urgent action is needed to protect them.

And it’s not just Florida panthers that are under the gun — there’s a war on predator species across America. Last year alone USDA’s Wildlife Services killed nearly 800 bobcats, Utah budgeted $400,000 to lobby for the right to exterminate wolves, and “predator derby” killing contests made sport of wiping out these keystone species.

A wilderness without apex predators is a wilderness out of balance. If we allow predators to be erased from the wild, all of our efforts to preserve nature will fall short. We need to protect big cats and wolves, orcas and Arctic foxes, martens and raptors.

The Center is contributing to a $15,000 reward to find whoever shot and killed an endangered Florida panther. Harming a Florida panther is punishable by up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine. The Center teamed with The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust in putting up a $10,000 reward leading to an arrest and conviction in the latest death; that pledge, along with a $5,000 reward offered by state and federal agencies, pushes the total reward to $15,000.

“Florida panthers have overcome so much, surviving near-extinction mere decades ago,” said the Center’s Jaclyn Lopez. “It’s unimaginable that someone would gun down this incredible animal.”

Learn more about our work to save panthers and consider a donation to our Predator Defense Fund.

  Invasive species

Exotic Pet Amnesty Day Events

May 16, 2015
Saturday 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Osceola Heritage Park- Extension Services Building
1921 Kissimmee Valley Lane
Kissimmee, FL 34744

Sponsored by:

UF IFAS Extension Osceola County
The Nature Conservancy
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Contact:

Ashley Taylor, 954-577-6409; Ashley.Taylor@MyFWC.com
Cheryl Millet, 863-635-7506 ext. 205; Cmillett@tnc.org
Eleanor Foerste, 321-697-3000; efoerste@ufl.edu

October 3, 2015
Saturday 10am-2pm

Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park
1010 Miracle Strip Parkway SE
Fort Walton Beach, FL 32548

Sponsored by:

Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park
Florida Fish and Wildlife

Contact:

Ashley Taylor, (954) 577-6409; Ashley.Taylor@MyFWC.com

Information:

I don’t have a pet to surrender and I’m not an adopter. Can I still go to an Exotic Pet Amnesty Day event?

Exotic Pet Amnesty Day events are free and everyone is welcome to attend. There are informative and educational displays at most amnesty events, and live animals are usually on exhibit. Kids and families can see exotic animals up close and learn about nonnative species issues.

Information on Surrendering Animals

What pets can I surrender at an Exotic Pet Amnesty Day event?

We accept all exotic reptiles, amphibians, birds, fish, mammals and invertebrates at Exotic Pet Amnesty events. Domestic pets, such as dogs and cats and rabbits, are not accepted.

What will happen to my pet if I surrender it?

Exotic pets can be surrendered between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm, no questions asked. Every pet that is surrendered is inspected by a veterinarian, and all healthy pets are placed with pre-qualified adopters that same day. Our qualified adopters have submitted applications that demonstrate they know how to care for the animals they are approved to adopt.

What should I bring with me to surrender my pet?

First and foremost, your pet – preferably in a transportable container that you are willing to part with. Additionally, you can bring anything involved in the care or caging of the animal that you no longer wish to keep. Anything you surrender with the animal will go with that animal to its new home. This includes caging, food, vitamins, toys, and anything else you commonly use in the care of your animal.

I have multiple animals that I need to surrender, will they all go to the same home?

We strive to place animals into new homes and environments that will provide them the best chance at living a long and happy life. If the animals you surrender are bonded together every effort will be made to place the animals into a new home together. This is usually easy to accommodate if the animals are in pairs or trios.

I’m surrendering my animal, but would like to hear from the new owner about how my animal is doing, is this possible?

When you surrender your animal you are welcome to leave your name and contact information for the new owner of your animal. However, we cannot guarantee that the person who adopts your animal will be open to contacting you.

What if my pet doesn’t get adopted?

So far we have been successful with having all healthy animals adopted during an event. However, in the rare event that an animal was not adopted we would hold that animal while we contacted pre-approved adopters in the area who may not have been able to attend the event.

I missed the last event and have an exotic pet I can’t keep anymore. What can I do?

We can help place exotic pets outside of amnesty events. Contact the Exotic Species Hotline at 888-IVE-GOT1 (888-483-4681).

Information on Adopting Animals

I’d like to adopt an exotic pet

Want to help us find homes for exotic pets in need? Apply today! Read about how to become an exotic pet adopter.

I’m an adopter with the program, what should I expect at an Exotic Pet Amnesty Day event?

At an Exotic Pet Amnesty Day event, animals are surrendered between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm. Surrendered animals are held for the duration of the event and adoptions start around 2:30 pm. Adopters should arrive and check in at 2:15 pm. Once most adopters have checked in, we allow all the adopters to travel through the animal holding area and see the animals that will be available for adoption that day. After every adopter has had an opportunity to see the animals we have a drawing to create a random adoption order. The first adopter called gets to go through the trailer and adopt one animal from a category for which they are approved. This process continues until every adopter has had a chance to go through and adopt an animal. If there are still animals available for adoption we will go back through the random list of adopters.

What animals will be available for adoption at an Exotic Pet Amnesty Day event?

We have no way of knowing what species of animals, or how many, will be surrendered at any given event. Also, we allow for the surrender of any exotic pet so we receive a great variety of animals. In general, we see a lot of animals that can be purchased easily at local pet stores such as ball pythons, green iguanas, pond turtles, and sugar gliders. While less common, we also see small birds, parrots, boa constrictors, and tortoises with some frequency.

I plan on adopting, what should I bring to an event?

If you plan on adopting an animal at an Exotic Pet Amnesty Day event you should bring something to transport that animal home. Depending on what you are approved for this could be a small kennel, a large Tupperware, or even a cloth bag. Don’t assume the animal you are adopting will come with a habitat or something appropriate for transport.

Information on Planning an Exotic Pet Amnesty Day event

Can anyone host an amnesty event?

The FWC invites other governmental agencies, zoos, museums, nature centers, and other conservation oriented organizations to find out more about planning independent amnesty events that are sanctioned by FWC. Independent amnesty events must be planned under the guidance of FWC to avoid violating state rules. Contact the Exotic Species Program Coordinator, Ashley Taylor, at 954-577-6409 for more information.

Python “Saffron” gives birth to a brood of 62 – twice the usual offspring

An 18ft python who mated with a snake half her size has hatched a huge brood of 62 baby snakes – double the usual number of offspring.

Reticulated python Saffron had shown little interest in breeding when she was bought by owners Jen and Andy Webb from south east Asia seven years ago.

The couple, from Gloucester, had given up hope of her producing offspring when they put nine-foot male python Fire in her enclosure to show how much bigger Saffron was.

But the pair mated and Saffron laid an impressive 62 eggs on Valentine’s Day which were put into an incubator.

Twelve weeks later, they have all hatched and produced baby snakes measuring between 12 and 15 inches long.

The new arrivals, born last Saturday, will spend a week or so in the broken egg before shedding their skin.

They will each be fed three meals of defrosted baby rat once a week and could be ready for sale in a few weeks’ time.

The baby snakes will each be sold for between £60 and £150 depending on their markings, fetching the couple up to £9,000

Mrs Webb, 30, who runs Webb’s Reptile Centre with her husband, said Saffron’s enormous clutch of eggs was down to her size – around six foot longer than most females.

She said: ‘She is an extremely large snake and she also didn’t breed until quite late in life.

‘Most snakes breed around two or three however Saffie is eight years old and these are her first babies.

Breeder Mrs Webb said: ‘I actually saw one of the baby snakes pop up out of their egg and I’ve never seen that before’

‘We had written her off and only put a male in with her to show people the size difference, but they did mate.

‘We are breeders and she is one of many we’ve got with hatching eggs, but she is quite special.

Amanda Williams|MailOnline |13 May 2015

Endangered Species

Missouri center helps wolf-repopulation effort

EUREKA, Mo. — A secluded Missouri conservation center heralded for helping repopulate the wild with endangered wolves is tending to its latest puppy season — a ritual that this time has a bittersweet vibe in the absence of the site’s furry matriarch. With 41 Mexican gray wolf pups to her credit until she died April 21, a day before her 14th birthday, Anna came to symbolize the Endangered Wolf Center’s quest to save North America’s rarest subspecies of gray wolf.

The center’s staffers are mourning the loss of the prolific Anna, whose offspring came in just four litters over a five-year stretch to 2008, dwarfing the typical brood of four to seven. Yet, the St. Louis-area center presses on, championing an animal that at times is broadly vilified.

The Mexican wolf population in the Southwest once numbered in the thousands before being nearly wiped out by the 1970s, largely the result of more than a century of being hunted, trapped and poisoned by ranchers and others. Commonly known as “El Lobos,” the Mexican gray was designated an endangered species in 1976 and was considered extinct in the wild until they were reintroduced in 1998.

The 110 said to be in the wild as of early 2014 — by Virginia Busch’s account, all of them with genetic ties to the center for which she is executive director — is up from 83 the previous year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said.

“To take something so close to extinction, breed several generations in captivity and establish a wild population, that’s huge,” said Maggie Dwire, the assistant Mexican gray wolf recovery coordinator for the federal agency. “We’ve been incredibly successful, but we still have a really long way to go.”
Regina Mossotti, the center’s director of animal care and conservation, said roughly 175 Mexican grays have been born at the center since 1980 — amounting to roughly 40 percent of Mexican grays birthed in captivity.

Anna did her part, enough to garner a feature in National Geographic for her birth rate that Busch called “genetically mind-boggling.”

The nonprofit, which was founded in 1971 by zoologist Marlin Perkins, the late St. Louis native best known as the host of TV’s “Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom,” also has three dozen wolves, foxes and African painted dogs roaming enclosures on dozens of acres leased from Washington University.

A similar comeback, with the center’s help, has been waged by the red wolf, now believed to number around five dozen almost exclusively in the Southeast.

For Busch and others at the center, which touts itself as the nation’s biggest holder of Mexican gray wolves, helping such animals battle back has been as much about education as it has about breeding. “People talk of wolves as vicious, scary animals, and they’re not,” Mossotti said. “You tend to fear what you don’t understand. And if people could work here one day, they’d never fear wolves again.”

JIM SUHR|ASSOCIATED PRESS|5/10/15

Indonesian National Police Seize Major Shipment of Pangolins, Arrest Smuggler

The Indonesian National Police’s Criminal Investigation Division (BARESKRIM MABES POLRI), the Government of Indonesia, and the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Wildlife Crimes Unit (WCU) today announced the seizure of a shipment of pangolins headed to China and valued at approximately 1.8 million US dollars (USD). The pangolin smuggler involved in the case has been arrested.

This is the largest case of pangolin smuggling in Indonesia since 2008 when the Indonesian National Police, supported by WCS’s WCU, arrested two smugglers and confiscated 13.8 tons of frozen pangolins in Palembang.

The seizure took place on April 23, 2015, at the Belawan seaport in Medan, the largest city on the island of Sumatra. Belawan Seaport is notorious for being an import and exit point for illegal wildlife trafficking. The haul included 5 tons of frozen pangolins, 77 kilograms of pangolin scales, and 96 live pangolins. A smuggler, identified by the initials SHB, has been arrested in the case. SHB allegedly dealt and exported pangolins that he ordered from local dealers in Aceh and north Sumatra. Under Indonesian law, trafficking of pangolins, their parts and by-products is punishable by a maximum penalty of five years of imprisonment and a maximum fine of USD $10,000.

In recent years, the price of pangolin has increased sharply in the international market, driven by demand from China. Based on current black market prices, the value of the seized shipment is 1.826 million USD. Pangolin scales (considered to have healing qualities by traditional Chinese medicine practitioners) are valued at USD $3,000 per kg, pangolin meat (considered a delicacy) at USD $300 per kg, and live pangolins at USD $992. Smugglers also ship pangolin innards, including fetuses, for traditional medicinal purposes.

Based upon evidence gathered during the arrest, the shipment was headed to China. In order to avoid police and customs detection, the suspect had exported the shipping container that held the pangolin cargo from a secondary port to a cargo ferry offshore, where it was obscured among other containers. The cargo ferry then docked at Belawan port where the container was to be transferred to a vessel destined for China via Haiphong Seaport in Vietnam. The exporter also shipped live pangolins to Penang, Malaysia through a remote seaport in Medan.

There are eight species of pangolins (Family: Manidae) still in existence worldwide. Four of the species are of Asian origin including the Sudanese Pangolin (Manis javanicus), which is listed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The pangolin’s large scales are made of keratin, the same material as fingernails and rhino horns, and account for 20% of its weight.

Deputy Director Tipidter, CID of the Indonesian National Police, Police Senior Commissioner Didid Widjanardi said, “Pangolins are protected under Indonesian law. The Indonesian National Police and WCS’s WCU have done a great job in tackling pangolin smuggling since 2008. We will continue our collaboration in the future through preventive actions, which is important to saving pangolins in their habitat.”

WCS Executive Director for Asia Programs Joe Walston said, “This is a major breakthrough, both in terms of the enormous size of the shipment and in terms of the increasing sophistication of collaborative methods used by Indonesian authorities in making the bust. WCS is committed to supporting the Government of Indonesia in dismantling this insidious illegal trade.”

WCS’s Wildlife Crimes Unit is supported by the Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenberg Foundation, Fondation Segré, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service Multinational Species Conservation Funds, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

ssmith|April 27, 2015

Wildlife Conservation Society at 120: Then and Now, Conservation Action Takes a Movement

In 1907 the American Bison Society arranged for 15 bison donated by the New York Zoological Society (NYZS) to be shipped by railway from the Bronx Zoo to the Wichita National Forest and Game Preserve in Oklahoma to begin the work of restoring the Western Plains’ depleted bison population – reduced in the preceding half-century from well over 20 million to a mere 23 animals in the wild.

The shipment was an extraordinary achievement – the start of what would become the first successful organized conservation effort to save a species from extinction. In the ensuing decades the wild bison population would rebound to close to 25,000, with another quarter million maintained as managed herds in every state in the union. So inspiring is the end result that one could be forgiven in forgetting the work required to make it happen.

Two years earlier, in 1905, Bronx Zoo Director William T. Hornaday brought together a group of diverse stakeholders to form the American Bison Society (ABS). With President Theodore Roosevelt as honorary president, ABS set out to prevent the extinction of the American bison by establishing a number of small herds in widely separated parts of the country.

Anticipating the challenge, Hornaday had already lobbied the Congress to set aside federal land in Oklahoma for the purpose of creating game preserves (as ABS would later do for land in South Dakota and Nebraska). Hornaday now gathered available bison from around the northeast to establish a small population at the Bronx Zoo, operated by NYZS (today the Wildlife Conservation Society, or WCS).

To defray the cost of transporting the animals west, the ABS worked with both Wells Fargo and American Express. The public was also engaged. Between 1908 and 1909, conservation-minded individuals from 29 states – as well as the District of Columbia, England, Canada, and France – made personal contributions, raising more than $10,500 in support of the Montana National Bison herd.

Hornaday juggled these disparate elements of his campaign expertly. Decades before Rachel Carson’s passionate call for the protection of our forests, streams, and pastures in her book Silent Spring, Hornaday helped to establish a veritable blueprint for modern environmental movement-building – one that he would apply again and again to achieve the vision and goals of the zoological society.

As WCS turns 120 this week, it continues that tradition of effective conservation movement building begun a century ago. The past two years have seen perhaps the most ambitious and successful of these efforts with the creation of the 96 Elephants campaign. The campaign takes its name from the roughly 35,000 elephants being killed across Africa each year for their ivory – a figure that translates into 96 elephants per day, or one every 15 minutes.

Responding to the devastating poaching crisis, the 96 Elephants campaign developed a three-prong strategy to curtail the illegal ivory trade: stop the killing, stop the trafficking, and stop the demand. Central to this effort has been an acknowledgement that the United States has itself played a large role in driving demand for ivory.

With poached ivory being sold and traded as antique (the latter is protected by law, but the two are very difficult to distinguish), a tightening of restrictions on ivory purchases and sales in the United States needed to take place.

To achieve that goal, the 96 Elephants campaign followed Hornaday’s tested movement strategy: building coalitions with public and private partners (including more than 120 members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums), raising public awareness, and working with government leaders.

The results would make Hornaday proud. New York and New Jersey successfully established ivory bans in the summer of 2014. Similar efforts are now underway in California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and elsewhere.

The success of the 96 Elephants campaign is not merely another example of what’s old being new again. It demonstrates that tried and true organizing principles – clearly articulated goals grounded upon public education (including a lot of pavement-pounding), the building of partnerships and alliances, and passionate advocacy at all levels of government – can and should be the basis for other pressing environment and conservation priorities of our time.

In the coming years, WCS hopes to continue to apply this movement strategy for the protection threatened species. In so doing we are not merely working to protect great iconic wildlife like the bison and the elephant. We are developing a constituency for conservation that will continue the fight for future generations as we do now 100 years after William Hornaday’s inspiring example.

John F. Calvelli|Executive Vice President, Public Affairs, Wildlife Conservation Society|05/02/2015

22 live birds found stuffed in water bottles at Indonesian port

An Indonesian man has been arrested on suspicion of wildlife smuggling by Indonesian police after almost two dozen rare live birds, mostly yellow-crested cockatoos, were found jammed inside plastic water bottles in his luggage.

He was stopped by police when he left a passenger ship in Surabaya.

The head of the criminal investigation unit at Tanjung Perak port, Aldy Sulaiman, said police found the birds stashed inside the man’s luggage.

“We found 21 yellow-crested cockatoos and one green parrot,” he said. “All the birds were found inside water bottles, which were packed in a crate.”

The birds have since been sent to Indonesia’s natural resources conservation office, which deals with wildlife-trafficking cases.

If he is found guilty of smuggling he could face up to five years in prison.

The critically endangered Yellow-crested cockatoos are native to Indonesia and neighbouring East Timor and can sell for around £1,000 each.

From Wildlife Extra

Romania set to approve bird hunting during spring migration

A proposed law that would allow spring hunting and trespassing on private property in Romania could be approved imminently, Bird Life International has reported.

This would mean birds could be killed legally during spring migration, which goes against the Birds and Habitats Directives. Spring is a critical time for migrating birds on their way to breed.

The legislation would extend the legal hunting periods for up to three months, including the time that covers the spring migration, for 18 species of birds, mostly goose and duck species (Northern Pintail and Gargany among them).

It is particularly threatening for non-target species such as the endangered Red-breasted Goose, which forms mixed flocks with target species and is accidentally killed.

One of the other 18 species to which this law would apply is the Eurasian Skylark.

It’s one of Romania’s most beloved birds and has been an inspiration for many great musicians all over the world.

It is currently legal to hunt Skylark in Romania and five other EU countries – Greece, Cyprus, Italy, France and Malta. But the Skylark population in Europe has declined up to 50 per cent since 1980, so extending the hunting period would only worsen the situation.

Also, people are known to hunt under the guise of targeting Skylark, but end up killing other species that are legally protected.

The proposed law would also allow anyone in pursuit of a wild bird to walk onto any private field or property without permission from the owner.

The argument by the government is that wild game is owned by the state, so anyone in pursuit of wild game should be allowed to follow their target wherever they like without consent.

This means it would be legal to hunt birds on land and forests that NGOs and foundations have bought with the precise purpose of protecting wildlife.

Therefore, this proposed law also has implications for places that are supposed to protect birds and nature in Romania, such as Natura 2000 protected areas.

Hunting liberalization would undermine the management of these sites.

From Wildlife Extra

How to Create a Pollinator Oasis Right at Home

Did you know that about one-third of the world’s food crop production relies on pollination?

Perhaps due to this connection, the plight of pollinators (bees in particular) has recently become highly publicized worldwide.

Todd Farrell, conservation biologist with the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) says that while bees have been the poster child in the media, other pollinators such as butterflies and moths that are facing similar challenges should not be left out.

“We are just beginning to understand pollinators’ importance in our ecosystems and food systems, and their status in the wild,” says Todd.

“Insect diversity is vast and there’s a lot we still don’t know. Building up this knowledge base can help us better manage our lands.”

Farrell says that by conducting targeted surveys and contributing to province-wide counts, NCC scientists are able to gather more information on population sizes, trends and the locations of certain pollinator species.

For example, findings from one of last year’s moth surveys at an NCC property in the Rice Lake Plains Natural Area proved great potential as a core area for provincially and nationally significant moths.

While conservation organizations like NCC are making progress in the field and helping us build a better picture of pollinators on the lands they protect, change can happen right at home.

Here are three ways you can be a champion for our pollinators:

Pollinator friendly plants and wildflowers

Species such as wild bergamot and black-eyed Susan are examples of plants suitable in all areas. However, some plants may only be appropriate for a certain habitat type or climatic zone. Use native plant guides to learn about what’s appropriate for your area. Plants that pollinators will love include bee balm, milkweed and other nectar- and pollen-rich species. Choosing a variety of plants that flower at different times of the year helps ensure a steady food supply for our pollinators!
Tip: Once you’ve selected your seeds, help them germinate by sealing the seeds in a Ziploc bag with a damp paper towel.

Water and salt licks
Access to fresh, clean water is essential for pollinator health. Line a shallow dish with a few pebbles as landing pads, and voilà: a hydration station for your ladybugs, butterflies, bees and more.

Butterflies also use salt licks to satisfy a need for nutrients and minerals. Make your garden more inviting by creating a damp area over bare soil mixed with a little sea salt for a DIY salt lick.

Tip: Spot a grounded, exhausted bee straggling about? Help get it back on its feet (or wings rather) by offering a spoon with sugar water.

Nesting havens

You may be surprised that not all bees live in hives; in fact, of Canada’s 800 native bee species, about 30 percent are solitary and live in underground burrows, wood tunnels or other cavities.

Tip: Even without any carpentry skills, you can build a bee condo using wood blocks and hollow stems.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada|May 12, 2015

U.S. Honeybee Population Plummets by More Than 40%, USDA Finds

To the horror of beekeepers around the country, it appears that the worrisome decline in honeybees is getting even worse. According to the latest annual government study, U.S. beekeepers reported losing 42.1 percent of the total number of colonies managed from April 2014 through April 2015, much higher than the 34.2 percent from the year prior.

The study was conducted by the Bee Informed Partnership in collaboration with the Apiary Inspectors of America and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Preliminary results indicate that U.S. beekeepers were hardest-hit in the summer of 2014, with an average loss of 27.4 percent of their hives compared to the 19.8 percent the previous summer.

While winter numbers improved about 0.6 percentage points less than the previous winter, the honeybee death rate is still too high for long-term survival. Colony losses were 23.1 percent for the 2014-15 winter months, which is normally the higher loss period.

The Associated Press reported that the study’s entomologists were “shocked” when they noticed bees were dying more in the summer than the winter for the first time. Study co-author Dennis van Engelsdorp of the University of Maryland told the news organization that seeing massive colony losses in summer is like seeing “a higher rate of flu deaths in the summer than winter. You just don’t expect colonies to die at this rate in the summer.”

lossbystateTotal annual loss percentage by state. Photo Credit: Bee Informed

A growing body of evidence has pointed to one class of pesticides in particular, neonicotinoids, as the culprit to the massive bee die-offs. In fact, the European Union banned the three most widely used neonicotinoids in 2o13, but they are still used widely in the U.S.

Environmental advocacy organization Friends of the Earth noted that the extreme bee losses highlight the urgent need to restrict pesticides to protect pollinators. “Bayer, Syngenta and Monsanto make billions from bee-killing pesticide products while masquerading as champions of bee health,” said Tiffany Finck-Haynes, food futures campaigner with Friends of the Earth. “Are their profits more important than our food supply? Are they more important than the livelihoods of America’s farmers? The Obama administration must act now to restrict neonicotinoid pesticides that threaten America’s bees, farmers and food security.”

There’s been a growing movement to save the honeybees, which perform about 80 percent of all pollination worldwide, according to Greenpeace. Just two months ago, the White House received four million petition signatures calling on the Obama administration to put forth strong protections for honey bees and pollinators. This past April, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a moratorium on new or expanded uses of neonicotinoids while it evaluates the risks posed to pollinators. And last June, the Obama administration also established the Pollinator Health Task Force charged with improving pollinator health and assessing the impacts of pesticides, including neonicotinoids, on pollinators.

Friends of the Earth and their allies have also successfully campaigned for more than twenty garden stores, nurseries and landscaping companies, including Lowe’s and Home Depot to eliminate neonicotinoids from their stores. BJ’s Wholesale Club and Whole Foods have also taken steps to restrict these pesticides.

“The solution to the bee crisis is to shift to sustainable agriculture systems that are not dependent on monoculture crops saturated in pesticides,” Finck-Haynes continued. “It’s time to reimagine the way we farm in the United States and incentivize organic agriculture practices that are better for bees and for all of us.”

Lorraine Chow|May 14, 2015

Saving the Leopard With Furs for Life

It has the widest range of all big cats in the world and was once ubiquitous throughout much of Africa and Eurasia. But the leopard has fallen on hard times.

Native to 35 countries in Sub Saharan Africa, today the leopard has disappeared from almost 40 percent of this historic range. Why? Leopards are dying because of a loss of habitat as a result of human population expansion, killings by herders in retribution for livestock loss, unsustainable legal trophy hunting and poaching for their skins and body parts.

Despite this, leopards haven’t received much attention in the wildlife conservation world. Aid for Africa member Panthera, a global wild cat conservation organization focused on 36 species, including the imperiled African lion, cheetah and leopard, is out to change that through a multifaceted approach focused on research, outreach and solutions for leopard conservation.

One effort is Panthera’s Furs for Life Leopard Project.

The leopard, an emblematic species of Africa, is revered for its beautiful spotted coat. Panthera reports that leopard skins are in increasing demand among members of South Africa’s Shembe Baptist Church, whose followers wear spotted cat fur during religious celebrations. Although trade in leopard skins is illegal, this cultural practice is reducing South Africa’s leopard populations.

Panthera’s Leopard Program Coordinator Tristan Dickerson estimates that nearly 1,000 leopard skins are either worn or sold at every major Shembe gathering. However, the large number of fake leopard skins, including impala skins and other pelts painted with spots, gave him reason for hope.

Panthera collaborated with digital designers and clothing companies to create a cape made from high-quality, realistic fake leopard fur. Panthera and its partners are working with church leaders to encourage their members to use the sustainable fake fur capes at religious ceremonies. Some 6,000 fake leopard furs have been donated to Shembe members throughout South Africa. Dickerson and his team hope to deliver approximately 18,000 fake furs by the end of 2017.

Everyone is optimistic, including Panthera President Luke Hunter, “The Furs for Life Leopard Project has provided a highly innovative solution to one of the gravest threats facing leopards in southern Africa. Panthera identified this emerging threat through its long-term research in the KwaZulu-Natal province, and within a few years, we’ve identified a real solution. . .”

To raise awareness of the plight of the leopard, Panthera has launched the #ifakeit movement with international superstar Shania Twain. Fans of Shania and leopards are coming together through social media to help rescue the once ubiquitous wild leopard from its hard times.

Aid for Africa|May 14, 2015

Does Our Future Include Elephants, Rhinos and Gorillas?

Some of the world’s biggest — and most threatened — animals are herbivores. While these plant-powered creatures rarely hurt a fly, a new study shows that they’re under attack. And not so surprisingly, humans are largely to blame.

In the Not Too Distant Future… “Empty Landscapes”

As reported in The Washington Post, a study published in Science Advances paints a very dark earth. In the not too distant future, picture our planet with “empty landscapes.” A landscape without elephants, rhinos, gorillas and hippos just to name a few. The authors of the study are clear: the herbivores are in trouble, and it’s our fault. Wrap your head around this: 60 percent of the large herbivores are now threatened by extinction.

What’s exactly hurting the herbivores? The short answer is humans. More specifically, our growing population, our out of hand hunting and our voracious appetite for animal products that devastates herbivore habitats. And if we couple herbivores’ naturally low birth rates to all of that, it’s easy to see how they’re getting the short end of the stick.

It’s going to take worldwide action to turn this around. We can help protect the herbivores if together we reduce our birth rates, give women basic rights, consume less animals and animal byproducts, stop the poaching, protect designated protected areas and fight climate change. It’s a tall order, but aren’t they worth the sacrifices?

Recklessly losing our majestic herbivores is a crime. But it’s also much more than that. Large herbivores play vital roles in their environments.

3 Herbivore Ecological Engineers

You can think of these herbivores as ecological engineers. As any good nature documentary shows, it’s easy to see how predators keep other animals — and the environment — under control. While not as exciting as a lioness stalking a gazelle, large herbivores also keep their environment in check. Here a few ways large herbivores serve their environments.

Elephants

Elephants aren’t the best seed digesters, and that’s great news for their environments. Elephants can leave precious seeds wherever they plop down and relieve themselves. They also actively sculpt their environment when they’re “digging with their front legs, pulling up grass [and] knocking down big trees,” reports BBC.

Extinction Red Alert!: An elephant is killed every 15 minutes for its tusks; at this rate, none will be left roaming in 2025.

Rhinos

Up until recently, rhinos got very little credit for engineering their environment. According to Smithsonian Magazine, rhinos are equipped to knock down trees. And research shows that areas with less rhinos “had 60 to 80 percent less short grass cover than places where rhinos frequently hung out.”

Extinction Red Alert!: In 2014, one rhino was killed every eight hours just in South Africa.

Primates (Gorillas)

Like other primates, gorillas help the environment in two main ways. Primates play key role in how seeds are dispersed — they can literally structure entire ecosystems. Their role as folivores also puts them in the eco engineering position; for instance, they’ll eat the flowers so much that the plant species “does not set fruit.”

Extinction Red Alert!: Three of the four gorilla species are critically endangered. The Cross River Gorilla only has approximately 300 members left.

It’s clear that humans aren’t the only ones who can change the landscape. We’re making critical changes to our environment that have consequences larger than we know. Unfortunately, the large herbivores can’t keep up. Can you imagine what our world will look like without them?

Jessica Ramos|May 15, 2015

Whale Entanglement Sightings Reach Record High

Just a couple of miles offshore in Monterey Bay on a grey November day, the ocean surface behind our whale watching boat started to boil with anchovies. As we watched, astonished, a cloud of them shimmered out of the water, followed by the lunging head of a humpback whale. Its enormous throat billowed as it swallowed the unsuccessfully fleeing anchovies. Even our guide exclaimed at the sight. But that exclamation was followed by a note of worry: “You see those buoys right near the whales—those are for crab gear. I sure hope the whales move away from them; otherwise they can get tangled up in the line.” A fellow whale watcher cocked his head: “Really? That happens?”

It does happen, and as I learned earlier this year, record numbers of whale entanglements—mostly humpbacks and gray whales—have been seen entangled in California since 2014. Most of these whales were snared in gear used to catch Dungeness crab, spot prawn and other species. While a lucky few escape from the gear by themselves or get help from a brave team of disentanglement volunteers, those that remain wrapped in buoy line can face serious injury and even death. An entangled whale may be forced to drag hundreds of pounds of gear as it attempts to feed, migrate or simply surface to breathe. Some exhausted whales eventually drown. The line can also cut into the whale’s flesh, leading to infections. Line that remains wrapped around pectoral fins or a fluke can cause those fins to rot off altogether.

KSBW news reports on a humpback whale entanglement rescue in Monterey Bay last May.

KSBW Action News 8/YouTube

Knowing the risk of serious injury associated with these entanglements made the new data on increased incidents in 2014 and 2015 even more alarming. Between 2000 and 2013, California saw an average of eight whale entanglements per year. In 2014, 21 entanglements were observed. And in just the four months of 2015 alone, 25 separate whales were seen wrapped in fishing gear.

While we don’t know all of the reasons behind the escalated incidents, part of the problem may be traced back to those anchovy that the whales were chasing. High quality food like anchovy and sardine is in scarce supply along much of the California coast, in part due to overfishing. Monterey Bay is one of the few spots where significant numbers of anchovy are concentrated, creating a food oasis and possibly leading whales to linger there much longer into the Dungeness crab fishing season. More whales + more crab gear = greater risk of entanglements.

Let’s be clear: No fisherman wants to entangle a whale, just as no driver wants to get into a traffic accident. But regardless of intent, whether you’re talking about whales getting tangled in gear or cars getting snarled with other cars, a spike in those accidents signals a dangerous problem. And that problem demands solutions.

To that end, Earthjustice and our partners recently submitted a letter to the California Fish and Wildlife Department and California Fish and Game Commission requesting that they work with us, federal marine mammal authorities and fishing industry representatives to implement measures to prevent whale entanglement in the Dungeness crab fishery before the next fishing season starts next fall.

Options up for consideration include allowing more than one trap to be deployed with each buoy, thereby decreasing the number of buoy lines swaying in the whales’ path; modifying gear so that buoy lines break off when a whale strains against them; and limiting the amount of gear deployed in areas with high concentrations of whales. We also requested that California obtain authorizations under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act for the incidental injury to marine mammals caused by state-managed pot and trap fisheries. This process will contribute to the development of longer term, more comprehensive plans to prevent harm to whales. Such measures could involve modifications of fishing gear, increased removal of abandoned or lost gear, and/or limiting the amount of gear deployed in areas where there are large numbers of whales.

I’m optimistic that we will find solutions. Already, key regulators and the public are giving greater attention to this issue and we’re seeing a commitment on the part of California fishery managers and members of the Dungeness crab fleet to address it. We look forward to finding ways to protect our magnificent ocean neighbors so that they can swim freely and safely, and forage for their own dinners without becoming a casualty of ours.

Andrea Treece|May 07, 2015

Humpback Whales Could Be in Danger of Being Removed From Endangered List

The good news is that worldwide humpback whale numbers are on the rise, and researchers believe that many colonies are no longer endangered.

The bad news is that when they are no longer considered endangered, their level of protection reduces, which increases the level of threat to these magnificent and extremely complex marine giants.

Too Eager to Remove Humpbacks from Endangered List?

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is proposing that the world’s humpback whale populations be split into 14 different segments, so that each segment can be viewed and protected according to their individual threat status. This approach would enable resources to be better allocated towards the colonies which are most in need of protection, namely the two groups living in the Arabian Sea and northwest Africa, which would be the only two segments which remain on the endangered species list.

While in principle the proposal makes perfect sense, the problem is that we still do not understand enough about the complex and delicate lives, migration routes and breeding patterns to know exactly how this will affect their numbers. There is a divide within the conservation community, with many groups opposing the initiative, fearing that it could further endanger the species.

Whale and Dolphin Conservation America’s executive director and senior biologist Regina Asmutis-Silvia stated that:

“It’s not so simple as drawing a line and saying: ‘They belong to this population and there’s a lot of them so we are going to take them off the list’… Humpbacks are a really complicated species to really review for declaring these distinct population segments…They are highly migratory in most places, but not everywhere.”

Some of the biggest threats to humpbacks come from entanglement in fishing nets, which are estimated to be killing up to 3 percent of the population, and collisions with boats, which could be affecting around 15 percent off the coast of New England alone.

What Can Be Done to Protect the Whales?

The proposal entered a 90 day public comment period starting April 20 whereby NOAA Fisheries is welcoming the submission of new information and public comments to ensure that their final decision is based on the best available information.

If you want to voice your opinion, or submit scientific or commercial data which could affect the outcome of the decision, you can do so by commenting here, and quote the code NOAA-NMFS-2015-0035.

All Animals Deserve to be Protected as if They Were Endangered

The reason that many wild animal populations are depleting at such alarming rates is that we rarely provide them with the legal protection they require until their numbers become critically low and they are recognized as endangered.

By the time they are placed on the endangered animals list, we have already done too much damage to the natural balance of their ecosystems, social or migratory patterns, or have allowed them to be hunted to near extinction.

Our place in this world is not to decide upon the value of each species lives by the number remaining on the earth, but to hold each animal with equal value and afford them equal protection whether their numbers are thriving or not.

We can never fully understand the damage our activities cause to the complex worldwide web of ecosystems, and to separate each colony of whales and afford them different protection statuses when we cannot fully understand how interlinked and interdependent their lives are seems like a dangerous mistake to make.

Abigail Geer|May 16, 2015

13 Amazing and Critically Endangered Frogs

Today, May 15, is Endangered Species Day, an event organized by a number of conservation groups to raise awareness about the many species that are in real danger of becoming extinct. In honor of this day, I want to turn our gaze to one of the smaller but no less delightful animal orders: the frog. These tail-less amphibians are wonderfully diverse, but sadly many species find themselves in an increasingly inhospitable world. All of the frogs featured here are listed as “Critically Endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. We hope that learning about these creatures will inspire readers to act to conserve their precious habitats.

First on our list is the Lemur Leaf Frog (Agalychnis lemur). This species is primarily found in Costa Rica and Panama. Like many endangered frogs, the decline of this species is likely due to an infectious fungal disease called chytridiomycosis. The fungus has infected amphibians in many parts of the globe, including North and South America, the Caribbean and Australia.

The Black-eyed Leaf Frog (Agalychnis moreletii) is native to Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico. They live in lowland mountain forests and wetlands. This species may also commonly be called Morelet’s tree frog. It is another frog threatened by chytridiomycosis, as well as a loss of habitat.

Anodonthyla vallani is a species of narrow-mouthed frog. It is only found in the high forest mountains of Ambohitantely Reserve in Madagascar. Although its habitat is a protected area, the reserve is small, so the survival of this frog depends on the continued preservation of its habitat.

Once believed to be extinct, this Harlequin Frog (Atelopus varius) today is only found in a small area near Quepos, Costa Rica, although its range once stretched across Costa Rica to Panama. The exact reasons for this species’ decline are unknown, but global warming and chytridiomycosis are two possible theories. These frogs are found along streams and are active during the day.

Balebreviceps hillmani is commonly know as the Bale Mountains Tree Frog, because the only population is found in Bale Mountains National Park in Ethiopia. Although the area is protected, these frogs are nonetheless threatened by habitat degradation caused by firewood collection and cattle grazing. They may also be called Ethiopian Short-headed Frogs.

The Williams’ Bright-eyed Frog (Boophis williamsi) is another frog found only in a small region of Madagascar. It lives on the mountain top of Ankaratra Massif, at an altitude of over 8,000 feet above sea level. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, its habitat is threatened by grazing livestock and burns for agricultural purposes.

This frog is commonly known as the Taita Hills Warty Frog (Callulina dawida), named for its habitat in south-eastern Kenya. This population has suffered from habitat fragmentation, and lives in separated patches of forest. There is some good news for this species: the Taita Hills have been recognized as a key biodiversity area, and there are plans to turn a number of tree plantations in the area back into native forests.

This little frog measures about 1.4 inches from head to tail. Known as Gregg’s Stream Frog (Craugastor greggi) these critically endangered creatures are found in Guatemala and Mexico. They live in cloud forests and breed in freshwater streams. This frog is threatened by habitat loss, but its population decline is also likely due to the chytridiomycosis fungus disease.

As its name suggests, the Honduran Brook Frog (Duellmanohyla salvavida) is native to Honduras. It’s found in rainforests, and lays its eggs in vegetation that overhangs streams. When the young hatch, they side into the water below. These species has suffered from habitat loss due to logging and agriculture. Water pollution caused by landslides is also a problem for this species.

This fancy frog is commonly called Rabb’s Fringe-limbed Tree Frog (Ecnomiohyla rabborum). It’s native to Panama, and lives at high elevations in the canopy of the forests. These tree frogs are nocturnal, and can be heard calling to one another at night. They’re considered critically endangered because of their small range, and are at risk due to habitat degradation.

The Corroboree Frog (Pseudophryne corroboree), which is native to Australia, saw a population decline of over 80 percent between the 1990s and early 2000s. It’s unclear what caused this loss, but conservationists have been successful at breeding these frogs in captivity. It is hoped that this “back-up” population may one day help re-establish the Corroboree in the wild.

Another frog native to Honduras, this Spikethumb Frog (Plectrohyla dasypus) is threatened by the fungus that causes chytridiomycosis. The Honduran Spikethumb Frog was first listed as “Critically Endangered” in 2004. It also has a limited range, and is only found in the Parque Nacional Cusuco, in the north-western part of the country.

This frog pictured here is a member of Rhacophorus pseudomalabaricus species. These frogs have only been found in the Indira Gandhi National Park in India. But outside of the park, the forests that these frogs might call home are threatened by logging and conversion for agricultural purposes.

What you can do to help the frogs

There are also many frogs that we know so little about, that we can’t say if they’re endangered or not. Additionally, new species of frogs are being discovered and described all the time—so protecting frog habitats is not only important for preventing certain species from going extinct, but also for understanding the full extent of frog diversity. The advice we give for protecting the human environment can also go a long way towards protecting the environment for all kinds of animals, but there are some things that you can do that particularly benefit frogs.

Avoid pesticides in your lawn and garden
Frogs are particularly susceptible to the chemicals used in pesticides, as work by biologist such as Dr. Tyrone Hayes has shown. Avoid using pesticides in your own backyard, and you can also help support the use of less pesticide use agriculture by choosing organic food.

Donate to a frog-friendly conservation effort
There are a number of awesome conservation efforts going on around the world to prevent more species of frogs from going extinct. Consider donating to the Amphibian Rescue & Conservation Project in Panama or the Amphibian Ark, an organization supported by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

by Margaret Badore|Treehugger|May 16, 2015

Wild & Weird

How Smart Are Crows- The Answer Will Surprise You!

Florida dolphins use their own forms of social media to choose their friends

Just like human beings, dolphins form highly complex and dynamic social networks, according to a recent study by scientists at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute (HBOI) at Florida Atlantic University.

The researchers studied the interactions between some 200 bottlenose dolphins in the Indian River Lagoon (IRL), a 156-mile long estuary located on Florida’s east coast.

They discovered how the dolphins mingle and with whom they spend their time. They may not have Facebook or Twitter but they do have association patterns as well as movement behaviour and habitat preferences.

The IRL lagoon is long and narrow and composed of three distinct water bodies; Mosquito Lagoon, Banana River, and the Indian River. There are five inlets and one lock (Cape Canaveral lock) connecting the IRL to the Atlantic Ocean.

Researchers from HBOI have been conducting photo identification studies of IRL bottlenose dolphins since 1996, identifying more than 1,700 individual dolphins.

In their paper recently published in the journal Marine Mammal Science, the team found that individual dolphins exhibited both preference and avoidance behaviour – so just like humans, they have dolphins they like and associate with and ones they avoid.

The study also found that IRL dolphins clustered into groups of associated animals, or “communities,” that tended to occupy discrete core areas along the north-south axis of the lagoon system.

“One of the more unique aspects of our study was the discovery that the physical dimensions of the habitat, the long, narrow lagoon system itself, influenced the spatial and temporal dynamics of dolphin association patterns,” says Elizabeth Murdoch Titcomb, research biologist at HBOI who worked on the study.

“For example, communities that occupy the narrowest stretches of the Indian River Lagoon have the most compact social networks, similar to humans who live in small towns and have fewer people with whom to interact.”

In addition to providing a unique glimpse into dolphin societies, the study provides important insight and knowledge on how dolphins organize themselves, who they interact with and who they avoid, as well as when and where.

It also gives scientists and resource managers the roadmap needed to understand how dolphin populations perceive and use their environment, and how social networks will influence information transfer and potentially breeding behaviour and disease transmission.

From Wildlife Extra

Explanation for Why Zebras Have Stripes Just Got More Complicated

It turns out the answer to why zebras have stripes isn’t so black and white. Some scientists thought they settled the question once and for all last year when they proposed that zebras developed stripes as part of evolutionary adaptation to help them ward off blood-sucking flies. But a new study published Tuesday in the journal Royal Society Open Science says the adaptive significance of zebra stripes may have more to do with environment, particularly temperature. Brenda Larison of UCLA and colleagues analyzed multiple environmental variables associated with striping in the plains zebra, the most common species of zebra, found in the grasslands of eastern and southern Africa. They found that striping patterns were most highly correlated with temperature: Generally, the warmer the climate, the more stripes found on the zebra.

“In contrast to recent findings, we found no evidence that striping may have evolved to escape predators or avoid biting flies. Instead, we found that temperature successfully predicts a substantial amount of the stripe pattern variation observed in plains zebra,” the researchers wrote. As to the stripes’ function, it could be that they help keep the zebra cool, or serve some other purpose.

“Much additional work is needed to elucidate the true functionality of striping in zebra,” the researchers wrote. “Our work shows a correlation with temperature, but the cause of this correlation remains unknown.”

Everglades

Florida lawmakers sour on Big Sugar land deal to aid Everglades

Florida lawmakers are poised to use hundreds of millions of dollars earmarked to help the Everglades for other projects

NEAR MIAMI — To a visitor’s untrained eye, Florida’s Everglades might seem in good shape.

“They see all this water, they see all this grass, and to them it looks healthy,” said Betty Osceola, who has long taught tourists about the Kahayatle, the Miccosukee tribe’s name for the Everglades.

“I always tell people that Florida is the next California,” she added. “California has a situation where they don’t have water. Florida has a situation, they have water, but eventually you’re not going to be able to drink [it] because it’s too polluted.”

For generations, the Miccosukee lived on tree islands they call hammocks, hunting and fishing in and around waters they know as well as anyone.

“You’re seeing a decline in the turtles and … native fish because the chemical in the water is affecting the food they eat, so it’s a trickle-down effect,” Osceola said. “The Everglades is being used as a vast sewer system.”

There is a way the Everglades might be able to reverse years of neglect — a conservation project so big it was once compared to creating Yellowstone National Park.

But that deal — and more of the Everglades — could die if the Florida Legislature doesn’t act this summer. Last month President Barack Obama visited the Everglades, highlighting the effects of climate change on the endangered area and the risks to the drinking water for millions of Floridians.

“If we don’t act, there may not be an Everglades as we know it,” he said.

Water woes

Getting a close-up view of a vividly colored purple gallinule is a rare thrill for a visitor. But for Ray Judah, the coordinator for the Florida Coastal and Ocean Coalition, the sight of this beautiful bird is more proof of troubled waters.

“There’s a lot of cattails growing in and amongst the sawgrass,” he said, sitting on an airboat. “The phosphorous and nitrogen allows the cattails to flourish. The birds can’t move around because the cattails are so dense.”

What’s more, the water level this time of year should be 18 inches higher, Judah said.

The heart of Florida’s agricultural industry, the land around Lake Okeechobee, is just 80 miles north of the Everglades. And farming interests control the flow of the lake. In the dry season, water is kept in the lake as a reserve for sugar cane growers and others. When there’s too much rain, Lake Okeechobee is flushed into estuaries east and west.

‘Valuable, environmentally sensitive lands are under threat from development. If the state doesn’t acquire them now, they’ll be lost forever.’ said Will Abberger, Florida’s Water and Land Legacy

But not enough water is allowed to follow its natural route south into the Everglades.

“A lot of that primarily has to do with the way the South Florida Water Management District manages about 700,000 acres north of here,” Judah said. “They manage the water levels for optimum growing conditions for the sugar cane.”

Sugar cane is a $500 million a year business for Florida. It’s also a major polluter of the state’s waterways. Its phosphorous-contaminated runoff causes massive algae blooms.

In 2008, then-Gov. Charlie Crist cut what looked like a sweet deal to rescue the Everglades. The state would buy land south of Lake Okeechobee from the United States Sugar Corp., one of Florida’s two sugar makers. The land was to be used to catch and clean the waters before sending the flow south to the Everglades.

The economic crisis struck soon after, dragging Florida into a deeper recession than almost anywhere else in the country. The state’s interest in and funds for buying the land simply dried up.

A doomed deal?

Then in 2010, a land deal that cost taxpayers nearly $200 million bought nearly 42 square miles from U.S. Sugar, allowing the South Florida Water Management District to move ahead with restoration efforts — and gave the state the option to buy up to 240 more square miles of land from the company.

That option expires in October. And now that Florida’s economy is surging again, U.S. Sugar no longer wants to sell the land.

But last year, the people of Florida spoke loudly. Amendment 1, an initiative on last November’s ballot, earmarked more than $750 million a year for 20 years from an existing real estate tax for the state to buy and conserve land for critical environmental projects. It was the largest environmental ballot initiative in U.S. history.

It passed overwhelmingly, with 75 percent of Floridians voting in favor. The law guaranteed more than enough money to buy the U.S. Sugar land — about $350 million.

“Florida is growing and developing again now,” said Will Abberger, who heads Florida’s Water and Land Legacy, the group that spearheaded the campaign for Amendment 1. “Valuable, environmentally sensitive lands are under threat from development. If the state doesn’t acquire them now, they’ll be lost forever.”

But lawmakers still haven’t approved the U.S. Sugar land funds. And with days left in Florida’s legislative session, the deal looks doomed.

So far, the Republican-dominated legislature in Tallahassee has declined to vote on the sugar land purchase and has proposed more than $200 million of Amendment 1 funds toward the operating and regulatory expenses of state agencies. The ballot initiative said Amendment 1 money could not be “commingled with the general revenue fund of the state.”

“The ballot language and actually the text of the amendment specifically says to acquire lands in the Everglades agricultural area, which is where the U.S. Sugar land in question is,” said Abberger. “Instead, they’re funding a lot of existing programs, existing agency operations.

Gov. Rick Scott and other key Republican lawmakers declined repeated requests for interviews, but “America Tonight” tracked down House Speaker Steve Crisafulli to ask about plans for the Amendment 1 money.

“I think we need to be focused right now on the land management side of things,” he told us. That means no sugar land deal.

“America Tonight” asked him if using the funds to pay for state agencies’ operating and regulatory expenses was an appropriate use of Amendment 1 money. “I think it goes toward the overall objectives of those agencies, yeah,” he said.

Should the state’s option to buy the land expire, the price would almost surely go up. The sugar industry usually gets what it wants from Florida lawmakers, thanks to generous campaign contributions, critics charge. U.S. Sugar and its executives have already made more than $500,000 in campaign contributions to state candidates for their 2016 races, The Tampa Bay Times reported.

If the deal doesn’t go through, Osceola fears it will be another step toward the death of the Everglades.

“It would be sadness for the Everglades because that’s another nail in her coffin,” she said. “You hear the birds in the background. You hear the frogs. You even hear the trees over there — they’re rustling. They’re talking. They’re whispering. They all deserve a right to exist. They’re in distress, and those of us that have the ability to do something about it need to wake up and start doing something about it.”

David Martin& Joie Chen|May 9, 2015

Water Quality Issues

MIT created a solar-powered machine that turns saltwater into drinking water

MIT engineers have invented a new desalination machine that runs on solar energy. The project began in 2013 when the engineers went to India with the hopes of helping poorer villages and townships with their drinking water. The assumption was that they would figure out ways to rid these towns of microbes and other contaminants frequently found in poorer, older, water supplies.

“People kept talking about the salt in the water,” recalled Natasha Wright, a doctoral candidate who was part of the team from Massachusetts Institute of Technology that made the journey in 2013. “The groundwater beneath the villages was brackish.”

Those complaints inspired new technology that could some day supply water to thirsty villages and drought-stricken farms in other parts of the world. The MIT team developed a solar-powered water desalination system that uses the sun’s energy to turn brackish liquid into contaminant-free water safe for drinking and for crops.

The science of how the desalination system works is similar to most, sans the power source.

The group came up with a method that uses solar panels to charge a bank of batteries. The batteries then power a system that removes salt from the water through electro-dialysis. On the most basic level, that means that dissolved salt particles, which have a slight electric charge, are drawn out of the water when a small electrical current is applied. In addition to getting rid of salt (which makes water unusable for crops and for drinking), the team also applied UV light to disinfect some of the water as it passed through the system.

Solar-powered desalination projects are not new. But the size and practicality of this project is exciting—it’s won the MIT team the USAID Desal Prize. The team will now continue testing the system against harsher and harsher conditions since the hopes are to employ these types of desalination systems throughout the world in troubled areas, similar to the ones that inspired this work.

The finished prototype is small enough to fit in a tractor-trailer and includes photovoltaic cells to supply the electricity. The system, when fully operational, can supply the basic water needs of a village of between 2,000 and 5,000 people, MIT officials said. Although the prototype was more expensive, Wright said the team is hopes to lower the costs of a village-sized unit to about $11,000.

Such a lower-power system is useful mainly for treating brackish water and not seawater, which contains far more salt. But the prototype now being tested could handle water that contains salt concentrations of up to 4,000 parts per million, meaning it would work in about 90 percent of India’s wells, Wright said. Seawater’s salt concentration averages about 35,000 parts per million.

Walter Einenkel|May 08, 2015

Bottled Water Companies vs. California’s Epic Drought

As the drought in California rolls into its fourth year, causing mandatory water cutbacks by cities and private citizens and concern about the state’s enormous agricultural sector, bottled water plants in the state are attracting increasing attention attention and controversy. Bottled water accounts for a tiny fraction of the water consumed in the state but it’s become something of a symbol of who gets access to water for profit and who is being forced to cut back.

Last week, Starbucks announced that it would be moving the production of its “globally responsible” Ethos Water brand from California to Pennsylvania within the next six months. Its Pennsylvania facility already bottles the water sold on the east coast.

Starbucks’ senior vice president of global responsibility and public policy John Kelly said, “We are committed to our mission to be a globally responsible company and to support the people of the state of California as they face this unprecedented drought. The decision to move our Ethos water sourcing from California and reduce our in-store water reductions by more than 25 percent are steps we are taking in partnership with state and local governments to accelerate water conservation.”

Ethos Water was founded in 2002 in Southern California, promising to donate a percentage of each sale to water projects in developing countries, currently amounting to five cents on the sale of each $1.95 bottle of water. The company was bought by Starbucks in 2005. Ethos has created partnerships with organizations such as the Oscars. Environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio was seen carrying a bottle at the awards ceremony, and fellow environmentalist Matt Damon has appeared in an ad for the brand.

The move follows a recent article in Mother Jones calling attention to the fact that its West Coast bottling plant is located in Merced, California, drawing its water from private springs in Baxter a few hours north of Merced, as well as from Merced city water. Both Baxter and Merced are in areas of “exceptional drought.”

“While bottled water accounts for just a small fraction of California’s total water use, some residents are nonetheless fed up with bottling plants that profit off their dwindling water supply,” said Mother Jones. “Protesters have begun staging events at Nestlé’s bottling facility in nearby Sacramento.”

Nestlé’s facility buys millions of gallons of Sacramento municipal water and also bottles spring water shipped in from Northern California counties. A grassroots group called the Crunch Nestlé Alliance has been organizing to shut down the plant.

Residents in Merced are also concerned about the Safeway-Lucerne Foods bottling plant in the city that’s pulling groundwater from local wells as they’re being asked to cut back on showers and stop watering their lawns.

The Merced Sun-Star quoted area resident Jandrea-Marie Gabrielle saying at a city council meeting, “Perhaps watering lawns are the least of California’s worries. You might think that in the midst of a drought emergency, diverting public fresh water supplies to bottle and selling them would be frowned upon.”

And while Starbucks is closing its bottled water facility, another will soon be opening in the arid state. The Crystal Geyser Water Company will be opening a plant in Mount Shasta that will take hundreds of thousands of gallons of water a day from an aquifer that feeds the Sacramento River and provides drinking water for millions of people. The converted Coca-Cola plant is expected to begin operations this fall. While a company executive said it’s working with area residents to make sure its activities “will not impact the environment in any detrimental way,” local citizen Raven Stevens pointed out, “Crystal Geyser in one day plans to pump more water than any three of my neighbors will use in an entire year.”

California currently has no limits on the amount of groundwater that can be pumped from private property, although state regulations on water withdrawal from the most endangered aquifers with start phasing in after 2020—when the drought could be a decade old. Bottled water companies using water tapped on private property are exempt from the mandatory water cuts placed on cities and towns in March.

“Bottling water is a legal use of water under the law,” said Nancy Vogel, spokeswoman of the California Department of Water Resources.

Anastasia Pantsios|May 11, 2015

Proposed bills entrust water protection to worst offenders

The toxic green slime that killed pelicans, dolphins, fish, and manatees in South Florida two summers ago is back, lurking in Lake Okeechobee, where, as we all know, it will likely spread to the coasts once the government starts releasing water to lower the lake’s level.

It is important to remember that Lake Okeechobee belongs to all of us. But our lake has become a private sewer for agricultural corporations. Instead of strengthening laws to keep agriculture’s polluted runoff out of our water, some politicians in Tallahassee are trying to rescind the currently required state pollution permits altogether. Their new scheme would replace permits with — incredibly — voluntary compliance.

This is like some bad dream, and it will be a forever nightmare for everyone who lives near the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers, where the pollution flows to the coasts. We know this toxic algae kills wildlife and makes people and animals sick, causing flulike symptoms, skin lesions and respiratory problems. Why on earth would we make it easier for these polluters to dump this stuff on us?

This is a get-out-of-jail free card for polluters, and the public shouldn’t stand for it.

At Earthjustice, we have represented citizens groups for decades in legal battles against polluters, trying to require common-sense controls on the toxic slime that’s wrecking our natural areas. It is simply not right for one class of water users to pollute the resource for the rest of us, and then stick us with the cleanup bill.

The water policy legislation was near a vote in the Statehouse right before the House abruptly adjourned. The lobbyists for these big agricultural corporations created a world of double-speak to obscure the fact that they are trying to get away with no regulation. This wholesale destruction of the pollution permitting system was buried in a giant bill that included many other aspects of state water policy, including protections for our springs. It’s the old Tallahassee bait and switch.

Under the legislation, polluters would merely have to write a plan that says they are trying not to pollute — no more permits, a mere promise would be enough. The state admits that it has only a handful of inspectors available to check up on these voluntary pollution plans, and the inspectors would have to get special permission to come on-site to see whether the company is actually doing what it said it would do.

Give us a break! This is a recipe for more green slime in Lake Okeechobee, and more nauseating pollution and fish kills on the east and west coasts.

The Big Ag lobbyists will be in the front row when the Legislature reconvenes for its special session in June, trying to get this nefarious legislation passed in a hurry. We need to tell our legislators that we want them to protect our interests by stopping this political move to repeal water pollution permits. When you think of the heartbreaking images of dead pelicans, dolphins, fish and manatees we’ve witnessed in South Florida, think about what the Legislature should be doing to stop it. Instead of controlling pollution, these politicians are trying to legalize it.

We need to tell our legislators clearly and loudly: When our water is at stake, a polluter’s promise just isn’t good enough. The state simply has to be able to impose consequences when a polluter doesn’t comply with clean-water requirements.

David Guest|managing attorney|Earthjustice|Florida office|May 10, 2015

NEW CLEAN WATER RULE WILL PROTECT AMERICA’S HERITAGE OF HUNTING, FISHING, FARMING, AND FORESTRY

Sportsmen can be optimistic that the final rule will restore protection for wetlands and headwater streams

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took a critical next step toward finalizing a clean water rule that clearly defines protections for headwater streams and wetlands important to trout, salmon, and waterfowl, while keeping farming practices exempt. Taking into account the genuine concerns of hunters, anglers, farmers, manufacturers, and business owners, who submitted more than one million public comments between April 2014 and November 2014, the agencies sent the most recent draft of the rule to the Office of Management and Budget for review.

“The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership would like to commend the EPA and Army Corps for their continued commitment to this rulemaking process and to clarifying language that will benefit fish, wildlife, habitat, and anyone who values clean water,” says TRCP President and CEO Whit Fosburgh.

Without any corrective action, 60 percent of stream miles and nesting habitat for the majority of the waterfowl in America are at risk of being polluted, compromised, or destroyed. “The seasonally-flowing streams clearly protected by the proposed rule are often where trout and salmon go to spawn and where juvenile fish are reared,” says Steve Moyer, Trout Unlimited’s Vice President for Government Affairs. “All anglers benefit from the water quality and fish habitat provided by these streams, and we applaud the agencies for moving forward to restore protections to these incredibly important waters.”

As much as this review process is a behind-the-scenes step, it marks a milestone in the evolution of the clean water rule, especially for the growing coalition of organizations fighting to restore protection of our headwaters and wetlands. “Although the full draft hasn’t been released, from what we’ve seen, the comment period has had an impact and the final rule will be better than the proposal from last year,” says TRCP Center for Water Resources Director Jimmy Hague.

According to an April 6 blog post penned by U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) Jo-Ellen Darcy, the new draft of the rule will clarify how protected waters, like streams and wetlands, are significant, and how the agencies make this determination. It will also better define tributaries and protect farming practices. Special consideration has been given to “other waters”-including prairie potholes, the regional waters where 50 to 80 percent of North America’s duck production takes place-that qualify for protection under the Clean Water Act. “We’ve thought through ways to be more specific about the waters that are important to protect, instead of what we do now, which too often is for the Army Corps to go through a long, complicated, case by case process to decide whether waters are protected,” McCarthy and Darcy wrote. The TRCP was one of 185 sportsmen’s groups to address agency leaders in a letter of support for the rulemaking process on the heels of the Clean Water Act’s 42nd Anniversary in October 2014.

“Sportsmen have been actively engaged on this issue and will continue to combat efforts to derail the clean water rule,” says Fosburgh. “Anyone concerned with the rampant loss of wetlands, the health of spawning areas for trout and salmon, or the future of our hunting and fishing traditions should be pleased with the effort to restore protections for these resources.”

Under normal procedures, the Office of Management and Budget has at least 90 days to review the draft. It can recommend changes or leave the rule as proposed, at which point the rule can be finalized and put into effect. Read more about the original rule proposal, public feedback for the rule, and the letter of support from sportsmen’s groups across the country.

Inspired by the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt, the TRCP is a coalition of organizations and grassroots partners working together to preserve the traditions of hunting and fishing.

“NEW CLEAN WATER RULE WILL PROTECT AMERICA’S HERITAGE OF HUNTING, FISHING, FARMING, AND FORESTRY.” N.p., n.d. Web.

EPA Grapples With Regulatory Definitions In Final CWA Jurisdiction Rule – Inside EPA

EPA’s top water official says the agency is grappling with major regulatory definitions in its pending final rule to define the scope of the Clean Water Act (CWA), including how to define “significant” connections between waterbodies subject to the law; distinguishing between jurisdictional tributaries and exempt waters; and other terms.

Ken Kopocis, EPA’s de facto water chief, also told a May 14 American Law Institute-Continuing Legal Education (ALI-CLE) event in Washington, D.C., that the agency still intends to issue the final version of the rule this spring. “I get questions, are you talking about astronomical spring, meteorological spring, and I will stay with ‘spring,'” he said.

As the spring season ends June 20, Kopocis’ remarks suggest the agency could issue the rule this month or next although it does not face a statutory or legal deadline for finalizing the regulation. EPA recently updated its “Rulemaking Gateway” of pending rules to change the regulation’s tentative issue date from April to May.

EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers jointly proposed the CWA jurisdiction rule in April 2014 and sent the final version for White House Office of Management & Budget pre-publication review April 6.

The rule has drawn criticism from industry, GOP lawmakers and others for what they see as an attempt to expand the law’s reach beyond what Congress intended. The House recently approved legislation that would force the agencies to scrap and re-propose the rule based on extensive new consultation with stakeholders including states and industry. A similar, more prescriptive, bill is currently pending in the Senate.

Top agency officials, environmentalists, some Democrats and others have countered that the rule is vital to resolve long-running uncertainty over the CWA’s scope. Supreme Court rulings on the issue created competing tests for determining jurisdiction, and EPA says the rule will help to resolve that confusion.

At ALI-CLE’s wetlands law event, Kopocis pledged the rule will address comments on the proposal that sought specific definitions for key terms including “significant” connections between waterbodies.

While Kopocis offered no specific details on the final rule, he described general policy areas where EPA and the Corps are working to address critical comments, covering at least four areas: the criteria for asserting jurisdiction over ditches and erosional features; the scope of regulatory exclusions for agricultural practices; and the point where a lesser waterbody’s connection, or nexus, with navigable waters becomes “significant.”

“One of the things we heard about was that we needed to better define how protected waters are considered ‘significant.’ . . . Those are very qualitative terms, and was there a way for us to introduce a more quantitative analysis?” Kopocis said.

He did not name any potential solutions to the issue, but said the agencies have investigated possible ways to craft an objective test for “significance” in the rule.

Regulatory Definitions

In response to critics’ concerns that the rule would broadly expand regulatory jurisdiction over ditches, Kopocis said, “We spent more time talking about ditches than any other single water topic,” and found that there are currently no nationally accepted practices for categorizing ditches as jurisdictional or not.

He said the goal of the final rule is to protect ditches that are “constructed in tributaries, or are relocated tributaries, or that function as tributaries” while exempting those “that simply move water from Place A to Place B.”

Kopocis also said the agencies are trying to craft a clearer distinction between jurisdictional tributaries — another term regulators have struggled to define — and “erosional features,” which are channels created by erosion that carry water but lack other characteristics of even a lesser waterbody.

The agencies have sought to establish “[w]here do we draw that distinction between what is a jurisdictional tributary . . . and what is an erosional feature — a feature that the Clean Water Act does not assert jurisdiction over today, and one that we do not intent to assert jurisdiction over in the rule,” Kopocis said.

EPA and the Corps are also continuing to look at how to codify the statutory exemption from CWA permit mandates for “normal” farming practices, Kopocis said. The agencies previously sought to use an interpretive rule issued alongside the proposed version of the jurisdiction rule to spell out what procedures are exempt, but withdrew the rule in response to a Congressional mandate spurred by broad push-back on the policy.

“We wanted to make sure that we preserve all the existing exclusions and exemptions for agriculture,” Kopocis said. He added that some comments filed on the interpretive rule called for an expansion of the existing exclusions, “and we’re taking a look at how the science supports” those requests.

Jurisdictional Determinations

At the ALI-CLE event, Kopocis also said the agencies will not use the rule to rewrite recently issued jurisdictional determinations (JDs) — findings by EPA or the Corps that represent regulators’ decision on whether a waterbody is subject to CWA protections. Instead, regulators will only perform new JDs in response to specific requests from property owners or operators, he said.

“Jurisdictional determinations by the Corps are good for five years, and we intend to respect that. . . . If they have an existing jurisdictional determination and they would like to have it re-evaluated under the new rule, we will allow that. The question of whether a jurisdictional determination is reopened will be entirely the non-federal party’s choice,” Kopocis said.

Kopocis’ statement came in response to concerns aired by audience members at the seminar that agencies could unilaterally revise JDs to apply the new rule’s standards, suddenly applying CWA rules to facilities or property owners who had previously been told that they were not subject to the water law.

However, he added that because of a five-year expiration date on JDs, long-running projects operating under a certification that they do not require a CWA permit for discharges or wetland fills could be forced to seek renewal under the new rule.

But “there is a strong desire on the part of the agency that we do not intend the rule to be disruptive to projects that are already underway,” Kopocis added.

David LaRoss|May 15, 2015

Brazil’s Largest City runs out of Water

I am writing by candle light. The aching in my hand and the irregular handwriting reminds me that it’s been a long time since I wrote on paper and not a keyboard. The power cut has already lasted more than eight hours and I fear that the combination of events and outcome of what we are going through might be a foreshadowing of what’s soon to come around the world.

It started with an irony, that may well be the perfect metaphor: the largest city in a country that holds 20 percent of Earth’s fresh water supply ends up without any. A combination of climate change, years of deforestation, privatization and a badly managed and corrupt political system have come together in a perfect storm to throw my city into one of its darkest crises ever. We now face a reality of four days without water and two with. We might as well call it what it is: a total collapse.

Imagine a megacity like São Paulo as schools are forced to close, hospitals run out of resources, diseases spread, businesses shut down, the economy nose dives. Imagine the riots, the looting … what the police force, infamously known as one of the most violent in the world, will do as this dystopian scenario engulfs us. One of the great modern, rising capital cities of the world suddenly falls apart.

We brought this on ourselves. We buried our rivers under concrete, we polluted the reservoirs, chopped down trees, erased the local biome to grow sugar cane, soy and corn to fuel our vehicles, feed our appetites, our extravagant lifestyles.

I read the IPCC reports warning us of catastrophe. I watched the documentaries exposing corporations’ hidden agendas … the YouTube videos showing polluted oceans, overfishing, extracting, fracking and burning. I knew all this. And how markets march “forward” no matter what. How leaders pose for group shots with those golden pledges they never deliver … and how we, the People, march demanding change.

This is personal … it’s about everything I love. And you have no idea how terrifying it is. It’s the kind of fear that you have no control over, that makes you grind your teeth at night while you sleep. There’s no language to describe this feeling of dread. No way to fix it. No time to fix it. This is the future that science warned us about. The new normal. And the truth is, I never realized it could happen so fast and that my friends, family and I would be forced to live through it, suffer like this.

The battery on my phone is almost dead. The power has been out for 16 hours now. Still no water.

I scroll the photos I took last month on our trip to NYC.
My wife comes to me and in a low voice asks what we are going to do. “I don’t know,” I reply.

What will 22 million people do in the dark?

The Middle East Runs out of Water

A ranking Iranian political figure, Issa Kalantari, recently warned that past mistakes leave Iran with water supplies so insufficient that up to 70 percent, or 55 million out of 78 million Iranians, would be forced to abandon their native country for parts unknown.

Many facts buttress Kalantari’s apocalyptic prediction: Once lauded in poetry, Lake Urmia, the Middle East’s largest lake, has lost 95 percent of its water since 1996, going from 31 billion cubic meters to 1.5 billion. What the Seine is to Paris, the Zayanderud was to Isfahan – except the latter went bone-dry in 2010. Over two-thirds of Iran’s cities and towns are “on the verge of a water crisis” that could result in drinking water shortages; already, thousands of villages depend on water tankers. Unprecedented dust storms disrupt economic activity and damage health.

Lake Urmia in Iran has lost 95 percent of its water in recent decades.

Nor are Iranians alone in peril; many others in the arid Middle East may also be forced into unwanted, penurious, desperate exile. With a unique, magnificent exception, much of the Middle East is running out of water due to such maladies as population growth, short-sighted dictators, distorted economic incentives, and infrastructure-destroying warfare. Some specifics:

Egypt: Rising sea levels threaten not only to submerge the country’s coastal cities (including Alexandria, population 4 million) but also to contaminate the Nile Delta aquifer, one of the world’s largest groundwater reservoirs. The Ethiopian government finally woke to the hydraulic potential of the Blue Nile that originates in its country and is building massive dams that may severely reduce the flow of river water reaching Egypt (and Sudan).

Gaza: In what’s called a “hydrological nightmare,” seawater intrusion and the leakage of sewage has made 95 percent of the coastal aquifer unfit for human consumption.

Yemen: Oil remittances permit Yemenis to indulge more heavily than ever before in chewing qat, a leaf whose bushes absorb far more water than the food plants they replaced. Drinking water “is down to less than one quart per person per day” in many mountainous areas, reports water specialist Gerhard Lichtenthaeler. Specialist Ilan Wulfsohn writes that Sana’a “may become the first capital city in the world to run out of water.”

Syria: The Syrian government wasted $15 billion on failed irrigation projects in 1988-2000. Between 2002 and 2008, nearly all the 420,000 illegal wells went dry, total water resources dropped by half, as did grain output, causing 250,000 farmers to abandon their land. By 2009, water problems had cost more than 800,000 jobs. By 2010, in the hinterland of Raqqa, now the Islamic State’s capital, the New York Times reports, “Ancient irrigation systems have collapsed, underground water sources have run dry and hundreds of villages have been abandoned as farmlands turn to cracked desert and grazing animals die off.”

Iraq: Experts foresee the Euphrates River’s waters soon halved (refer to Revelation 16:12 for those implications). Already in 2011, the Mosul Dam, Iraq’s largest, shut down entirely due to insufficient flow. Sea water from the Persian Gulf has pushed up the Shatt al-Arab; the resulting briny water has destroyed fisheries, livestock, and crops. In northern Iraq, water shortages have led to the abandonment of villages, some now buried in sand, and a 95 percent decrease in barley and wheat farming. Date palms have diminished from 33 million to 9 million. Saddam Hussein drained the marshes of southern Iraq, at once destroying a wildlife ecology and depriving the Marsh Arabs of their livelihood.

Persian Gulf: Vast desalination efforts, ironically, have increased the salinity level of gulf sea water from 32,000 to 47,000 parts per million, threatening fauna and marine life.

Nearby Pakistan may be “a water-starved country” by 2022.

Israel provides the sole exception to this regional tale of woe. It too, as recently as the 1990s, suffered water shortages; but now, thanks to a combination of conservation, recycling, innovative agricultural techniques, and high-tech desalination, the country is awash in H2O (Israel’s Water Authority: “We have all the water we need”). I find particularly striking that Israel can desalinate about 17 liters of water for one U.S. penny; and that it recycles about five times more water than does second-ranked Spain.

In other words, the looming drought-driven upheaval of populations – probably the very worst of the region’s many profound problems – can be solved, with brainpower and political maturity. Desperate neighbors might think about ending their futile state of war with the world’s hydraulic superpower and instead learn from it.

Daniel Pipes|The Washington Times|May 8, 2015

[Let’s just blissfully keep pumping our extra water to tide or allow frackers to use almost 12 gallons of water to produce 1 gallon of oil, contaminating the rest of our water supply in the process.]

Walmart found to be sourcing bottled water from drought-stricken California

Residents who have faced increased water use limits amid fourth year of drought push for greater regulation of water-bottling industry

Walmart is the latest company found to be sourcing its bottled water from drought-stricken California, as state residents push for greater regulation of the bottling industry.

Starbucks was moved to alter its bottling practices in California last week and Mount Shasta community members are fighting the opening of a major bottling plant by California-based company Crystal Geyser. Then on Friday, an investigation by CBS13 in Sacramento found that Wal-Mart’s bottled water comes from the Sacramento municipal water supply.

The revelations come as state residents face increased water use limits during the fourth year of drought in the state. State governor Jerry Brown signed an executive order last week that calls for a 25% urban water reduction across the state.

“It’s only logical that as the governor has asked all Californians to reduce their water consumption that he holds extractive industries like bottled water companies to the same standard, yet he hasn’t asked anything of them,” said Adam Scow, the California director of Food & Water Watch, which is calling for a moratorium on bottling water.

There is little oversight or monitoring of bottling plants in the state, which are also operated by major corporations including Nestle, Coca-Cola and Pepsi.

About 1% of state water is used in industry, and the bottling industry represents an even smaller fraction of that, according to the US Geological Survey.

Walmart, like other large companies, draws water from municipal supplies to keep costs down. A Walmart spokesperson said that the company is “very concerned” about how the drought is affecting its customers and associates.

“We share those concerns and are tracking it closely,” the spokesperson said. “Our commitment to sustainability includes efforts to minimize water use in our facilities. We have and continue to work with our suppliers to act responsibly while meeting the needs of customers who count on us across California.”

Starbucks was pushed to stop sourcing its Ethos bottled water from California after Mother Jones discovered that it had been drawing water from Placer County. Starbucks said it would move production to a supplier in Pennsylvania over the next six months. It is also looking for alternative suppliers for its west coast distribution.

“At the end of the day, bottling the public’s water for private profit is not in the public interest,” said Scow.

He said the practice has a negative effect on local watersheds, that the oil and energy used to make plastic bottles and transport them across the nation are harmful to the environment and that there is a huge waste problem with plastic bottle disposal.

Crystal Geyser, a bottled water company headquartered in San Francisco, announced it is opening a new plant near Mount Shasta, which feeds water into the Sacramento River. The company does not need to obtain a permit to draw the water and there is not a requirement to conduct an environmental impact report.

Raven Stevens, community liaison for the Gateway Neighborhood Association, told the San Francisco Chronicle that the top concern is that there is little regulation for bottling plants.

“Crystal Geyser in one day plans to pump more water than any three of my neighbors will use in an entire year,” Stevens said. “The entire state is under a 25% cut, farmers are letting fields go fallow and we don’t have one piece of legislation regulating water bottling.”

Amanda Holpuch11 May 2015

St. Johns water district pursues new leader

Ann Shortelle appears on track for top water job.

St. Johns water district delayed approval of hiring Ann Shortelle until May 21.

On the heels of a purge at Central Florida’s water agency, its board voted Tuesday after testy and chaotic debate to pursue hiring the chief executive of another state water agency.

Several board members at the St. Johns River Water Management District, which spans from the Orlando area to Jacksonville, indicated they would immediately hire Ann Shortelle, executive director at the neighboring Suwannee River Water Management District.

But a majority of the nine-member board voted to delay any vote on offering Shortelle the job until an emergency meeting scheduled for May 21 because several of the board had little idea of her qualifications.

“I’ve never met her, nor has her resume been sent to me,” said Maryam Ghyabi of Ormond Beach. “I don’t even know if she is here.”

The St. Johns water district lost four top managers last week to resignations that have remained unexplained but are widely suspected to have been ordered by Gov. Rick Scott’s environmental managers. Two of the managers said in their resignation letters they were quitting rather than be fired.

The departures of the four had been preceded by the resignation in March of the district’s executive director, Hans Tanzler, who left his post May 1.

Mike Register, acting director, said he accepted the resignations of the four executives on his sole authority and without guidance from board members or the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Register started working as the director less than a week before the executives left.

Almost immediately, rumors and speculation pegged Shortelle as the choice of DEP Secretary Jon Steverson, though his spokeswoman had denied that the secretary has played any role.

At the St. Johns district meeting, John Miklos, board chairman, announced his support for Shortelle and said “she would take the job if it was offered to her.”

Shortelle, who did not respond to requests for comment, was hired three years ago to run the Suwannee district. Prior to that she was director of DEP’s office of Water Policy.

Shortelle earned a doctorate degree in limnology, the study of freshwater lakes, from Notre Dame. She was praised highly by Miklos as well as several environmental advocates at the meeting.

Another board member, Chuck Drake of Orlando, called for a vote to hire Shortelle immediately. Board member Fred Roberts said he supported hiring her but stressed that delaying the vote would more likely bring unanimous agreement.

Lisa Rinaman, of the St. Johns Riverkeeper environmental group, said the water district’s credibility has been put at risk by the departure of the four executive who managed water, planning and land conservation.

“That’s something the public deserves to know more about,” she said.

Audubon of Florida’s Charles Lee spoke to board members, protesting the resignation of the experienced executives.

“It’s a done deal from start to finish and orchestrated from above,” Lee said after the meeting.

Kevin Spear|Orlando Sentinel

Lawsuit Forces Mega-Dairies to Supply Manure-Free Drinking Water for First Time in 20 Years

Huge factory-like dairies in Yakima, Washington, that confine tens of thousands of cows were storing millions of gallons of liquid manure in open air cesspools and then dumping it several feet high onto a few fields, and calling it “fertilizer.” In fact, the dairies referred to it as “liquid gold.” The best thing that can be said of that characterization would be that it was a euphemism; it might be better characterized as, metaphorically, a bigger load of shit than they were dumping into the environment.

The cost to the environment, the water, the community, and the animals of operating in this dirty manner was huge.  The picture painted above doesn’t even account for the 50-100 acres covered in piles of dry manure and dead cows approximately the size of the Trans-Siberian Express or the cow pens so filled with manure that the dairy cows lived standing knee deep in their own waste.  Each dairy cow produces as much raw sewage as 20-40 people, so these dairies were producing about the equivalent amount of waste as all of the residents of Hoboken, NJ and dumping it, untreated, onto the ground.  The tons of excess waste drained out of the cesspools and manure piles and overloaded the fields, leaking into the groundwater and contaminating it with high levels of nitrates.  That groundwater just happened to also be the nearby community’s sole source of drinking water.

Excess nitrates in drinking water pose serious human health risks, and can cause blue baby syndrome, several forms of cancer, and autoimmune dysfunction, among other things.  The government sets the limits at 10 parts per million (ppm).  Some of the homes in this community had wells testing above 70 ppm. Some government regulators at both the EPA and the state level, saw the problem but couldn’t do much against the politically powerful factory farm lobby.  If you aren’t familiar with the political lay of the land here, industrial animal agriculture generally gets what it wants in America. Nice job, American Farm Bureau.

But a cool thing happened: The community fought back. After twenty years of fighting for the basic right of clean water and a clean environment, local community groups and some terrific Washington state lawyers teamed up with national environmental warriors, and in February 2013 they filed a case under a great federal environmental law called the Resource Conservation Recovery Act.  It gives courts the power to restrict “solid waste” pollution that may be endangering public health or the environment. The dairies argued that no court had ever before held that cow manure can be a solid waste under RCRA, which was true. As they put it, how can “liquid gold” be a solid waste? (Full disclosure – I am the head of Public Justice, one of the public interest law firms involved in the case, and so strongly believe in it.)

And then a second cool thing happened: On January 15, 2015, after extensive testing had been conducted and scientific evidence gathered, Judge Thomas Rice of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington held that in this case, the mega-dairies’ use of that manure had nothing to do with fertilizer. Instead, the Judge said that, given the evidence and the dairies’ own admissions, they were essentially using their crop fields, compost piles and cow pens as a giant open dump. You see, dairy producers happen to be producing, well, dairy. But when you industrially produce dairy the way a sweat shop produces t-shirts, and not the way a small family farm lives off the land, it’s not farming; it’s manufacturing. And like all manufacturing, there’s a byproduct; in this case it’s manure. And they produce way more of it than could ever possibly be used on a few hundred acres.

In fact, the extent of the contamination and the overwhelming scientific testimony about the risk of harm to the public was so great, the Judge said- even before there was a trial –  that there was no doubt that the dairies violated RCRA.

The dairies talked about trying to appeal the court’s decision, but the carefully reasoned 111-page order could be put into the Wikipedia definition of “precedent setting,” and the dairies were going to have a hard time explaining away the facts in the case. For example, while the dairies insisted that the ground water was perfectly clean and uncontaminated, they were installing reverse osmosis systems for their own employees. When their lawyers said the water was clean, what they meant was “clean enough for you.”

And then yesterday, the coolest thing of all happened: On the eve of the trial on all the remaining issues in the cases, all of these mega-dairies in Yakima Valley reached a settlement with the community groups. The settlement should be a national model for how mega-dairies around the country should operate. The settlement takes a big step toward protecting the health of the local residents, requiring the dairies to pay an independent contractor to provide safe, alternative drinking water to everyone in a roughly three mile downgradient radius. The dairies have to continue to provide this water until the ground water (which will be closely monitored) falls below a safe level for contamination for two straight years.

The settlement also will require the dairies to operate in a dramatically cleaner manner.  Until now, the millions of gallons of liquid manure were stored in what was essentially a pit dug into the ground and the hundreds of thousands of tons of dry manure was just piled on the bare ground. (No Brooke Shields movies were going to be filmed near these so-called “lagoons,”, which were essentially gigantic pits of manure the size of a bunch of football fields.) Now, the dairies will have to install double linings for all their cesspools and wastewater catch basins and keep their carcass-manure train yard on waterproof surfaces. This should protect against further leaks into the aquifer.

The settlement further requires the dairies to use centrifuge systems that pull manure solids out of the wastewater and make it less harmful and places strict limits on the application of that wastewater when the fields are already saturated with nitrates, and to install sensors to detect when that occurs.

There is also a substantial way in which running a cleaner operation necessarily means one that is less horrible for the animals. Until now, the pens where the cows are kept was essentially lined with several feet of manure and ponds of water. While most of us have positive associations with the word pond, making cows stand knee deep in a mixture of their own filth and standing water is a pretty miserable existence, and now the pens will have to be evened out to stop ponding, and manure must be removed on a weekly basis. I guess standing in a single week of your own crapulence is better than 3 months’ worth.

This isn’t to claim that factory farms are now perfect places, by any means. But the industry advocates (both their lawyers in court and their lobbyists and affiliated media) have been saying that it was impossible to run a cleaner operation – you choose: water or milk? When the people of Yakima objected to contaminated water from small lakes and mountains of manure, the gist of the industry’s answer was “too bad, that’s the only way we can run our business.” It turns out that’s wrong. It will cost the dairies more to operate dramatically cleaner operations, but it’s not exactly the economic equivalent of the asteroid hitting Mexico, it’s just the price of running a far more responsible business.

The era of letting factory farms do whatever they want, no matter what it does to their animals, the environment, their neighbors, and consumers needs to end. Other factory farms and mega-dairies around the country should meet the same standards that the Yakima dairies will now have to meet. We intend to pursue a lot of them, and try to make sure that they do.

Paul Bland|Public Justice| co-authored by Jessica Culpepper|Food Safety & Health Attorney|Public Justice.

5 Reasons Why Desalination Plants Won’t Solve Droughts

The drought has most of us on edge, particularly in California. It felt much more real when Governor Jerry Brown implemented water restrictions. Many people are searching for solutions, and while desalination seems to be the frontrunner, it might not be the answer to our drought problem.

What Exactly Is Desalination?

Desalination (desalting or desalinization) means exactly what it sounds like; we take the salt out of our water, and make it safe for us to drink; minerals are also sucked out. When some of the water still contains salt and minerals, then it can be used in irrigation and animal agriculture. Desalination is a natural occurring process invented by Mother Nature, but has been amped up so we can do it on a large scale. As you might expect, this is an energy-intensive and expensive process.

According to International Desalination Association (IDA), here’s a breakdown of desalination by numbers as of 2013:

– There are over 17,000 desalination plants around the world.

– 150 countries use these plants, including the United States.

– Over 300 million people depend on the plants for some or all of their daily water needs.

California is certainly jumping on the desalination train. In recent news, Santa Barbara is willing to spend $2 million on a study just to determine if more desalination is feasible in the area. And as Discovery News reports, on May 6, California’s State Water Resources Control Board signed off on statewide standards for building desalination plants. So we can assume that we’ll be seeing more of these plants in The Golden State.

5 Reasons Why Desalination Plants Won’t Solve Drought

I’m sure that desalination plants are necessary in some parts of the globe. But we should think of the plants as tools — not solutions. Here are a few reasons why desalination plants can’t fix a drought:

1. It’s expensive: It’s worth repeating that desalination is expensive in dollars and energy. A few years ago, Long Beach, Calif., ditched its desalination plans because the electricity was too high, reports The Sacramento Bee.

2. Our oceans are really vulnerable: Ideally, if we had to take water from the ocean, then it would be healthy and thriving. But we know this isn’t the case. Ocean dead zones, finicky fish fertility and islands of trash in the Pacific Ocean are a few examples.

3. Have we really exhausted all of our options?: As reported in KQED, critic Susan Jordan, of the California Coastal Protection Network, encourages cities to exhaust options, including conservation, water recycling and water re-use. Santa Cruz, Calif., stopped its desalination plans when residents disapproved. Instead of drying up, the city’s “residents have cut their water consumption to one of the lowest levels in the state – 62 gallons per person per day – and succeeded in prolonging local reservoir storage,” reports The Sacramento Bee.

4. What are we going to do with all the saltwater? After we’re done filtering out what we don’t want, we can’t just toss it back into the ocean. Once we’re through, the leftovers, officially known as brine, become a toxic waste product that can kill marine life. The Carlsbad plant plans on mixing the brine, so it’s only 20 percent saltier than the ocean. But we don’t know the long-term effects of this. An emeritus water economist at UC Berkeley, Henry J. Vaux Jr. warns in his interview with the Los Angeles Times, “Dumping water that is saltier than seawater into the ocean isn’t harmless. Some organisms can’t survive, others move in — the ocean isn’t a great big garbage can.”

5. We need paradigm shifts, not more plants: Desalination plants can get us out of a pinch, but they won’t work in the long run. We need to stop taking from everywhere, all of the time. This mentality is what got us in this predicament in the first place. And guess what — if we mess up the ocean as bad as we’ve messed up everything else up, then we don’t get a do-over. We also need to wise up and make more water-conscious choices, from the food on our plate.

Jessica Ramos|May 13, 2015

Great Lakes & Inland Waters

Ohio asks neighboring states to help fight Erie’s algae

TOLEDO, Ohio — Pollutants feeding the toxic algae blooms that have been turning parts of western-Lake Erie green and contaminating drinking water in recent summers aren’t just coming from Ohio. They’re flowing into the lake from farm fields in Michigan and Indiana, leaky septic tanks in southern Canada, and Detroit’s wastewater plant.

That’s why Ohio’s governor and environmental chief are starting to ask some of their neighbors to look into what else they can do to cut down on the pollutants — primarily phosphorus — that end up in the lake’s tributaries.

“We can’t do it alone, and they can’t do it alone,” said Craig Butler, director of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. “I think everybody really understands that we need collaboration.”

Discussions with officials from Indiana, Michigan and southern Ontario have centered on the overall goal of reducing phosphorus in waterways and not on specifics about what needs to be done, Butler said.

“We want everybody to come up with their own prescription based on whatever symptom they have,” he said. Ohio within the last year adopted regulations on livestock manure and commercial farm fertilizers. Researchers have found as much as two-thirds of the phosphorus in the lake comes from agriculture. The new rules include banning farmers in northwestern Ohio from spreading manure on frozen and rain-soaked fields and requiring training before farmers can use commercial fertilizers.

Officials from Michigan and Indiana say that they support efforts to improve water quality and that they already have policies that help reduce phosphorus from getting into rivers and streams.

Michigan has a voluntary program to help farmers reduce pollution that goes into waterways and is in the process of closing a loophole in how farm manure is handled, said Dan Wyant, the state’s environmental quality director.

“There’s not a silver bullet to solve this problem,” he said. “More has to be done.”

That includes improving wastewater treatment plants that send raw sewage into rivers during heaving rains and controlling invasive mussels that are thought to help algae thrive, he said.

JOHN SEEWER|ASSOCIATED PRESS|5/10/15

Is the Susquehanna River So Dirty It’s Giving Fish Cancer?

Cancer in fish is rare. When officials find it happening, alarm bells go off. If you’re anywhere near Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna River, perhaps you can hear those bells beginning to ring? Some experts do.

In the fall of 2014, an angler fishing on the Susquehanna River caught a smallmouth bass with a big problem. It had a huge, rather grotesque growth on its mouth.

The angler turned in the fish to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC). After testing, the PFBC confirmed this month that the growth was a malignant tumor. That fish had cancer. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Aquatic Animal Health Laboratory at Michigan State University concurred the finding.

According to the PFBC, this is the only documented case of a cancerous tumor being found on a smallmouth bass in the entire state. However, some experts have worried about the health of the Susquehanna River for at least a decade.

“As we continue to study the river, we find young-of-year and now adult bass with sores, lesions and more recently a cancerous tumor, all of which continue to negatively impact population levels and recreational fishing,” said PFBC Executive Director John Arway in a press release. “The weight of evidence continues to build a case that we need to take some action on behalf of the fish.”

Oddly, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Department of Health are not reacting to the PFBC’s concerns as expeditiously as hoped.

“There is no evidence that carcinomas in fish present any health hazard to humans,” said Dr. Karen Murphy, acting Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health. “However, people should avoid consuming fish that have visible signs of sores and lesions.”

Well, yes. Eating anything sporting lesions and sores is generally inadvisable, right? One continues to wonder about the environment that caused those abnormalities, though.

PFBC wants the DEP to add the Susquehanna River to Pennsylvania’s bi-annual list of impaired waterways. That would be the first step to getting it on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) official list of impaired waters. PFBC has been asking the state for this designation since 2012.

Causes of impairment, according to the EPA, include include chemical contaminants, physical conditions, and biological contaminants. The PFBC believes the problems with the fish ought to enable the state to determine the river is “ecologically impaired.”

“The impairment designation is critical because it starts a timeline for developing a restoration plan,” Arway said. “We’ve known the river has been sick since 2005, when we first started seeing lesions on the smallmouth. Now we have more evidence to further the case for impairment.”

In 2012, the EPA did recognize that the Susquehanna can no longer be considered “unimpaired.” It noted:

The final report includes a change in the designation for a nearly 100-mile section of the main stem of the Susquehanna River from “unimpaired” for aquatic life and recreational uses, to having insufficient water quality data to make an impairment determination. That change from the draft to the final report reflects comments submitted to PADEP from EPA and others, as well as ongoing efforts to identify the cause of health impacts to the Susquehanna’s smallmouth bass population.

EPA acknowledged there’s an issue to be addressed, but still believes it does “not have sufficient data at this time to scientifically support listed the main stem of the Susquehanna as impaired,” according to NPR.

“If we do not act to address the water quality issues in the Susquehanna River, Pennsylvania risks losing what is left of what was once considered a world-class smallmouth bass fishery,” Arway noted. “DEP is expected to release its 2016 list of impaired waters in late fall. We are urging them once again to follow the science and add the Susquehanna River to the list.”

People catch and eat these fish. Animals do too. What’s in the Susquehanna River that’s been causing sores and lesions for the last decade, and now perhaps cancerous tumors too? It’s worth noting that EPA’s listing of Impaired Waters by State shows that Pennsylvania has far more such troubled waterways than any other state.

The problem — and the negative impact on fish — seem undeniable. Something is wrong in that river. The Susquehanna’s problem needs attention now.

Susan Bird|May 11, 2015

Oil Sheen Spotted On Hudson Following Indian Point Explosion

Update morning May 11th:

A Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman tells the Associated Press that several thousand gallons of oil from the Indian Point nuclear power plant may have spilled into the Hudson River following Saturday’s transformer explosion.

The environmentalist group Riverkeeper reports spotting what appears to be a large oil sheen on the Hudson River this morning near the site of yesterday’s transformer explosion at the Indian Point nuclear power plant. This morning, the sheen extended north and south of the plant, and all the way to the Rockland County side of the river, but it had not reached the Peekskill waterfront to the north, according to the group’s patrol captain John Lipscomb. He said he didn’t know what the rainbow sheen was for sure, but that it gave off an acrid, petroleum smell. “After two hours of floating around in it, I could feel it in my throat and my sinuses,” Lipscomb said.

The activists reported spotting a breach in the boom state officials had deployed to contain the oil, but said that a second boom was being put in place this morning. Riverkeeper’s Leah Rae shot this video:

A spokesman for Entergy, the company that owns the plant, said it’s not yet clear that transformer oil escaped through drains into the river, and that the sheen might be attributable to the foam used to fight the electrical fire, which contains an oily animal fat. The spokesman, Gerald Nappi, downplayed the risk transformer oil would play to the river if it did make it in, because it is a “light, clear, mineral-type oil.” “Transformer oil would be of very little consequence to the environment locally,” he said. “That being said we are very seriously taking every precaution to mitigate any potential release.”

Gov. Cuomo, speaking to the media earlier today, said the oil in the river is definitely from the transformers:

There is no doubt but that oil did escape from the transformer, there is no doubt that oil did go into the holding tank and exceeded the capacity of the holding tank, and there is no doubt that oil was discharged into the Hudson River. Exactly how much, we don’t know.

Riverkeeper is advocating for the closure of the plant, citing safety concerns. Lipscomb noted that the explosion and oil sheen may be alarming for people, but that the plant pulls in and heats more than 2 billion gallons of river water per day, killing huge amounts of river life.

“[The plant] hurts the river every single day,” he said. “And some days it hurts the river a little more.”

Nathan Tempey|News|May 11, 2015

NATURE’S POWER: Vortex Hydro Energy to install 4 energy generating devices in St. Clair River this summer as part of $1.25 million project

The strong currents of the area’s blue waters will be used for more than sailing, paddling and fishing this summer.

Vortex Hydro Energy, a company that has previously studied harnessing the St. Clair River’s current, will be placing energy generating devices in the river near Dunn Paper in Port Huron.

The $1.25 million project will include installing four devices in the river between August and September, with buoys also being set to indicate their presence to boaters.

This will be the third time the company has deployed its new technology in local waters. Vortex Hydro Energy has also deployed the devices twice in canals in the Netherlands and in experimental facilities.

“There was a couple of reasons to bring them to St. Clair County,” said David Haynes, director of business attraction for the St. Clair County Economic Development Alliance. “One, was that Michigan was really pushing green energy project and this was a natural fit due to the speed of our waters. Second, it was bringing an exciting research and development project from U of M to our area along with a high profile project. Lastly, as they look to commercialize the device for a larger market, we hope that some of the production could be produced by local companies.”

Vortex Hydro Energy, a spinoff company hoping to commercialize the technology invented and patented at the University of Michigan, placed prototypes in the St. Clair River near the paper mill north of the Blue Water Bridge in August 2010 and September 2012.

Michael Bernitsas, a professor of naval architecture, marine engineering and mechanical engineering at U-M, invented the technology — called VIVACE, or Vortex Induced Vibrations for Aquatic Clean Energy.

Bernitsas said in an email the installation will happen between August and September, with four smaller devices installed this year. Eight devices will be installed in May 2016. The devices will remain in the water two to three months. There are not currently any devices in the river. The devices, which contain vertical cylinders, are placed on the river bottom. The cylinders move back and forth as vortexes in the current move past them, creating kinetic energy. The kinetic energy is harnessed by what developers call an oscylator and sent to a generator that converts it to electricity. He said during a presentation Tuesday at a meeting of the St. Clair River Bi-national Public advisory Council that the devices would be placed in 20 feet of water about 90 feet from the shore and north of the Blue Water Bridge. The devices are about 18 feet high, 10 feet wide and about 11 feet 8 inches long. Judy Ogden, a member of BPAC and of the Blue Water Sport Fishing Association, said she would be concerned the devices would pose a hazard to recreational boaters. She noted the top of the devices would be about 2 feet from the surface of the water, endangering sailboat keels and powerboat propellers.

“The Coast Guard did not have problems with that as long as we had the two buys,” Bernitsas said. Ogden said not everyone would be aware of the buoys and the buoys might not be visible in fog. “This is a high traffic area at certain times of the year,” she said. “… There are people from outside the community who would not be aware of these buoys.” Bernitsas said there were no navigational issues in 2012 when a device was left in the river for about three months. ]

He said the energy created will either be burned on resistors onshore or to heat water at the paper mill, depending on regulations.

Ogden also asked if any research had been done into the possible impacts on fish populations.

Bernitsas in his email said the devices pose no threat to aquatic life.

“..It is probably the only environmentally compatible marine hydrokinetic energy per a DOE/MIT/Harvard study,” he said in the email. “Instead of a steady lift and turbine blades it uses bluff bodies and alternating lift like fish and other marine life … Fish rest in their wake by barely moving their bodies and spawn more.”

Bernitsas said the company is going through the necessary permitting process, as it has done with the prior deployments.

Joel Anderson, owner of Anderson’s Pro Bait in Port Huron, said many local anglers are concerned about the project.

“I think it’s smoke and mirrors,” he said. “I think it’s people trying to get grant money, and they spend the grant money and nothing comes from it.”

“U.S. Fish and Wildlife has figured out sturgeon spawn right there, right where you’re talking about,” he said. “So who is going to let them put that there?

“It would have a lot of fishing line on it in a few years.”

LIZ SHEPARD AND BOB GROSS|TIMES HERALD

Tri-state group unanimously backs plan for river system

APALACHICOLA – A potential landmark in Florida’s long-running dispute with Georgia and Alabama over the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system came Wednesday, when 56 people from the three states unanimously approved what they described as a “sustainable water management plan.”

The group, known as the ACF Stakeholders, developed the plan over nearly five years, trying to balance Atlanta’s need for drinking water with Florida’s need for higher freshwater flows to the Apalachicola Bay and Alabama’s need for hydroelectric energy.

The group issued its recommendations even as Florida is suing Georgia in the U.S. Supreme Court, with Gov. Rick Scott’s administration arguing that too much water is being siphoned off upstream, causing damage to the economically vital oyster industry in Apalachicola Bay.

Among the recommendations is that Florida, Georgia and Alabama should “collaboratively establish a water management institution” that would serve as a data clearinghouse and promote conflict resolution among the states and their different interests.

The group also recommended that each of the states push for higher levels of water conservation through efficiency policies and tracking and reporting data.

“Can everyone live with this?” the group’s incoming chairwoman, Betty Webb of Apalachicola, asked after two days of meetings. The vote to approve ended in cheers.

The ACF Stakeholders formed in 2009 to find a solution to the water dispute, which dates back to 1990. Its members represent fishing, navigation, hydroelectric-power and community interests from the states. The members have raised $1.7 million to gather data and fund their operations privately, and any one member can block the group from taking an action.

The water-management plan will be shared with the three states’ governors and relevant state and federal agencies, but it isn’t binding.

“It’s not a document they need to adopt, but we hope they embrace,” Webb said. “We hope they will embrace it and move forward with us.”

The group is urging state and federal agencies to develop more and better information about the river system to promote better decision-making in the future. The group wrote that it had “encountered challenging gaps in scientific and technical information on the basin during the course of its work and suggests a specific list of studies that, if completed, would support better decision-making in the future.”

The recommendations also focus on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for managing the chain of reservoirs along the Chattahoochee River and controlling the flow of freshwater to the Apalachicola River and Apalachicola Bay.

“Local, state and federal decision-makers should develop consistent drought management plans that define drought conditions, identify drought-response triggers, delineate responsibilities of various water-use sectors and document changes in operational strategies in response to drought conditions,” the group wrote.

In particular, the group is urging the Corps of Engineers to adopt changes to its management of the reservoirs aimed at using storage more efficiently during normal conditions, mitigating the impact of droughts and quickly restoring normal conditions after droughts.

For instance, the group wrote, “The Army Corps of Engineers should study and, if feasible, implement a 2-foot increase in the pool level at Lake Lanier, increasing water storage by 7 percent, to the benefit of all users in the region.”

The suggested changes also include providing two water releases — in May and July — timed to support higher flows and improved navigation on the Apalachicola River. The releases would also help to restore the Apalachicola Bay’s mix of salt- and freshwater, which has made it a renowned incubator for oysters.

Since 2012, however, when the bay collapsed after a series of droughts, the seafood industry — once a major economic driver for the region — has been hard hit.

“Time is of the essence,” said state Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat whose district includes Apalachicola Bay. “We’ve run out of time. It’s time to sit down and do what’s right, and what’s right is to send more water down the Apalachicola River.”

Meanwhile, Florida’s lawsuit against Georgia is moving forward, and while Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal asked Scott for a meeting two months ago, nothing has come of it yet.

As a result of the litigation, the ACF Stakeholders hasn’t made its data public since 2013, when Florida asked the U.S. Supreme Court to slow Georgia’s consumption of freshwater from the river system.

Margie Menzel|The News Service Of Florida|May 13, 2015

Offshore & Ocean

Town to re-engage lobbyists to fight inlet expansion

As a new proposal to deepen and widen the Lake Worth Inlet takes shape, the town plans to hire the same state and federal lobbyists who helped stop the project last year.

Town Manager Tom Bradford will ask the Town Council Tuesday for $90,000 toward retaining professionals to represent the town in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C.

He also will seek $60,000 to hire a firm to work with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Florida Department of Environmental Protection officials in Jacksonville to make sure sand sucked from the inlet during regularly maintenance dredging events is placed on the town’s dry North End beaches, not in the water.

Inlet expansion

The town spent $76,000 last June on lobbying and litigation to successfully defeat the originally proposed plan to deepen and widen the inlet. But, a modified plan is in the works.

“It still presents many of the same concerns relative to the environment, recreational amenities, and concerns about the general health, safety and welfare of the community,” Bradford wrote in his memorandum to the council. “Accordingly, it is time to revisit the selection of professionals needed to facilitate the town’s opposition to the proposed deepening and widening.”

Ballard Partners is the firm that cost $30,000 last year to advocate the town’s interests in Tallahassee. The town again wants to allocate $30,000 to the firm.

The council appropriated $120,000 to Squire Patton Boggs last year to represent the town before federal agencies and officials. The law firm used about $16,000, so $104,000 remains in its contract.

Bradford recommended the council terminate the town agreement with Squire Patton Boggs and allocate $60,000 to retain Phil Bangert, who used to work for the firm but now operates independently.

The $90,000 requested to engage state and federal lobbyists would come from the $104,000 of the liquidated contract. The remaining $14,000 from the agreement would revert to the town’s General Fund, according to Bradford.

Litigation

The council also will decide Tuesday whether to retain Greenberg Traurig for continued negotiations with the Corps and litigation, if needed. The firm has a monthly retainer of $2,500 with the town.

“No additional funding is needed at this time,” Bradford wrote.

If direct litigation with the Port of Palm Beach is needed, $20,000 remains available in the town’s contract with White & Case. The firm used $30,000 last year.

“If litigation is initiated, I will likely return to the Town Council for an additional funding allocation,” Bradford wrote.

Sand placement

In 2009, the town sued the Corps over beach erosion caused by the inlet jetties. It dropped the suit in 2013 after officials thought that Jacksonville District Col. Alan Dodd had agreed to place inlet-dredged sand on dry beaches, where it remains longer and provides better storm protection, instead of in the nearshore waters.

But, Dodd wrote a letter to the town last month saying if the town wants sand on the dry beach, it should be prepared to share in the cost. The town said that’s a departure from the Corps’ public and written promise to work with the town for dry beach sand placement with minimal to zero payment from the town.

Bradford plans to ask the council for $60,000 from this year’s General Fund Contingency to allocate to Foley & Lardner for “enhancing the town’s opportunities for beach nourishment.” The former Florida Department of Environmental Protection deputy secretary works for the firm’s Jacksonville office, which is nearby the Corps’ Jacksonville District office, according to Bradford.

He did not name the deputy secretary in his memo, but former DEP official Herschel Vinyard began working for the firm in February.

Aleese Kopf|Staff Writer|Daily News

Marine Sanctuary’s Wrong Science Accelerated Florida’s Coral Reef Destruction

At exactly the time I should have been paying the closest attention, Florida was suffering probably the biggest environmental disaster in its history. It happened on my watch but I wasn’t watching.
During the early 1990s through 1995, 38 percent of the once-abundant living coral in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary had died.

It was what marine biologist Michael J. Risk of McMaster University called “regional mass extinction” and what his colleague Brian Lapointe from Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute called “one of the worst environmental disasters in modern history.”

I’m ashamed of my ignorance. I was managing editor of The Stuart News/Port St. Lucie News at the time. In 1994 I was president of the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. I had what I think was a special responsibility to know and report such a cataclysmic event.
But scientists are telling me now, unless I’d been living in the Keys, or unless I was a diver and had seen the “before and after,” I would never have known anyway. Management at the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary kept it under wraps, consistently denying there was a water quality problem in the Keys.

The National Marine Sanctuary was calling for fresh water to be shipped down canals operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and sent into Florida Bay. They still are to this day, and that’s my interest in this now. Sanctuary scientists, who long ago reeled in the Everglades Foundation founders as their disciples, continue to ignore the connection between nitrogen and phosphorus — deadly to coral in combination — because they fertilize algae and invite red tides.

Billy Causey is the southeast regional director for the National Marine Sanctuary. Causey is the man most responsible for keeping the faulty hypothesis alive and well. Scary when you consider he failed to earn his doctorate, so in 2006 the University of South Florida gave him an honorary one anyway. “Oh, he likes to be called Doctor,” one his staff told me. “We have to call him Doctor.”

Causey has been the lead National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) official in the development of the management plan for the Keys sanctuary — and the Keys sanctuary is the third largest marine protected area in the United States. I’m not sure if Causey’s long tenure is more a statement about NOAA — an arm of the U.S. Department of Commerce — or about the sanctuary itself.

In an earlier interview, Lapointe told me, “They (sanctuary scientists) kept saying we need more fresh water from the Everglades. Their theory was hyper-salinity — too much salt water — was killing the reefs. The fact is — all the research shows — what we needed wasn’t fresh water, it was clean water.”
Lapointe and a handful of his colleagues insisted the algae blooms could be explained by the bay’s Petrie dish effect, that you always get your biggest growth response when you add nitrogen and phosphorous together. It’s eutrophication, or over-enrichment by nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorous and silica — the chemicals that come from sewage outfalls, industrial and agricultural runoff — that create the algae.

If you want to see proof, look at the Shark River flows and nitrogen-loading data from Lapointe’s studies (illustration below). What you’ll see is ramped up water flows between 1991 and 1995. Why did that happen?  Because the South Florida Water Management District bought into the flawed “hyper-salinity” hypothesis by increasing water deliveries to Shark River and Taylor Slough. That took Florida Bay and the Keys over a eutrophication “tipping point.”

The Keys already had a major problem with sewage — thousands of cesspits, 30,000 septic tanks, and 1,200 shallow injection wells and nearshore impacts, but these massive flows from the mainland, both agricultural and urban nutrients, triggered the explosive regional water quality deterioration.  That manifested itself in algal blooms in Florida Bay and loss of coral in downstream waters of the Keys.

At the peak of the flows in 1995, a major toxic red tide developed on the Gulf side of the Keys, killing off an enormous amount of wildlife. Over the next four years, as I mentioned earlier, 38 percent of the living coral died in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Nice work, Causey and scientists Jay Zieman and Ron Jones.

“It’s the saddest thing when you love something,” Don DeMaria told me. “It’s like watching a dear friend die.”

DeMaria, who owns Sea Samples, a company that collects samples for analysis, previously served on a sanctuary advisory board. He said the algae is no less a problem now than it was in the ’90s — in fact, it’s back just off Big Pine, 3 feet deep in mid-channel  and he isn’t entirely sure sanctuary management sees a problem.

“I don’t understand what they’re doing,” he told me. “I reported a sponge die-off off Ramrod Key last week, but NOAA hasn’t weighed in yet.

“What is the sanctuary preserving?”  They allow some commercial fishermen with nets to come in and, for instance, take ballyhoo. These are supposed to be preservation areas. They’re not preservation areas, they’re special privilege areas.”

DeMaria concluded, “Fresh water isn’t the answer, it’s only going to accelerate the coral death. You can’t clean nitrogen out of water like you can phosphorus. That’s the truth of it.”

Commercial fisherman Mike Laucinda, who has been fishing off the Keys since 1969, said the water was pristine and clear until about 1974 and has been worsening ever since. “Within the last six or seven years a new algae has been showing up,” he told me. “It pulls my trap lines, it smothers everything, I can’t pull it off, I have to cut it. It’s about 5 feet deep on the bottom in 20-25 feet of water in Hobbs Channel.”

DeMaria said, “The chamber of commerce talks about ‘the emerald green water of the Florida Keys. … Well, in the old days they talked about it as it should be ‘crystal clear and blue.'”

Meanwhile, I still feel responsible for not knowing the crisis afoot in Florida Bay in 1994 and 1995 failing to sound the alarm The clearly stated mission of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Act of 1990 is simple: Protect living coral. Instead, wrong science — or should I say, bad science by the wrong scientists — killed it.

Shark River Florida Bay Nitrogen chart

Shark River Nitrogen Flows in Florida Bay, by YearHide

Overhunting Threatens the Future of Dolphins in the Solomon Islands

While dolphin drives taking place in Taiji every year have gained international attention and opposition, researchers are shedding light on how drive hunts taking place in other parts of the world are threatening the future of cetaceans.

For a study just published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, researchers looked to the Solomon Islands where hunting dolphins has a long tradition. According to the study, between 1976 and 2013, more than 15,000 dolphins were killed by just one village.

Dolphins are killed for their meat, but the demand for their teeth, which are used to make jewelry used in wedding ceremonies or sold for cash, is also increasing the number of deaths. A single tooth is worth about 70 cents (USD), but their commercial value has increased five times in the last decade alone.

Scott Baker, associate director of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University and co-author on the study, called it a troubling trend that’s providing more incentive to kill.

Recent years have also brought captures for the captivity industry, which conservationists believe has continued to support the drives.

In 2010, the Earth Island Institute worked out a deal with three villages to stop hunting by offering financial compensation to support alternative activities for local communities but the life-saving agreement for dolphins was short lived.

Unfortunately, the deal broke down in 2013 and the killing resumed. The media reported high numbers of deaths, which raised concerns about the impact on both the status of the population and the welfare of dolphins who suffer as a result of being caught and killed.

That’s when researchers from the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium, Solomon Island’s Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources and Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute say they decided to go there and document the impact on the dolphin population.

According to their findings, during the first few months of that year more than 1,500 spotted dolphins, 159 spinner dolphins, and 15 bottlenose dolphins were killed in one of the largest hunts on record – one that sadly rivals the annual hunts in Taiji.

Baker pointed out that while hunting larger species like whales is regulated by the International Whaling Commission, smaller cetaceans are left without any official body to protect or regulate the killing, which is leaving them vulnerable to unregulated and unreported hunting.

Continuing to kill and capture dolphins with little regard for the impact continues to threaten their future survival and the problem is getting worse.

“In the Solomon Islands, the hunting is as much about culture as economic value,” said Baker. “In other parts of the world, however, the targeting of dolphins and other small cetaceans appears to be increasing as coastal fishing stocks decline.”

Researchers say their findings point to a need to step in and stop unregulated exploitation, along with adopting better monitoring of populations and documentation of kills and promoting tourism operations that value live dolphins, among other changes, which we can hope will eventually lead to an end of these drive hunts and live captures.

For more info on how to help dolphins in the Solomon Islands, visit the Earth Island Institute’s Dolphin Project and International Marine Mammal Project.

Alicia Graef|May 12, 2015

Tampa Bay seagrass recovers; 40,000 acres most in 60 years

There are more acres seagrass in the Tampa Bay estuary than any time in the last sixty years; the Southwest Florida Water Management District announced Wednesday that the bay now supports more than 40,000 acres of seagrass beds.

WMNF News interviewed Kris Kaufman, a senior environmental scientist with SWFWMD.

Kaufman said their study found a 16.3 percent increase in seagrass coverage in Tampa Bay from 2012 to 2014. She said seagrass recovery requires relatively clean water and congratulated the community for making an effort to cut back on pollution.

Kaufman said the best recovery is in Old Tampa Bay (the location of the three bridges from Hillsborough County to Pinellas) where there are now three thousand acres more seagrass. Next is Hillsborough Bay, near the urban and industrial parts of Tampa.

Seán Kinane|WMNF News|05/13/15

Landmark Lawsuit Challenges Destructive Deep-sea Mining

The Center for Biological Diversity this week filed a lawsuit challenging the U.S. government’s approval of large-scale, exploratory deep-sea mining. The focus of the suit is a destructive project involving Hawaii and Mexico that would damage important habitat for whales, sharks and sea turtles and obliterate seafloor ecosystems.

Deep-sea mining is an emerging market for companies around the world hoping to tear apart the ocean floor in search of gold, nickel, copper and other valuable metals, mostly for consumer electronics. There are a lot of things wrong with deep-sea mining — not least that scientists are just beginning to fathom the mysteries of life in the far reaches of deep-ocean floors. But we do know this much: The project we’re fighting is in a biologically rich underwater world that’s home to hundreds of species.

Said the Center’s Emily Jeffers, “Like mountaintop-removal coal mining, deep-sea mining involves massive cutting machines that will leave behind a barren landscape devoid of life.”

Read more in our press release.

International Help Sought for Mexico’s Vanishing Porpoise

The Center for Biological Diversity and allies yesterday petitioned the World Heritage Committee to designate more than 6,900 square miles of ocean and islands in northern Mexico as “in danger” because of the urgent threat of extinction for a rare porpoise and fish in the Gulf of California.

The committee designated Mexico’s “Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California” as a World Heritage Area in 2005. But two of the site’s most renowned species — the tiny vaquita porpoise and a massive fish called the totoaba — face extinction as a result of fishing activities. An “in danger” designation will focus international attention on these species’ plight and may garner much-needed funds for their habitat’s conservation.

The vaquita is the world’s smallest porpoise and exists only in the Gulf of California. It has suffered a dramatic and alarming decline. Fewer than 100 remain in the wild — and without help this modest marine mammal could be extinct by 2018.

Ocean Assets Valued at $24 Trillion, but Dwindling Fast

A new report highlights the economic value of Earth’s marine environments

Our oceans are worth at least $24 trillion, according to a new WWF report Reviving the Ocean Economy: The case for action—2015. And goods and services from coastal and marine environments amount to about $2.5 trillion each year—that would put the ocean as the seventh largest economy in the world if put into terms of Gross Domestic Product.

The economic values listed in the new report are conservative, as outputs—such as wind energy—are not generated by the ocean, and were therefore excluded from the report. Valuable intangibles, such as the ocean’s role in climate regulation or production of oxygen, were also left out. Working with the Boston Consulting Group and the Global Change Institute, WWF developed this report to marry scientific evidence with potential impacts aligned with current trends, making it one of the first to produce an economic assessment of this kind.

“Oceans produce half the oxygen we breathe and absorb 30% of carbon dioxide emissions. ”

Reviving the Ocean Economy: The Case for Action
2015 WWF Report

More than two-thirds of the annual value of oceans relies on healthy conditions to maintain its current output. However, habitat destruction, overfishing, pollution, and climate change are endangering this economic engine and the security and livelihoods it supports. Marine resources are on a rapid decline and our oceans are changing faster than we have ever seen before.

“The oceans are our ‘natural capital’—a global savings account from which we keep making only withdrawals,” said Brad Ack, Senior Vice President for Oceans at WWF. “To continue this pattern leads one place: bankruptcy. It is time for significant reinvestment and protection of this global commons.”

The report identifies eight urgent, achievable actions that can help turn oceans around and allow it to continue to meet the essential needs of humanity and nature, ranging from taking global action to avoiding dangerous climate changes to driving international cooperation and investment for the oceans.

This year marks a unique opportunity for the future of our oceans, as international negotiations on climate change and sustainable development will soon to take place. In the days following the report release the US government takes a leadership role as Chair of the Arctic Council. Working with the 7 other Arctic member nations the U.S. may chart a path for a sustainable future, critical for the health of people, species, and a thriving global economy of marine goods and services

We need action for resilient oceans, so the marine ecosystems, wildlife and people they support can thrive in a changing climate. Speak out on climate change and our oceans today.

Read the report.

Get details in our press release.

Kimberly Vosburgh|April 22, 2015

Human diet trick could save coral reefs

Coral reefs are beautiful to behold, and essential for maintaining the natural balance of life in the world’s oceans.

And all over the world, they are slowly starving to death.

Under stress from climate change and rising levels of carbon dioxide, coral in nature is continually struggling to find nutrition.

It’s a common problem for humans too; it’s one of the reasons why the dietary supplement market is booming.

So – why not develop special nutritional supplements, and feed them to the coral?

Researchers from the University of Miami are doing exactly that, and the results are encouraging.

“For many years we have known the some types of symbiotic algae can convey climate change resilience to corals,” Chris Langdon, UM Rosenstiel School professor and chair of marine biology and ecology, told ScienceDaily.com.

Staghorn coral, a species once common around Florida and throughout the Caribbean, is now critically endangered. The research suggests that two supplemental feedings of dried zooplankton powder per week not only protects it from carbon dioxide, but from ocean acidification as well.

“In this study we found that the threatened coral was able to increase its feeding rate and stored energy reserves when exposed to high CO2 conditions at 26°C or 30°C, and mitigate reductions in calcification that caused significant decreases in growth rate in unfed corals,” researchers reported.

According to the International Coral Reef Initiative, an informal partnership of nations and organizations striving to preserve the world’s coral reefs and related ecosystems, these are the benefits of healthy coral:

  • Habitat: Home to over one million diverse aquatic species, including thousands of types of fish.
  • Income: Billions of dollars and millions of jobs in over 100 countries around the world.
  • Food: For people living near coral reefs, especially on small islands.
  • Protection: A natural barrier protecting coastal cities, communities and beaches.
  • Medicine: The potential for treatments for many of the world’s most prevalent and dangerous illnesses and diseases.

America’s National Ocean Service calls corals “the medicine cabinets of the 21st century,” citing treatments for cancer, arthritis, human bacterial infections, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, viruses, and other maladies.

Ben Knight|Daily Brew|11 May, 2015

Proposed new waterway causing controversy in Punta Gorda

The city council is moving forward with plans to build a new passage connecting the city’s canals to Alligator Creek.

The new waterway would be added at the end of the River Bay Drive, which would then connect to Alligator Creek and give more access to Charlotte Harbor.

Opponents say it could affect the environment and is too costly.

Supporters say it will improve travel times to the harbor through the canals and cut down on boat traffic and pollution.

Jay Buckley, President of the Punta Gorda Boater’s Alliance said: “In our advertising nationally, we are truly a boating community and that’s what we’re striving for.”

The canal is projected to cost $1.5 million.

See Video Report …

PortMiami counting down until end of Deep Dredge project

PortMiami is counting down to July for the completion of the Deep Dredge project that is deepening the port’s main harbor channel from 42 feet to a depth of 50/52 feet. PortMiami will be the only major logistics hub south of Virginia capable of handling fully laden post-Panamax vessels.

More than $1 billion of capital infrastructure projects are transforming PortMiami. Already in place are new Super Post-Panamax gantry cranes that can service cargo vessels up to 22 containers wide with up to nine containers above deck and11 containers below; new on-dock intermodal rail service linking PortMiami to 70 percent of the U.S. population in four days or less; as well as a new tunnel linking the port directly to the United States Interstate Highway System. These projects are providing the world’s top ocean carriers with the convenience of fast, reliable quality service.

In addition to the already completed infrastructure improvements, the newly deepened PortMiami will be a viable option for trade and commerce from the Southeastern United States to reach markets worldwide. This paves the way for the port to become an even more reliable transshipment hub in the region.

Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez called the countdown to the completion of the deep dredge a “major milestone” for not only PortMiami and Miami-Dade County, but for all of Florida, which will benefit from increased trade opportunities once the expanded Panama Canal opens in 2016.

“PortMiami will be the closest U.S. port to the Panama Canal that’s ready to accommodate the mega size cargo vessels that require a 50/52-foot depth when at full capacity,” Mayor Gimenez said.

“PortMiami is already known worldwide as the Gateway of the Americas. Once the dredge is complete, PortMiami will be well-positioned to capture new trade opportunities, especially with ever-growing Asian markets. New trade opportunities translate into continued economic growth throughout Miami-Dade County,” he added.

“We’re grateful to the vision of our state and local leaders for making this critical infrastructure project a reality,” said Juan M. Kuryla,

PortMiami director and CEO. “The completion of PortMiami’s Deep Dredge cannot be overstated, PortMiami will be positioned as the most convenient and efficient global hub on the North American East Coast ready to service the world’s leading ocean carriers. I am proud to say that PortMiami will be able to berth Post-Panamax ships this summer.”

PortMiami is Miami-Dade County’s second largest economic engine after Miami International Airport. The completion of the deep dredge project will ensure that PortMiami remains competitive in the global marketplace.

The United States Army Corps of Engineers is managing the project. Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company LLC, is the contractor that was selected for the deepening of PortMiami’s channel to 50/52 feet. Dredging began in August 2013 and will be completed in July, before the opening of the expanded Panama Canal.

For more information visit www.miamidade.gov/portmiami

Andria C. Muiz

Wildlife and Habitat

  TALLAHASSEE — Rules for the state’s first bear hunt in more than 20 years have been published as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is expected next month to give final approval to the hunt.

The posting of the rules came as the Humane Society has reached out to Gov. Rick Scott to halt the pending hunt because the commission has yet to determine how many bears are in Florida.

“This is very premature,” said Kate MacFall, the Humane Society’s Florida director. “They haven’t even finished the count. They don’t even know about the bear population.”

The society has not heard back from Scott.

The proposed rules were published Tuesday in the Florida Administrative Register and outline how the hunt is expected to occur in four regions of the state starting Oct. 24. The hunt is considered one way to control the bear population as Florida has seen a growing number of bear and human conflicts.

The wildlife commission on April 15 gave tentative approval to the hunt and is expected to take a final vote the week of June 22 in Sarasota.

The proposed rules were issued after two black bears, both estimated to weigh more than 400 pounds, were killed this month in separate collisions with cars in Alachua County.

Opponents of the proposed hunt have argued the state should consider relocating problem bears and that people need to be held more responsible for leaving out unsecured food and trash that attracts bears.

“It’s a trash problem,” MacFall said. “The bears are attracted to trash, and that is where the focus should be, large-scale trash management.”

State lawmakers this spring approved a bill (HB 7021) that would in part increase penalties for people charged a fourth time with feeding bears and alligators not in captivity. The charge would be a third-degree felony. Currently, a fourth offense of illegally feeding wildlife within a 10-year period is a first-degree misdemeanor.

The bill has yet to be sent to Scott.

The hunt, meanwhile, is expected to last from two to six days, depending on when quotas are reached in the different regions — the Panhandle, Northeast Florida, east-central Florida and South Florida.

Diane Eggeman, director of the commission’s Division of Hunting and Game Management, said the agency expects to have hunt quota numbers ready for the commission to approve in September.

“We should have the new estimates from the South and Central bear management units sometime this summer,” Eggeman said. “There is a chance that they’ll be ready by the June meeting, but that is unlikely.”

The hunt will target less than 20 percent of the population in the four bear-management areas.

Black bears were placed on the state’s threatened list in 1974, when there were between 300 and 500 across Florida. At the time, hunting black bear was limited to three counties. In 1994, the hunting season was closed statewide. In moving forward with the plans for the hunt, the state commission has used 2002 numbers, which estimate there are a combined 2,500 black bears in the four regions.

Under the proposed rules, the cost of the hunt would be $100 for Floridians and $300 for non-Floridians. There had been talk by commissioners of lowering the fee for Florida residents to $50, as it is unknown how many will pay to join the hunt. Each hunter would be limited to one bear, and the kill would have to be registered and tagged within 12 hours.

Also, hunters would be prohibited from killing bears within 100 yards of active game-feeding stations.

JIM TURNER|The News Service of Florida|May 13, 2015

Weapons trafficking experts target criminal wildlife trade networks

An outfit usually associated with investigating arms dealers and weapons traffickers is applying its advanced network mapping capabilities to criminal wildlife trafficking syndicates.
This week Washington D.C.-based C4ADS unveiled the Environmental Crimes Fusion Cell, a unit which consists of a team of analysts, network mapping technology provided by software company Palantir, and a network of NGOs and enforcement agencies. The unit analyses wildlife trade data to provide actionable intelligence to pursue and apprehend traffickers.
“We adapt methodologies developed for the security community and combine them with cutting-edge Palantir technology and innovative sources of public and commercial data, to map and expose wildlife criminal networks,” C4ADS’s Jackson Miller told Mongabay. “We have a dedicated team of analysts who work across multiple languages, and have a network of over 50 organizations and individuals around the world who feed us raw data and insights from the field that we can analyze and structure in a way that can lead to actionable, real-world results.”
The initiative includes a web platform that provides current and historic data on large-scale ivory seizures as well as a tracking portal for ammunition typically used for poaching and background information on illicit ivory, rhino horn, and timber supply chains. C4ADS also published a report detailing how trafficking networks often finance their operations and smuggle contraband. It highlights risks and potential exposure for shipping companies and banks.

ivory seizure maps from C4ADS
ivory seizure maps from C4ADS

Two ivory seizure maps from C4ADS. Click images to access the data.

C4ADS further announced that it will provide analytical assistance to law enforcement and conservation groups that have raw trade data but lack the capabilities to analyze it. For example, if a local port authority uncovers a stash of unregistered rosewood or a NGO finds a cache of elephant ivory in a warehouse, C4ADS is offering to help figure out how the contraband links to criminal networks and the broader illegal wildlife supply chain.
“Central to the ‘fusion cell’ concept is the concept of collaboration,” Jackson told Mongabay. “This cell is designed to be supportive of others’ efforts in the field, a resource both conservationists and officials can lean on for objective data and analysis. We hope to become a bridge between the many different stakeholders who must all come together to help solve this very complex issue.”

Rhett A. Butler|May 15, 2015

Forestry

Citrus Greening Continues to Bite into Florida’s Signature Crop

Florida suffered another blow in its battle against citrus greening.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s grim estimate for the state’s $10.7 billion citrus industry, released Tuesday, claims the 2014-2015 Florida orange crop, responsible for 64,000 jobs, will yield just 96.4 million boxes of fruit. That’s down from last season’s 104 million boxes.

The state’s signature crop is fighting for its life against a bacterial disease with no cure.

The estimate released Tuesday represents a decline of 60 percent since the peak of citrus production at 244 million boxes in 1997-98.

In a year with no hurricanes, long freezes or other severe weather events, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam says it shows what a death grip citrus greening has on Florida’s orange groves.

“The updated citrus forecast, which has decreased by 5.6 million boxes since the April announcement, illustrates just how severely citrus greening is devastating Florida’s citrus industry,” Putnam said in a prepared statement.

“The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has requested $18 million this year to support research, to grow clean citrus stock and to remove and replant diseased trees. We will fight to save” Florida’s citrus industry, he vowed.

For the first time in 2013 the disease was found in all 32 counties where citrus is grown.

Citrus greening, introduced to Florida in 1998 probably through the Port of Miami, is spread by a vector called the Asian citrus psyllid — an insect no larger than the head of a pin. Infected trees produce misshapen, unmarketable and bitter fruit. Over time, it inhibits the tree’s ability to produce fruit. After becoming infected, trees usually die in three to five years.

The only way to control the disease is to remove the tree.

Researchers estimate that more than half of Florida’s citrus groves are infected with citrus greening.

Greening has crippled citrus production around the world, including in Asia and Africa, researchers at the University of Florida told The New York Times. A decade ago, psyllids were discovered in Brazil, which, with its abundant rural land, has tried to outrun the disease by removing countless trees and planting new acres. Florida is second in the world market only to Brazil in orange juice production.

Sunshine State News|May 13, 2015

11 of the World’s Most Threatened Forests

WWF report identifies regions at risk for catastrophic deforestation by 2030 and what must be done to save them

The Amazon, central Africa, the Mekong. These are home to some of the world’s most species-rich, culturally significant and stunningly beautiful forests. But large segments of these forests, and many others around , may not be there in 15 years if we don’t do more to save them.
A new WWF report identifies the 11 regions of the world where most forest loss is expected to occur by 2030 if we do not change the way we address major forest threats, such as mining, agriculture, illegal logging and road construction.

WWF believes that stopping deforestation now is much more strategic and cost-effective than dealing with the consequences of deforestation later. And we need to stop deforestation in all of the 11 hotspots, not just some of them, so that we avoid pushing deforestation out of one country and into another.

Below are 11 of the most threatened:

Amazon
The world’s largest forest is also the site of the biggest projected losses. More than one-quarter of the region will be without forests if trends continue. Cattle ranching and agriculture are the dominant causes of deforestation in most of the region.

Atlantic Forest/Gran Chaco
The Atlantic forest—spanning parts of Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina—is one of the richest rain forests in the world, with richer biodiversity per acre than the Amazon. However, the region also is where 75 percent of the Brazilian population lives, a situation that places a lot of pressure on the forests. Deforestation in the neighboring Gran Chaco, which is the largest dry forest in South America, is mainly due to conversion of forest land to cropland and pasture.

Borneo
Projections for 2030 for the “Heart of Borneo”—home to most of the country’s forest—show only 33 percent of the lowland rainforest remaining. Deforestation and degradation are driven by weak governance and a lack of stability that encourages people—especially those who want to create palm oil plantations—to get what they can while they can.

Cerrado
This high plateau region of Brazil is not nearly as well-known as the Amazon. But it is under just as threatened—mainly from cattle ranching and the conversion of forests to soy plantations. If the current rate of loss continues, much of the Cerrado’s savannah, woodland and forests outside of protected areas will disappear by 2030.

Choco-Darien
The forests in this region, which runs along South America’s northwestern Pacific coast, face pressure from roads, power lines, mining and oil exploration. Most deforestation has been in the Ecuadorian Choco but the Panama and Colombia portions of the region are increasingly under threat.

Congo Basin
One of the most important wilderness areas on Earth, this region contains 20 percent of the world’s tropical forests and the highest biological diversity in Africa. The human population here is expected to double between 2000 and 2030, mainly in urban areas. Forests close to large cities are particularly threatened.

Eastern Africa
Much of this region’s forests are overharvested (for timber and fuel wood), illegally logged or converted for livestock and cash crops. Deforestation cuts through the region’s miombo woodlands, coastal forests and mountain forests. The coastal forests of Tanzania and Kenya have already been reduced to 10 percent of their original area.

Eastern Australia
Despite a recent reduction in forest loss, a projected weakening of key legislation in the frontline states of Queensland and New South Wales threatens a resurgence in deforestation, mainly to create pasture for livestock. Key species affected include koalas, possums, gliders and tree-dependent birds.

Greater Mekong
The economy here is booming. With this comes an urgent need to balance conservation with economic development—particularly the desire to convert forest land for sugar, rice, rubber and biofuels. As more land is converted, the threat to species grows. This is a region rich in species. In 2011 alone, 126 new species were discovered here, including fish, snakes, frogs and bats.

New Guinea
New Guinea and its neighboring islands are home to the largest remaining tracts of tropical forest in the Asia-Pacific region—and more than six percent of the world’s species. But they face a growing deforestation threat—agriculture. The rate of deforestation could surge if current proposals for agricultural development are approved.

Sumatra
Sumatra, especially Riau province, has become the center of Indonesia’s palm oil production—the main industry driving deforestation, even in protected forests and national parks. The status of plans by some governments to stabilize and even reverse forest loss remains unclear, leaving tigers, orangutans, rhinos and other wildlife at risk.

Download the report.

Jill Schwartz|April 27, 2015

How Forest Fragmentation Threatens Biodiversity

The U.S. currently has 59 national parks, protecting more than 210,000 square miles of land with several more public lands being preserved on state and local levels. Very few national parks are large enough to contain ecosystems. Problems such as greenhouse gases, climate change, industrial fumes, the extent of land development and their environmental impacts were not envisioned when most of their borders were first enacted.

The physical boundaries of these public lands are not enough to protect their ecosystems from exterior influences. The National Parks are not islands. They have intimate connections to our lives. They are sources of clean air, clean water and untouched forests that thousands of species, including our own, depend on. New studies reveal that our public lands are too fragmented and small to sufficiently protect the biodiversity of the U.S.

A recent study—Habitat Fragmentation and Its Lasting Impact on Earth’s Ecosystems—on habitat fragmentation came to some startling conclusions for our country’s ecosystems, many of which our public lands were enacted to protect and conserve. The study conducted by some of the leading ecologists in the world focused on long term habitat fragmentation experiments in several different continents. They discovered that 70 percent of the existing forestlands in the world are within .5 mile of the forest’s edge, making them susceptible to suburban, urban and agricultural influences that continue to intrude further into forests everyday. These influences were found to reduce diversity of life by 13 to 75 percent in all areas studied, with the percentage increasing the closer the habitat to the edge. In fragmented habitats, within 20 years nearly half of all species are lost and this downward trend continues over time.

The leading author of the study, Dr. Nick Haddad of North Carolina explains, “Large public lands like national parks are critical for conservation, but not sufficient. Larger connected areas of land need to be conserved. The scope and scale of land needed to protect and preserve a variety of biodiversity is well beyond the area that the national parks encompass. Ideally, it would be great to enlarge national parks, but more realistically the size needed to protect biodiversity should connect other protected areas in conjunction with national parks.”

Haddad used the Yellowstone to Yukon corridor as an example. He states, “The 1,800 miles of lands stringed together consist of several national parks and other protected lands, creating a superhighway for wildlife to flourish. With human population increasing and the resources those increases call for, there is a greater need for more conservation against these pressures. We need to take advantage of the parks and other public lands, think outside their boundaries to create resilience and resist the negative changes of a shrinking wilderness.”

A co-author of the paper published on Habitat Fragmentation, Clinton Jenkins, also published a paper on April 2, U.S. Protected lands mismatch biodiversity priorities. Many areas with high concentrations of biodiversity in the U.S. are inadequately protected and conserved, especially when it comes to protecting unique species to specific geographical areas. “Most species are very small and endemic to very small geographical areas. These rare, narrowly distributed species, most often fish, reptiles, amphibians, are often overlooked when it comes to conservation,” said Jenkins.

The study found that the most endemic rich states in the continental U.S. exist in the southeast and despite consisting of 10.8 percent of the land area of the country, only 7.8 percent of the country’s land easements exist in these regions. Some priority areas cited are the middle to southern blue ridge mountains of North Carolina, the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Florida panhandle and Florida keys among several others. According to the paper, habitat loss is the primary threat to the survival of a species, and the lands being conserved in the U.S. are not geographically configured to distribution of endemic and vulnerable species.

Jenkins states, “It is a biological defined trend that heavily fragmented habitats are too small to thrive in the long term. Multiple strategies to connect these priority areas need to be implemented such as better land management and more incentives to private landowners for conservation. Financial resources are most often directed to the most convenient areas to conserve or where the funding originated rather than what makes the most sense in protecting biodiversity. By redirecting the financial resources available to conservation to connect endemic rich areas large enough to protect ecosystems, it will make it much cheaper and easier to maintain those areas.”

Michael Sainato|April 30, 2015 

Global Warming and Climate Change

Sea rise threatens Florida coast, but there’s no statewide plan to deal with it

ST. AUGUSTINE — America’s oldest city is slowly drowning.

St. Augustine’s centuries-old Spanish fortress and other national landmarks sit feet from the encroaching Atlantic, whose waters already flood the city’s narrow, brick-paved streets about 10 times a year — a problem worsening as sea levels rise. The city has long relied on tourism, but visitors to the fortress and Ponce de Leon’s mythical Fountain of Youth might someday have to wear waders at high tide.

“If you want to benefit from the fact we’ve been here for 450 years, you have the responsibility to look forward to the next 450,” said Bill Hamilton, a 63-year-old horticulturist whose family has lived in the city since the 1950s. “Is St. Augustine even going to be here? We owe it to the people coming after us to leave the city in good shape.”

St. Augustine is one of many chronically flooded communities along Florida’s 1,200-mile coastline, and officials in these diverse places share a common concern: They’re afraid their buildings and economies will be further inundated by rising seas in just a couple of decades. The effects are a daily reality in much of Florida. Drinking water wells are fouled by seawater. Higher tides and storm surges make for more frequent road flooding from Jacksonville to Key West, and they’re overburdening aging flood-control systems.

But the state has yet to offer a clear plan or coordination to address what local officials across Florida’s coast see as a slow-moving emergency. Republican Gov. Rick Scott is skeptical of manmade climate change and has put aside the task of preparing for sea level rise, an Associated Press review of thousands of emails and documents pertaining to the state’s preparations for rising seas found.

Despite warnings from water experts and climate scientists about risks to cities and drinking water, skepticism over sea-level projections and climate-change science has hampered planning efforts at all levels of government, the records showed. Florida’s environmental agencies under Scott have been downsized and retooled, making them less effective at coordinating sea-level-rise planning in the state, the documents showed.

“If I were governor, I’d be out there talking about it (sea -level rise) every day,” said Eric Buermann, the former general counsel to the Republican Party of Florida who also served as a water district governing board member.

“I think he’s really got to grab ahold of this, set a vision, a long-term vision, and rally the people behind it. Unless you’re going to build a sea wall around South Florida, what’s the plan?”

The issue presents a public works challenge that could cost billions here and nationwide. In the third-most populous U.S. state, where most residents live near a coast, municipalities say they need statewide coordination and aid to prepare for the costly road ahead.

Communities like St. Augustine can do only so much alone. If one city builds a seawall, it might divert water to a neighbor. Cities also lack the technology, money and manpower to keep back the seas by themselves.

In a brief interview with the AP in March, Scott wouldn’t address whether the state had a long-range plan. He cited his support for Everglades restoration and some flood-control projects as progress, but said cities and counties should contact environmental and water agencies to find answers — though Scott and a GOP-led Legislature have slashed billions in funding from those agencies. Spokespeople for the water districts and other agencies disputed that cuts have affected their abilities to plan.

“We will continue to make investments and find solutions to protect our environment and preserve Florida’s natural beauty for our future generations,” the governor said in a statement.

Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection is in charge of protecting the state environment and water, but has taken no official position on sea- level rise, according to documents. DEP spokeswoman Lauren Engel said the agency’s strategy is to aid local communities and others through the state’s routine beach-nourishment and water-monitoring programs.

In St. Augustine, downtown streets around 19th century buildings built by oil tycoon Henry Flagler often close during nor’easters because of flooding. While the city’s proximity to the sea has made flooding a problem, residents say it’s worsened over the past 15 to 20 years.

St. Augustine’s civil engineer says that the low-lying village will probably need a New Orleans-style pumping system to keep water out — but that but no one knows exactly what to do and the state’s been unhelpful.

“Only when the frequency of flooding increases will people get nervous about it, and by then it will be too late,” engineer Reuben Franklin said. “There’s no guidance from the state or federal level. … Everything I’ve found to help I’ve gotten by searching the Internet.”

Across coastal Florida, sea levels are rising faster than previously measured, according to federal estimates. In addition to more flooding at high tide, increasing sea levels also mean higher surges during tropical storms and hurricanes, and more inundation of drinking wells throughout Florida.

Water quality is a big concern for many communities. It’s especially bad in South Florida — just north of Miami, Hallandale Beach has abandoned six of eight drinking water wells because of saltwater intrusion. Wells in northeast and Central Florida are deemed at risk, too.

While South Florida water officials have led the charge in addressing sea level rise concerns in their area, their attempt to organize a statewide plan was met with indifference, documents show. The Scott administration has organized just a few conference calls to coordinate local efforts, records show. Those came only after Florida’s water district managers asked DEP for help.

In a recent visit to Everglades National Park, President Barack Obama said the wetlands, vital to Florida’s tourism economy and drinking-water supply, are threatened by infusions of saltwater from rising seas.

The list of other problems across the state is growing. Miami Beach is spending $400 million on new stormwater pumps to keep seawater from overwhelming an outdated sewer system.

In St. Augustine, homes built on sand dunes teeter over open space as erosion eats at the foundations. Beachside hotel owners worry about their livelihoods.

Tampa and Miami are particularly vulnerable to rising seas — many roads and bridges weren’t designed to handle higher tides, according to the National Climate Change Assessment. Officials say Daytona Beach roads, too, flood more often than in the 1990s.

South Miami passed a resolution calling for South Florida to secede from the more conservative northern half of the state so it could deal with climate change itself.

Insurance giant Swiss Re has estimated that the economy in southeast Florida could sustain $33 billion in damage from rising seas and other climate-related damage in 2030, according to the Miami-Dade Sea Level Rise Task Force.

Most towns say they cannot afford the cost of climate-change studies or regional coordination.

“For us, it’s a reality, it’s not a political issue,” said Courtney Barker, city manager of Satellite Beach. The town near Cape Canaveral used to flood during tropical weather, but now just a heavy rainstorm can make roads impassable for commuters.

“When you have to listen to that mantra, ‘Climate change, is it real or not?’ you kind of chuckle, because you see it,” Barker said.

Scott administration officials are moving forward on a five-year plan that will provide basic guidance to cities dealing with sea level rise. Scott has appointed the Department of Economic Opportunity as the lead agency overseeing the project.

The DEO has received nearly $1 million in federal grants for the plan. More than half has been spent on staff time and travel or hasn’t yet been allocated, according to documents. The rest, about $450,000, went to contract researchers who are helping create the document, due in 2016.

Agency spokeswoman Jessica Sims wouldn’t comment and refused requests for the program’s manager to be interviewed.

JASON DEAREN and JENNIFER KAY|Tampa Bay Times |Associated Press|May 10, 2015

3 Ways Scientists Are Affected by Climate Change Denial

It’s unfortunate yet not surprising that the current corporate-led disinformation campaign on climate change is convincing a large segment of the population that global warming is a bunch of hooey. What is surprising, though – and perhaps even more unfortunate – is that even scientists can fall victim to these same propaganda tactics.

The University of Bristol’s Professor Stephan Lewandowsky examined how scientists are impacted by the climate change pushback and found three ways in which they’re susceptible. As Lewandowsky discovered, even if scientists don’t actually change their opinions on climate change, the climate change denial backlash is often enough to scare them out of talking about the subject as thoroughly.

Here are the three main ways some scientists are influenced by the opposition:

1. “Pluralistic Ignorance”

When a small group of people speak loudly enough or receive equal credibility from the media, those in the majority can be fooled into thinking that they are actually part of the minority. This pluralistic ignorance then influences majority opinion holders from speaking out as much, assuming their opinion is somehow less valid.

We’ve definitely seen this play out in regards to climate change. Despite an overwhelming scientific consensus on the subject, pundits have continued to frame global warming as an ongoing, undecided debate. The fact that scientists have to participate in such debates is enough to cause experts to stifle their opinions. How do you convince the public of something you shouldn’t have to convince them of anymore?

2. “Stereotype Threat”

When people are labeled in a certain unappealing way, they tend to avoid the behaviors that get them labeled as such, also known as the stereotype threat.

The rightwing media has done a “good” (though unethical) job of labeling scientists who expose the consequences of climate change as “alarmists,” “liars” or people trying to push some sort of agenda. As a result scientists are more likely to hold back in future communications with the media to avoid being called out in the same way.

That’s not just theoretical either. Other independent studies have verified that scientists who have been called “alarmist” later underplay their reports or hold back on just how dire the situation is in subsequent public statements. In that sense, the pushback against climate science is successfully stifling scientists, even if they don’t realize it.

3. “Third Person Effect”

The third person effect is the mistaken belief that other people are more susceptible to outside manipulation than we are ourselves. In reality, though, all people have their opinions swayed by external pressures, even if they’d like to think they’re above it.

Yes, this goes for scientists, too. Research shows that scientists are not immune to outside influence, even with a wealth of data in front of them. It doesn’t matter that scientifically experts realize that climate change denial is wrong; if they hear that message enough, there’s a good chance that at least some of that will linger in their subconscious.

The Silver Lining?

The good news is that scientists pay more attention to peer-reviewed research than your average schmo, so a study like this one might go a long way to keep scientists conscious of these issues. “Knowing about one’s own susceptibility to outside pressure is half the battle: our research may therefore enable scientists to recognize the potential for this seepage of contrarian arguments into their own language and thinking,” said Lewandowsky.

Hopefully, scientists will be aware of these issues enough to minimize the likelihood of being swayed and/or silenced by climate change deniers. Environmentalists need scientists to convey the truth about climate change and its impact on the future of the world. After all, if even scientists aren’t immune from these falsified arguments, what hope is there for the rest of us?

Kevin Mathews|May 11, 2015

The oldest city in the U.S. could be totally screwed by rising seas

Rising seas are about to engulf the oldest city in the U.S., and it doesn’t look like anyone’s going to do anything about it. That’s because the city of St. Augustine happens to be in Florida, where pythons roam free, Mickey Mouse is king, and climate change doesn’t exist.

St. Augustine is home to Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth, an old military fortress, and — like any respectable historical site — plenty of brick roads and old buildings. The 450-year-old national landmark also happens to be one of many cities along Florida’s coast getting increasingly worried about rising seas — a curious trend, given the state’s exemption from a certain global phenomenon.

To figure out what the state plans to do about these mysterious rising seas, Associated Press reporters sifted through thousands of state documents and emails. Here’s what they found:

Despite warnings from water experts and climate scientists about risks to cities and drinking water, skepticism over sea level projections and climate change science has hampered planning efforts at all levels of government, the records showed. Florida’s environmental agencies under [Gov. Rick] Scott have been downsized and retooled, making them less effective at coordinating sea level rise planning in the state, the documents showed.

“If I were governor, I’d be out there talking about it (sea level rise) every day,” said Eric Buermann, the former general counsel to the Republican Party of Florida who also served as a water district governing board member. “I think he’s really got to grab ahold of this, set a vision, a long-term vision, and rally the people behind it. Unless you’re going to build a sea wall around South Florida, what’s the plan?”

What’s the plan, indeed, Gov. Scott? The AP found that local officials in St. Augustine and elsewhere are trying to adapt to rising seas but are pretty much on their own:

Cities like St. Augustine have looked for help, but Scott’s disregard for climate change science has created a culture of fear among state employees, records show.

The administration has been adamant that employees, including scientists, not “assign cause” in public statements about global warming or sea level rise, internal government emails show.

For example, an April 28, 2014, email approving a DEP [Department of Environmental Protection] scientist’s request to participate in a National Geographic story came with a warning: “Approved. Make no claims as to cause … stay with the research you are doing, of course,” the DEP manager, Pamela Phillips, warned.

“I know the drill,” responded Mike Shirley, manager of the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve near St. Augustine.

Agency spokeswoman Engel said Phillips was a lower-level staffer whose views didn’t necessarily reflect the entire administration. When asked whether staffers are told not to assign cause, Scott’s office said “the allegations are not true.”

Bigger cities like Tampa and Miami are also up the creek without a state-issued paddle. According to the AP, South Miami is so worried that it called for the southern half of Florida to secede from the rest of the state, leaving its northern brethren to their own self-destructive devices.

In a place like St. Augustine, rising sea levels will certainly wreak less economic havoc than in a big city like Miami, but wouldn’t the loss of America’s oldest city mean something? Is a band ever the same after losing its original lead?

Suzanne Jacobs11 May 2015

What Americans Really Think About Climate Change

With the Presidential Election starting to gain traction, climate change is once again in the political limelight. Given the circumstances, wouldn’t it be interesting to see where Americans stand on climate change?

Fortunately, Yale and Utah State University have teamed up to answer this exact question. They recently published a research project where they sought out to find out what Americans actually think about climate change and the results may surprise you.

Researchers surveyed 13,000 people asking them several questions regarding climate change based on beliefs, risk perception and policy support. For instance a person could be asked whether or not they believe in global warming, whether or not they are worried about global warming and whether or not they supported green energy initiatives.

The findings show that the topic is far more complex than we imagine it to be. While some results may be obvious, others were very unexpected.

There is a lot of diversity on the topic.

While the findings show that California clearly cares about climate change more than the rest of the country, the truth is that it’s not so simple. The reality is there seems to be a lot of diversity regarding the topic of climate change. Opinions vary widely on a local, county and state level.

Recent news stories seem to coincide with these findings. One such is example is Florida. The South Florida region (Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties) are very concerned about climate change due to rising sea levels, floods and their close proximity to the Evergaldes. Meanwhile Florida Governor Rick Scott refuses to even acknowledge it’s existence. At one point the words “climate change” were even banned from state communications.

The diversity can even be seen among counties within close proximity to each other. According to Yale and Utah State’s findings, it’s not uncommon for neighboring counties to differ by 10 to 20 percent.

We can’t agree on whether climate change is caused by humans.

As a nation, 63 percent of Americans believe that climate change is occurring, however only 43 percent think it’s caused by humans.

The good news is that Americans are starting to believe in climate change more and more. Public belief about climate change and concerns regarding the phenomenon have been on the rise since January.

States who have experienced extreme weather are at the forefront of the climate change debate.

California, Hawaii, Vermont and Massachusetts are the four states most concerned with climate change, with at least 50 percent of the population in each county citing that climate change was a major issue.

This isn’t surprising given California’s recent drought and the record-breaking winter just experienced by residents of New England.

A state’s political reputation doesn’t mean anything.

The research study found that while Texas is typically seen as a hard-core conservative red state, a lot of people in Texas are extremely concerned about climate change.

Southwest Texas in particular showed a lot of diversity when it came to the climate change debate. Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change, theorizes that the heavy Latino population in Southwest Texas could account for the results. He cites previous research that shows Latinos are far more concerned about climate change. Additionally, surveys conducted in Central and South America have shown that these countries are more concerned about climate change than most other countries.

Conclusion

While the results are varied, it would seem that Americans are moving toward believing that climate change is a big problem. Whether it’s because of extreme weather or because elections are looming, who knows? The bigger picture is the landscape is clearly changing.

Amanda Abella|May 13, 2015

10,000-Year-Old Antarctic Ice Shelf Could Disappear Before Decade’s End, NASA Study Finds

In 2002, two-thirds of the Larsen B Ice Shelf, located along the east coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, collapsed in a span of less than six weeks. According to a new NASA study, the remains of this ancient structure, which has existed for over 10,000 years, are likely to disintegrate completely before the end of the decade — an event that would significantly contribute to global sea level rise.

“These are warning signs that the remnant is disintegrating,” Ala Khazendar from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, who led the study, said in a statement. “Although it’s fascinating scientifically to have a front-row seat to watch the ice shelf becoming unstable and breaking up, it’s bad news for our planet.”

Several recent studies have spotted an uptick in the melting of Antarctica’s floating ice shelves, which act as doorstops and hold back its glaciers and ice sheets from spreading outward into oceans. In some regions, the thickness of these shelves has fallen by as much as 18 percent over the past 18 years — a process that has accelerated over the last decade.

According to the predictions by Khazendar’s team, which used the data collected as part of NASA’s Operation IceBridge, widening cracks along the shelf’s grounding line would eventually lead to the Larsen B remnant breaking off completely from the Peninsula. This free-floating chunk — about 625 square miles in area and about 1,640 feet thick at its thickest point — would then shatter into hundreds of smaller icebergs.

Larsen B Aerial photographs taken in February and March 2002 of parts of the Larsen B shelf in the Antarctic showing different aspects of the final stages of the collapse.  Reuters

“What is really surprising about Larsen B is how quickly the changes are taking place,” Khazendar said in the statement. The fastest moving part of the Flask Glacier, one of the shelf’s tributary glaciers, had accelerated 36 percent between 2002 and 2012. “Change has been relentless,” he said.

According to some estimates, if Antarctica’s ice sheet melts completely, it would raise sea levels by over 200 feet — enough to flood the planet’s land masses. Although this is not something that is likely to happen anytime soon, the latest observation is one of the many pointing toward a warming trend on the continent.

Avaneesh Pandey|ibtimes.com|May 15 2015

Extreme Weather

Tropical weather season arrives early in Carolinas

Ana is expected to hit land Sunday

Tropical Storm Ana — arriving three weeks before the official start of the Atlantic hurricane season — was pushing toward the Carolinas and could make landfall early Sunday, bringing high winds and flooding, the National Hurricane Center said Saturday.

Ana was moving toward the U.S. mainland at 3 mph, with a final turn expected to put the center on track for landfall near the South Carolina-North Carolina border.

As of 5 p.m. EDT, the storm was about 65 mph southeast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and had maximum sustained winds of 60 mph.

With tropical-storm-force winds stretching 125 miles from the center, Ana (pronounced AHN-nah) was packing 60 mph winds with higher gusts.

The National Hurricane Center said the first tropical storm conditions were likely to rake an area from South Santee River in South Carolina to Cape Lookout, North Carolina, by Saturday evening.

The storm surge and tide were expected to push water as much as 2 feet above normal high-tide levels as far north as Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.

Ana was expected to dump 1 to 3 inches of rain — and up to 5 inches in some areas — over eastern portions of North Carolina and South Carolina through Monday.

The Atlantic hurricane season officially runs from June 1 to Nov. 30. The hurricane center said Ana was the earliest subtropical (or tropical) storm to form in the Atlantic basin since a previous Ana, in 2003.

Doug Stanglin and Doyle Rice|USA TODAY|5/10/15

From Rockies east, storms cast wide net

South Dakota was the center of weather extremes Sunday, with a tornado damaging a small town on the eastern side of the state and more than a foot of snow blanketing the Black Hills to the west.

Several Great Plains and Midwest states were in the path of severe weather, including in North Texas, where the National Weather Service said a likely tornado damaged roofs and trees near Denton.

At the same time, a tropical storm came ashore in the Carolinas, and wintry weather also affected parts of Colorado.

Tropical Storm Ana made landfall near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, on Sunday morning and was downgraded to a tropical depression by Sunday afternoon. The storm’s maximum sustained winds were at 35 mph, and it was expected to move over eastern North Carolina on Sunday night.

In South Dakota, weather service meteorologist Philip Schumacher said law enforcement reported a tornado about 10:45 a.m. Sunday in Delmont — about 90 miles from Sioux Falls.

Delmont Fire Chief Elmer Goehring said there “have been some injuries,” and Avera Health spokeswoman Lindsey Meyers said three people were in good condition at a local hospital. No deaths were reported.

South Dakota Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Kristi Turman said about 20 buildings were damaged and the town has no water, power or phones.

“One side of town was taken away,” Delmont resident Anita Mathews said. S he said a large Lutheran church had been heavily damaged as well as a new fire hall.

In North Texas, a likely tornado ripped roofs off buildings and damaged trees near Denton, about 40 miles northwest of Dallas, National Weather Service meteorologist Tom Bradshaw said.

About 100 miles west of Fort Worth, people in the sparsely populated ranching and farming community of Cisco were left to clean up from Saturday’s tornado that left one person dead and another in critical condition. Cisco Fire Department spokesman Phillip Truitt said the two people were near each other.

The weather service said that torna­do was rated an EF-3, with winds ranging from 136 mph to 165 mph. At least six buildings were damaged south of Cisco, as well as six others near Lake Leon, Truitt said.

A strong line of storms moved through the Dallas-Fort Worth area Sunday morning, forcing significant delays and a total of 100 flight cancellations at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and Dallas Love Field Airport.

Forecasters issued tornado watches through Sunday evening for parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Iowa, South Dakota, Nebraska and Minnesota.

Farther north, a late-season snow fell in parts of the Rockies, western Nebraska and western South Dakota.

Weather service meteorologist Kyle Carstens said 10-18 inches of snow had fallen Sunday morning in the Black Hills, and totals could reach 20-24 inches by the time the system moves out. Rapid City, South Dakota, had 8-11 inches, accompanied by 20-30 mph winds.

Nearly 18 inches of snow fell in southern Colorado, a state that also saw hail, flooding and tornado warnings over the weekend.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

DEADLY STORMS ROAR THROUGH TORNADO ALLEY

String of tornadoes, warnings puts large swath of US on alert

A massive cleanup and hunt for the missing were underway Monday after a line of tornadoes and wild storms roared through the nation’s Tornado Alley, killing five people and injuring dozens. More than two dozen tornadoes ripped through parts of Arkansas, Iowa, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas on Sunday, National Weather Service meteorologist Greg Carbin said. The storms were the latest in a string of recent deadly storms. A tornado Saturday near Cisco, Texas, killed one person.

“We’ve had at least one tornado reported somewhere in the nation every day since May 2,” Carbin said. “It’s a dangerous time of year.”

More tornadoes hit the U.S. in May than any other month, the weather service said.

Tornadoes were possible in southern Texas and around the Great Lakes for later Monday, he said. A tornado watch had been posted for Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Kentucky.

In Van, Texas, Van Zandt County Fire Marshal Chuck Allen said a man and a woman died and 43 people were taken to hospitals after a tornado tore through the county Sunday night. Three people remained missing.

The tornado that tore through Van was rated an EF-3, the weather service reported Monday afternoon. Its winds were estimated at 135-140 mph. About 30 percent of the city received some kind of damage, and 50 people in the town of 2,700 sought shelter with the American Red Cross, Allen said.

County Judge Don Kirkpatrick thanked the public for the outpouring of support.

“We are working very hard to get Van back to normal,” Kirkpatrick said. “Van is a strong city, a strong community. We will rebuild.”

The storm was part of severe weather that stretched across North Texas on Sunday. Another likely tornado ripped roofs off buildings and damaged trees near Denton, about 40 miles northwest of Dallas, weather service meteorologist Tom Bradshaw said.

In Corsicana, Texas, a man died after being being swept into a ditch after leaving his car in floodwaters, WFAA-TV in Dallas-Fort Worth reported.

Two people died in Nashville, Arkansas, when a possible tornado rolled through Howard County late Sunday, County Coroner John Gray told THV11.com in Little Rock. Michael and Melissa Mooneyhan died shielding their baby girl, who survived the storm, authorities said. In South Dakota, the 200plus population of Delmont was evacuated after a tornado that injured nine people, the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls reported.

John Bacon & Doyle Rice, USA Today|May 11, 2015

Genetically Modified Organisms

11 Ways to Eliminate Genetically-Modified Food from the Planet

By now you may have heard that the state of Vermont was victorious against the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and other industry groups in upholding their law requiring genetically-modified foods (GMOs) to be labeled as such. A victory for Vermont is a victory for us all when it comes to our right to know what we’re eating. But that doesn’t mean we should all sit back. It’s more important than ever to take a stand against genetically-modified organisms and the purity and safety of our food supply. Here are 12 things you can do to help eliminate GMOs from the planet:

1) Boycott the most common genetically-modified foods as much as possible. These foods include: corn, canola, soy, alfalfa, sugar beets, milk, zucchini and yellow crookneck squash.

2) Buy certified organic food wherever possible.

3) When buying packaged foods choose those with the “Non-GMO Project Verified” logo. The Non-GMO Project is a non-profit organization whose mandate is to preserve and build the non-GMO food supply, educate consumers, and provide third-party verified non-GMO choices.

4) Write to your local, state/provincial, and federal politicians asking them to defend your right to know what’s in the food you buy, the importance of proper genetically-modified foods labeling, and the safety and security of your food supply. Better yet, ask them to ban genetically-modified foods altogether. Many countries have banned genetically-modified organisms altogether, including: Switzerland, Australia, Austria, China, India, France, Germany, Hungary, Luxembourg, Greece, Bulgaria, Poland, Italy, and Russia.

5) Write to your local newspaper, radio station, and television to let them know your concern about the health and environmental safety of genetically-modified organisms and your right to know what’s in the food you buy. Remind them of the importance of “journalistic integrity”—that advertisers not influence editorial content.

6) Start a petition asking your local health food and grocery stores to ban genetically-modified foods.

7) Sign a petition on Care2 against GMOs.

8) Donate to organizations that inform the public and fight against genetically-modified foods, such as the Organic Consumers Association.

9) Share information you read about genetically-modified foods with your friends, family, and neighbors.

10) Plant only organic seeds or seedlings in your garden, planters, or indoors.

11) Stop buying and using products like Roundup and other highly toxic herbicides and pesticides. The money from Roundup goes directly into the hands of Monsanto which has a history of suing organic farmers in their effort to promote their own genetically-modified seeds.

The battle against GMOs is stronger than ever. Together we can make a huge difference to the safety and security of our food supply as well as our collective health and the health of our planet.

Michelle Schoffro Cook|May 9, 2015

Health Disaster in the Making: Hundreds of Schools Are Next to Fields Doused by Monsanto’s Toxic Weed Killers

Prepare yourself for “superweeds.”

Genetically engineered crops, or GMOs, have led to an explosion in growers’ use of herbicides, with the result that children at hundreds of elementary schools across the country go to class close by fields that are regularly doused with escalating amounts of toxic weed killers.

GMO corn and soybeans have been genetically engineered to withstand being blasted with glyphosate – an herbicide that the World Health Organization recently classified as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” The proximity of many schools to fields blanketed in the chemical puts kids at risk of exposure.

But it gets worse.

Overreliance on glyphosate has spawned the emergence of “superweeds” that resist the herbicide, so now producers of GMO crops are turning to even more harmful chemicals. First up is 2,4-D, a World War II-era defoliant that has been linked to non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Parkinson’s disease and reproductive problems. Young children are especially vulnerable to it.

A new EWG interactive map shows the amounts of glyphosate sprayed in each U.S. county and tallies the 3,247 elementary schools that are located within 1,000 feet of a corn or soybean field and the 487 schools that are within 200 feet. Click on any county on the map to see how much GMO corn and soy acreage has increased there as well as the number of nearby elementary schools.

The 15 states outlined on the map across the center of the country are the ones where the Environmental Protection Agency has approved the use of Dow AgroSciences’ Enlist Duo – a combination of glyphosate and 2,4-D – on GMO corn and soybeans engineered to tolerate both weed killers.

The chart shows the 10 states with the most elementary schools within 1,000 feet of a corn or soybean field. These states account for 53 percent of the total acreage planted with genetically engineered GMO corn and soy. EPA has approved the use of Enlist Duo in seven of them.

The inescapable connection between GMO crops and increased use of toxic herbicides is one reason why many people want to know whether the products they buy contain GMOs. Polls show that more than 90 percent of consumers favor labeling GMOs, but without a mandatory labeling law, they have no way to know for sure.

Methodology:

EWG approximated school locations using the ESRI (www.esri.com) landmark shape file for schools, derived from the U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System – Schools layer. These are considered the best available data for school locations. The data were filtered to the best of EWG’s knowledge to include only locations whose attributed name reflects an operating elementary school, but they may inadvertently include some free-standing school administrative offices or buildings that formerly housed schools but are now in other use.
Zones within 200 feet and 1,000 feet of each school were delineated using the school’s point location in the ESRI data, not the physical footprint of the school grounds. As a result, EWG’s analysis may over- or under-estimate the exact distance of school grounds to the boundaries of nearby corn or soybean fields. School locations were evaluated for proximity to the boundaries of corn and soybean fields as delineated in the USDA 2013 cropland data layer (30-meter resolution).
EWG acknowledges that spatial analyses of this kind may include some level of error (such as incorrect or outdated school or crop field locations or boundaries) even with standard, best available data sources. EWG welcomes information to revise and correct any locational errors in the underlying data.

Data on estimated glyphosate use was drawn from the U.S. Geological Survey’s Estimated Annual Agricultural Pesticide Use for Counties of the Conterminous United States (2008-2012 & 1992-2009). According to the USGS, “Pesticide use estimates from this study are suitable for making national, regional, and watershed assessments of annual pesticide use, however the reliability of estimates generally decreases with scale.”

Data on the acreage of genetically modified corn and soybeans were assembled by extrapolating from county-planted acreage using state percentages of biotech varieties by crop, as reported by the USDA. For corn, state level “herbicide resistant” + “stacked gene” varieties were used to extrapolate county-level planted acreage. If a state was not specifically listed in the USDA NASS Acreage Report, the category “Other” was used in the extrapolation. For soybeans, the state-level “all biotech varieties” was used to extrapolate planted acres at the county level. If a state was not specifically listed in the USDA NASS Acreage Report, the category “Other” was used in the county extrapolation.

Mary Ellen Kustin, Soren Rundquist|Environmental Working Group|May 9, 2015

10 Things You May Not Know About GMOs

Confused about GMOs? Are you constantly bombarded with news that GMOs are harmful and then turn around a few minutes later to read they are not harmful and safe? There is no question GMOs (Soy, corn, cotton, canola, sugar beets, alfalfa, papaya, squash) are front and center in many food conversations and news sources. I have put a quick list of some GMO facts that you may not know:

1) GMOs is not a food. GMOs (genetically modified organism) are a breeding technology. Sometimes when I talk with people about GMOs, I get the feeling they really don’t know what GMOs are. So let’s start with these three fast facts:

  • GMOs are not Monsanto.
  • GMOs are not Round Up or Glyphosate.
  • GMOs are not chemicals.

So exactly what is GMO? Our food has been genetically modified for thousands of years. GMO technology allows us to be more precise in the genetic modifications. According to a Popular Science article – “Scientists extract a bit of DNA from an organism, modify or make copies of it, and incorporate it into the genome of the same species or a second one. They do this by either using bacteria to deliver the new genetic material, or by shooting tiny DNA-coated metal pellets into plant cells with a gene gun. While scientists can’t control exactly where the foreign DNA will land, they can repeat the experiment until they get a genome with the right information in the right place. That process allows for greater precision. With GMOs, we know the genetic information we are using, we know where it goes in the genome, and we can see if it is near an allergen or a toxin.”

2) Herbicide resistant weeds, or “superweeds” are not caused by GMOs. The reason we have “superweeds” is because weeds continually change to resist pesticides. Superweeds are not new.  Weeds have always changed (on their own) to resist pesticides. What would happen if they didn’t? Weeds would be extinct.

Yes, farmers have relied on Round Up (glyphosate) for quite a few years because it was so effective, low cost and much safer than other pesticides. But as weeds do, they are becoming resistant to Round Up. The solution? Farmers have been slacking. They need to continually change their weed plan, using several methods including crop rotation and other pesticide control measure, to combat weed pressures in their fields.

3) The medical community also uses GMOs. Perhaps the most popular is insulin, which is used by million every single day. Other medical uses of genetically engineering is drug treatments for cancer, Alzheimer’s and cystic fibrosis. Our world is much better because of these medical treatments – all which are genetically modified organisms.

4) GMOs do happen in nature. The sweet potato was modified, in nature, some 8000 years ago. Soil bacteria entered the plant and modified the sweet potato plant. According to Jan Kreuze, “People have been eating a GMO for thousands of years without knowing it.”

5) Europe IS importing feed/food that has used the GMO technology. One issue that is constantly brought up by consumers is Europe has banned GMOs. And then it is always followed up with, “why doesn’t the U.S. do the same?” The reality is Europe never banned GMOs (only two countries have outright banned GMOs), but rather, had not approved them. The EU has now authorized the importation of 17 GMOs for food/feed uses.

6) GMO’s are not causing the increase in food allergies. Food allergies are mostly caused by eight major food products – milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish. All GMO foods are required to be tested extensively for these eight food products and biotech developers work closely with the FDA to assure any new GMO foods do not produce any new allergens. And, perhaps, the coolest thing about this technology is we can use the biotechnology to remove known allergens from foods. Imagine a world where someone can eat peanuts without the “peanut allergen.”

7) Long Term Studies on GMOs. Probably the most common statement I have seen or read is, “There are no long term studies on GMOs.” There have been GMO studies done on animals where the results show no negative effects on animals. And then the question also becomes, what is considered long term? For the naysayers, there will be no amount of time that will satisfy them. In addition, there have never been long-term studies required on any other new seed variety or crop. GMOs are the only crops that require extensive pre-marketing scrutiny. And think all natural plant foods are always good for us? Think about rhubarb leaves and pits of peaches – all which are poisonous to humans.

8) GMOs only affect 1-4 genes, where traditional breeding plants affect 10,000 – >300,000 genes. And the 1-4 genes that are changed? Scientists know everything there is to know about them.

Plant Breeding Chart

Plant Breeding Chart

9) GMOs = Sustainability. Using GMO technology allows farmers to use less pesticides. Less pesticides = good for people and the environment. Not only do farmers use less pesticides, but newer GMO varieties include a drought tolerant trait where plants require less water.  There is also the possibility of GMO plants using nitrogen already present in the soil as a nutrient. Presently, plants have a hard to time accessing and using the nitrogen already present in the soils. Biotechnology possibilities are endless.

10) Farmers care. Farmers really do care about what they grow. Our goal is to grow safe, affordable food. Farmers rely on expert advice that helps them determine the best seeds to plant. We can plant whatever seed we choose. We are not forced into any seed choices or seed companies.

Farmers choose to plant biotech seeds. We do need to sign a technology agreement that says we cannot save any seed back to plant for future years. We know that and understand that. Personally, we have farmed for over 35 years and we have never held back any seed to be used for the following growing season. And, finally, our farm field (where GMO corn and soybeans are grown) is literally in my backyard. Why would we grow something dangerous to our health right in our backyards? We really do care. We know GMOs are not the only solution, but just a single tool in our farming toolbox. And it seems farming requires multiple tools and I also believe our “toolbox” will continue to grow in the future.

wpatsche@gmail.com|May 12, 2015

[Yes, farmers do care – it is the producers of the herbicides that do not care.]

Monsanto Bets $45 Billion on a Pesticide-Soaked Future

Once an industrial-chemical titan, GMO seed giant Monsanto has rebranded itself as a “sustainable agriculture company.” Forget such classic post-war corporate atrocities as PCB and dioxin—the modern Monsanto “uses plant breeding and biotechnology to create seeds that grow into stronger, more resilient crops that require fewer resources,” as the company’s website has it.

That rhetoric may have to change, though, if Monsanto succeeds in buying its Swiss rival, pesticide giant Syngenta. On Friday, Syngenta’s board rejected a $45 billion takeover bid. But that’s hardly the end of the story. Tuesday afternoon, Syngenta’s share price was holding steady at a level about 20 percent higher than it was before Monsanto’s bid—an indication that investors consider an eventual deal quite possible. As The Wall Street Journal’s Helen Thomas put it, the Syngenta board’s initial rejection of Monsanto’s overture may just be a way of saying, “This deal makes sense, but Syngenta can hold out for more.”

The logic for the deal is simple: Syngenta is Monsanto’s perfect complement. Monsanto ranks as the globe’s largest purveyor of seeds (genetically modified and otherwise), alongside a relatively small chemical division (mainly devoted to the herbicide Roundup), which makes up just a third of its $15.8 billion in total sales.

Syngenta, meanwhile, is the globe’s largest pesticide purveyor, with a relatively small sideline in GMO seeds that accounts for a fifth of its $15.1 billion in total sales.

Combined, the two companies would form a singular agribusiness behemoth, a company that controls a third of both the globe’s seed and pesticides markets. To make the deal fly with US antitrust regulators, Syngenta would likely have to sell off its substantial corn and soybean seed business, as well its relatively small glyphosate holdings, in order to avoid direct overlap with Monsanto’s existing market share, the financial website Seeking Alpha reports. So the combined company would have somewhat smaller market share than what’s portrayed below:

In trying to swallow Syngenta, Monsanto is putting its money where its mouth isn’t—that is, it’s contradicting years of rhetoric about how its ultimate goal with biotech is to wean farmers off agrichemicals. The company has two major money-making GM products on the market: crops engineered to carry the insecticide Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, which is toxic to certain insects but not to humans; and crops engineered to withstand the herbicide glyphosate, an herbicide Monsanto sells under the brand name Roundup.

Syngenta is the main US supplier of the herbicide atrazine, which has come under heavy suspicion as an endocrine-disrupting chemical.

The company markets both as solutions to farmers’ reliance on toxic chemicals. Bt crops “allow farmers to protect their crops while eliminating or significantly decreasing the amount of pesticides sprayed,” Monsanto’s website declares; and its Roundup Ready products have” allowed farmers to … decrease the overall use of herbicides.”

Both of these claims have withered as Monsanto’s products have come to dominate US farm fields. Insects and weeds have evolved to resist them. Farmers have responded by unleashing a gusher of pesticides—both higher doses of Monsanto’s Roundup, and other, more-toxic chemicals as Roundup has lost effectiveness.

Monsanto’s lunge for Syngenta and its vast pesticide portfolio signals that the company thinks more of the same is in the offing.

One immediate winner would be the Monsanto’s formidable PR department. Battle-tested by years of defending the company from attacks against GMOs and also from the World Health Organization’s recent finding that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans,” the department would also find plenty of opportunity to flex its muscles if Syngenta came on board.

Syngenta is the main US supplier of the herbicide atrazine, which has come under heavy suspicion as an endocrine-disrupting chemical that messes with frogs’ genitalia and seeps into people’s drinking water. Syngenta is also one of two dominant purveyors of neonicotinoids—blockbuster insecticides (annual global sales: $2.6 billion) that have been substantially implicated in declining health of honeybees and other pollinators, birds, and water-borne animals. Both atrazine and neonics are currently banned in Europe, and widely, albeit controversially, used in the US.

All of which would make it ironic if, as some observers have speculated, Monsanto hopes to use the deal as an excuse to move its corporate HQ to Syngenta’s home base in Europe, in order to avoid paying US taxes.

Tom Philpott|May 13, 2015

Chipotle and the Empty Science of GMO’s

Last week,  Chipotle Mexican Grill proudly announced their decision to cook their food with only non-GMO ingredients, becoming the first major fast food chain in America to do so. The action was applauded by health food activists, environmentalists and many of Chipotle’s average consumers.

While Chipotle’s decision to uphold its corporate values and  desire to deliver a high quality product to consumers is certainly laudable, I cannot help but feel that it is ultimately an unscientific decision that places unfounded health concerns onto GMOs.

There are lots of complexities in food science, particularly surrounding GMOs but Chipotle’s wholesale abandonment of GMOs does nothing to actually educate the public well.

The first reason Chipotle gave for not using GMOs was that “scientists are still studying the long term implications of GMOs” and also that they believe scientific consensus has not been reached on the safety of them. In fact, a wide variety of organizations including the American Medical Association, the National Academies of Science, the World Health Organization and many other scientific organizations have all given their approval to GMOs.

The attempt by Chipotle to paint the scientific community’s response as a non-consensus, whether out of ignorance or malicious intent, is similar to the efforts of climate change deniers to create the appearance that an intense debate still exists amongst scientists — which is simply not happening.

Chipotle’s second reason was that “the cultivation of GMOs can harm the environment.” Now, this reason is actually incredibly reasonable; in fact, the heavy use of pesticides on  pesticide-resistant GMOs has been tied to the mass die-off of  beneficial insects like butterflies and bees. The devastating population reduction of insects like these could severely impact both the natural environment and large-scale food production in the U.S.

However, the issues relating to pesticide use on GMO crops is fundamentally an issue with farm management on the part of corporate and private growers. The issue is that these farmers continue to use massive amounts of incredibly harmful pesticides on their crops despite the severe environmental stress it causes.

GMOs themselves are not  necessarily harming the environmental. If farmers chose to plant their fields with GMOs that produced their own insecticides, it could drastically reduce the amount of pesticides used in farming and thus prevent harmful chemicals from making their way into waterways and needlessly killing insects and natural flora.

The third reason Chipotle gave for discontinuing the use of GMOs in their food was that believed, “Chipotle should be a place where people can eat food made with non-GMO ingredients.” Ultimately, that’s not something that can be wholly criticized. Yes, it may not be a good thing that Chipotle is potentially feeding into the unreasonable fears of people who don’t know much about GMOs, but Chipotle can do what they want with their business.

Despite this decision, Chipotle has not completely removed GMOs from their food and drink. While their beef is one hundred percent grass fed, much of their dairy and other meats have come from animals that have been fed “at least some GMO feed.” Funny that much of their soda utilizes corn syrup, which is, in their words, “almost always made from GMO corn.”

Discussions about both practices and ethics in the agricultural and food industries is undoubtedly necessary, but they should not be confused with the scientific issue of GMOs. Companies like Monsanto, Dow, and other industrialized agro-businesses  and chemical companies certainly have a lot of issues to answer for — many of them involving the intense environmental and personal issues they have caused. The debate over GMOs, however, is a red herring that prevents legitimate discussions from taking place.

Legitimate discussions concerning pesticide usage and other practices have nothing to do with the frankly marginal issue of GMOs. Imagine the amount of good that could be done if people cared as much about the effects of Agent Orange on Vietnamese civilians and U.S. veterans as they did about the health effects of adding a precursor to Vitamin A in rice. Imagine what could be done if the “healthy” consumer eating a thousand-calorie beef burrito were less concerned with whether the cow in it ate GMO corn and was more concerned with the disposal of toxic chemicals in creeks in Alabama. GMOs are not even close to being the biggest issues that these industrialized agro-businesses should be addressing.

Chipotle’s desire to act with transparency is something that should be lauded, despite the way they’ve chosen to go about it. Chipotle has shown more regard for consumers than many businesses do, particularly agro-businesses. Consumers have the right to know what ingredients are going into their food and Chipotle should be given credit for giving consumers information on their food.

At least Chipotle recognizes that they still have work to do and at least they let consumers know what GMO products remain. Hopefully Chipotle sincerely works to remove GMOs from the products completely, lest they be proven to be  hypocrites only using an anti-GMO stance as a cheap marketing ploy to make money.

Chipotle has the right to what they want with their business, but a lot of their logic is faulty at worst, or contentious at best. I disagree with their decision to forego the use of GMO but I applaud their decision to act transparently for their consumers. Ultimately, I know that I will continue to eat at Chipotle because their burritos are delicious — GMO or not.

Roy Lyle|May 10, 2015

They Are Biocides, Not Pesticides — And They Are Creating an Ecocide

“A single corn kernel coated with a neonicotinoid can kill a song bird.” As a long time environmental lawyer and campaigner, I should not have been stunned by that fact but I was. Shaking my head in dismay, I read on, “Even a tiny grain of wheat or canola treated with the …neonicotinoid… can fatally poison a bird.”

The report is from the American Bird Conservancy and the neonicotinoids referred to are a relatively new class of insecticides that have become the most commonly used in the world, with several hundred products approved for use in the U.S. These “neonics” are neurotoxins that paralyze and eventually kill their victim. My organization, Center for Food Safety, has been working hard to halt the use of these neonics through litigation, legislation, grassroots advocacy, and legal petitions to the Environmental Protection Agency. We are suing to address the well-publicized threat that neonics present to the survival of honey bees and wild bees. At the time we launched our legal actions, I did not even know about the song birds.

The anger-stirring realization that a song bird could be felled by a single seed and the prospect of bees being silenced forever brought me back to the words of Rachel Carson, written more than half a century ago in Silent Spring. “These… non selective chemicals have the power to kill every insect, the ‘good’ and the ‘bad,’ to still the songs of the birds and the leaping fish… they should not be called insecticides but biocides.” Through Carson’s crusade, biocides like DDT were eventually banned but new chemicals like neonicotinoids and other similar “systemic” insecticides/biocides have taken their place causing similar ecological havoc. Sadly, our regulatory agencies under the sway of the agrochemical industry have enabled this tragic and continuing environmental destruction.

I think it is long past due that we who work in the food and environmental movement adopt Carson’s nomenclature. Let’s not refer to pesticides, whether they are insecticides, herbicides or fungicides, by anything but their real name: biocides. Words do matter.

The “cide” ending in all these terms comes from the Latin caedare meaning “to kill.” Given that these chemicals are designed to kill that root word is accurate. But using the word pest-icide gives the impression that all these chemicals do is kill “pests,” whether insects, plant, or fungi pests. The neonicotinoids killing bees and song birds puts that delusion to rest. The bee is an insect but not a pest and the song bird is neither an insect nor a pest.

But Carson only referred to insecticides as biocides. Is it fair to put all pesticides, including herbicides and fungicides, in the same pejorative etymological category? Well, let’s look at Monsanto’s Roundup. It is the most widely used herbicide in the world because of the adoption of genetically engineered (GE) crops designed to tolerate the chemical. Is Roundup just a pesticide, a careful killer of just those “bad” plants called weeds that farmers wish to remove? Of course not. Roundup does so much more than kill plant pests. It wipes out beneficial plants of all sorts: food crops, fruits in the orchard, flowers in the garden, in fact anything that is green. Most of these are not pests or weeds. Among the beneficial plants it destroys is milkweed, on which monarch butterflies depend. The massive use of Roundup in the U.S. has destroyed so much milkweed that monarch butterflies are now at risk of extinction. Monarch butterflies are not pests or weeds.

Then there were the University of Pittsburgh researchers who a decade ago tested how Roundup might impact immature and mature frogs in ponds. This is how the researchers summarized their results: “The most striking result from the experiments was that a chemical designed to kill plants killed 98 percent of tad poles within three weeks and 79 percent of all frogs within one day.” That is very effective killing indeed, but of course frogs are not pests or weeds. Argentinian researchers using animal models then linked Roundup and its active ingredient glyphosate to cranial malformations and other birth defects long reported in the children of farm workers who were repeatedly exposed to the chemical. Infants are not pests or weeds. And then in March 2015, the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) cancer authorities — the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) — determined that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans” based on multiple lines of evidence: kidney, pancreatic and other tumors in glyphosate-treated test animals; epidemiology studies showing higher rates of cancer in farmers that used glyphosate; and research showing that glyphosate damages chromosomes, one mechanism by which cancer is induced.

So Roundup is a butterfly killer, a frog killer and potentially an infant and adult human killer. And it has numerous other untold victims, to be sure. None of these are pests or weeds. So let’s not continue to use misleading euphemisms. Roundup is not a pesticide or herbicide; it is a “biocide.”

And now to fungicides. Their use in agriculture in the U.S. has skyrocketed, almost doubling in the last seven years. Unfortunately, research on their ecological and human health impacts has not kept up with the exponential growth in the use of these chemicals. But there is growing evidence that many of these toxics kill beneficial soil life, disrupting essential soil ecosystems. They are also increasingly becoming a water pollution problem, threatening aquatic life. Research has also pointed to concerning synergistic effects when used in tandem with other pesticides – delivering an even more toxic cocktail to bees and other beneficial insects exposed to the chemicals. Past studies indicate that 90 percent of fungicides are carcinogenic in animal models. To add insult to injury, they are also suspected of increasing obesity, especially in children. These health impacts remind us of yet another Carson insight: “Man is a part of nature and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself.”

Overall, let’s contemplate what these biocides are bringing us: vast areas of this country stripped of all vegetation save for monocultured GE crops, devoid of flowers, bees, butterflies and song birds, with contaminated rivers and streams with little or no insect life, and fish and frogs and other aquatic life dead or deformed. Then there are the birth defects and cancers in our own children. What is the word that would encompass the result of our using nearly a billion pounds of biocides each year? I would suggest it is nothing short of ecocide.

Andrew Kimbrell|Executive Director|Center for Food Safety

This article was originally published on The Huffington Post, May 4, 2015.

Energy

Shell gets approval to drill in Arctic Ocean in July ‏

Agency gives Shell the stamp of approval to drill in fragile Arctic Ocean, despite threats to the Arctic and the climate

In a reckless decision that places the Arctic’s iconic wildlife and the health of our planet on the line, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management just approved Shell’s plan to drill in the Arctic Ocean’s Chukchi Sea starting in July.

The approved plan is bigger, dirtier, and louder than any previous plan, calling for more sound disturbances and harassment of whales and seals, more water and air pollution, and more vessels and helicopters.

It also runs the risk of a catastrophic oil spill that could not be cleaned in Arctic waters.

In fact, a recent government environmental report predicts a 75 percent chance of at least one major spill in the Chukchi Sea if development goes forward! And drilling for oil in the Arctic Ocean takes us in the wrong direction on addressing climate change. Yet despite these odds, Shell is rushing full-speed ahead.

In 2012, the company’s accident-filled efforts to drill demonstrated that neither Shell nor any other company is ready to drill in the Arctic Ocean. Shell proved that again just last month, when its drillship Noble Discoverer was held in port due to pollution control failures.

The consequences of a spill in the Arctic would be disastrous, with oil spewing into ocean waters that provide critical habitat for wildlife like polar bears, walruses and bowhead whales—waters so icy, rugged and unpredictable that a spill of any kind could be nearly impossible to clean up.

Earlier this month, Earthjustice submitted approximately 38,000 comments to the agency of behalf of environmental supporters that requested the Interior reject Shell’s risky plan. The project Interior approved today is bigger, dirtier, and louder than any previous plan, calling for more sound disturbances and harassment of whales and seals, more water and air pollution, and more vessels and helicopters. It also runs the risk of a catastrophic oil spill that could not be cleaned in Arctic waters.

The company’s accident-filled efforts to drill in 2012 demonstrate that neither Shell nor any other company is ready to drill in the Arctic Ocean. Shell proved that again just last month when its Discoverer drillship was held in port due to pollution control failures. Drilling for oil in the Arctic Ocean also takes us in the wrong direction on combating climate change.

Interior rushed through its reconsideration of the lease sale by which Shell obtained its leases when it reaffirmed a Bush era oil lease sale in late March. Now it has rushed to approve Shell’s drilling plan without adequately considering the potentially significant risks and effects of Shell’s operations.

“This decision places big oil before people, putting the Arctic’s iconic wildlife and the health of our planet on the line,” said Erik Grafe, Earthjustice staff attorney. “The agency should not be approving such threatening plans based on a rushed and incomplete environmental and safety review. Ultimately, Arctic Ocean drilling is far too risky and undermines the administration’s efforts to address climate change and transition to a clean energy future. These fossil fuels need to remain in the ground.”

Erik Grafe|Staff Attorney|Earthjustice|May 11, 2015

 Did Canadian Voters Just Save the U.S. From the Keystone XL Pipeline?

American environmentalists have been working tirelessly to prevent approval of the infamous Keystone XL pipeline, and hope may have finally arrived from an unexpected place: Alberta, Canada. The province, which perhaps has the most to gain from the transcontinental pipeline, just elected a new liberal party with remarkably green views.

Previously, the New Democratic Party hasn’t had much success in Alberta, but voters chose candidates from the party by a significant majority this election. Alberta’s new leader, Rachel Notley made several progressively green pledges during her campaign, so presumably the voters approve of a more eco-friendly agenda.

For context, many call Alberta the “Texas of Canada” because of its abundance in oil and longstanding conservative politics, so this week’s election results mark a major shift for this region. It’s been a foregone conclusion that Alberta would back the pipeline from its end, but now that theory is certainly in jeopardy.

Before the election, Notley pledged to rescind Alberta’s support for the Keystone XL pipeline. Simultaneously, she vowed to raise taxes and royalties on oil companies. Even if these steps wouldn’t outright block the pipeline, they’d certainly make it more difficult, risky and unappealing for the company to move forward on the plan.

Could a liberal party really spell doom for the Keystone XL pipeline? Some investors seem to think so. The stock for Suncor Energy Inc., the company tied to the pipeline project, quickly dropped by over 4 percent following the election results. Certainly, people who have been banking on the company experiencing massive profits once the project kicks off are less confident in its success at this point.

This is great news for environmentally conscious Americans who weren’t anticipating this potential support from the Canadian side of the border. Although President Barack Obama has done a good job of at least stalling the pipeline’s approval, the 2016 election could quickly turn the tides. Not only do most Republicans support the Keystone XL, but Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton also has some notable ties to the project’s investors leaving many to assume she’d ultimately allow construction to occur.

We’ll have to wait and see how aggressively the New Democratic Party stands against the pipeline. It is unlikely that even progressive Alberta politicians will try to completely dismantle the oil industry given the population’s reliance on oil money and jobs. Still, if Notley and her peers stay true to their goal of prioritizing renewable energies over oil, they’ll do their parts to make sure the Keystone XL pipeline doesn’t come to fruition.

Kevin Mathews|May 9, 2015

Turning the Tide on the Offshore Drilling Threat
Drilling off the Atlantic coast is too costly for communities

For the first time in over 30 years, the federal government has proposed offering leases to companies for offshore drilling off the Atlantic coast. The proposed lease areas lie directly off of the coasts of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, and the leases may be sold in 2021, with drilling happening thereafter. The proposal comes just a few months after the federal government’s decision to allow exploration for oil & gas off the Atlantic coast using highly detrimental seismic airgun surveys.

SACE is opposed to offshore drilling and exploration in the Atlantic, especially as clean, renewable energy such as solar and wind become ever more economical for the Southeast. Recent SACE blogs have detailed the good prices available on both solar and wind. Furthermore, the cost of onshore natural gas is low, which will make offshore drilling relatively expensive and potentially nonviable for years to come.

We believe that offshore drilling off the Atlantic coast is too risky to be of benefit to our communities.

In the coastal Southeast, our economy relies on clean, healthy beaches, marshes, and fisheries. These assets are what draw people to live here, vacation here, and drive our high quality of life. Hundreds of thousands of Southeasterners work in the tourism and fishing industries, which generate billions of dollars per year and are anchored by the presence of a clean, beautiful environment. Jeopardizing these critical, established industries for high-risk offshore drilling would be a grave mistake and a disservice to our communities.

And it’s not just the threat of a catastrophic spill like the Deepwater Horizon that would threaten our coast, but it’s more likely to be the everyday impacts that are intrinsic with the offshore drilling industry. Looking to the Gulf, we see that the offshore drilling industry has had the effect of industrializing large stretches of the coast with pipelines and refineries, while thousands of small spills take place every year with a big cumulative impact. Meanwhile their wetlands are eroding at a rate of a football field’s worth of wetlands every 45 minutes, due in large part to the canals used for pipelines and vessel traffic.

We find these risks unacceptable for our coast and have been working in coalition with many partners since 2010 to prevent the expansion of offshore drilling to the Atlantic. We have helped galvanize local opposition to offshore drilling, evidenced by the 52 Mid- and South Atlantic communities that have passed resolutions opposing oil & gas exploration and/or drilling, newspaper editorial boards writing in opposition, and bipartisan opposition from state legislators and Congressmen.

While public opinion is predominately in opposition to offshore drilling in the Atlantic, convincing the oil industry and the federal government to back off is a tall order, so we need to keep the pressure up. There will be a few comment periods over the next 18 months in which you will be able to voice your opinions. We encourage you to stay tuned to SACE’s newsletter, email blasts, and blog to be kept abreast of developments. More immediately, a significant way you can help protect our coast is to participate in the annual Hands Across the Sand day of action next Saturday, May 16.

Hands Across the Sand is an international event in which communities all over the world gather at their local beach to symbolically protect their beach from the impacts of offshore drilling. Participants join hands in a line as long as possible, drawing a physical and metaphorical line in the sand as a sign of protecting their beach from the impacts of offshore drilling. Dozens of Hands events are taking place throughout the Southeast. You can find your local event at http://handsacrossthesand.org. SACE is proud to have been an original sponsor of Hands Across the Sand when it started in 2010, and has served on the steering committee since 2012.

Stephen Smith|Southern Clean Energy Alliance|May, 2015

FPL & Nuclear at Turkey Point
Federal Regulators Hear Opposition to Licensing of FPL’s Proposed Turkey Point Nuclear Reactors

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) recently issued the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Florida Power & Light’s licensing application to potentially build two costly, water-intensive new nuclear reactors at their existing Turkey Point plant in Miami-Dade County, about 25 miles south of Miami and is seeking public comment. Despite many serious problems with this proposal, the draft EIS recommends license approval.

In April, the NRC held three well-attended public hearings, one in Miami the day President Obama visited the Everglades to discuss climate change, and two in Homestead. SACE’s George Cavros presented compelling comments in Miami in which several local mayors state and elected officials, community leaders and others voiced opposition to the licensing of the reactors.

If approved, the two reactors, which may operate for 60 or more years, would make Turkey Point one of the largest nuclear plants in the country, would require using massive amounts of water and degrade water quality, threaten the drinking water supply, and jeopardize critical wildlife habitat for neighboring Biscayne National Park and ongoing Everglades restoration efforts.

As SACE highlighted at the hearing, there is no need for the proposed reactors. They have been delayed several times and the in-service date pushed back at least ten years and FPL has not even committed to actually completing the project.

Moreover, the NRC’s reliance on Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) orders and the state’s utility resource planning process is badly misplaced.

There are far better energy choices for Florida and our region. Energy efficiency is the lowest cost resource in meeting electricity demand at an investment of less than 3 cents per kWh, a fraction of the levelized cost of the proposed reactors, which is over 15 cents per kWh.

FPL’s past efforts in helping customers reduce energy use and save money on their bills has been abysmal but even at those low-level goals, if FPL continued the conservation programs it had in place in 2013, it would have captured 70% of what it now claims it needs in the 2027/28 timeframe from the proposed reactors.

Unfortunately, FPL’s forthcoming efforts over the next ten years to help customers reduce energy use and save money on their bills is simply a national embarrassment. The PSC recently approved the Company’s request to gut its conservation goals. If FPL were a state, it would rank almost at the bottom – behind Alabama and Mississippi in energy savings for customers.

This is likely the last opportunity before a final EIS is issued for this project that, if built, will impact surrounding communities and Floridians’ utility bills. These reactors are not the answer to Florida’s energy needs. In the face of climate change, clean, safe, and affordable renewable energy along with energy efficiency and conservation will not endanger our health, environment, or future.

View our talking points on clean energy solutions and visit our website. For information from the NRC, click here. Please send in your comments opposing the approval of the combined operating license and supporting for the “No Action Alternative” by May 22 to TurkeyPoint.COLEIS@nrc.gov.

Stephen Smith|Southern Clean Energy Alliance|May, 2015

Bill would exempt pipeline companies from FOIA requests

A bill introduced last week in the state House would make it harder for residents in St. Clair County to obtain information on pipelines running under their communities.

House Bill 4540 would exempt information about existing and proposed energy infrastructure from disclosure under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act.

The bill would exempt information that “could be useful to a person in planning an attack.”

The bill was introduced by Rep. Kurt Heise, R-Plymouth, and co-sponsored by local politicians, Rep. Andrea LaFontaine, R-Columbus Twp., and Rep. Paul Muxlow, R-Brown City.

Heise told the Detroit Free Press the bill would prevent people with ill intent from knowing the exact location of underground utilities or the pump stations associated with them.

LaFontaine did not return a call for comment. Muxlow directed questions about the legislation to his staff.

Bryan Modelski, legislative director for Muxlow’s office, said the bill will help to prevent an attack on infrastructure, which “could have an impact on safety, lives, the economy and future investment.”

The Michigan State Police and Enbridge Energy support the bill.

“We are among a number of energy entities that own and operate critical energy infrastructure in Michigan that are joining state police and regulators in supporting the bill, which would keep sensitive information out of the hands of bad actors who may seek to harm Michigan and its citizens,” said Jason Manshum, spokesman for Enbridge.

Tiffany Brown, MSP spokeswoman, said the agency believes the legislation could help prevent attacks.

“Disclosure of information relating to critical energy infrastructure could pose a security concern,” Brown said, in an email. “If released, hackers and other criminals who wish to inflict harm will have the ‘playbook’ and know how to best circumvent security.”

According to the Michigan Public Service Commission, about 14 companies operated pipelines in St. Clair County, as of early 2015. Eight of the company are natural gas transmission pipeline operators, and six are hazardous pipeline operators.

At least 13 transmission pipelines from nine companies are under the St. Clair River.

Heise said that local governments, regulators and first responders would still have access to all information about energy infrastructure they need. He said journalists, environmentalists and members of the public possibly could appeal a denied FOIA request.

Jeff Friedland, director for the St. Clair County Homeland Security Emergency Management Office, said he understands the need to protect some of the information from those who use it unsafely.

“I would hope that this legislation would not just ignore residents within a certain proximity,” Friedland said.

“I think that the pipeline companies should provide residents within a certain distance of their pipelines with information on it.”

Whether someone living in the Upper Peninsula or out-of-state should have that same access is debatable, Friedland said.

He said the emergency management office keeps a pipeline book with information on the routing of the pipelines, what they carry and emergency contacts.

He said the office continues to work with companies to obtain updated mapping information in a variety of formats, as well as updated information on what’s running through the pipelines.

“It’s very difficult to know exactly what’s in a pipeline at any given time,” Friedland said.

“There has to at least be awareness when you get to local government. It’s running through our backyards. If something happens, we’re here at the start, we’re here at the finish and we live here day to day.”

The bill is assigned to the House Committee on Oversight and Ethics, and is up for hearing Thursday.

Beth LeBlanc|Times Herald|May 11, 2015

The World’s First Solar Road Is Producing More Energy Than Expected

In its first six months of existence, the world’s first solar road is performing even better than developers thought.

The road, which opened in the Netherlands in November of last year, has produced more than 3,000 kilowatt-hours of energy — enough to power a single small household for one year, according to Al-Jazeera America.

“If we translate this to an annual yield, we expect more than the 70kwh per square meter per year,” Sten de Wit, a spokesman for the project — dubbed SolaRoad — told Al Jazeera America. “We predicted [this] as an upper limit in the laboratory stage. We can therefore conclude that it was a successful first half year.”

De Wit said in a statement that he didn’t “expect a yield as high as this so quickly.”

The 230-foot stretch of road, which is embedded with solar cells that are protected by two layers of safety glass, is built for bike traffic, a use that reflects the road’s environmentally-friendly message and the cycling-heavy culture of the Netherlands. However, the road could withstand heavier traffic if needed, according to one of the project’s developers.

So far, about 150,000 cyclists have ridden over the road. Arian de Bondt, director of Ooms Civiel, one of the companies working on the project, said that the developers were working on developing solar panels that could withstand large buses and vehicles.

The SolaRoad, which connects the Amsterdam suburbs of Krommenie and Wormerveer, has been seen as a test by its creators — a stretch of bike lane that, if successful, could be used as a model for more roads and bike lanes. The researchers plan to conduct tests of the road over the next approximately two and a half years, to determine how much energy the road produces and how it stands up to bikers. By 2016, the road could be extended to 328 feet.

Though the Netherlands’ solar road seems to be going as planned, solar roads overall typically aren’t as effective at producing energy as solar arrays on a house or in a field. That’s because the panels in solar roads can’t be tilted to face the sun, so they don’t get as much direct sunlight as panels that are able to be tilted. However, solar roads don’t take up vast tracts of land, like some major solar arrays do, and they can be installed in heavily-populated areas.

One couple is set on making solar roads a reality in the U.S. Scott and Julie Brusaw created an Indiegogo campaign last year to help fund their Solar Roadways project, and the campaign raised more than $2.2 million. The U.S. might have to wait a while to see solar roads installed, however. As Vox pointed out last year, cost could be a major barrier for solar road construction in the U.S. And according to a Greentech Media article from last year, one of the biggest things that officials still aren’t sure about with the roads is safety. They want to be sure the roads can stand up to heavy traffic, and that the glass protecting the solar panels won’t break.

“We can’t say that it would be safe for roadway vehicular traffic,” Eric Weaver, a research engineer at the Federal Highway Administration’s research and technology department, told Greentech Media. “Further field-traffic evaluation is needed to determine safety and durability performance.”

Katie Valentine|May 11, 2015

Court Finds Federal Government Illegally Approved Coal Mining

Last Friday, a federal court agreed with us that the U.S. Interior Department failed to account for the impacts of burning coal when approving more mining.

You see, it’s a simple matter of cause and effect. More mining means more burning. More burning means more carbon and other harmful air pollution.

Put another way, if we have any chance of reining in coal and moving our nation to clean energy, we have to start at the mines.

In spite of this, our federal government has for years refused to come clean with the American public and disclose the impacts of coal burning. Instead, I’ve seen them continue to rubber stamp more mining and worse, keep the public in the dark.

I’m thrilled to say that this has now changed.

In a ruling last Friday, a federal judge held that mining approvals in Colorado illegally ignored coal burning impacts and excluded the public.

It’s a much-needed rebuke to the Interior Department’s practice of green lighting more fossil fuel development even as our nation struggles to reduce greenhouse gases and combat climate change.

With cleaner energy taking hold throughout our nation, providing more jobs than ever, and boosting economies to new heights, I think this ruling is a major step in the right direction.

And I think this underscores how effective and important our work at WildEarth Guardians is. As the judge said during our hearing in this case:

I think that all of us in this room and all of us in general ought to be glad that there are people like the WildEarth Guardians that care enough about the environment to be…the sand in the wheels sometimes.

I’m honored to be a part of Guardians’ success in confronting coal in the American West and I thank you for your support for helping us all move forward.

Jeremy Nichols|Climate and Energy Program Director|WildEarth Guardians

Turning the Tide on the Offshore Drilling Threat
Drilling off the Atlantic coast is too costly for communities

For the first time in over 30 years, the federal government has proposed offering leases to companies for offshore drilling off the Atlantic coast. The proposed lease areas lie directly off of the coasts of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, and the leases may be sold in 2021, with drilling happening thereafter. The proposal comes just a few months after the federal government’s decision to allow exploration for oil & gas off the Atlantic coast using highly detrimental seismic airgun surveys.

SACE is opposed to offshore drilling and exploration in the Atlantic, especially as clean, renewable energy such as solar and wind become ever more economical for the Southeast. Recent SACE blogs have detailed the good prices available on both solar and wind. Furthermore, the cost of onshore natural gas is low, which will make offshore drilling relatively expensive and potentially nonviable for years to come.

We believe that offshore drilling off the Atlantic coast is too risky to be of benefit to our communities.

In the coastal Southeast, our economy relies on clean, healthy beaches, marshes, and fisheries. These assets are what draw people to live here, vacation here, and drive our high quality of life. Hundreds of thousands of Southeasterners work in the tourism and fishing industries, which generate billions of dollars per year and are anchored by the presence of a clean, beautiful environment. Jeopardizing these critical, established industries for high-risk offshore drilling would be a grave mistake and a disservice to our communities.

And it’s not just the threat of a catastrophic spill like the Deepwater Horizon that would threaten our coast, but it’s more likely to be the everyday impacts that are intrinsic with the offshore drilling industry. Looking to the Gulf, we see that the offshore drilling industry has had the effect of industrializing large stretches of the coast with pipelines and refineries, while thousands of small spills take place every year with a big cumulative impact. Meanwhile their wetlands are eroding at a rate of a football field’s worth of wetlands every 45 minutes, due in large part to the canals used for pipelines and vessel traffic.

We find these risks unacceptable for our coast and have been working in coalition with many partners since 2010 to prevent the expansion of offshore drilling to the Atlantic. We have helped galvanize local opposition to offshore drilling, evidenced by the 52 Mid- and South Atlantic communities that have passed resolutions opposing oil & gas exploration and/or drilling, newspaper editorial boards writing in opposition, and bipartisan opposition from state legislators and Congressmen.

While public opinion is predominately in opposition to offshore drilling in the Atlantic, convincing the oil industry and the federal government to back off is a tall order, so we need to keep the pressure up. There will be a few comment periods over the next 18 months in which you will be able to voice your opinions. We encourage you to stay tuned to SACE’s newsletter, email blasts, and blog to be kept abreast of developments. More immediately, a significant way you can help protect our coast is to participate in the annual Hands Across the Sand day of action next Saturday, May 16.

Hands Across the Sand is an international event in which communities all over the world gather at their local beach to symbolically protect their beach from the impacts of offshore drilling. Participants join hands in a line as long as possible, drawing a physical and metaphorical line in the sand as a sign of protecting their beach from the impacts of offshore drilling. Dozens of Hands events are taking place throughout the Southeast. You can find your local event at http://handsacrossthesand.org. SACE is proud to have been an original sponsor of Hands Across the Sand when it started in 2010, and has served on the steering committee since 2012

5 dangers of oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean

The Obama administration just gave Shell conditional approval to drill for oil in the U.S. Arctic. Sure, there’s lots of oil up there, but there are also lots of reasons to leave it under the ocean. Here are 5.

The Arctic is the final frontier of the oil era. Overused oil fields around the planet are dwindling, tempting energy firms to tap the top of the planet despite its hostile environment. An estimated 13 percent of Earth’s undiscovered oil lies underneath the Arctic, totaling about 90 billion barrels. At our current rate of consumption, that would be enough to meet worldwide demand for about three years.

Russia broke the ice, so to speak, in 2013 with its Prirazlomnaya project, the world’s first stationary oil-drilling platform in the Arctic Ocean. Oil companies are also vying to drill in Arctic waters off Canada, Greenland and Norway, although fickle oil prices have dampened some enthusiasm lately.

In the U.S., Royal Dutch Shell has has spent nearly $6 billion since 2005 on leases, permits and lawsuits in its quest for Alaska’s oil-rich Beaufort and Chukchi seas. That quest suffered a string of setbacks in 2012 — most notably when its Kulluk drilling rig ran aground off Kodiak Island — but Shell hasn’t given up. And this week, U.S. regulators rewarded Shell’s determination by granting the company conditional approval to begin drilling in the Chukchi Sea.

That marks “a major victory for the petroleum industry and a devastating blow to environmentalists,” as the New York Times put it. Why would oil rigs be “devastating” in such a remote part of the world? Here are five of the biggest concerns about trying to extract oil from the Arctic Ocean:

1. The noise.

Even if nothing goes wrong — which history suggests is unlikely — a lot can go wrong.

“[T]here will be unavoidable impacts from each phase of oil development in the Arctic Ocean — seismic exploration, exploration drilling, production platforms, pipelines, terminals and tankers,” writes conservation biologist Rick Steiner, a former marine researcher at the University of Alaska who now runs a sustainability consulting project called Oasis Earth.

“The acoustic disturbance to marine mammals from offshore oil development is of particular concern, as underwater noise can affect communication, migration, feeding, mating and other important functions in whales, seals and walrus,” he adds. “As well, noise can affect bird and fish migration, feeding and reproduction, and can displace populations from essential habitat areas.”

2. The remoteness.

Remember how hard it was to wrangle the Gulf of Mexico’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill five years ago? It took several months, even though it occurred just 40 miles off a more heavily populated and industrialized U.S. coast. The response effort involved mobilizing an armada of vessels, crews and equipment, not to mention coordinating how and when it would all be used.

Now imagine if the spill had occurred off Alaska instead of Louisiana. Even getting the necessary ships and gear to the spill site would be a herculean task. Shell has an official safety plan in case of a spill — including a local stock of tugboats, helicopters and cleanup equipment — but as the Deepwater Horizon illustrated, fail-safes like blowout preventers can fail and pre-spill plans can fall woefully short.

3. The sea ice.

Even when response crews do mobilize to clean up an Arctic Ocean oil spill, their options will be limited. As the World Wildlife Fund points out, “there is no proven effective method for containing and cleaning up an oil spill in icy water.” Dispersants helped break up the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010, but they also proved dangerous in their own right, with a 2012 study suggesting they made the oil 52 times more toxic to wildlife. On top of its remote location, the Chukchi Sea is frequented by chunks of sea ice for most of the year. That can make navigation difficult, not to mention oil-spill cleanup.

“A major spill in the Arctic would travel with currents, in and under sea ice during ice season,” Steiner writes, “and it would be virtually impossible to contain or recover.”

4. The slow ecological recovery.

As bad as the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill was, at least it occurred in a large, warm gulf populated by microbes that can eat oil. The Arctic Ocean, on the other hand, has low temperatures and limited sunlight, making an oil spill more likely to fester — as seen after the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989.

“A large spill would undoubtedly cause extensive acute mortality in plankton, fish, birds and marine mammals,” according to Steiner. “[T]here would be significant chronic, sub-lethal injury to organisms — physiological damage, altered feeding behavior and reproduction, genetic injury, etc. — that would reduce the overall viability of populations. There could be a permanent reduction in certain populations, and for threatened or endangered species, a spill could tip them into extinction. With low temperatures and slow degradation rates, oil would persist in the Arctic environment for decades.”

5. The emissions.

In addition to 90 billion barrels of oil, the Arctic may hold as much as 1.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas — about 30 percent of the planet’s undiscovered supply. Natural gas is harder to transport than oil, requiring either pipelines or facilities that convert it to liquefied natural gas (LNG), at which point it can be shipped by tankers. That kind of infrastructure is sparse in the Arctic, so offshore rigs might be more likely to burn off the extra natural gas on-site, a process known as flaring. That’s better than letting the gas escape, since methane is a potent greenhouse gas, but flaring can produce other pollutants like black carbon, which causes snow and ice to melt more quickly by absorbing more heat.

Flaring can also cause more direct problems, says Rosemary Ahtuangaruak, an environmental justice advisor for the Alaska Wilderness League in Barrow, Alaska. Ahtuangaruak began working in Barrow as a community health aide in 1986, when a boom in onshore oil drilling — and gas flaring — was associated with a spike in health problems. “One of the things we saw right away were the respiratory illnesses,” she tells MNN. “On nights when there were many natural gas flares, I was only getting a couple hours of sleep because of all the patients coming into the clinic.”

Oil drilling also brought benefits like running water and better medical care, Ahtuangaruak says, but the influx of patients convinced her the negatives outweighed the positives. And on top of that, oil booms have a long association with social problems like crime, she notes. “Our national energy policy should not cost the health and safety of people who live where the oil and gas development is going to occur.”

Of course, any new oil or gas drilling also poses a much broader public-health problem: climate change. Every barrel of oil removed from the Arctic Ocean will presumably be burned, releasing carbon dioxide that will spend centuries trapping solar heat in the atmosphere. Burning the Arctic Ocean’s oil could release an additional 15.8 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, which is equivalent to all U.S. transportation emissions over a nine-year period. It would raise global CO2 levels by 7.44 parts per million (ppm), nearly 10 percent of the global rise in atmospheric CO2 over the past 50 years.

Earth’s air already has more CO2 than ever before in human history — recently reaching 400 ppm for the first time since the Pliocene Epoch — and it’s growing at an unprecedented pace. Not only would Arctic Ocean drilling release more CO2, but any new long-term commitment to fossil fuels slows down the inevitable transition to climate-friendly renewable energy.

“Society faces a fundamental choice with the Arctic,” Steiner writes. “Let’s hope we choose wisely.”

Russell McLendon|May 12, 2015

Suit Filed to Halt Illegal Dumping of Toxic Oil Waste Into California’s Water

The Center for Biological Diversity and allies have filed suit to halt illegal oil-industry operations that are dumping millions of gallons of toxic oil waste a day into California’s dwindling underground water supplies — in the midst of the worst water shortage in the state’s history.

State regulators pushed through rules that would continue the practice till 2017, characterizing the inconvenience to Big Oil from interrupting its illegal injections as a public “emergency.” Our lawsuit asks the court to force California officials to halt injection operations that are contaminating underground water in scores of aquifers across the state, from Monterey to Kern and Los Angeles counties. Oil wastewater often contains high levels of cancer-causing benzene, as well as fracking fluid, linked to cancer and birth defects.

“It’s inexcusable that state regulators are letting oil companies dump toxic wastewater into California’s water supplies during the worst drought in 1,200 years,” said Hollin Kretzmann, a Center staff attorney.

Get more from NBC News and check out our interactive map of injections.

Drilling begins 3 miles from epicenter of BP oil spill

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Just 3 miles from the catastrophic BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a Louisiana company is seeking to unlock the same oil and natural gas that turned into a deadly disaster.

Drilling has begun in the closest work yet to the Macondo well, which blew wild on April 20, 2010, killing 11 people and fouling the Gulf with as much as 172 million gallons of crude in the nation’s worst oil spill. Federal regulators gave their blessing last month to LLOG Exploration Offshore LLC. to drill the first new well in the same footprint where BP was digging before.

The resumption of drilling at the former BP site comes as the oil industry pushes into ever deeper and riskier reservoirs in the Gulf. It reflects renewed industry confidence – even as critics say not enough has been done to ensure another disaster is avoided.

“Now that five years have passed it seems that some of the emotions are less raw,” said Pavel Molchanov, an energy analyst with the investment firm Raymond James in Houston.

If anything, drilling into BP’s Macondo reservoir may be safer now, he said.

“Just because there was a spill there doesn’t mean it’s more dangerous,” he said. “It could make it less dangerous considering how much the seabed there has been studied.”

Paul Bommer, a petroleum engineer at the University of Texas at Austin and a member of national panels investigating the BP disaster, said it was only a matter of time before drilling would resume there.

There is just too much money at stake.

Yet LLOG’s own exploration plans provide a window into the potential risks.

In September exploration plans, LLOG estimated its worst-case scenario for an uncontrolled blowout could unleash 252 million gallons of oil over the course of 109 days. By comparison, the BP spill lasted 87 days and resulted in as much as 172 million gallons of oil pouring into the Gulf.

“Our commitment is to not allow such an event to occur again,” said Rick Fowler, the vice president for deep-water projects at LLOG.

Fowler said the shallow part of the well has been drilled and that the deeper section will be completed later this year.

LLOG’s permit to drill a new well was approved April 13 by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which oversees offshore oil and gas drilling operations.

Lars Herbst, the agency’s regional director, said in a statement that LLOG had demonstrated it could be trusted.

“In order to obtain a permit to drill LLOG had to meet new standards for well-design, casing, and cementing which include a professional engineer certification,” he said.

But Liz Birnbaum, former director of the Minerals Management Service, the former agency that oversaw oil drilling at the time of the BP spill, said allowing drillers to go after that oil is cause for concern because regulations covering well-control are not in effect and years away from being mandatory.

Five years ago, BP, its contractors and federal regulators struggled to contain the blowout and kill the out-of-control well. In all, the federal government calculated that about 172 million gallons spilled into the Gulf. BP put the number much lower, closer to 100 million gallons.

Richard Charter, a senior fellow with the Ocean Foundation and a longtime industry watchdog, said drilling into that reservoir has proved very dangerous and highly technical, and it raises questions about whether LLOG has the financial means to respond to a blowout similar to BP’s.

The shallow part of the well was dug by the Sevan Louisiana, a rig owned by Sevan Drilling ASA, a large international drilling company based in Oslo, Norway. Another rig, the Seadrill West Neptune, will complete the well.

Since 2010, LLOG has drilled eight wells in the area in “analogous reservoirs at similar depths and pressures,” Fowler said. The company has drilled more than 50 deep-water wells in the Gulf since 2002, he said.

The company already has drilled three wells in the vicinity that tap into the same reservoir BP was going after in 2010. He said those wells were drilled without problems.

He said the company has studied the investigations into the Macondo disaster and “ensured the lessons from those reports are accounted for in our design and well procedures.”

BP spokesman Brett Clanton said an area even closer to the well, owned by BP, is an “exclusion zone” where oil and gas operations are off-limits both “out of respect for the victims” and to allow BP “to perform any response activities related to the accident.”

CAIN BURDEAU|Associated Press|May 13, 2015

 Transportation

6 Reasons Why Bike Commuting Is the Fastest Growing Mode of Transportation

Have you noticed more two-wheelers on your commute, especially if you live in a city? According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of Americans who travel to work by bike increased an incredible 60 percent over the last decade, making it the largest percentage increase of all commuting modes.

People choose to bike for many reasons (it saves money, it’s good for health), but here are six big reasons more Americans are leaving the car keys at home:

1. Cities are wooing millenials. The Pew Charitable Trusts reported that communities are trying to build a cycling-friendly reputation to attract millennials and the creative and economic energy that comes with them. “States and cities are competing for the most mobile generation ever and so the job creators and the innovators are really pushing for these amenities,” said Bill Nesper of the League of American Bicyclists in the report. “Baby boomers want to live near millennial children and their grandchildren, so we’re really seeing Washington and most major cities seeing this as a way to attract and keep talented people.” Amenities such as …

2. Bike infrastructure. Paths dedicated to two-wheelers are popping up in climates of all sorts, from sunny Malibu to chilly Anchorage. According to the Alaska Dispatch News, the Alaskan city is adding 3.75 miles of bike lanes to its existing 15 miles, with more expected next summer.

The reason bikers love bike paths? Simply because they don’t have to contend with scary motor traffic. (It’s also a win for cities since it helps reduce congestion).

“Bike lanes give a dedicated lane for people to bicycle,” Lori Schanche, non-motorized transportation coordinator for the Municipality of Anchorage told the publication. “It’s a lot safer for everyone all around.” In fact, Pew’s research noted that across the country, there’s been a 31 percent decline in serious injuries over the last 20 years, even though there are more people riding on bikes—fatalities for bike commuters fell from 21 per 10,000 trips in 1980 to only nine in 2008.

With these safety measures, cities have seen an uptick in pedaling. According to People for Bikes, after Honolulu installed protected bike barriers on one of its streets last year, biking increased by a whopping 71 percent. In Brooklyn, nearly 200 percent. Check out the graph below:

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 12.43.39 PMProtected bike lanes have significantly increased the total number of bikers these areas. Photo credit: People for Bikes

3. Women. So you know that 60 percent increase in biking we cited in the beginning of this article? Well, most of the new riders are men.The Census Bureau found that the rate of bicycle commuting for men was more than double that of women. There are many reasons why women bike less than men, but it comes down to safety concerns, convenience, confidence, feeling welcome in male-dominated bike shops and belonging to a community that welcomes women riders, the League of American Bicyclists noted in a report.

However, when cities improved biking infrastructure, the number of female riders shot up, the report found. Some examples:

  • According to a 2013 analysis, the presence of a bike lane on a street increases women’s ridership, on average, by 276 percent in Philadelphia.
  • The number of female riders grew 115 percent after the installation of a bike lane on New Orleans’ South Carrollton Avenue in 2009.
  • The number of women riders rose 100 percent on Los Angeles’ Spring Street after the installation of a buffered bike lane in 2011.

The widespread adoption of family-friendly cargo biking has surely encouraged more women to pick up riding as well; they’re kind of like pedal-powered minivans.

4. Bike-friendly legislation. Cities have created laws that better accommodate bicyclists. For example, Portland, Oregon (which has the highest bicycle-commuting rate in the country at 6.1 percent) lowered the speed limit on neighborhood greenways by five miles to 20 miles per hour in order to reduce the crash and fatality rate. Portland, as well as other bike-centric communities, also has bicycle-sensitive traffic signals and speed bumps to calm car traffic.

Some communities are also making sure that bikers have a place to park their ride. A report from the League of American Bicyclists said that a Santa Monica, California ordinance stipulates that destinations have an adequate supply of bike racks, and also requires event organizers to have monitored bicycle parking for 200-250 bikes if attendance is expected to reach 1,000 or more, as well as three attendants to guard the area.

5. Bike shares. A flurry of cities have adopted bike sharing, and cities are seeing huge numbers of participants. According to a post from architect and urban planning firm Opticos Design, Austin, Texas’s new bike sharing program set a nationwide record at last year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival. “The 10-day event held March 7–16 saw an average of 6.4 checkouts per bike per day. On Friday, March 14, that number jumped to 2,774 checkouts, an average of 10.1 checkouts per bike for the day, beating the previous record held by New York City’s Citi Bike program. The total number of checkouts during SXSW reached 17,000,” the post read.

6. The green movement.For many Americans, it’s no longer a rite-of-passage to own a car.We reported that car ownership is declining and the proportion of residents bicycling to work increased in 85 out of 100 of America’s largest urbanized areas between 2000 and 2011. More than half of the U.S. population lives within five miles of their workplace, making it easier to commute via bike. It also comes down to changing attitudes about sustainability, the improvement in public transportation and the growth of the sharing economy.

With the Obama administration OK’ing Shell’s plan to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean, it’s clear that the we must look to other ways to curb consumption of dirty fossil fuels. In fact, biking just two days a week can reduce carbon pollution by an average of two tons per year, the Environmental Protection Agency says.

Now that National Biking Month is in full swing and Bike to Work Day happening this Friday, perhaps you should consider breaking out that pollution-free vehicle to get to work.

Lorraine Chow|May 12, 2015

Google’s Self-Driving Car About to Hit Public Roads

Self-driving cars, once a product of science-fiction, are about to become a reality. Google will roll out a handful of prototype electric cars on the streets of Mountain View, California, where the company’s headquarters are based.

Google’s self-driving car project director Chris Urmson explained in a blog post that the cars will be supervised by safety drivers and buzz around neighborhoods at a top speed of 25 MPH. The cars will also be outfitted with a removable steering wheel, accelerator pedal and brake pedal that allows the drivers to take over driving if needed. The new prototypes will be powered by the same software as the company’s existing fleet of self-driving Lexus RX450h SUVs, which have logged nearly a million autonomous miles on the roads.

Although it might take some time before we can actually buy one, the positive environmental impacts of Google’s cars could be big if they become widely adopted. Since they are electric, these cars could drastically cut our dependence on fossil fuels. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimated that in 2014, about 136.78 billion gallons of gasoline were consumed in the U.S., a daily average of about 374.74 million gallons. And, since electric cars produce little to no tail pipe emissions, it means less pollution and improved air quality.

Google also touts that their cars could cut time in traffic and reduce time spent looking for parking, which uses up a lot of gasoline. As NBC News reported, San Francisco transportation officials estimated that 30 percent of traffic in the city was caused by people looking for parking. Another study from the Imperial College in London found that 40 percent of all gas used in congested urban areas was burned by people looking for parking.

“Vehicles that can take anyone from A to B at the push of a button could transform mobility for millions of people, whether by reducing the 94 percent of accidents caused by human error, reclaiming the billions of hours wasted in traffic, or bringing everyday destinations and new opportunities within reach of those who might otherwise be excluded by their inability to drive a car,” Urmson wrote.

The safety of Google’s automated transit was brought to light after the company revealed they were involved in a handful of traffic accidents since it kicked off this project six years ago. However, the company has chalked it up to human error.

“If you spend enough time on the road, accidents will happen whether you’re in a car or a self-driving car,” Urmson wrote in a blog post. “Over the 6 years since we started the project, we’ve been involved in 11 minor accidents (light damage, no injuries) during those 1.7 million miles of autonomous and manual driving with our safety drivers behind the wheel, and not once was the self-driving car the cause of the accident.”

Lorraine Chow|May 16, 2015

Recycling

World’s First $9 Computer Could Solve the E-Waste Crisis

We’ve seen how innovators are doing amazing things to help our fragile environment. And now Oakland/Shenzen-based engineers at Next Thing Co. have created a computer that costs less than a decent bottle of wine and could help bring computer technology to all.

Behold, the C.H.I.P.

The company has dubbed their creation “the world’s first nine dollar computer.” By the looks of their incredibly successfully Kickstarter, it’s about to make a big splash. The campaign blew past its $50,000 crowdsourcing goal on the first day, with more than $100,000 in a mere 12 hours, the company enthusiastically tweeted.

For such a small piece of hardware, the C.H.I.P. boasts a 1GHZ processor, 512MB of ram, 4GB of storage and can connect to any screen, old, new, big or small with its built-in composite output or with an adaptor. Digital Trends hilariously pointed out that it has more ports than the new MacBook’s single USB-C port.

To make it a completely portable device that would fit in your jeans, you can buy a $49 add-on called the PocketC.H.I.P. that includes a 4.3 inch touchscreen, a miniature QWERTY keyboard and a 5-hour battery.

As for its software, the device is preinstalled with dozens of applications, tools, games and works with LibreOffice (a free open source office suite) which can create spreadsheets, documents and presentations.

While it doesn’t look like much, the potential of this computer could be really big. Last month, we reported on the devastating e-waste crisis that’s piling up in underdeveloped countries. According to a new report from United Nations University, a staggering 41.8 million metric tons of e-waste was produced in 2014. Instead of buying, say a new Macbook, you can connect the C.H.I.P. to an old keyboard and monitor that’s sitting unused or would otherwise end up in a landfill.

Lorraine Chow|May 12, 2015

Miscellaneous

Vertical farms start to grow in Detroit

New technique takes advantage of open spaces

DETROIT — Detroit’s urban farmers have proven to be some of the most innovative people in the city.

They’ve reclaimed vacant lots and learned how to bring fresh, nutritious food to neighborhoods in need of it.

Now two new ventures continue that innovation by introducing vertical farming systems into the city’s mix.

One, known as Artesian Farms of Detroit in the Brightmoor district on the far west side, has begun to grow vegetables in a hydroponic system — trays filled with water and nutrients — stacked up to 14 feet tall. The other, known as Green Collar Foods, set up its vertical racks last week in a corner of Eastern Market’s newly renovated Shed 5. It uses an aeroponics system, in which nozzles mist a thin, watery film on the roots of plants suspended in air inside trays.

Growing plants indoors inside cities has been done for a long time in various places around the world, including in the RecoveryPark project on Detroit’s east side. Now adding vertical racks greatly increases the production capacity of any given project by taking advantage of vertical space.
“It doesn’t necessarily take a huge building,” Ron Reynolds, one of the partners in Green Collar Foods, said last week at Eastern Market. “You don’t have to go to the city and say, ‘I’d like that 50,000-square-foot building.’ Effectively in 400 square feet you can have three stories up. So a lot of the buildings begin to open up for viability.”

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack visited Detroit recently and said that growing food inside cities could become an important part of regional food systems in a world beset by drought and other issues. Detroit, he added, is known far and wide as one of the centers of that movement.
“I think it’s real and I think it’s a great complement to the agriculture that takes part in other parts of the country,” Vilsack said. “We face a very interesting challenge of feeding an ever-increasing world population when the land available for production will likely shrink. We have to have new and creative ways to produce the food to feed our people.”

Artesian is the creation of Jeff Adams, a neighborhood resident who spent most of his career marketing automotive products and then spent a decade fund raising for nonprofits.

“I was looking for entrepreneurial opportunities that could employ neighborhood people,” he said last week. “The whole urban garden thing really piqued my interest.”

He bought an empty industrial building in Brightmoor last August. It had been empty since 1998. He installed a system of vertical racks designed and produced by Green Spirit Farms of New Buffalo, Michigan. Known as Vertical Growing Stations, the units are 14 to 16 feet high utilizing specially designed lighting that provides the right type of light at the right intensity for a good growing environment.

Each VGS can hold approximately 1,200 to 2,400 plants depending on the produce to be grown. With about 6,000 square feet of space in his building, Adams has enough room to install 40 of the vertical racks, which he estimates is the equivalent to about 20 acres of field growing. Adams can harvest 17 crops per year of a mix of salad greens including several types of leafy lettuce plus spinach, kale, and basil.

“You look at what it means for our city — transforming blight, employing local people, and then you look at how it affects the environment,” he said. “This system can grow produce year round and uses about 90 percent less water than what is used where our big agriculture belts are in California and Arizona.”

Unlike the vast majority of community gardens in Detroit, Artesian Farms is a for-profit entity, an L3C organization known as a social enterprise, where the profits go to support community needs. Initial funding for the project was provided by Impact T3 Investment Fund, Skillman Foundation, Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation and the Scott Brickman Family Trust.

Adams plans initially to distribute his produce in local farmers markets, but he’s working on an agreement with the Whole Foods chain to sell his salad greens in the company’s stores in metro Detroit.

JOHN GALLAGHER|MICHIGAN.COM

Meet Chernobyl’s Wild Residents

It seems like a strange place to call a wildlife park: Nearly 30 years after the most catastrophic nuclear incident in global history, Chernobyl’s exclusion zone has turned into a paradise for animals of all species and sizes. A variety of raptors, deer, big cats, foxes, bears and birds have moved into the region, taking advantage of a vast habitat with almost no humans. That habitat, though, is contaminated with radioactive materials, and scientists still hotly debate the potential costs of radiation exposure to the animals of Chernobyl, some of whom have become famous.

This fox, for example, went viral thanks to his interaction with a radio crew, as members of the crew tossed out bread and meat and the canny animal collected them in what looked an awful lot like a sandwich:

Researchers have seen an explosion of wildlife at the site in recent years, with camera traps providing an opportunity to look deep into the world of the region’s animals without disturbing them. Stunning photography shows animals like wolves and bears roaming freely in the exclusion zone, unconcerned about the potential for human visitors. Perhaps most astonishingly, a population of Przeswalski’s horses, an endangered species critical to the biological and evolutionary history of modern equids, is booming in the region—which isn’t exactly what one might expect, given the radioactive contamination.

At the time of the reactor failure at Chernobyl, dozens of workers were killed, with numerous more, along with aid workers and nearby residents, sickening in the days and weeks to come. Tens of thousands of people are facing potentially prolonged and painful premature deaths as a result of their exposure to extremely high levels of radiation at Chernobyl, and the exclusion zone won’t be safe for humans for another 20,000 years—at least. At the heart of the zone, close to the failed reactor, radiation levels still remain lethally high.

So how are animals not just living in the zone, but actively thriving? It’s a subject of vigorous debate for researchers who work in the exclusion zone. Some, like Anders Møller, argue that radiation is causing clear birth defects and impairments in animals around the site, based on his studies focusing on the barn swallow population. He sees the region as a “sink” that draws in animals from surrounding regions, as they’re attracted by the prospect of a wild space with no interfering and potentially dangerous humans. Others contend that the exclusion zone is safe, especially when considering concentrations of overall animal populations. As the population increases, it’s an indicator that something must be going right.

The situation at Chernobyl is a subject of scientific fascination, but it’s also one with big implications as researchers are facing similar questions about the region surrounding Fukushima, Japan. Learning more about how low-level radiation affects animals will provide important information about the populations of animals that appear to be thriving around Chernobyl, and about those returning to Fukushima, including those fed by brave animal welfare advocates like Naoto Matsumara, who stubbornly stayed behind to feed the region’s stray cats and abandoned farm animals.

As animals move in where humans fear to tread, Chernobyl has paradoxically become a safe zone for those driven out of habitats around Europe and Asia, like wolves, which have difficulty finding a place to call home in regions with dense human populations. The area might be turning into a cradle of biodiversity, a bizarre turn of events for one of the world’s most infamous hot spots.

See Video

s.e. smith|May 11, 2015

Signs of change are sweeping Canada

Recent events in Canada have shown not only that change is possible, but that people won’t stand for having corporate interests put before their own.

When plummeting oil prices late last year threw Alberta into financial crisis, people rightly asked, “Where’s the money?” They could see that an oil producer like Norway was able to weather the price drop thanks to forward planning, higher costs to industry to exploit resources and an oil fund worth close to $1 trillion! Leading up to the election, the government that ran Alberta for 44 years refused to consider raising industry taxes or reviewing royalty rates, instead offering a budget with new taxes, fees and levies for citizens, along with service cuts.

The people of Alberta then did what was once thought impossible: they gave the NDP a strong majority. Almost half the NDP members elected were women, giving Alberta the highest percentage of women ever in a Canadian provincial or federal government.

On the other side of the country, voters in Prince Edward Island followed B.C.provincially and Canada federally and elected their first Green Party member, as well as Canada’s second openly gay premier. Remember, homosexuality was illegal in Canada until 1969!

In my home province, after a long struggle by elders and families of the Tahltan Klabona Keepers, the B.C. government bought 61 coal licenses from Fortune Minerals and Posco Canada in the Klappan and Sacred Headwaters, putting a halt to controversial development in an ecologically and culturally significant area that is home to the Tahltan people and forms the headwaters of the Skeena, Stikine and Nass rivers. The Tahltan and the province have agreed to work on a long-term management plan for the area.

On the same night as Alberta’s election, people of the Lax Kw’alaams band of the Tsimshian First Nation met to consider an offer by Malaysian state-owned energy company Petronas of $1 billion over 40 years to build a liquefied natural gas export terminal on Lelu Island near Prince Rupert, at the other end of the Skeena River, an estuary that provides crucial habitat for salmon and other life. The 181 people attending unanimously opposed the offer. Two nights later in Prince Rupert, band members also stood unanimously against the proposal.

A final vote was scheduled after this column’s deadline, but the message is clear: integrity, the environment and human health are more important than money. Gerald Amos, a Haisla First Nation member and community relations director for the Headwaters Initiative, said the federal Prince Rupert Port Authority’s decision to locate the facility on Lelu Island also demonstrated a failure to properly consult with First Nations. “By the time they get around to consulting with us, the boat’s already built and they just want to know what color to paint it,” he said.

On a broader scale, change is occurring around the serious threat of climate change. Even well-known deniers, including U.S. oil billionaire Charles Koch, now admit climate change is real and caused in part by CO2 emissions. But they argue it isn’t and won’t be dangerous, so we shouldn’t worry. Most people are smart enough to see through their constantly changing, anti-science, pro-fossil-fuel propaganda, though, and are demanding government and industry action.

We’re also seeing significant changes in the corporate sector. The movement to divest from fossil fuels is growing quickly, and businesses are increasingly integrating positive environmental performance into their operations. Funds that have divested from fossil fuels have outperformed those that haven’t, a trend expected to continue.

We can’t expect miracles from Alberta’s new government, which has its work cut out. After all, it would be difficult to govern Alberta from an anti-oil position, and the fossil fuel industry is known for working to get its way. Although NDP leader Rachel Notley has spoken against the Northern Gateway pipeline proposal, she isn’t opposed to all pipeline and oilsands development, and she’s called for refinery construction in Alberta. But she’s promised to phase out coal-fired power, increase transit investment, implement energy efficiency and renewable energy strategies, and bring in stronger environmental standards, monitoring and enforcement.

I’ve often said things are impossible only until they aren’t anymore. The past few weeks show how people have the power to bring about change.

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

Norway Creates Police Force To Fight Animal Cruelty

In April, Norway took a giant step for animals and announced it will test out the first-ever animal police project.

Police in Sor-Trondelag, Norway, will implement a three-person force to specifically focus on animal rights. The force will have an investigator, a legal expert and a coordinator. The project will be tested out over the course of three years and is a combined effort between the state agricultural ministry and state police.

Norwegian minister of agriculture and food, Sylvi Listhaug, is one of the project’s supporters. She told AFP News, “First of all, it’s important to take care of our animals, so that they enjoy the rights they have and that there be a follow-up when their rights are violated.”

Listhaug believes this effort is not only good for animals, but humans as well, saying, “…studies show that some of those people who commit crimes and misdemeanors against animals also do the same to people.”

This is not the first step the country has taken to fight animal cruelty. Norway’s Animal Welfare Act, which was published in 2009, states that “Anybody who discovers an animal which is obviously sick, injured, or helpless, shall as far as possible help the animal. If it is impossible to provide adequate help, and the animal is domestic or a large wild mammal, the owner, or the police shall be alerted immediately.”

The four-chapter act details personal responsibility for animals and details punishment for those who do not abide by the act. Anyone not in compliance is fined, imprisoned for a maximum of one year, or both. Serious violations can come with a maximum of three years in prison.

According to reports from NRK, there were 38 cases of animal abuse reported to Norwegian police in 2014.

While Norway may be progressive in its new program, it is important to note that the country allows an annual whaling season. With 720 whales killed by 21 whaling vessels, 2014 was the deadliest whaling season for the country. The quota for the four-month hunting season is 1286. Only 5 percent of Norwegians eat whale meat, however, so the industry is primarily for export.

Luckily, conservation groups are putting pressure on Norwegian’s whaling industry. Recently, the Environmental Investigation Agency and the Animal Welfare Institute revealed that the Japanese government rejected whale meat from Norway. Tests revealed that there were pesticides and chemicals twice the allowed amount within the meat. Without an export market, the industry within Norway will struggle.

It is not uncommon, however, for countries like Norway to support animal rights while at the same time participating in practices that harm animals. According to the World Animal Protection organization, there are a number of countries that have contradicting legislation. The website highlights the best and worst countries for animals, with the United Kingdom, Austria, New Zealand and Switzerland being the countries that are kindest to animals. The data is gathered from legislation, efforts to improve animal welfare and recognize animals’ cognitive and emotional abilities.

The organization’s website offers a number of ways you can stop animal cruelty across the globe. There are a number of campaigns listed where you can help different animals.

Despite the contradictions, it is important to bring attention to the positive work Norway is doing with its new animal police initiative. If we spread the news, hopefully other countries will implement their own animal police unit.

Lindsay Patton|May 14, 2015

In Memoriam

Marc Cornelissen,46 and Philip de Roo, 30, veteran polar explorers and scientists, planned to document thinning Arctic sea ice.

The pair is presumed to have drowned, victims of the thin ice they had come to study.

Environmental Links

SFAS International Wildlife News Audubon Advocate Audubon Restore Eco-Voice South Florida Wildlife Care Center Sawgrass Nature Center & Wildlife Hospital The Turtle Hospital The Marathon Wild Bird Center Climate change info Audubon’s Coastal Strand Audubon of Florida News Blog Bioenergy News Climate Progress – climate science, politics and solutions Collins Center for Public Policy Comprehensive Everglades Restoration News EcoWatch – feeds from the WaterKeeper Alliance Everglades Foundation – press releases Everglades Hub Fort Myers News – Press Green Front Pages from Florida Newspapers Herald Tribune Newspapers –  Environmental News KeysNews.com Naples Daily News  – Environmental News National Public Radio Eco-News Riverwatch News about the Caloosahatchee Sierra Club Sierra Club Florida South Florida Watershed  Journal South Florida Water Management District Union of Concerned Scientists – news Yahoo News Search: Everglades NASA Climate Information American Littorial Society log NASA Climate Information Sun Newspapers – Lake Okeechobee News Everglades City News  – Mullet Wrapper IFAW’s World of Animals Magazine

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ConsRep 1505 B

How long can men thrive between walls of brick, walking on asphalt pavements, breathing the fumes of coal and of oil, growing, working, dying, with hardly a thought of wind, and sky, and fields of grain, seeing only machine-made beauty, the mineral-like quality of life? ~Charles A. Lindbergh

Announcements

You’re Invited: Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day ‏

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

The first annual Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day is May 16 (first Saturday after Mother’s Day).

On this day, the FWC will promote lionfish awareness and encourage divers to remove lionfish from Florida waters.

Lionfish are an invasive species that have a potential negative impact on Florida’s native wildlife and habitat.

The weekend of May 16-17, the FWC will host a festival from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Plaza de Luna in Pensacola. 

If you are in the area, we’d love to have you join us at this family-friendly educational event.

The event is free to the public and open to all ages! 

If you are not going to be in the Pensacola area, please visit MyFWC.com/Lionfish and click on “Events and Derbies” 

to check out other lionfish awareness and removal events occurring throughout the state that same weekend.

Or, if you are a diver, please consider removing lionfish and reporting them via the Report Florida Lionfish app or online at MyFWC.com/Lionfish.

Let’s see how many lionfish we can remove from Florida waters in one weekend!

For more information visit ReefRangers.com or visit our Facebook page at Facebook.com/lionfishreefrangers

Seeking Broward electric car owners ‏

Forwarding a request message from Florida Sierra staffer, Jon Ullman.  See his contact info below.

Subject: Seeking Broward electric car owners

Hi Friends of Broward Sierra Club!

Sierra Club’s EV (Electric Vehicle) campaign would like to hold a Saturday 1/2 day meeting with electric car owners in Broward in the next couple weeks.

We already have two Tesla owners on board, but we’re seeking a Nissan Leaf and and a Chevy Volt driver to round out the team.

Do you know someone who: 

a) owns or leases one of those cars, and 

b) wants to be part of a team to promote and expand EV use in Broward? 

If so, please send them to me. You can either email me or call me on my cell at 305-283-6070.

Thanks!

Jonathan Ullman

South Florida/Everglades Senior Field Organizer

Sierra Club

300 Aragon Ave., Ste. 360

Coral Gables, FL 33134

Evenings at the Conservancy

The Evenings at the Conservancy Speaker Series continues on Tuesday, May 12 with a presentation by Jennifer Hecker,

Conservancy director of natural resource policy.

She specializes in water, listed species, Everglades restoration and environmental lands policy.

Jennifer’s presentation, Inappropriate Oil Drilling and Water Don’t Mix,

will give you an in-depth look at the current Southwest Florida oil rush

and she’ll explain what can be done to better protect citizens, our water supply

and our quality of life in the face of extreme oil extraction.

Jennifer will also provide an update on exactly what happened during the recent legislative session.

The presentation will be on Tuesday, May 12 in the Jeannie Meg Smith Theater,

located inside Eaton Conservation Hall, from 6:30-7:30 p.m. with an opportunity for questions and answers. 

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

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

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

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

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

Members: FREE
General Admission: $10
Don’t miss these future Evenings lectures:

July 14
Director of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital – “A Look inside the von Arx Wildlife Hospital”

August 11
Conservancy Director of Governmental Relations Nicole Johnson – “Smart Growth”

The Ospreys Need You, Citizen Scientists!

Audubon and explore.org need your help!

As fans and viewers of the Osprey Cam, you are in a unique and exciting position to

collect valuable scientific data about ospreys Rachel, Steve, and their future offspring.

And it starts by taking a snapshot.

The Citizen Science feature pops up every time you snap a pic of the Osprey Nest.

You’ll be given the option to take a fun, interactive survey and tell us what you see on the cam!

Just press the camera icon, and select “Use this Snapshot for Research”.

Of Interest to All

Bill Nelson files federal bill blocking seismic testing off Florida

U. S. Sen. Bill Nelson says he filed legislation that he says would block a federal plan to allow oil and gas exploration off Florida’s Atlantic coast.

The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is considering 10 permits to allow seismic testing from Delaware south to about Melbourne off the coast of Florida. There is no timeline on a permitting decision because they involve multiple agencies, a bureau spokesman said.

Environmental groups and 75 scientists have asked President Barack Obama to halt the program because they say seismic blasts are as loud as explosions and can mark whale calls over thousands of miles.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection last week sent a letter raising concerns that testing could harm sea turtles, marine mammals including endangered right whales and other sea life.

Nelson, a Democrat from Melbourne, filed legislation this week that would establish a moratorium on seismic testing off Florida. The moratorium could be lifted when the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration determines that the “reasonably foreseeable impacts” on sea life is minimal.

Nelson reiterated his opposition to drilling off the coast of Florida.

“Drilling off Florida’s Atlantic coast would be unwise and impractical,” he said. “It would interfere with military operations off of Jacksonville and rocket launches from Kennedy Space Center and Patrick Air Force base, not to mention the environmental hazards it would pose.

“If you’re not going to drill there, then why do the seismic testing?” Nelson asked.

Jacksonville Beach adopted a resolution last month, as have Fernandina Beach, Neptune Beach, Atlantic Beach, St. Augustine and St. Marys, Ga., according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown also wrote to Energy Management officials last year, asking them not to permit seismic testing, the newspaper reported.
“We’re certainly concerned. Our beach is our biggest asset, and the marine life in our ocean is pretty important,” said Jacksonville Beach Mayor Charlie Latham, who sought the resolution.

Dry winter, slow progress on Everglades work puts Florida Bay at risk

Florida Bay is thirsty, and it’s starting to bug the fish.

Last month, while the rest of the state fretted over polluted water from Lake Okeechobee fouling nearby rivers, officials at the South Florida Water Management District reported that the southern Everglades was in trouble.

Salinity in Taylor Slough, a historic freshwater artery for the bay, had spiked for the second year in a row, threatening to violate targets set to protect the marshes and marine life. A withering winter had left the region parched. And that could be bad news for shallow estuaries and creeks that fringe the bay.

Freshwater minnows, the first link in a complicated food chain, were not showing up in winter counts of fish stock. Last year, scientists counted a record low number of spotted sea trout, a fish perfectly engineered to reflect changes in the bay.

“What I think we’re seeing there is a direct response,” said Chris Kelble, an oceanographer with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration who studies the link between fish and the environment.

While spring rain is expected to drive down salinity in the short term, scientists fear the frequent swings from fresh to salt could be upsetting long-term stability and may hint that rising sea levels are trekking inland. Peat, the manna of Everglades marshes, could collapse. Coastal fringes that act as nurseries could become barren.

And the impacts would not just slam the ecosystem. A $7.6 billion recreational fishing industry could also be hurt. That includes an avid band of anglers who set their clocks by the annual spring migration of tarpon around the tip of Florida, synced precisely over millions of years to coincide with the wet season and freshwater that flowed from the north, University of Miami fisheries scientist Jerry Ault said.

“It’s an incredible choreography,” he said. “We’re putting the system into an imbalance that will play out over years, not just year to year.”

To keep the bay healthy, the South Florida Water Management District tries to balance flood control with water use and what the ecosystem needs to stay happy by setting minimum flow levels of freshwater, said Susan Gray, the district’s chief environmental scientist. Using models, they calculate how much freshwater is needed to keep units of salinity, called PSUs, in the right range: freshwater is 0 and ocean levels are 30.

But over the last two years, drought conditions have complicated that balance. Last month, for the first time, the district risked dropping below the required minimum flows for Taylor Slough. And for the second year in a row, the freshwater slough looked more like ocean water. Gauges in mangrove ponds have climbed up steadily from about 10 PSUs since the beginning of the year, while the amount of water in the slough has steadily dropped by more than half.

“We are not there yet, but we know we are very close,” Gray said last week.

Everglades restoration projects are intended to fix the problem. But so far, only one part of one of three critical projects aimed at increasing freshwater to the slough is working: the western half of the C-111 spreader canal.

The project was meant to undo decades of damage caused by the C-111 canal, a wide, long and deep canal dug in the 1960s. The canal completely upended the natural sheet flow of water across the Everglades by rerouting water from Taylor Slough — only a quarter of historic levels now move through the slough — to the drainage channel and out Barnes Sound. The spreader was supposed to suck water out of a nearby canal and allow it to flow more naturally. As with other restoration projects shared by the state and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, work stalled.

To speed things up, the state took over and completed the western half of the spreader in 2012. (An eastern project remains unfinished.)

Within a year, the ecosystem started responding. Underwater plants flourished, increasing their cover by five times as much. Freshwater flows into Taylor Slough doubled.

But when two abnormally dry winters hit the region, Jerry Lorenz, Audubon Florida’s state director of research, said he realized the C-111 spreader couldn’t work without water from the north to supplement rainfall. It had nothing to spread.

“We need upstream water up and running for it to function properly,” he said.

But that piece of the puzzle is complicated. A suite of projects aimed at getting water moving through the Central Everglades stalled last year after the U.S. Corps of Engineers failed to send a report in time to Congress. And farmers to the east have also increasingly complained that the spreader is sending too much water into their fields rather than west into the Everglades, drowning crops.

“Right now we can’t move the water where we need to until the projects are complete,” Gray said. “We don’t have the capacity to move the water effectively.”

Scientists say they may already be seeing impacts from the high salinity in places. Since 2011 when the district last surveyed patches of Ruppia, a type of sea grass that once dominated the bay, Gray said coverage dropped from about 40 percent to 10 to 20 percent. In his winter fish survey, which he is now compiling, Lorenz said scientists found no freshwater fish. Last year, 40 percent of all the fish collected were freshwater, he said.

Data collected from Everglades National Park indicate some high and very high levels of salinity in the last two weeks, biological branch chief Tylan Dean said. But none of the levels are unprecedented, he said.

“There are enough signals… out there that many of us are concerned, so we’re watching the system closely to see what happens,” he said.

Salinity tends to be highest in the center of the wide shallow bay because it’s too far from currents off the Gulf of Mexico that keep water moving through the western bay. But crucial estuaries at the north end of the bay have historically been hardest hit because swings in salinity can destabilize habitat. If salt is too high, salt-tolerant plants will start to grow. But when salinity drops, they die.

“You never get a standing crop of aquatic vegetation and without that, you don’t get habitat for prey-based food,” Lorenz said.

In its natural state, water flowed into the bay across transverse glades. But those were typically the first places where flood control structures were built, Ault said. Everglades restoration is meant to undo that. But just delivering water isn’t enough, he said. It has to be clean.

“In the natural flow system, a water particle in Lake Okeechobee today would be out on the coral reef in less than 90 days,” he said.

So finding a place to store the water is critical, Lorenz said. Lorenz’s bosses and environmentalists are waging a bitter battle in Tallahassee to convince lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott to use money from a constitutional amendment passed by voters in November to spend $10 billion over 20 years on environmental land.

A 2010 contract would allow the state to buy 46,000 acres of U.S. Sugar land. Of that, 26,000 acres south of the lake could be used for storage. Another 20,000 is too far west. A recent study by the University of Florida recommended the land be part of several storage solutions. But lawmakers opposed to the deal argue the state already owns too much land and Scott has said the state needs to finish the projects already started.

But of all the areas hit hard by damaging flood control measures, Everglades Foundation director of science and policy adviser Tom Van Lent said, Florida Bay may be most vulnerable.

“The bay is always on a kind of knife’s edge,” he said. “The single biggest input in the late dry season was this flow from the Everglades and it’s gone.”

Jenny Staletovich|MiamiHerald.com05/04/2015

California Farmers Are Watering Their Crops With Oil Wastewater, And No One Knows What’s In It

As California farmers face a fourth year of the state’s historic drought, they’re finding water in unexpected places — like Chevron’s Kern River oil field, which has been selling recycled wastewater from oil production to farmers in California’s Kern County. Each day, Chevron recycles and sells 21 million gallons of wastewater to farmers, which is then applied on about 10 percent of Kern County’s farmland. And while some praise the program as a model for dealing with water shortages, environmental groups are raising concerns about the water’s safety, according to a recent story in the Los Angeles Times.

Tests conducted by Water Defense, an environmental group founded by actor Mark Ruffalo in 2010, have found high levels of acetone and methylene chloride — compounds that can be toxic to humans — in wastewater from Chevron used for irrigation purposes. The tests also found the presence of oil, which is supposed to be removed from the wastewater during recycling.

“All these chemicals of concern are flowing in the irrigation canal,” Scott Smith, chief scientist for Water Defense, told ThinkProgress. “If you were a gas station and were spilling these kinds of chemicals into the water, you would be shut down and fined.”

Chevron, which produces around 70,000 barrels of oil and 760,000 barrels of water each day at the Kern River oil field, has been selling water to farmers in the surrounding area for two decades. But government authorities have never required that water to be tested for chemicals used in oil production — only naturally occurring toxins like salts and arsenic. And even those standards are “decades-old,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

Before getting to the Central Valley fields, wastewater from the Kern River oil field is mixed with walnut shells, which helps remove residual oil. The water then passes through a series of treatment ponds before flowing down an eight-mile canal to the Cawelo Water District. While in the canal, the wastewater is sometimes diluted with freshwater — and sometimes not. The water from the Kern River oil field is applied to some 45,000 acres of crops, irrigating everything from nut trees to citrus fruits.

Last year, the California state legislature passed a law requiring oil companies to disclose the chemicals that they use in oil extraction, and in April, California water authorities declared that oil companies would need to start checking to make sure that those same chemicals aren’t making it into recycled water bound for agricultural use. Oil companies have until June 15 to disclose the results of these new tests.

“We need to make sure we fully understand what goes into the wastewater,” Clay Rodgers, assistant executive officer of the Central Valley Water Quality Control Board, told the Los Angeles Times.

To test the recycled wastewater for contaminants, Water Defense’s Smith — who has consulted with the EPA and other government offices on more than 50 oil spills — took samples from 10 different points of varying depth along the Cawelo canal’s eight-mile stretch. Smith compares his testing method to a video, and says the state’s method is more like an instant picture — it looks at the wastewater for a split second, and can miss contaminants. His method, he contends, gives a better holistic picture of the water’s composition. One sample Smith took had levels of methylene chloride — an industrial solvent used to soften crude oil — as high as 56 parts per billion, four times the amount of methylene chloride Smith found in 2013 when he tested parts of an Arkansas river fouled by the 2013 ExxonMobil tar sands pipeline spill.

Chevron is pushing back against claims that the wastewater contains dangerous chemicals, saying in a statement emailed to the Los Angeles Times that “protection of people and the environment is a core value for Chevron, and we take all necessary steps to ensure the protection of our water resources.” Out of an “abundance of caution,” however, both Chevron and the Cawelo Water District will contract with an outside group to test the wastewater. Still, Chevron would not disclose publicly the fluids it uses for drilling or well maintenance.

Blake Sanden, an agriculture extension agent and irrigation water expert with UC Davis, told the Los Angeles Times that farmers can smell the petrochemicals in the water, but most assume that the soil is filtering out any harmful toxins before they can be absorbed by the crops. While soil does filter out some impurities, Sanden says it’s impossible to know for sure whether waste from oil production is making its way from irrigation water into the roots and leaves of crops.

To Smith, that’s just another missing piece of information that needs to be understood before wastewater from oil production is deemed safe for agriculture.

“The state appears to not even be testing for oil in the water,” Smith said. “You’re not going to find chemicals of concern if you don’t look for them.”

According to the Los Angeles Times, monitoring the oil fields has been a “low priority” for California’s Water State Resources Control Board, the state body that regulates wastewater. The burden for testing wastewater falls largely on the oil companies, which in the past have sought to reduce testing and disclosure requirements due to concerns over time and expense.

With the drought placing more attention on water resources, Smith says that it’s important for testing of wastewater to continue.

“We want to work with Chevron, we want to work with the regulators. We want to use multiple methods of testing,” he said. “That’s the best way to figure out what’s in that water and what can be done to solve it.”

Natasha Geiling|May 5, 2015

[Using 760,000 gallons of water to obtain 70,000 gallons of oil at a time when California is in the worst drought in recorded history is going from the ridiculous to the sublime. 10.9 gallons of water to produce a single gallon of oil?]

Yet Another Oil Bomb Train Explosion Proves New Regulations Fail to Protect Us

The town of Heimdal, North Dakota was evacuated this morning after yet another train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded. A BNSF Railway oil train derailed around 7:30 a.m., setting at least 10 oil tanker cars on fire. No injuries or fatalities have been reported.

“The tank cars involved in the incident are the unjacketed CPC-1232 models,” BNSF spokesperson Amy McBeth told Valley News Live. These newer tank cars are suppose to be safer than older models, but the four oil train accidents in the first three months of 2015 all involved the newer cars, according to Common Dreams.

“Again another derailment and explosion of a train carrying crude. Again another community evacuated and its people counting their blessings this didn’t happen half a mile down the track in the middle of town,” said Earthjustice attorney Kristen Boyles. “Under the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) new rules, the type of oil tank cars that are burning in Heimdal will stay on the rails for five to eight years. DOT’s new industry-pleasing rule is too weak and too slow. We need to get these exploding death trains off the tracks now.”

Last week, the DOT released new oil-by-train safety standards, but many environmental groups believe the standards are not strong enough and “leave communities at risk of catastrophe.” The Center for Biological Diversity is one of the groups calling for a moratorium on these so-called “bomb trains.”

“We will continue to see these fiery derailments even with the new regulations in place, because they fail to take sufficient actions to prevent oil trains wrecks,” said Jared Margolis, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. “As this accident demonstrates, people, wildlife, rivers and lakes will continue to pay the price for the government’s failure to take steps to adequately protect us from these dangerous oil trains.”

Oil train derailments have become more and more frequent in recent years across North America, as oil shipments via rail have increased.    

Cole Mellino|May 6, 2015

Expansion by Indonesia’s largest palm oil company frozen for disobeying RSPO standards

Palm oil conglomerate ordered to halt expansion of operations following multiple violations of RSPO standards.

The RSPO’s Complaints Panel has upheld the Forest Peoples Program in its complaint against Golden Agri Resources, which was seeking to expand 18 of its operations in Kalimantan. After concluding that it has ‘reasonable grounds’ to conclude that the company is in violation of several RSPO norms, the latest ‘determination’ by the Panel notes:

“The Panel hereby prohibits GAR from acquiring or developing any new areas until this complaint has been dealt with to the satisfaction of the Complaints Panel.”

Repeated field surveys by Forest Peoples Program with local partner, LinkAR-Borneo, show that the company has sluggishly responded, after the NGOs had repeatedly raised concerns first with the company and then the RSPO. The NGOs found that the company had filed to expand its operations after it had taken land without proper consent, had not completed required High Conservation Value assessments and was of questionable legality. The Complaints Panel rules that:

“GAR must also take remedial steps to correct any shortcomings in its land acquisition process with the affected communities… and insists that GAR must honor its commitment to allocate 20 % of the land for the smallholders as it has promised to do…”

Agus Sutomo Executive Director of Pontianak-based LinkAR Borneo says:

“We need the Government to take note of this decision. Chaotic law enforcement and handing out permits for oil palm plantations on indigenous peoples’ lands without even informing them in advance is bad for people, bad for forests and bad for Indonesia.”

In past years NGOs have expressed growing dismay that the RSPO was failing to enforce its standards and turning a blind eye to multiple violations.

“We hope this decision will now persuade GAR/SMART that it has to renegotiate with communities where it has taken over their lands without their informed consent”, says Marcus Colchester, Senior Policy Advisor of the Forest Peoples Program. “We are greatly encouraged that the RSPO is upholding its standard. We need to eliminate all land-grabbing from the RSPO-endorsed supply chain.”

Press release|May 7, 2015

Calls to Action

  1. Tell President Obama to Protect Country of Origin Labels – here
  2. Urge the Government to Ban a Giant Freezer Trawler That Has Killed Eight Dolphins and Four Seals – here
  3. Protect Grand Canyon From Proposed Mega-Mall – here
  4. Sea Turtles Need You – here
  5. Don’t Gut NASA’s Climate Change Research – here
  6. Tell Congress- Don’t gut the Land and Water Conservation Fund – here
  7. Don’t kill the bobcats in Illinois – here
  8. Your urgent donation will help us protect Piping Plovers – here
  9. Tell True Value & Ace: Stop Selling Bee-Killing Pesticides – here
  10. Does Your Orange Contain Fracking Chemicals – here

Birds and Butterflies

Bird of the Week: Piping Plover

The small, sand-colored Piping Plover, named for its melodic, plaintive whistle, is a bird of beaches and barrier islands, sharing this habitat with Least Terns, Black Skimmers, and Wilson’s Plovers.

Beaches are also popular with people, and their impacts have caused serious declines in Piping Plover populations. Shoreline development and stabilization projects, free-roaming cats and other predators, poorly sited wind turbines, gas/oil industry operations, and global warming are some of the biggest threats to this species.

Beach Sprites

Piping Plovers resemble wind-up toys as they dart along the beach in search of food, taking a wide variety of insects, marine worms, and crustaceans. They nest in small depressions in the sand called scrapes and often nest in the same area with Least Terns.

Like many other plover species, adult Piping Plovers employ a “broken wing display” when threatened to draw attention to themselves and away from their chicks and nest.

Saving the Piping Plover

The Piping Plover is federally listed as Endangered in the Great Lakes region and Threatened in the remainder of its U.S. breeding range; it’s also listed as Endangered in Canada. The Great Lakes population is on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List.

Critical Piping Plover nesting habitats are now protected to help the species during its breeding season. Populations have seen significant increases since the protection programs began, but the species remains in danger.

For example, at popular Jones Beach near New York City, nesting Piping Plovers are threatened by a colony of feral cats. ABC is urging authorities to remove the cats for the safety of this federally protected species.

ABC is also leading a Gulf Coast conservation effort that is working to identify and implement protective measures for vulnerable beach-nesting birds and other birds, such as the Piping Plover, that winter there. Strategies include preservation of plover habitats; public education; limiting off-road vehicle (ORV) traffic; and limiting predation of free-roaming cats and dogs.

Hear some piping calls

American Bird Conservancy

Wind Beneath Their Wings

Here they come again…monarch butterflies are headed north.

And they’re off! The annual monarch migration is underway as of March 24, when Journey North citizen scientists in Angangueo, Mexico, spotted a mass of the burnt-orange beauties fluttering northward. After a winter-long siesta in toastier climes, the eastern population will travel all the way to the northern United States and southern Canada. In this, one of the world’s most magnificent migrations, no individual butterfly makes it from start to finish. Rather, each successive generation pushes a bit farther north—hitching a ride on south winds you can watch for on this map—then stops to breed. When fall comes, the fourth generation returns to Mexico to start the cycle all over again.

This is just the beginning of their journey, but out of the gate, monarchs have a lot working against them: climate change, habitat loss, pesticides, and parasites have all driven their numbers down. The population counted in Mexico earlier this year was the second lowest on record. Attention green thumbs: Conservationists are calling on you to plant native milkweed and give them the lift they need.

Clara Chaisson|April, 2015

Five Years After Deepwater Horizon Spill, Growing Gulf-Wide Effort Protects Beach Nesting Birds

The April 20, 2010, Deepwater Horizon spill was a horrific event that impacted the lives of many families as well as the gulf environment. But there are bright spots that periodically emerge, such as a report from American Bird Conservancy (ABC) on a Gulf-wide, multi-partner bird conservation effort that continues to gain momentum and deliver important successes in protecting wild birds impacted by the spill.

“2014 was by far our best year in terms of delivering bigger conservation results for beach-nesting birds.  We worked at 58 sites with 21 partners providing some combination of protection, monitoring, and outreach on more than 2,400 acres of coastal habitat that supported 950 nests and 1,400 breeding pairs of our target species: primarily Least Terns and Wilson’s and Snowy Plovers,” said Kacy Ray, ABC’s Gulf Conservation Program Manager.

These birds were impacted both by the spill itself, and by cleanup efforts that often ignored nesting birds as they attempted to rid beaches of oil – in some cases destroying nests with heavy earth-moving machinery and causing significant disturbance with beach cleanup crews and their vehicles.

Across the Gulf, the conservation program, which began in 2011, reached thousands of people through on-the-ground stewardship and community engagement. In 2014, more than 50 volunteers put in more than 1,000 hours educating the public about beach-nesting birds. Nest site stewardship led to outstanding results in St. Pete Beach, FL; Gulf Shores, AL; and East Beach, TX, where Black Skimmers and Snowy Plovers produced one fledging chick per breeding pair, which Ray describes as a remarkable reproductive output.

The effort includes partners from multiple conservation groups as well as local, state, and federal agencies implementing conservation activities to help impacted coastal birds recover. The project has brought expertise not only from ABC, but from partners throughout the Gulf region, including the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program; US Fish and Wildlife Service; Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program; Houston Audubon; Audubon Louisiana; Grand Isle State Park; Gulf State Park; Eckerd College in Pinellas County, FL; and the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory, among many others. The project, which is primarily funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, has focused on beach-nesting bird habitat in Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida.

Least Terns were among the top ten birds most affected by the spill, and Black Skimmers and Snowy and Wilson’s Plovers were also victims. “All of those species are targeted by our program’s conservation efforts,” said Ray.

“This project will reduce impacts on key beach-nesting bird colonies, many of which are currently vulnerable to accidental disturbance by members of the public, dogs, and ATVs, which can cause adult birds to abandon a nest or lead to crushed eggs and injured chicks,” said Ray. “Nesting birds occupy a tiny portion of the region’s beaches, usually well back from the shoreline, so there doesn’t need to be a conflict with beach goers. But the areas they do use are absolutely vital to their breeding success,” she added.

“We all love the beaches of the Gulf – they are economically vital to our coastal communities – so our project goal is not to restrict public access.  Instead, we hope to engage the public in helping us with beach bird recovery by sharing this beautiful shoreline during nesting season,” she said.

“Beaches are among the most limited and threatened of all bird habitats in the U.S. They provide only a tiny sliver of nesting opportunity for birds, and are often heavily used by humans, squeezed by development, and frequented by colonies of feral cats. Consequently, birds that require this habitat face considerable survival challenges. Much of their plight is caused by anthropogenic (human-related) impacts, so it is only fitting that we take steps to fend off some of those challenges and give them a fighting chance,” said Dr. George H. Fenwick, ABC’s President.

“The best thing for beachgoers to do, especially in the spring and summer months, is to avoid getting close to areas where larger congregations of birds are gathered, and to always respect areas that are roped off or marked with signs designating an area that is used by nesting birds,” said Ray. “The habitat for these birds is diminishing every year due to beach development, erosion, and ever-increasing recreational use, so the birds can really use any break we can give them. They have no other place to go.”

Ray pointed out that it can be difficult for both the year-round resident and the casual vacationer to see the difference between a bird that is simply sitting on the sand and one that is tending eggs or a nest or young. Ray said that most nesting birds tend to use higher parts of the beach away from the surf or behind the primary dunes, so it should be possible to avoid conflict with beach nesters so long as people remain close to the water and away from the dunes or higher areas.

“You know you’ve entered a nesting area when large groups or individual birds vocalize loudly, dive-bomb your head, or feign injury to lead you away from their nests. If this happens, back away and share the beach so the birds can successfully rear their young,” she said.

ABC and its partners are working in the Tampa Bay region; Gulf Shores, AL; Grand Isle, LA; and along the Texas coast to help these birds and their young, added Ray.

Robert Johns|05/04/2015 

(Not) Flying South for the Winter

Birders find that hummingbirds are sticking around through the cold season.

When the weather turns to spring and flowers blossom many U.S. bird lovers look for the hummingbirds to return to local nectar feeders or flower patches. For a lucky few in particular parts of the U.S.—especially in the West Coast, South, and Southwest—hummingbirds hang around all year long. That’s been the pattern for years, but things seem to be changing. Birders are documenting more hummingbirds that have opted to overwinter in the U.S. For example, during the 115th Christmas Bird Count, birders found 312 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in expected locales like southern Florida, but they also spotted the birds in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas. The question is: Why? Did these winter birds forget to migrate?

Scientists are hoping to answer this question, in part by looking at data from citizen science programs like Hummingbirds at Home, to see if these shifts mirror the shifts in climate and flower-blooming times. There is ample evidence that this shift is occurring. The 1974 book “Louisiana Birds” by George H. Lowery, Jr., lists five documented hummingbird species in Louisiana. Today, there are 13. Of those species, only the Ruby-throated Hummingbird regularly breeds in Louisiana and the eastern US. The others merely pass through or winter in Louisiana.

In recent years more people in Louisiana have been managing their yards and gardens with hummingbird-friendly plants. Do these hummingbird friendly places attract the birds to come to Louisiana, or conversely have the increasing number of wintering hummingbirds resulted in the setting out of an invitation by interested people? Providing a nectar feeder will not delay a hummingbird’s migration, but will help them with a food source during their journey. They will migrate once the day length indicates it is time to go south. But there is still a lot to learn about hummingbird migration patterns and why they might be in places we don’t expect in winter.

The Ruby-throated story is even more complicated than it seems on the surface. Individual birds do not stay in Louisiana; instead, overwintering birds migrate as far north as Canada to breed, while those that show up in the spring actually overwinter in Central America. The Louisiana Winter Hummingbird Project, which focuses on banding wintering hummingbirds, documented that one Ruby-throated Hummingbird banded there during the winter was found a few months later in Manitoba during the breeding season. This project was started to learn more about the unexpected hummingbird species showing up out of season in Louisiana.

The more we look at these kinds of data and watch hummingbirds, the more questions we have. By collecting data about where the hummingbirds are in winter and what they are feeding on during their return to breeding areas, citizen scientists provide the valuable information to help us answer some of these questions. Help us learn about the hummingbirds near you when they return home, and tell us what nectar sources they are visiting by joining at www.hummingbirdsathome.org

Kathy Dale|Apr 27, 2015

6 Spring Migration Hotspots

Spring migration.

Those two words are enough to induce rapid heartbeat and manic, anticipatory glee among birders.

Why, you ask?

Every year between March and May, millions of birds stream northward into the United States from their wintering grounds in Central and South America. Some settle in for the breeding season, while others wing their way north to Canada.

For some species, the only time to see them on U.S. soil is a few-week window in the spring and fall. Spring migration is arguably glitzier, as both males and females are strutting their stuff in bright, colorful breeding plumage.

So where do you go to see spring migration in action? Check out our picks below, and share your favorite birding sites in the comments.

Dry Tortugas, Florida

Claim to fame: Weird vagrants and storm-tossed rarities

When to go: March, April, May

What you’ll see: sooty tern, masked booby, magnificent frigatebird, neotropical migrants

Best for: Travelers, listers, and rarity-chasers

Nearly 70 miles west of Key West, the Dry Tortugas islands are a literally life-saving stop for neotropical migrants — songbirds and other species that migrate from Central and South America. For these birds, the fastest way to get to the U.S. is across the Gulf of Mexico, but flying 600 miles across open water in a single flight is a daunting and downright dangerous obstacle for a songbird weighing 1 ounce or less. These sandy islands offer a place for birds to rest and refuel, and a safe haven in bad weather.

Things get weird in Dry Tortugas, even by Florida’s standards. The bird list is brimming bizarre species — like fork-tailed flycatchers and bananaquits — many of which are blown in by storms. Even the expected species, like warblers, tanagers and orioles, are often seen foraging on the beach, which is a strange sight for species usually found in the forest.

For birders, the only access to the islands is by boat or plane. Those willing to make the journey will also be rewarded by rare shorebirds, like masked booby, black noddy, brown noddy, and sooty tern.

High Island, Texas

Claim to fame: Legendary fallout

When to go: April through mid-May

What you’ll see: Warblers, tanagers, vireos, and buntings

Best for: Fallout junkies and migration nerds

This nondescript island between Galveston, Texas and the Louisiana border is legendary for one thing — fallout. What’s fallout? Ask Jack Black. (Yes, that Jack Black.)

Even if you aren’t lucky enough to see “a hundred thousand birds literally dropping from the sky,” High Island offers fantastic birding during migration. Birders shooting for a Big Day — trying to see as many species in a 24-hour period — easily top 100 species or more just at High Island. One team of expert birders from The Cornell Lab of Ornithology broke the national Big Day record with a jaw dropping 294 birds, in part thanks to a stop at High Island.

Don’t miss the oak grove in Smith Oaks Bird Sanctuary, where tall trees attract migrants like a magnet, or Purkey’s Pond, where grandstand bleachers overlook a pond where migrants drink and bathe.

Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, Ohio

Claim to fame: The Warbler Capital of the World

When to go: The second and third weeks of May

What you’ll see: 30+ warblers species

Best for: Warbler enthusiasts

A 30 warbler day — both a birder’s dream a real possibility at Magee Marsh. There are about 56 species of warblers in the U.S., depending on how you slice the deck, and a good handful of those are quite rare. (A few tricky species, like the yellow-breasted chat, are lumped in with the warblers despite being the subject of much taxonomic debate.)

Seeing 15+ warbler species on a single day is an achievement, while a 30-warbler day is something to brag about for years. If you’re going to go for the big 30, go to Magee Marsh.

Situated on the southern shore of Lake Erie, Canada-bound migrants stop here to refuel after crossing the country. Serious birders should go in mid May, when diversity is at its peak. That also happens to coincide with a 10-day festival dubbed The Biggest Week In American Birding.

Cape May, New Jersey

Claim to fame: Legendary funnel for East Coast migrants

When to go: March, April, May

What you’ll see: Anything and everything

Best for: Generalist birders and shorebird lovers

The Jersey Shore is for beachgoers and birds. It all boils down to geography: northbound migrants crash-land on Cape May’s point after crossing the Delaware Bay. Some birds don’t quite make it — there are stories of birders wading out into the surf to rescue exhausted songbirds that collapsed before reaching the beach.

Cape May is such a legendary and productive hotspot that you can find doorstop-sized books written about birds and birding on this tiny peninsula. It’s a place where anything can happen, and birders (like Jersey beachgoers) should be ready for the weird, rare, and unexpected.

Most of the action occurs west of the town, at a trio of sites: Higbee Beach WMA, Cape May Point State Park, and South Cape May Meadows, a Conservancy preserve. Another great site is Rea Farms, but to bird here you’ll need to purchase a pass from the Cape May Bird Observatory (CMBO) office. Before you go, check the Cape May Bird Observatory calendar for events guided walks, and their blog for birding and nature happenings.

NYC’s Central Park, New York

Claim to fame: A hotspot in an urban jungle

When to go: March, April, May

What you’ll see: Classic migrants in an unexpected setting

Best for: City-bound naturalists and beginning birders

Just trust me on this one. The heart of Manhattan is not obvious birding territory, but that’s exactly why you should bird here. Migrants flying high above New York look down and see one lone, dark patch of green amidst a veritable sea of lights and concrete — and they aim straight for it. (If you’re skeptical, check out “The Central Park Effect,” a documentary about Central Park birds and birders.)

You have a chance of seeing nearly all of the park’s 250 recorded species in the Ramble, a 36-acre wooded area with a maze of paths in the center of the park. Despite its rather seedy history, the Ramble’s woods make it prime territory for migrants. Next, scan the skies and lake at Belvedere Castle before swinging south to the Maintenance Meadow, the local birding nickname for the green space just southwest of the intersection of East Drive and the 79th Street traverse.

Point Reyes National Seashore, California

Claim to fame: 50 percent of all North American birds

When to go: March, April, May

What you’ll see: Tons of Pacific flyway species

Best for: Generalist birders

Roughly an hour north of San Francisco lies one of the best birding hotspots on the Pacific coast —Point Reyes National Seashore. With more than 70,000 acres of estuaries, coastal prairie, scrub, and forest, this hotspot has a wealth of different habitats to attract everything from shorebirds to warblers. Plus, the seashore’s peninsula projects 10 miles out to sea, drawing in open-ocean migrants and vagrants.

The Point Reyes bird list boasts nearly 490 species, or more than 50 percent of all birds found in North America. Keep an eye out for the snowy plover and the northern spotted owl, two threatened species that conservation scientists are monitoring at Point Reyes.

This hotspot is huge, so don’t expect to bird the entire seashore in one day unless you’re feeling ambitious. Birders new to the area should check out this list of popular birding locations or join one of the guided field trips during the Point Reyes Birding and Nature Festival.

By Justine E. Hausheer|science writer|Nature Conservancy|April 6, 2015

Caracara Old Timer

Oldest documented wild Crested Caracara; looking good at 24 years of age!

Our story begins with Brian Schmidt, a dedicated bird photographer based in central Florida, submitting his photo of a banded Crested Caracara, a Federally Threatened species, to the Bird Banding Laboratory (BBL) for ID. The BBL contacted Dr. Joan Morrison who has studied Caracara habits for two decades. Morrison could only read 3 of the 9 number string but suspected it was a very old band. She contacted Schmidt to get additional photos of the bands which he did.

Morrison subsequently emailed the BBL: ‘This definitive photo by Brian confirms a new longevity record for Crested Caracara! This male is at least 24 years old. I banded him as a breeding adult in a cattle pasture in March 1994!’ Schmidt commented, ‘My love for this bird goes beyond anyone’s imagination. The Caracara is such a smart bird, most people have no idea!’ Morrison sure knows. She even remembers capturing this particular male in 1994, commenting, ‘This Caracara’s home territory has not changed at all which might explain why he is still successfully nesting there.

It is really great to have Brian as a citizen scientist partner in our Caracara work along with the ranchers who maintain pasture habitat preferred by Caracaras’. Morrison plans to write-up an article about the Caracara’s lifespan with Schmidt as co-author.  

See beautiful Caracara photos here. 

Miami Blue

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

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

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

In 2006 alone, wildlife watchers spent $3.1 billion on wildlife-watching activities in Florida, not including hunting, fishing, and boating. The Miami Blue butterfly is one of many of Florida’s unique natural attractions. Despite its recent comeback, the butterfly is still listed as endangered in the state of Florida. However, it is not the only natural resource in need of support. Many of Florida’s native wildlife and natural wonders face increasing peril every day, and without funding for conservation projects, the state risks a multi-billion dollar contributor to its economy and well being.

Audubon Center for Birds of Prey Set to Release 500th Bald Eagle ‏

We are proud to announce that on May 14, the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey will release our 500th Bald Eagle back to the skies over Florida.

Every bird that receives treatment at our famous Center has a story. Since opening its doors in 1979, the Center has treated over 18,500 individual patients, each one with varying degrees of injury and illness. Rescued birds come to us from all over the state.

Audubon volunteers, donors, and staff devote themselves to the care and recovery of these remarkable Florida species. Kestrels and kites, hawks and falcons. And of course, Bald Eagles – the national symbol of our country. The Center provides care for all Florida’s injured birds of prey. 

Like all veterinary work, some days are better than others. But coming next week, the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey will hit a truly remarkable milestone.

Treatment for a Bald Eagle averages a whopping $3000 for each patient, depending on the injury. This moment (and the 499 that came before!) would not have been possible if not for the generous contributions from people like you that support our Bald Eagle rehabilitation and conservation work. 

Charlie – as the 500th eagle is affectionately known – is going through the final days of rehab at the Center’s 100 foot Magic of Flight Barn. Audubon invites you to watch his progress on our live web camera, found here.

You can also follow along on the Center’s official Facebook Page. You will see photo and video updates each day between now and the release, including footage of Charlie’s triumphant return to the wild on May 14.

It takes a dedicated community of people to save an eagle’s life. This day belongs to us all. You don’t want to miss it. 

Click here to watch Charlie fly.

Audubon Florida |5/07/15

Your Photos Can Help Birds

Doug Tallamy, author of ‘Bringing Nature Home’, has launched a new scientific endeavor at the University of Delaware, to find missing links between specific native plants, specific insects, and specific bird species that eat those insects. Knowing exactly which insects birds are eating can determine how specialized birds are on their insect prey. This is absolutely vital in planning gardens to support birds. And you can join the research by providing pictures of birds eating arthropods.

Take the Brainy Bird Challenge!

 

  Invasive species

How Not to Spread Invasive Pests

When hungry insects decide to travel to new areas, they can devastate crops and trees and upset native ecosystems. And we humans often inadvertently provide transportation for these hungry pests.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), invasive pests are a growing problem, costing the United States billions of dollars in losses. Invasive pests are insects or other organisms that have moved beyond their natural habitat into a new environment where they have no natural enemies to keep them in check. If they’re allowed to establish themselves, they can become a threat to native plant and animal species, water systems, and human health.

How Invasive Pests Spread

They’re small, quiet, and crafty enough to travel undetected by

  • hitching a ride on our vehicles, clothing, and outdoor gear;
  • hiding on plants or animals as we transport them from one environment to another;
  • coming in on commercial shipments of food, plants, or just about anything else.

How To Help Prevent Invasive Pests from Spreading

  • After camping or hiking, wash your outdoor gear carefully. That includes RVs, dirt bikes, lawn furniture, and tents. Insects (or their eggs) may even be hiding out on your tires and wheel wells. Remove seeds and other plant parts, too.
  • Don’t transport fruits, vegetables, or plants out of quarantined areas unless they’re properly inspected. Be sure to declare these items when crossing customs.
  • Invasive pests love to hide in firewood, so don’t move firewood from one place to another. Buy locally whenever possible.
  • Buy only certified, pest-free nursery whenever possible. Buy plants from a reputable source and avoid using invasive plant species!

According to the USDA, the top invasive pests in the U.S. are:

  • coconut rhinoceros beetle (damages a number of crops including coconut, date and oil palms)
  • imported fire ant (damages plants, stings animals and humans)
  • khapra beetle (destroys grains and seeds)
  • Mediterranean fruit fly (infests fruit and vegetable crops)
  • Asian citrus psylllid (once it infects a tree, there’s no cure)
  • citrus greening disease (Huanglongbing) (ruins fruit and kills trees within a few years)
  • European grapevine moth (damages grapes)
  • sudden oak death (infects a variety of trees)
  • Mexican fruit fly (infests fruit and vegetable crops)
  • Oriental fruit fly (infests fruit and vegetable crops)
  • giant African snail (carries a parasite that causes meningitis, consumes 500 types of plants, damages plaster and stucco)
  • False codling moth (threatens fruits, vegetables, and other crops)
  • light brown apple moth (damages garden foliage and produce)
  • European and Asian gypsy moths (defoliates trees)
  • emerald ash borer (no treatment — trees must be felled)
  • Asian longhorned beetle (threatens hardwood trees, and there’s no cure)

To learn which invasive pests are a threat in your state, visit the USDA’s hungrypests.com.

Ann Pietrangelo

Endangered Species

Baby Rhinos Signal Conservation Success in South Africa

In the face of sobering poaching numbers, relocation fosters a baby boom

At the end of 2014, the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal reported an exciting milestone: its black rhino population had grown to 500, up from 411 in 2004.

That news was a bright spot in an otherwise dark year. South Africa is home to more than 90% of the world’s approximately 20,000 white rhinos and 40% of the 5,000 black rhinos. But rhino poaching in the country has skyrocketed since 2008; in January 2015, South African officials announced that 1,215 rhinos were killed in poaching incidents during 2014—the highest number recorded in a decade.

KwaZulu-Natal’s recent success presents an important counterpoint—and reflects the efforts of the Black Rhino Range Expansion Project, an initiative started by WWF, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and other partners in 2003. The project relocates small groups of black rhinos from healthy populations to start new ones. “Science shows that if you take a group of animals out of a stable population and move them elsewhere, it can allow the original population to grow more quickly again,” says Dr. Jo Shaw, rhino program manager for WWF-South Africa.

Since its launch, the project has established nine new black rhino populations in the provinces of KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo with more translocations in the pipeline. Only five adults have been lost to poaching from its sites, while more than 70 new calves have been born—a ratio that points to a brighter future than these terrible poaching statistics suggest.

From World Wildlife Fund|May, 2015

One in six species could be wiped out by climate change, study says

A warming climate means less Arctic ice and less opportunity for polar bears to hunt. A new study predicts that climate change could cause as many as one in six species to become extinct.

If present trends continue, a hotter world could spell the demise of 16% of the species alive today

Even if temperatures rise only 2 degrees C above pre-industrial times, the global extinction risk will be 5.2%

‘Extinction risks from climate change are expected not only to increase but to accelerate,’ study warns

About one in six species now alive on the planet could become extinct as a result of climate change, according to a study published in Friday’s edition of the journal Science.

If present trends continue, the Earth’s temperature will wind up 4.3 degrees Celsius higher than it was before the onset of the industrial era. Should that scenario come to pass, as many as 16% of species around the world would be at risk of dying out, the study says.

Author Mark Urban, an ecologist and evolutionary biologist at the University of Connecticut, based his calculation on a meta-analysis of 131 previous studies that made predictions about how multiple species would fare in a warmer world. Although the studies focused on different species in different parts of the world and used different modeling techniques to make their forecasts, Urban’s statistical methods found that none of those variables mattered as much as “the level of future climate change.”

For instance, the current risk of global extinction is 2.8%, Urban wrote. But the hotter the Earth gets, the more that risk rises.

If the world is somehow able to stick to its target of making sure temperatures rise only 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the global extinction risk would rise to 5.2%.

In the more realistic scenario that the Earth warms by 3 degrees Celsius, an estimated 8.5% of species would be projected to become extinct.

And if things continue the way they are, the global extinction risk would nearly double, to 16%, Urban wrote. That’s one out of every six species gone.

The average of all the scenarios is that 7.9% of species will become extinct as a direct result of climate change, according to the study.

The extinction risk isn’t the same in all areas of the globe, Urban found. It  appears to be lowest in North America, where about 5% of species are likely to disappear. (That figure could be higher or lower depending on how much temperatures rise.) Europe is a close second, with 6% of species at risk.

At the other end of the spectrum, South America could lose 23% of its species. That continent is particularly vulnerable because it has a lot of creatures that live in small ranges. If changing climate conditions make their homes uninhabitable, there’s nowhere for them to go where they can find equivalent conditions.

In Australia and New Zealand, as many as 14% of species could disappear, Urban wrote. As in South America, the animals that live Down Under have the misfortune of inhabiting niche environments with no ready alternatives. The fact that they live on islands further limits their ability to seek comfort by moving into new ranges.

The analysis also revealed that the faster Earth’s temperature rises, the more species will die out as a result. If temperatures rise more gradually, animals will have more time to adapt — and better odds for success.

“Extinction risks from climate change are expected not only to increase but to accelerate for every degree rise in global temperatures,” Urban wrote. “The signal of climate change-induced extinctions will become increasingly apparent if we do not act now to limit future climate change.”

Urban noted that the species that go extinct aren’t the only ones that will be forced to reckon with climate change.

“Even species not threatened directly by extinction could experience substantial changes in abundances, distributions, and species interactions,” he wrote. That “could affect ecosystems and their services to humans.”

The 131 studies that were used to make these estimates did not take into account such complex factors as the way climate change may prompt species to change they way they interact with each other. Nor did they attempt to predict how species might evolve to adapt to their new realities.

Still, the results offer a “sobering estimate of climate change-induced biodiversity loss,” wrote University of Washington biologist Janneke Hille Ris Lambers in a commentary that accompanies Urban’s report.

The study is only one of many that makes the case that “climate change will have enormous impacts on the organisms with which we share our planet,” she wrote. Despite the uncertainties inherent in making these kinds of predictions, she added, “we should not wait … before taking action, preferentially by curbing emissions.” 

Karen Kaplan|May4,2015

Tchimpounga’s Mandrill Mom ‏

The Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) takes care of over 150 rescued chimpanzees at our Tchimpounga sanctuary in the Republic of the Congo … but did you know that we take care of a number of other animals as well?

In addition to chimpanzees, Tchimpounga has been home to rescued antelopes, moustache monkeys, various bird species, lizards, and mandrills.

Mandrills, an endangered species, are large, brightly-colored primates. Due to their gentle nature, many poachers illegally capture mandrills to sell them as pets. Some of these captured mandrills have been rescued and sent to Tchimpounga, where JGI is operating a mandrill release program in the forests near the sanctuary.

One of the mandrills at Tchimpounga is a feisty female named George. At the release site, George became pregnant and later gave birth to a healthy infant at Tchimpounga … a great sign that this population of mandrills is adapting well. 

In order to ensure the safety of George and her daughter, she and her infant are living at the sanctuary where they can both be observed … and where the little mandrill can grow older and stronger before being released back into the forest with her mom. 

the Jane Goodall Institute|5/04/15

Singer Shania Twain becomes a Leopard Ambassador

Singer Shania Twain has helped wild cat conservation organisation Panthera launch #IFAKEIT – a social media campaign to raise awareness of the need to save one of fashion’s most revered but underrepresented icons – the leopard. 

“I was shocked to learn that these gorgeous animals are being killed for their beautiful skins and other parts for the illegal trade, and yet are so loved by the fashion world,” says Shania, who has been given the title of Leopard Ambassador. 

Referred to as the ‘new neutral’, the big cat’s spotted print has inspired fashion for centuries, influencing style all over the world.

The purpose of this campaign is to inform the general public that while the spots they are wearing are so widespread, the real leopard is under serious threat. 

Every year, more leopards are killed in the wild than any other big cat. The species has vanished from nearly 40 per cent of its range in Africa and over 50 per cent in Asia. Many are killed simply for their beauty, as although they are in jeopardy from loss of habitat and conflict with people, the demand for their skins is one of the main causes of their decline. 

Even though the international trade in leopard skin is now illegal, it is still common for local communities in Africa and Asia to use real leopard skins for religious and cultural ceremonies, whether worn as capes or used for other traditional regalia. 

Panthera’s Furs for Life Leopard Project is providing a simple and sustainable solution that protects leopards but also supports local culture, collaborating with digital designers to create a high-quality and realistic faux leopard skin to replace the authentic skins worn at ceremonies.

More than 5,000 faux leopard capes have already been donated in southern Africa, and Panthera’s new partnership with the Peace Parks Foundation and Cartier will enable the distribution of at least another 13,000 more capes before the end of 2017. 

“We wanted to capitalize on the fact that people everywhere are wearing more leopard print than ever, but so few know what’s actually happening to them in the wild,” says Shania.

“With Panthera, we aim to begin this conversation and generate awareness for leopards on a grand scale, while giving people something tangible to grasp, and engage in a fun and impactful way.” 

To do this, the singer and the charity have launched the #IFAKEIT campaign, which asks people around the globe to join the movement and show how they ‘fake it’ for leopards.

They are encouraged to post photos of themselves wearing fake leopard print to Twitter, Instagram and Facebook with the #IFAKEIT tag. People can also donate to the campaign at ifakeit.org, where just $30 can support the creation of one fake leopard skin and save a leopard’s life. 

The campaign first aims to generate 18,000 unique mentions tagged with #IFAKEIT on social media, to accompany each donated cape, as a thank you to the communities willing to fake it and to stop leopards from being killed for their skins.

The campaign also aims to raise $300,000 for the creation of at least 5,000 new fake leopard skins to distribute to communities outside of southern Africa, and to support other conservation activities to protect leopards across their range. 

Lizwi Ncwane, an elder and legal adviser of the Nazareth Baptist ‘Shembe’ Church, says, “As a leader of the Shembe community, I have seen first hand how receptive my community is to using these fake skins.

“Not only do they look and feel like real leopard skins, they also last longer. We’re grateful that Panthera has worked with us in finding a solution that interweaves the conservation of leopards with the customs of the Shembe.”  

For Immediate Release, May 1, 2015

Contact: Robin Silver, (520) 345-5708, rsilver@biologicaldiversity.org

Emergency Endangered Species Act Protection Sought for
Two Grand Canyon Species Threatened by Tusayan Development

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz.— The Center for Biological Diversity filed an emergency petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today seeking Endangered Species Act protection for a tiger beetle and a flower found in wet seeps in the Grand Canyon and nowhere else on Earth. The Arizona wetsalts tiger beetle and Macdougal’s yellowtops, a flower in the aster family, could be driven extinct due to groundwater pumping to support massive new real estate developments planned for the tiny town of Tusayan at the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must act quickly to protect these rare Grand Canyon species under the Endangered Species Act, or we’ll be at risk of losing an irreplaceable piece of our natural heritage to shortsighted real estate development,” said Robin Silver, a founder of the Center.

The springs the two rare species depend on are fed by the Redwall/Muav aquifer. The already-stressed aquifer would be depleted by the Tusayan development, causing the flower and the tiger beetle to go extinct. There are no safeguards in place to protect the springs or the species from the development plan.

Endangered Species Act protection would make it illegal for anyone to harm the species or their habitat. It would also require any project on federal land or that receives federal funding or permits to consult with the Service to make sure the species would not be harmed.

The Tusayan development would include more than 2,100 housing units and 3 million square feet of retail space along with hotels, a spa and conference center. The proposal, by the Stilo Development Group, would transform the 580-resident community of Tusayan from a small, quiet tourist town into a sprawling complex of homes and strip malls. Groundwater pumping accompanying the development will also likely lower the aquifer that is the exclusive source of all water for Havasu Falls, the cultural foundation of the Havasupai tribe. The superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park has called the project one of the greatest threats to Grand Canyon in the 96-year history of the park.

Species Background
Macdougal’s yellowtops is a perennial yellow flower in the aster family that grows to be 3 feet tall with woody rootstalks. It occurs in five small populations in the western Grand Canyon between Granite Narrow and Lava Falls (river miles 135 to 177). It is found in hanging gardens or terrace ledges in perennial alkaline or saline seeps, in Muav Limestone and at Muav Limestone Bright Angel Shale interfaces from elevations of 1,750 feet to 4,000 feet. It is scientifically significant because it is different from all other yellowtops species and may be the only plant in its genus. Its Latin name is Flaveria macdougalii.

The Arizona wetsalts tiger beetle is half an inch long with a green back and an attractive dark-and-light, wavy wing pattern. It occurs sporadically in seeps and springs of the eastern basin of the inner Grand Canyon from Nankoweap Creek (River Mile 52) downstream to Stone Creek (River Mile 132). It is restricted to the banks of perennial streams that run over bedrock and cobble gravel at elevations between 600 feet and 1,230 feet. Ongoing genetic research indicates that it will likely be elevated from subspecies to species status. Tiger beetles are so named for their aggressive predatory behavior, strong mandibles and fast running speed. The Arizona wetsalts tiger beetle’s Latin name is Cicindela hemorrhagica arizonae.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 825,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Finding Solutions for Wolves in the Great Lakes

There are just three wolves surviving at Isle Royale National Park, an island ecosystem and World Heritage site locked within Lake Superior in Michigan. That’s down from 50 some years ago, and the surviving three wolves show signs of inbreeding. Since the wolves have all but vanished from the island, the moose population has doubled, and an ecosystem that once had a strong balance of predator and prey has been thrown out of whack.

South of there, on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, there are approximately 600 wolves, and the state’s voters last November decided in overwhelming numbers on two referendum questions to maintain their protected status and to forbid the state Natural Resources Commission from declaring them a game species who can be hunted and trapped.

Still, though, there are some loud voices – a distinct minority given the landslide votes in favor of wolves – who want to kill wolves, scaremongering about their very infrequent killing of cattle and other farm animals, and trumping up charges against the wild canids.

The HSUS is determined to find a long-term solution to the debate. We’ve put forth two proposals -safeguarding the long-term viability of wolves at Isle Royale and on the Upper Peninsula while also protecting the interests of farmers concerned about wolves. We’ve won strong legislative support for them, including from dozens of U.S. Representatives and from U.S. Senator Gary Peters of Michigan.

First, we’ve suggested that some livestock-depredating wolves be captured and sent to Isle Royale. There are no farm animals there and no year-round human residents. There’s just a large moose population that threatens forest health. An augmented wolf population, infused with new genetic material, can help control moose numbers and also protect the forests.

We’ve also suggested that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service accept our petition to list the wolves as threatened in the entire Great Lakes Region – which includes Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. That policy would likely prevent any sport hunting or commercial trapping of wolves, while allowing state agencies to selectively remove wolves in the rare circumstance that they pose a threat to farm animals or human safety. This is the current policy in Minnesota, and it gives farmers and government officials more tools than they have now in Michigan and Wisconsin.

In a broader sense, it’s clear that wolves provide an enormous economic and ecological benefit to the Great Lakes region. People will trek to wolf-inhabited forests precisely because they are there, boosting tourism-related commerce. Wolves also limit deer and moose populations, depressing crop depredation and shrinking the number of collisions between these animals and cars. Through their killing of the weak, sick, and older deer and moose, beavers, and other animals, they have a broad, balancing, and beneficial impact on ecosystems.

We hope that the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service will accept our recommendations, which protect wolves and balance the tricky sociology of managing wolf populations in our era. These creatures, once brought to the brink of extinction, should be allowed to survive in the decades ahead and not have their packs ceaselessly battered by random and reckless killing by trophy hunters and commercial trappers. Fortunately for us, they stay away from people and help farmers and forests like no other large predator. We need to discard the myths about wolves and recognize their rightful place in the wild.

Wayne Pacelle|May 6, 2015

Wild & Weird

‘Bizarre’ bat-winged dinosaur discovered in China


Story highlights
  • Scientists discover new dinosaur with bat-like wings
  • However, it might not have been able to fly well
  • It would have glided rather than flapped

(CNN)Chinese scientists say they have discovered a new dinosaur species, with bat-like wings, that sheds light on how dinosaurs may have evolved into birds.

Based on a fossil specimen discovered in China’s Hebei province a decade ago, scientists estimate the bird-like dinosaur existed for a very short time 160 million years ago during the Jurassic Period, according to a new paper published in scientific journal Nature on Wednesday.

The flying creature weighed about 230 grams and was 63 centimeters in length.

Xu Xing, a paleontologist with China’s Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, and lead author of the report, told CNN the dinosaur’s fossilized remains highlighted the complexity of evolution.

Named Yi qi, or “strange wing” in Chinese, Xu said it was one of the earliest dinosaurs to show some capacity for flight — even though it wasn’t very successful.

Unlike other bird-like dinosaurs, its wings were made from membranes — like a bat — rather than composed of feathers.

    It didn’t become the birds we see today — it tried but failed.

    ‘Failed experiment’

    “It’s a failed experiment, it’s an evolutionary dead end,” Xu said.

    “Over the last 30 years, there were so many discoveries made that demonstrate birds are really descendants of dinosaurs,” he said.

    “It’s a great example showing how dinosaurs evolved into birds.”

    Artist reconstruction of dinosaur Yi qi.

    Artist reconstruction of dinosaur Yi qi.

    Even though the dinosaur had wings, Xu said it’s unclear whether it could flap them and most likely moved through the air mostly by gliding.

    He told CNN the fossil is now held in a museum in Shandong Province, and the next step would be trying to find more fossils of the same species to be able to better understand, for example, its flight capability.

    Thanks to a robust economy, China has become a major center for dinosaur discovery and research.

    “We have more funding for paleontological expeditions,” he said. “So now there are more expeditions in this country than 30 years ago, which means you can find more fossils.

    Widespread construction work also helps to expose more rocks and fossils, he added.

    Shen Lu and Katie Hunt|CNN|April 30, 2015

     

    Puget Sound’s clingfish could inspire better medical devices, whale tags

    It’s called the Northern clingfish, and its small, finger-sized body uses suction forces to hold up to 150 times its own body weight. These fish actually hold on better to rough surfaces than to smooth ones, putting to shame industrial suction devices that give way with the slightest uneven surface.

    Researchers at the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Laboratories on San Juan Island are studying this quirky little fish to understand how it can summon such massive suction power in wet, slimy environments. They are beginning to look at how the biomechanics of clingfish could be helpful in designing devices and instruments to be used in surgery and even to tag and track whales in the ocean.

    Watch a Science Friday video about the Northern Clingfish

    “Northern clingfish’s attachment abilities are very desirable for technical applications, and this fish can provide an excellent model for strongly and reversibly attaching to rough, fouled surfaces in wet environments,” said Petra Ditsche, a postdoctoral researcher with Adam Summers‘ team at Friday Harbor Labs.

    Ditsche presented her research on the sticky benefits of clingfish last month in Nashville at the Adhesive and Sealant Council’s spring convention in a talk, “Bio-inspired suction attachment from the sea.”

    Clingfish have a disc on their bellies that is key to how they can hold on with such tenacity. The rim of the disc is covered with layers of micro-sized, hair-like structures. This layered effect allows the fish to stick to surfaces with different amounts of roughness.

    “Moreover, the whole disc is elastic and that enables it to adapt to a certain degree on the coarser sites,” Ditsche added.

    Many marine animals can stick strongly to underwater surfaces – sea stars, mussels and anemones, to name a few – but few can release as fast as the clingfish, particularly after generating so much sticking power.

    On land, lizards, beetles, spiders and ants also employ attachment forces to be able to move up walls and along the ceiling, despite the force of gravity. But unlike animals that live in the water, they don’t have to deal with changing currents and other flow dynamics that make it harder to grab on and maintain a tight grip. (Read a recent paper by Ditsche and Summers on the differences between adhesion in water and on land.)

    Clingfish’s unique ability to hold with great force on wet, often slimy surfaces makes them particularly intriguing to study for biomedical applications. Imagine a bio-inspired device that could stick to organs or tissues without harming the patient.

    “The ability to retract delicate tissues without clamping them is desirable in the field of laparoscopic surgery,” Summers said. “A clingfish-based suction cup could lead to a new way to manipulate organs in the gut cavity without risking puncture.”

    Researchers are also interested in developing a tagging tool for whales that would allow a tag to noninvasively stick to the animal’s body instead of puncturing the skin with a dart, which is often used for longer-term tagging.

    Ditsche, Summers and the UW graduate and undergraduate students who are studying the Northern clingfish have no shortage of specimens to choose from. This species is found in the coastal waters near Mexico all the way up to Southern Alaska. They often cling to the rocks near the shore, and at low tide the researchers can poke around in tide pools and turn over rocks to collect the fish. If they can unstick them, that is.

    There are about 110 known species in the clingfish family found all over the world. The population around the San Juan Islands is robust and healthy.

    Now that they have measured the strength of the suction on different surfaces, the researchers plan to look next at how long clingfish can stick to a surface. They also want to understand why bigger clingfish can stick better than smaller ones, and what implications that could have on developing materials based on their properties.

    This research is funded by the National Science Foundation and the Seaver Foundation.

    Michelle Ma|May 4, 2015

    Everglades

    Everglades Scores Big in House Appropriations Bill — But, Cross Your Fingers

    The massive Energy and Water Appropriations bill for the next fiscal year, which passed the U.S. House 240-177 Friday, makes a big winner of the Florida Everglades. It earmarks $123 million for repair and restoration efforts within this national treasure, one of the largest wetlands in the world.

    The spending plan even answers Gov. Rick Scott’s call for the federal government to move more quickly on shoring up the deteriorating Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee, by providing $64 million for the structure’s repair. It’s the dike’s poor condition — its risk of breaking — that necessitates the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ damaging releases into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries during exceptionally rainy periods.

    The problem is, the bill has significant hurdles to overcome for the appropriations to stay intact. Even if the Senate passes its version of the bill and is equally generous to the Everglades, President Obama has threatened to veto it. While he supports Everglades restoration — and made a point of saying so when he visited the national park on Earth Day — the legislation contains other provisions he particularly objects to, for example, funding cuts to alternative energy programs.

    The fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

    Florida Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, founder and co-chair of the Congressional Everglades Caucus, said this about the bill’s passage in the House: “As Floridians, we are lucky to have the Everglades in our backyard, and we must do everything we can to restore it to its natural state for future generations. … As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I have worked tirelessly with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to include full funding to restore the Everglades in this legislation, and I am very pleased with its passage.”

    Florida Congressman Tom Rooney, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, said the bill will provide critical funding for Everglades restoration, water infrastructure, and energy security projects, while cutting red tape.

    “This bill includes funding I requested for Everglades restoration and water infrastructure projects, which are critical to keeping Florida beautiful and maintaining our state’s economic growth,” Rooney said. “In addition to funding vital water and restoration projects in Florida, our bill will help ensure the safety of our nation’s nuclear stockpile, advance energy independence, cut red tape, and strengthen our infrastructure, while meeting strict spending caps to save taxpayer money.”

    Freshman Florida Congressman Carlos Curbelo called the bill “a step in the right direction to ensuring that environmental cleanup and energy programs expand and thrive throughout the country.”

    He said $10 million provided to an environmental infrastructure account will help the Florida Keys Water Quality Improvement Program and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

    Here’s a breakdown on some of the appropriations linked to Florida:

    • $35.4 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers
    • $64.1 million for Hoover Dike Seepage Control
    • $9.5 million for Tampa Harbor operation and maintenance
    • $2.75 million for the Okeechobee Waterway
    • $123.7 million for South Florida Ecosystem Restoration
    • $700,000 for Intracoastal Waterway operation and maintenance
    • $400,000 for Manatee Harbor operation and maintenance

    Nancy Smith|May 2, 2015

    Diaz-Balart Successful in Fully Funding Everglades Restoration in FY16 Appropriations Bill

    Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), founder and co-chair of the Congressional Everglades Caucus and chair of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Subcommittee of the House Committee on Appropriations, released the following statement after the passage of H.R. 2028, the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2016:

    WASHINGTON, D.C. – May 1, 2015 – (RealEstateRama) — Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), founder and co-chair of the Congressional Everglades Caucus and chair of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Subcommittee of the House Committee on Appropriations, released the following statement after the passage of H.R. 2028, the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2016.

    “The FY16 Energy and Water Appropriations bill provides for our nation’s waterways and energy infrastructure. As Floridians, we are lucky to have the Everglades in our backyard, and we must do everything we can to restore it to its natural state for future generations. This bill is significant to Florida, not only because of the Everglades restoration components, but it will improve our ports, channels, dams, and other infrastructure that supports our economy. Furthermore, Everglades restoration is critical for our drinking water supply in South Florida, while also providing a huge economic boost to our state. As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I have worked tirelessly with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to include full funding to restore the Everglades in this legislation, and I am very pleased with its passage.

    “I am grateful to Chairman Simpson for his leadership on this bill, and most importantly, for helping continue the preservation of one of our nation’s greatest natural treasures.”

    Diaz-Balart founded the Congressional Everglades Caucus in 2005 with Congressman Alcee Hastings to provide a strong voice in Washington to advocate for these issues and increase awareness. Within the FY16 Energy and Water Appropriations bill, the following are specific to South Florida:

    $64 million for the Herbert Hoover Dike repair and restoration
    $123 million for Everglades restoration and construction projects for the Army Corps of Engineers
    $7 million for operation and maintenance of Army Corps of Engineers Projects

    RealEstateRama|May 1, 2015

    FINALLY, HERE’S ONE THING WE CAN ALL AGREE ON: HELPING THE EVERGLADES.

    What is it about the Everglades that brings people together who can’t otherwise seem to agree on anything?

    For example, you might not expect Democratic National Committee Chair and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz to have much in common with Tea Party-backed Republican Congressman Curt Clawson. They have different views on immigration, health care, and what a responsible federal budget looks like. Yet they both spoke at the most recent Everglades Coalition Conference and both support Everglades restoration. Clawson even shared movingly in his State of the Union response that he originally got into politics in part to help preserve the Everglades, calling it “a real national treasure we must protect.”

    Maybe it’s not such a surprise, then, that in a political climate where members of Congress engage in tense debates and crippling stand-offs over seemingly every dollar, funding for Everglades restoration projects have won wholehearted bipartisan support.

    In February, President Obama released a Fiscal Year 2016 budget that would provide $240 million for Everglades restoration, an amount that’s significantly higher than it was a year ago. This money would fund on-the-ground restoration projects led by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, an important federal partner that accomplishes much of the planning, design, construction, and management of the restoration work. The money would also fund Department of the Interior initiatives, such as combatting invasive species like the infamous Burmese python.

    We are optimistic that these projects will receive the requested funding in the coming year, despite other measures proposed in the president’s budget that will likely fail due to partisan wrangling. Here’s a look at some of the projects that this money would advance on the ground.

    • C-111 South Dade: The C-111 South Dade project will provide a series of detention basins that hold water in places that need it, like Everglades National Park, instead of releasing it to places that don’t need it, like the agricultural and urban areas of Miami-Dade County. Ultimately it will allow more freshwater to flow south through Everglades National Park and Florida Bay.
    • Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands: This project will rehydrate freshwater wetlands in Biscayne National Park by returning more freshwater to Biscayne Bay in a more natural pattern via a spreader canal system.
    • Kissimmee River Restoration: A major restoration project that is very near completion, this project will restore more than 40 square miles of river-floodplain ecosystem, including almost 20,000 acres of wetlands and 44 miles of historic river channel.
    • Picayune Strand Restoration: This project will restore wetlands in an 85-square-mile area that was originally slated for residential development located on the edge of Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve by removing canals and roads. Doing so will also restore important habitat for the endangered Florida panther.
    • C-43 and C-44 Reservoirs: Building these two reservoirs and water treatment marshes will directly improve the health of the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries, respectively, by capturing and storing water from Lake Okeechobee and allowing harmful nutrients to filter out before being sent to the estuaries.

    NPCA is now working with Congress to pass these budgetary measures so we can continue to build on the recent political momentum supporting the Everglades. Fortunately, this bipartisanship is nothing new. Democratic President Bill Clinton and Republican Governor Jeb Bush came together back in 2000 to sign the landmark legislation that made many of these projects possible in the first place, the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.

    That’s right: Even a Clinton and a Bush joined forces to celebrate-and fund-this unique and spectacular subtropical wetland.

    It’s an investment that pays off. An economic study by Mather Economics found that for every dollar invested in Everglades restoration, more than four dollars are returned to the economy. Everglades restoration work also employs thousands of workers, while supporting a robust tourism economy. According to the National Park Service, in 2013 alone, Everglades and Biscayne National Parks and Big Cypress National Preserve created more than 2,670 jobs and generated approximately $202 million in visitor spending. Sustained funding for these restoration projects is critical for the ecosystem, economy, and water supply for nearly 8 million Americans.

    So, what is it that brings people together to protect the Everglades? Perhaps, like many of America’s Great Waters, it captures our imagination or connects us to fond memories. Maybe it provides a loved one’s drinking water or employs a friend. In these ways, and many more, protecting the Everglades continues to be a bipartisan success story in these often politically divided times. And that should give us all hope for the future.

    Sarah Barmeyer|Director of Conservation| National Parks Conservation Association

    Picayune Strand Restoration Project Clears Another Hurdle

    COLLIER COUNTY – The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has authorized the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) to continue the next phase of the Picayune Strand Restoration Project (PSRP), which will restore historic water flow and enhance wetlands in the western Everglades.

    The PSRP is a project component of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, commonly called CERP. Once completed, the PSRP will reestablish historic water flows, reduce unnatural freshwater inflows, improve the water quality of coastal estuaries and restore ecological connectivity in the area.

    “This project exemplifies the department’s dedication to protecting Florida’s Everglades and the larger south Florida ecosystem,” said DEP Deputy Secretary for Ecosystem Restoration Drew Bartlett. “The department will continue to work closely with our state and federal partners to ensure that Everglades restoration continues.”

    This next phase of the PSRP – the Manatee Mitigation Feature – is essential for completion of future PSRP efforts. Located on Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve lands, this phase will create a connection to warm groundwater by constructing a small oxbow lake on the western edge of the Faka Union Canal that will provide a warm water refuge that can support over 200 manatees. Manatees seek out warm water in this area during the colder months of the year, and this refuge will be important as freshwater flows into the Port of Islands Basin are reduced when the Faka Union and Miller canals are plugged in a subsequent phase of the PSRP.

    “Each phase of the PSRP is an important step toward reconnecting the Everglades ecosystem,” said Blake Guillory, executive director of the SFWMD. “Restoration of Picayune Strand will provide significant environmental benefits, including replenishment of the state’s water supplies and added protection against saltwater intrusion.”

    PSRP aims to reverse the effects of a failed residential development that partially drained the area during the 1960s. By plugging 48 miles of canals, which will include the Faka Union and Miller canals, and removing 250 miles of crumbling roads, the project will remove water blockages and restore flow to 55,000 acres of Picayune Strand. As a result, restored wetlands will create essential habitat for a variety of natural vegetation and wildlife, including the endangered Florida panther.

    PSRP is a coordinated effort between many agencies including the United States Army Corps of Engineers, SFWMD, Florida Forest Service, the Department’s Office of Ecosystem Projects, Florida Coastal Office, Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, and Division of State Lands, as well as United States Fish and Wildlife Service and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

    For more information about the Picayune Strand Restoration Project, click here. 

    Water district to rebuff U.S. Sugar land deal…again

    The governing board of the South Florida Water Management District will take another swing at explaining why it is against the U.S. Sugar land deal at its monthly meeting on May 14.

    The controversial land deal will be the first item addressed during the discussion portion of the meeting at the district’s West Palm Beach headquarters, according to the agenda released Thursday.

    The dispute over the land deal stems from the 2010 contract the district signed with U.S. Sugar to purchase 26,800 acres for Everglades. Under terms of the contract, the district paid $197 million for the land and options to purchase additional land in the future.

    One option, set to expire on Oct. 11, enables the district to purchase another 46,800 acres at market value, estimated to be at least $500 million.

    Environmentalists, riled up by the Everglades Foundation, want the district to purchase the land to store water south of Lake Okeechobee. Costumed protesters have attended the board’s meeting in March and April.

    Although the district laid out a litany of reasons against the deal at its April meeting, it did not definitively say it would not buy the land. U.S. Sugar, which is obligated to sell the land if the district wants it, does not want to sell the land on which they grow sugarcane.

    Water managers said at the meeting next week they will explain constraints in the 2010 contract that would only allow the district to use 11,100 acres of the 46,800 acres until 2030.

    Christine Stapleton|May 7, 2015

    Water Quality Issues

    Sierra Club seeks federal protection for Florida’s aquifer

    Florida’s aquifer needs special protection from being over-pumped, the Sierra Club contends in a petition sent to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The club’s Florida chapter has filed the petition asking the EPA to declare it a “sole source aquifer,” a tool to protect drinking water supplies in areas where there are few or no alternative sources. Such a declaration, carried out only after a public hearing, would require the federal government to give it greater protection and also offer grants and other financial assistance for avoiding pollution. The aquifer, which is the primary source of water for Florida’s 19 million residents, is “threatened by …over-pumping, pollution and waste,” said Tom Larson, Sierra Club Florida chapter conservation chair.

    Following EPA’s technical review of a SSA petition, the Agency summarizes the information in a technical support document that is made available for public review. Then, interested people may provide written comments to EPA or participate in an EPA-sponsored public hearing before a designation decision is made.

    SSA designation will provide limited federal protection for the Floridan Aquifer System, increase public awareness of its vulnerability and is a critical first step towards creating new management plans by federal, state and local officials.

    Twenty million Floridians depend on safe, pure water from the Floridan aquifer. Agriculture and industry require clean, abundant water. Florida’s waters attract and sustain 100 million visitors to our state each year. Yet, we continue to deplete, pollute and waste our water as if it is an inexhaustible and indestructible resource. It is neither inexhaustible nor indestructible.

    “Protection of Florida’s vital water resources is one of the highest priorities of Sierra Club Florida. We are pledged to protect critical recharge areas from development, curtail nutrient pollution, encourage conservation and hold accountable those who abuse this most essential of all public properties. The newest threat to our water supply is ‘fracking’, which we will continue to oppose vigorously,” said Larson.

    He added, “The Sierra Club is confident that the Floridan Aquifer System qualifies both quantitatively and qualitatively for greater protection and will soon be granted Sole Source Aquifer status. And we look forward to building on this new protection with better water management policies, including an end to polluting ‘enhanced oil/gas recovery techniques’ (which include acidizing and fracking) and waste disposal and aquifer storage & recharge injection wells that threaten the delicate Floridan karst geology and our water supply.”

    Times staff|Tampa Bay Times|May 5, 2015

    Great Lakes & Inland Waters

    Oregon’s Lost Lake Is Disappearing Through a Strange Hole

    Bye bye, lake. Where it’s going, nobody knows for sure.

    Just off U.S. Highway 20 in Central Oregon there is a lake with a curious fate. Every winter the aptly-named Lost Lake fills up, before slowly draining through a hole, drying up and making way for a meadow.

    The hole has been there as long as anyone can remember, Jude McHugh, spokeswoman with the Willamette National Forest, told The Bulletin. And while the hole may appear to be one of those oddest of mysteries that nobody can quite figure out, the explanation is rather simple. The volcanic landscape of the area gives way to a number of quirky geologic traits – the one responsible for swallowing the lake is a lava tube. The tunnel-like structure is formed when flowing lava hardens near the surface but continues to flow downwards, and the inner lava escapes before hardening. The result, a tube that opens to the surface and leads to the mysterious depths below.

    McHugh says it’s unclear exactly where the water goes, but it possibly seeps into the porous subsurface underground, refilling the expansive aquifer that feeds springs on both sides of the Cascades.

    McHugh said there have been numerous attempts – unauthorized and discouraged – to plug the leak, so to speak. Over the years, workers from the U.S. Forest Service have found car parts, engines and other debris in the hole. Success in those endeavors, however, would only lead to local flooding as the area has been planned with the fickle nature of the ever-disappearing lake in mind.

    “If anyone was ever successful at plugging it, which we’re not sure they could do, it would just result in the lake flooding, and the road. It’s an important part of how the road was designed,” she said.

    Watch the ground swallowing Lost Lake .

    Melissa Breyer|TreeHugger|May 4, 2015

    The World’s 15 Most Beautiful Waterfalls

    Offshore & Ocean

    The closure of Shell Key’s northern pass worries environmentalists

    A few decades ago this uninhabited island at the edge of the Gulf of Mexico was little more than a small crescent of sand and mangroves with a tiny spit of land to its south.

    Today the south Pinellas County barrier island known as Shell Key Preserve stretches 2.6 miles and occupies 1,800 acres of beach, mangroves, sea grass beds and sand flats.

    After years of storms, tides and even dredging to keep Shell Key separated from the community of Tierra Verde, a small channel on the island’s north side appears finally to have closed off, creating a sandy wall that seals the estuary on its back side from the Gulf.

    This sort of thing can happen when man doesn’t interfere with the natural shifting of sands on these ever-changing coastal islands. But the speed with which Shell Key has transformed worries one of the area’s leading environmental groups, Tampa Bay Watch.

    “This used to be a major pass, hundreds of yards across,” said Peter Clark, president of the organization headquartered nearby in Tierra Verde.

    Now that the pass has closed, there’s no water washing back and forth from the Gulf into the shallow, sensitive habitat to the south — let alone access for boaters.

    “It’s kind of like the bathtub effect: Water will slosh up and down the northern side of the preserve, but it can’t be exchanged with water from the Gulf or Tampa Bay. That water becomes stagnant; it becomes superheated, which can kill sea grass beds. It may also allow for larger algae blooms,” Clark said.

    While county officials have yet to perform a comprehensive study of what’s happening at Shell Key, Clark has a theory about what has caused the particularly rapid accumulation of sand here: hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of sand pumped every few years onto the eroding beach just north of the preserve at Pass-A-Grille.

    Beach nourishment has been rebuilding Pass-A-Grille Beach, at the southern end of St. Pete Beach, since the 1980s, a critical measure to protect the historic beach community from Gulf storm surge.

    “A lot of the sand is probably moving its way south and that’s what’s been accumulating on Shell Key, making the barrier island much, much bigger and eventually clogging the pass and filling it in,” Clark said.

    Near the mouth of Bunces Pass, a channel that separates Shell Key’s south end from Fort De Soto Park’s north beach, another large deposit of sand has formed in recent years, creating a huge offshore sandbar even as sections of the park itself have eroded severely.

    Sand along Central Florida’s Gulf coast tends to shift over time from north to south, but Pinellas officials can’t say for sure whether all the sand that has ended up on Shell Key or off Fort De Soto’s shores has come from Pass-A-Grille.

    When funding is available, the county’s Natural Resources Division plans to study both the Bunces Pass inlet and Pass-A-Grille Channel, which is just north of Shell Key, between Pass-A-Grille and Tierra Verde.

    The goal is to assess the effect of these two channels on the long-term movement of sand in the immediate area and also to gauge why Shell Key has grown so much while parts of Fort De Soto have shrunk.

    “That might give us some idea why that’s filling in and what might be the future of it,” said Andy Squires, the county’s manager of coastal and freshwater resources.

    The county also has alerted the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, which manages beach nourishment projects, about people’s concerns about the Shell Key pass closure.

    For the time being, though, it is unclear whether the change at Shell Key is simply a natural phenomenon.

    Several efforts have been made in the past to keep a channel open between northern Clearwater Beach and undeveloped Caladesi Island State Park, an island about the same size as Shell Key, but natural forces keep closing it back up.

    “That’s what these barrier islands do, they migrate. Shell Key was barely anything. That whole island in the last two decades has changed significantly and grown,” Squires said.

    “There’s an evolution of these barrier islands.”

    Local recreational boaters have seen that evolution happening from one year to the next along Pinellas County’s southern coastline.

    “It ebbs and flows. A couple years ago there was a sandbar out in front of Shell Key. Now there’s a big sand bar to the west of Fort De Soto. It is constantly changing,” said Bill Knepper, a boater and resident of the nearby Vina Del Mar community.

    He has seen large boats navigate Shell Key passage but, at other times, a jet ski hardly could squeeze through it.

    While much of the change may be natural, Knepper said he does have concerns about the pass being stopped up.

    “Once that water gets stagnant, then everything back there dies,” he said.

    Tampa Bay Watch plans to ask the Pinellas County Commission to begin monitoring water quality in the Shell Key estuary to determine how detrimental the closure is to the environment there, Clark said.

    In addition to stagnating water that could kill off sea grass beds, Clark also worries about raccoons, coyotes and other predators gaining access to the island to prey on nesting birds and their eggs.

    The next time the Army Corps is scheduled to nourish Pass-A-Grille, Clark’s group will urge it to consider dredging sand from the north end of Shell Key and redistributing it at the beach.

    A smaller-scale effort a few years ago to dredge the channel by private developers in Tierra Verde did little to deter the flow of sand.

    Pinellas officials would have to seriously consider how much good dredging would do in the long run, says Paul Cozzie, director of the county’s parks and conservation resources department.

    “The real question is how successful would any dredging be or is this something that’s going to have to be continually done and, in that case, who should be paying for it?” Cozzie said.

    Dredging for beach nourishment projects is funded primarily with federal dollars combined with matching state and local money, but the Army Corps and contractors determine where sand will be collected.

    The larger solution may prove complicated, especially on a natural preserve that is meant to remain untouched by human intervention, he said.

    “Sand is going to go where it wants to go and it is a preserve, so we’re not going to use really any artificial means,” Cozzie said.

    JOSH BOATWRIGHT|Tribune staff|May 3, 2015  

    Lessons From History on Ocean Acidification

    Part of my job involves fielding worried emails and phone calls about alarming-sounding science news, especially when it relates to ocean acidification. Recently a study in Science made a big splash, generating headlines like “Ocean acidification caused the largest mass extinction ever” and “Acidic oceans helped fuel extinction.” And those are some of the calmer headlines. Naturally, people are saying, “This is scary stuff! Are we going to see the same thing?” Let’s take a look.

    When studying major global changes like warming, ocean acidification, or ocean oxygen loss, scientists often look back in the geological record to see what happened when Earth experienced similar conditions before. That helps scientists put global change in the proper perspective.

    In past geological ages when volcanic activity has been high, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have risen and dramatically changed the Earth’s climate and ocean chemistry. Last week’s Science study focuses on one of these periods—the Permo-Triassic (P-T) boundary. It’s one of the most “rapid” releases of volcanic carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, taking 60,000 years. As slow as that seems, it’s fast for the Earth—60,000 years out of a 4.5 billion year old planet’s life is like half a day of a 100-year-old person’s life. All this volcanic carbon dioxide drove rapid ocean acidification towards the end of the P-T boundary, and a major extinction of ocean life followed. Marine life with calcified shells and skeletons, like corals, shellfish and calcifying algae, were pretty much wiped out.

    This science study offers insight into what extreme, unchecked ocean acidification could look like. The rate of carbon dioxide release to the atmosphere that drove acidification during the P-T boundary was about the same as today’s. However, the P-T boundary isn’t exactly like today. The total amount of carbon released then was nearly five times as large as ALL the fossil fuel reserves on Earth. Also, ocean pH dropped by up to 0.7 pH units during the P-T boundary, but ocean pH has only decreased today by 0.1 units, with another 0.2-0.3 units expected by 2100. Most scientists agree we probably won’t see wholesale extinction of shelled animals and corals from today’s ocean acidification. But if we even just put a dent in marine populations over mere moments of the Earth’s life, that’s pretty scary. To the Earth, the 200 years we’ve been emitting carbon dioxide is like two minutes of a 100-year-old’s life.  We’ve made huge changes to the ocean in a small amount of time.

    What are our options? To avoid repeating geological history, mankind needs to cut carbon dioxide emissions swiftly and decisively. Nations are pledging to do this in preparation for this year’s United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP 21) meeting. Researchers are exploring how to do this in ways that will lead to overall socioeconomic benefits in the short and long terms. Some programs, like the long-running U.S. Energy Star program, have already shown that citizens can benefit financially while saving energy. Meanwhile, local and regional governments are seeking ways to cut their own carbon dioxide emissions. Maine and Maryland have recently called for reductions in carbon emissions as one of several steps they’ll take to combat ocean acidification, echoing Washington State’s resolve. West Coast states and British Columbia are working on this collaboratively. At the same time, businesspeople are finding ways to adapt to, or stave off, some of the worst effects of ocean acidification. But since humans depend on marine life of all types, calcified or not, protecting creatures in the ocean is actually in our own self-interest. Formally committing to cut our carbon dioxide emissions, which every country can do at this year’s COP 21 meeting, is a big but needed next step to protect the oceans and ourselves.

    Sarah Cooley|April 29, 2015

    Slowly Sinking Blue Whales Are in Trouble, Says New Stanford Study

    There’s no doubt that blue whales are beautiful. And their size has helped them evolve to dominate the ocean without predators. But a new study from Stanford reveals that we’re putting our beloved blue whales in deep trouble.

    Slowly Sinking Whales

    Blue whales never faced a serious threat… until large cargo ships started moving through their territory. In response, whales have learned to move out of the way — although perhaps not fast enough. Rather than diving quickly down to escape the cargo ships, whales just sink down.

    As you’d imagine, sinking isn’t very fast. Jeremy Goldbogen, the principal author of the Stanford study, describes it this way: “Instead of diving, where the animal kicks tail up and goes down vertically, they just sink horizontally. This results in a slow dive and leaves them susceptible to ship strikes.”

    Collisions Kill and Injure Whales

    Like other cetaceans, blue whales are vulnerable to these collisions with ships and vessels. According to Whales and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), these collisions often go unreported. Some vessels are too large to notice that a whale has been hit. Sometimes death is instant. In fact, “up to one third of whales found dead display signs of having died due to a collision with a boat or ship,” according to WDC. The organization Wild Whales says that necropsies of whales have revealed injuries “consistent with high impact blunt force trauma, such as skull fractures.”

    Other times, death can occur years down the line from injuries of these boat traffic accidents. Blue whales, humpback whales and North Atlantic right whales are the most vulnerable. Although, researchers are seeing more dolphins with scars and injuries from vessels. Either way, the whales’ social groups are compromised by these deaths.

    And humans aren’t in the clear. During whale watching trips, many of these whale-ship collisions injure and kill people, too.

    Too Many Close Calls

    Some vessels are trying to protect the whales. Wild Whales recommends that ships slow down to “less than 7 knots within 400 m of whales,” especially if they are entering whale hotspots. The whales can’t always sense where a ship is. In other cases, entire shipping channels have been rerouted.

    But we need to do more. This new Stanford study can only help us do more because it’s the first study of its kind that provides “direct knowledge of how whales behave once they sense an oncoming ship.”

    Some whales will sink-dive after “playing dead,” which doesn’t work. The researchers observed many close calls — the ships missed the whales by a hair:

    A whale must dive 30 meters below the surface to escape the suction created by a ship’s propeller. In the study, the whales sank at about a half a meter per second and showed no evidence for swimming laterally to avoid the ship. In most cases, this was barely fast enough to get out of the ship’s way.

    Why We Can’t Lose Our Whales

    Unfortunately, blue whales have more threats to dodge. Commercial whaling in the past decimated blue whale numbers. Today, like other endangered marine life, blue whales are threatened by climate change, toxins and a loss of habitat. Apart from invasive ships passing through their homes, blue whales can also get caught in fishing gear. And other research suggests that krill — the primary food source of many whales — is at risk via climate change; as our waters get warmer, our whales could go hungrier.

    We can’t lose our whales. They stabilize our oceans by keeping populations in check. Blue whales eat 40 million krill every single day! Even whale poop is valuable; the poop can draw in carbon from the atmosphere, so our air is healthier, says Whale Facts.

    The ocean is their home, and we need to respect that. Wild Whales has an excellent resource of wise whale watching guidelines that will keep both whales and humans safe.

    Jessica Ramos|May 8, 2015

    Forestry

    The Oregon double-cross

    In the movies, they call it a double-cross. In Salem it’s called politics.

    It was only a few months ago we heard good news: the State Land Board declared the Elliott State Forest would not be sold off to logging interests. But now the privatization plan is back, in the form of House Bill 3533.  This bill legalizes the sale and privatization of public Elliott State Forest lands.  Worse, HB 3533 may have the blessing of Gov. Kate Brown and the Department of State Lands – the same people who told Oregonians that selling the Elliott to be clearcut was off the table last December.

    Between 20 and 30% of endangered Oregon coastal Coho salmon originate in the Elliott State Forest. Their recovery is endangered by the aggressive logging practices.

    Oregon’s 93,000 acre Elliott State Forest is a precious resource. It’s home to pristine salmon streams, vast tracts of old, carbon-storing forests, and threatened wildlife habitat. The State Land Board – Kate Brown, Treasurer Ted Wheeler, and then-Governor John Kitzhaber – recognized this last December when they considered a number of plans on the future of the Elliott. Rather than selling off the forest to timber interests who had enthusiastically announced plans to aggressively clearcut it, the Board endorsed a number of proposals that would help keep the land in public ownership.

    Legislation to protect the Elliott was moving through the state legislature, but was killed by Rep. Caddy McKeown and logging interests. Now the only legislation on the Elliott is a bill that would allow the state the sell off any part of the Elliott, at any time! 

    Last December, Governor Brown and members of the Oregon Land Board told Oregonians the Elliott State Forest, with its century old trees and key salmon bearing rivers, would be protected, not privatized.  Join us in fighting to keep Oregon’s public lands public!

    Help us keep the Elliott from being sold off and clearcut!

    Steve Pedery|Conservation Director|Oregon Wild

    Global Warming and Climate Change
    Carbon dioxide levels rise to ‘milestone’

    Worldwide atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide — the gas scientists say is most responsible for global warming — surpassed 400 parts per million for the month of March, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Wednesday.

    Though there have been readings this high before, this is the first time global concentrations of the CO2 gas have averaged 400 ppm for an entire month. Measurements of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere began in the late 1950s.

    “It was only a matter of time that we would average 400 parts per million globally,” said Pieter Tans, lead scientist of the NOAA’s Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network. “Reaching 400 parts per million as a global average is a significant milestone.” The burning of the oil, gas and coal that provides the energy for our world releases “greenhouse” gases such as CO2 and methane.

    These extra gases have caused Earth’s temperature to rise over the past century to levels that cannot be explained by natural variability.

    USA TODAY|5/6/15

    Pope Francis: ‘If We Destroy Creation, Creation Will Destroy Us’

    A declaration at the end of a meeting in Rome hosted by the Vatican made a plea to the world’s religions to engage and mobilize on the issue of climate change.

    “Human-induced climate change is a scientific reality, and its decisive mitigation is a moral and religious imperative for humanity,” the declaration said. “In this core moral space, the world’s religions play a very vital role.”

    Vatican watchers and climate experts say the meeting, “The Moral Dimensions of Climate Change and Sustainable Development,” shows that Pope Francis is—in marked contrast to his predecessors—keen for the Catholic church to be more involved in the climate change issue, and is also urging other religions to become more actively engaged.

    The meeting was organized by various religious and non-religious organizations, including the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the UN-affiliated body, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network. Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General, also spoke at the one-day conference.

    Fundamental principles

    In a few weeks’ time, the Pope is due to release an encyclical on climate change—within the Catholic church, a statement of fundamental principles. He has also made several impassioned speeches on the issue.

    “If we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us,” the Pope told a gathering of thousands in St Peter’s Square, Rome, last month. “Never forget this.”

    Groups that insist that climate change is not a threat, and that seek to oppose the findings of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and other scientific bodies, have been quick to criticize the Pope’s stand.

    Members of the Heartland Institute, a U.S.-based organization funded by billionaire industrialists and others who deny climate change is caused by human activity, travelled to Rome to speak against the meeting.

    “The Pope has great moral authority, but he’s not an authority on climate science,” a Heartland employee told the UK newspaper, the Daily Telegraph.

    “The Pope would make a grave mistake if he put his moral authority behind scientists saying that climate change is a threat to the world.”

    Selling investments

    Separately, the Church of England announced that it is selling various investments in fossil fuel industries. The Church said £12 million worth of investments in companies making 10 percent or more of their revenues from the production of coal or oil from tar sands would be sold.

    The Church of England is not selling all its investments in fossil fuel operations, but says it wants to influence companies that contribute to global greenhouse gas emissions. The Church recently called on two major oil companies, BP and Shell, to be more transparent about their policies on climate change.

    “The Church has a moral responsibility to speak and act on both environmental stewardship and justice for the world’s poor, who are most vulnerable to climate change” says Professor Richard Burridge, of the Church’s Ethical Investment Advisory Group.

    Kieran Cooke|Climate News Network|May 6, 2015

    We Could Lose 1 in 6 Species Because of Climate Change

    If we continue to warm our planet through releasing greenhouse gases, our wildlife could pay a huge price.

    Every degree the temperature rises will speed up the rate of extinction, according to a new study published in Science. Mark Urban, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Connecticut, examined 131 previously published papers covering how climate change will affect species extinctions to paint a picture of what will happen across the globe.

    “We can look across all the studies and use the wisdom of many scientists,” said Urban. “When we put it all together we can account for the uncertainty in each approach, and look for common patterns and understand how the moderators in each type of study affect outcomes.”

    By his calculations, 2.8 percent of species are currently predicted to become extinct from climate change. An increase in 2 degrees Celsius brings the risk up to 5.2 percent. One degree higher, and the risk increases to 8.5 percent.

    According to Urban, if we continue to follow our current, business-as-usual trajectory which is expected to bring rise of 4.3 degrees, climate change will threaten one in six species – bringing a 16 percent extinction rate.

    The risk changes around the world depending on habitats. North America was found to have the lowest risk, with a 5 percent loss, along with Europe, which is expected to lose 6 percent. South America, on the other hand could lose 23 percent of its wildlife. Australia and New Zealand were also found to be at high risk, both with 14 percent predicted loss, because limited space will stop species from being able to potentially find new homes as their habitats are altered.

    We’ve continued to look at charismatic species like polar bears who are being impacted by a changing world, but so many others live in limited habitats and they won’t be able cope with, or adapt to, warmer climates.

    In the West, the American pika, a small relative of the rabbit, is well adapted to survive in cold climates, but their populations are already disappearing as temperatures rise and alter their habitat. Some may move to higher altitudes, but others will be unable to relocate. The current threat to their future survival has led to calls for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

    Even if all species aren’t driven to extinction, the loss of some could have serious consequences for others, changing their distribution and behavior, and for ecosystems as a whole. Urban points out that other areas rich in biodiversity may face a higher extinction risk, but not enough is known yet and more studies are needed to help determine where the most protection is needed.

    “It’s hard enough to predict change, but in the end, we have one climate to contend with,” said Urban. “With living things, we are dealing with millions of species, none of which act precisely the same. In fact, we may be surprised, as indirect biologic risks that are not even recognized at present may turn out to have a greater impact than we’ve ever anticipated.”

    Urban and others hope this new study will lead to immediate action to limit carbon emissions and prevent the tragic loss of the planet’s wildlife.

    Alicia Graef|May 5, 2015

    Climate change will force Florida’s local governments to act

    Climate change is already forcing parts of the Sunshine State to adapt or sink, and rising sea levels are expected to impact everything from insurance rates to racial relations as Southwest Florida feels more of the ecological sting.

    Those were some of the sentiments from more than 100 scientists, politicians and lawyers that gathered at Florida Gulf Coast University Thursday for the Southwest Florida Sea Level Rise Summit.

    Wetter wet seasons, drier dry seasons, record heat and cold, cities migrating inland, loss of drinking water well fields and extreme storms are coming, many of the speakers said. Similar conditions were described for Southwest Florida in the Third National Climate Assessment from President Barack Obama’s administration.

    “It’s a wake up and smell the coffee because the law just may require you to (take action),” said attorney Erin Deady. “(Some) local governments aren’t sitting and waiting for binding targets or regulatory standards. They’re taking initiatives for themselves. It’s happening all over Florida and all over the United States.”

    Better water management practices and building on higher, drier ground are a priority for this region, said Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council climate expert Jim Beever.

    He said there are only benefits to having cleaner water and air, better infrastructure and long-term planning for a much different future.

    “These are all good things that we should have done in the first place,” Beever said. “You want (proactive climate change planning) in your building codes. You want it in your existing inspections. You want it in your health departments, because quite frankly disease is one of the things we’re going to see more of regarding climate change.”

    The frequency and duration of red tides and algal blooms will increase because of overall hotter weather. But the weather in 2050 and beyond won’t just be hot all the time. There will be colder cold fronts and more active hurricane seasons to go along with the higher average temperatures.

    Punta Gorda is one of the most well-prepared cities in the world when it comes to sea level rise and climate change, according to the National Climate Assessment. Beever helped city planners develop priorities for dealing with rising sea levels and climate change.

    He compared cities like New Orleans, where the water is blocked with water management structures and pumps used to drain the land, to Galveston, Texas, which is essentially using fill dirt and other substrates to raise the city.

    Punta Gorda considered relocation, filling the estuaries with sand and allowing the mangroves and other vegetation to move with sea level rise and simply letting the town flood.

    The city is planning to build up and protect historic areas while leaving natural shoreline to help protect the city from storms and higher sea levels.

    Punta Gorda’s lofty climate change status was only possible because the community agreed to address issues like regular flooding, heavier rainfall events, and a changing landscape.

    “Here we have a community that is dominantly Republican agreeing that there is climate change,” Beever said. “Sea level rise, it’s a problem to adapt and we need to adapt to and we’re going to adapt and live in a better way.”

    Florida’s transient demographic probably doesn’t help with public perception, which drives most sea level adaptations here.

    “If you’ve not been there for 10 years you don’t know that your community isn’t supposed to look like this,” said Jennifer Jurado, Broward County’s top environmental and resiliency planner.

    Jurado encouraged municipalities, corporations and everyday individuals to use aggregated planning resources online and to take advantage of federal government tools like the National Climate Assessment.

    President Obama recently spoke about these issues at Everglades National Park.

    “We have an opportunity to participate in that (federal) task force,” Jurado said. “It’s about having an opportunity to have your community directly participate in the conversation.”

    Deady, the attorney, said laws like the Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act provide the basis for determining at-fault parties during environmental suits.

    She referenced a case in which an island off Alaska sued the energy industry, saying it was responsible for sea level rise and the abandonment of the island.

    “The energy industry turned to the insurance carrier and said ‘well, you’ve got to cover us under general commercial liability.’ ” Deady said. “And the insurance company said (no). This was not an occurrence, an accident like the BP spill. ‘You knew you what you were doing was inherently dangerous because you were emitting greenhouse gases.’ ”

    The latest court ruling, Deady said, sides with the islanders.

    Another case she spoke of involved property owners in New Orleans area suing the Army Corps of Engineers for not keeping the water control structure in proper working order. The most recent ruling said the Corps failure to maintain the levee resulted in the taking of property.

    The Corps also maintains the Herbert Hoover Dike surrounding Lake Okeechobee. The dike and drainage canal systems are all that prevent the lake from spilling onto millions of acres of farm land and wilderness and flooding millions of homes.

    Just who is responsible for these and other concerns will play out in court, she said.

    “If you don’t implement the plans people are going to submit insurance claims because of the increased flooding and the harm,” Deady said. “This case will start to show what the obligations of the water drainage district are.”

    In some places such as North Florida, a migration will occur to urbanized areas farther inland, and some fear minorities will be forced out of those prized locations. What are now impoverished areas or agriculture fields could become new homes to moving cities, Deady said.

    Beach renourishment projects could impacts on other areas of the coast, which would pit Florida towns and counties against each other. Lack of planning for such an event could be costly down the road, Deady said.

    “The law is going to require you (government agencies) to do it anyway,” she explained. “You can do it willingly or you can do it screaming all the way to the bank. It’s going to happen.”

    CHAD GILLIS|May 7, 2015

    Extreme Weather

    Epic Drought Brings Fear of Worst Wildfire Season Yet

    The firefighters are primed, hoses at the ready. May and June are often the peak months for forest fires in the southwest of the U.S., and the outlook for this year is grim.

    “I wish I could have some hope,” says Dr Wally Covington, director of the Ecological Restoration Institute at North Arizona University. “It’s just a terrible situation in southern California.”

    Covington, an internationally recognized expert on forest restoration, says a prolonged drought, higher temperatures and stronger than usual winds mean big wildfires are inevitable across the southwestern U.S.

    The main season for wildfires in the region has in the past been from mid-May through till late September, but now forest fires burn virtually year round.

    Vulnerable landscape

    “Climate change and misguided forestry policies have combined to present a landscape very vulnerable to devastating fires,” Covington told the Climate News Network.

    “Since around 2000, we’ve seen more severe dry weather, matched with high winds throughout the western U.S. Intense firestorms are the result. Get in the vicinity of one of those and it’s like being near a blast furnace.”

    Covington and other experts say it is vital that people and government policy adapt to the changes in climate.

    Over the years, forests have been densely planted in many areas, and old forestry practices—such as clearing out forest and shrub -land by regularly burning off old tree cover and dry shrubs—were stopped.

    The result is not only an abundance of dense forested areas where fire can build up and spread easily, but also accumulations of dried-out grasses and shrubs—referred to as fine fuel.

    Opening up forest areas and reintroducing controlled, periodic burning to rid the landscape of these tinder-dry fuels is key, according to Covington.

    He says: “The U.S. Forest Service now sees opening up forest areas and restoring them to what they once were—right across the U.S.—as its primary goal. That’s a huge policy breakthrough.”

    The past three years have been among the driest on record in California, and there are fears that the drought will continue.

    Historic low

    Wells have dried up in many areas, reservoirs in the state are at a record low, and the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountain range—vital for feeding water on to the lands below—is at an historic low for the time of year.

    For the first time in California’s history, mandatory water restrictions have been brought in, with cities and towns required to cut water use by 25 percent.

    This does not, however, apply to the state’s multi-billion dollar agricultural industry, which uses up to 80 percent of water supplies.

    Besides the drought, strong winds and higher temperatures, other factors have increased the risk of wildfires across the region. For example, building houses in forest and shrub-land areas has also increased the danger of fires being ignited.

    “We’ve just got to stop building in those places,” Covington says. “It was crazy 40 years ago—and it’s even more crazy now.”

    Kieran Cooke|Climate News Network|May 4, 2015

    NWCC’s interactive map now displays current conditions

    Genetically Modified Organisms

    Judge Says Vermont Law on Genetically Modified Food Stands

    A Vermont law that could make the state the first in the country to require labeling of genetically modified food has been allowed by a federal judge to stand for now despite opposition by food industry groups.

    U.S. District Court Judge Christina Reiss in Burlington on Monday ruled against the Grocery Manufacturers’ Association and other industry groups in their request for a preliminary order to block the law from going into effect as scheduled on July 1, 2016.

    The judge partially granted and partially denied the state’s motion to dismiss the industry lawsuit, meaning the case is likely to go to trial.

    Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell, whose office finalized rules to implement the law on April 17, said in an interview, “There’s a lot of good news in this decision for us and for the heart and soul of the labeling law.”

    The Grocery Manufacturers Association said it was pleased the court “found us likely to succeed on several of our claims” but was disappointed at the denial of its request for a preliminary injunction.

    “Manufacturers are being harmed, and they are being harmed now,” the association said in a statement. “Act 120 is unconstitutional and imposes burdensome new speech requirements on food manufacturers and retailers.”

    The ruling comes nearly a year after Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin signed the law, under which Vermont is expected to become the first state to require genetically modified organism, or GMO, food labeling. Connecticut and Maine passed laws earlier but required that neighboring states follow suit before they would take effect.

    The Grocery Manufacturers Association was joined by the Snack Foods Association, the International Dairy Foods Association and the National Association of Manufacturers as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, seeking to have Vermont’s law declared unconstitutional.

    Throughout the legislative and legal debate on GMO labeling, industry groups have argued that the First Amendment gives them broad discretion about what to include on their labels and that there’s no compelling state interest to offset that.

    Supporters of the law have included consumer and environmental groups. Muslims and some Jews avoid pork, and concerns have been raised about pork genes being introduced into other foods.

    The judge found that the concerns embedded in Vermont’s law were well within the state’s purview.

    “The safety of food products, the protection of the environment, and the accommodation of religious beliefs and practices are all quintessential governmental interests, as is the State’s desire ‘to promote informed consumer decision-making,’” she wrote, quoting from the state’s court filings.

    The court dismissed the industry groups’ request that it apply a legal standard of strict scrutiny to the free-speech issues in the case, making it easier at trial for the state to rebut the companies’ First Amendment claims. It also dismissed the plaintiffs’ request that the law be found to violate the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

    Conversely, Sorrell said the court made it clear the state would face “an uphill battle” in defending a ban in the law on food companies labeling genetically modified food as “natural.”

    Dave Gram|Associated Press|April 27, 2015

    The Bullies Are Escalating

    For nearly two decades, Monsanto and the Biotech Bullies have bullied their way to taking over the U.S. agriculture system with one aim in mind: sell more toxic chemicals. Apart from a small minority, consumers were largely unaware that untested genetically engineered organisms were infiltrating our food system. Unlabeled.

    Now that the majority of Americans know the truth, and are fighting back, the Biotech Bullies are being forced to escalate. Things could get a lot uglier, before they get better.

    Last week, a judge affirmed the constitutionality of Vermont’s GMO labeling law by denying Monsanto’s demand to hold up enactment of the law until the industry’s frivolous lawsuit makes its way through the courts.

    Monsanto promptly turned around and filed an appeal. It’s a stalling tactic. But much more—because the bullies know that their threats against Vermont aren’t going unnoticed by lawmakers in other states—like Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and others—who fear their states will be dragged through the courts, too, if they stand up to Monsanto as Vermont lawmakers have.

    It’s intimidation at its best.

    Meanwhile, in Washington D.C., the bullies are scrambling to get a law passed that will strip states of their constitutional rights to pass GMO labeling laws. It’s the worst kind of attack on democracy. And the irony is that some Democrats, who claim to support consumer rights, are now signing on to Pompeo’s bill. While so many Republicans—whose constituents have made it clear that they want mandatory labeling laws—are not only thumbing their noses at voters, they’re thumbing their noses at democracy. Not to mention the states’ rights they claim to hold so dear.

    While we keep a watchful eye on the Vermont court case, GMO labeling bills that are making their way through state legislatures (opposed by out-of-state multi-billion dollar lobbying groups), and the outrageous (and desperate) play in Washington D.C. to end the GMO labeling conversation permanently, we keep working. On all fronts.

    The bullies will keep bullying. We will keep fighting.

    Organic Consumers Association|5/7/15

    Energy

    Got Science? Ohio Wake-up Call on Fracking Disclosure Laws

    At a Halliburton fracking site in Clarington, Ohio, in the southeastern part of the state, a fire broke out on a recent Saturday morning. What happened next should be a wake-up call to every U.S. citizen, especially the millions of Americans who live in communities where fracking is planned or underway.

    Ohio firefighters battled the blaze for an entire week. Before they managed to fully extinguish it, the fire caused some 30 explosions that rained shrapnel over the surrounding area; 20 trucks on the site caught fire; and tens of thousands of gallons of chemicals — including a toxic soup of diesel fuel, hydrochloric acid, and ethylene glycol — mixed with runoff into the nearby creek, killing an estimated 70,000 fish as far as five miles downstream. State officials physically removed the decomposing remains of more than 11,000 fish and other aquatic life in their efforts to reduce the damage to the waterway.

    Drinking Water Threatened
    If the severe damage to a local creek weren’t troubling enough, this particular waterway feeds into the Ohio River roughly five miles away where, just another 1.7 miles downstream, a public water intake on the West Virginia side of the river serves local residents.

    But here’s the most disgraceful thing of all about the accident: despite the fish kill and potential contamination of drinking water, the public still doesn’t know the full list of chemicals that polluted the air and water supply. In fact, the fire raged and runoff occurred for five full days before Halliburton provided state and federal EPA officials with a full list of the proprietary fracking chemicals the company used at the site.

    Why?

    Because Ohio, like many other states, has a fracking disclosure law that does more to protect company secrets than it does to protect citizens.

    It’s a situation that clearly needs to change.

    Officials in the Dark
    The preliminary EPA report on the accident in Ohio makes for eye-opening reading. After the fire began on June 28, local, state, and federal officials worked straight through the July 4th holiday to contain the accident but their efforts were hampered by poor interagency coordination and a lack of adequate information about the hazards involved.

    As one environmental official at the site later told the press: “We knew there was something toxic in the water. But we had no way of assessing whether it was a threat to human health or how best to protect the public.”

    Officials made the determination to evacuate residents within a one-mile radius of the fire. Luckily, in rural Clarington, this meant the evacuation of just 25 households. But the report makes it clear that the precaution was based on insufficient information. Among the report’s many revelations is the fact that significant quantities of more than 16 chemical products were stored at the site, including caches of explosives and even radioactive Cesium-137.

    Ron French, a Clarington, Ohio resident who lives less than two miles from the fracking site, says his property was blanketed in soot but he was neither evacuated nor fully informed about the potentially toxic hazard he and his family faced. He now worries about letting his kids play in the yard.

    Outrage in Ohio
    Nathan Johnson, an attorney for the Ohio Environmental Council, says the Clarington fire “points out that we sorely need changes to Ohio law to protect the public and get this essential information to officials in order to protect public health.”

    As Johnson notes, the way Ohio fracking disclosure law is written, it prohibits anyone from accessing information about “trade secret” fracking chemicals except the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) or doctors treating a specific patient. By statute, however, neither ODNR nor doctors are allowed to share that crucial information. The Clarington case points out that the key emergency responders didn’t have access to the information they needed to protect the public, Johnson says. “Water authorities need secret chemical information immediately. Our drinking water is at risk unless the legislature makes some much needed changes.”

    The argument seems to have convinced Gov. John Kasich, a strong supporter of fracking. Since the accident, Kasich has stated that Ohio needs to change its law, telling the Ohio press that it was unacceptable for emergency responders, including federal and Ohio EPA officials, not to know the full list of chemicals that might have spilled into the river. Under such conditions, Kasich said, “We want people to know what the fracking fluid contains.”

    A National Problem
    The alarming fact is that Ohio’s laws are actually slightly stronger than those in many other states. Of the roughly 30 states where fracking is now underway, only six require advance disclosure of the fracking chemicals that will be used. Many state laws, like the one in Ohio, allow the agency overseeing oil and gas drilling to receive the needed chemical information but limit that agency’s ability to share the information, even in the case of an emergency.

    Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, says the Ohio case clearly highlights the need for laws across the country to better protect the public. As he puts it, “It is totally unacceptable that claims about trade secrets should be allowed to trump public health and safety.”

    No matter what, Rosenberg says, the safety of our communities must be paramount. “Can we as a society really believe that allowing Halliburton to protect its profits is more important than protecting the health of our communities and citizens when a disaster occurs?”

    As Rosenberg notes, the Center for Science and Democracy has called for stiffer fracking disclosure laws, baseline analyses of air and water quality near drilling sites, comprehensive monitoring, and increased community access to information about local fracking activities.

    Based on a meeting last year that brought together scientists, lawyers, oil and gas representatives and community activists from across the country, the Center published a free community toolkit on fracking that offers local citizens vital information to make informed decisions about unconventional oil and gas drilling in their communities. If you live near a fracking site or know someone who does, you owe it to yourself to take a look.

    Seth Shulman|Editorial Director|Union of Concerned Scientists|07/31/2014

    Tar Sands Mining Coming to the Tennessee River Valley?

    The Alabama Oil & Gas Board has been authorized by the state legislature to create regulations to allow for the strip mining of tar sands in North Alabama. The agency has stated that they will release a draft of these proposed regulations soon, along with a public notice and opportunity for a public hearing to comment on the rules.

    Tennessee Riverkeeper expects that the Oil & Gas Board will conduct at least one public hearing to solicit comments from concerned citizens and stakeholders, before it issues a final draft of the proposed regulations. These rules will then be published in the Alabama Administrative Monthly, with a 35-day comment period prior to official adoption.

    No oil sands mining can be conducted in Alabama until The Alabama Oil & Gas Board establishes regulations. However, one local mineral exploration company has already purchased several thousand acres of pristine land in the Tennessee River Valley of northwest Alabama with the anticipation of commencing the mining operation once the necessary operational permits have been issued by the Oil & Gas Board. Companies, including MS Industries and Archer Petroleum, have plans to strip mine large areas of Northwest Alabama near the Tennessee River.

    Bituminous sands, or tar sands, or oil sands, are a type of unconventional petroleum deposit, that have only recently been considered to be a part of the world’s oil reserves. Tar sands extraction negatively affects the land, air, and water in communities near these mines. The mining of oil sands can release a grim litany of heavy metals including: arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, and mercury. The mining of oil sands can also release petroleum-based volatile organic compounds such as: benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes into local groundwater and surface streams.

    The oil sands deposit in north Alabama is located in the local Hartselle Sandstone and would require extensive mining in order to become available for commercial use. The Hartselle Sandstone was formed beneath a shallow seabed, approximately 325 million years ago during the Mississippian Period. Additionally, the crushed rock that contains the oil sands would require transportation to a processing factory, where the bitumen oil would be separated from the rock through a chemically intensive practice.

    According to experts: “Core samples from this region have shown that the bitumen accounts for between 3 percent and 10 percent of the weight of this rock. Thus the separation process will result in a large amount of material having no value as a petroleum resource.”

    A coalition of organizations and citizens, including Tennessee Riverkeeper, Alabama Rivers Alliance and the Shoals Environmental Association, are concerned about contamination of nearby tributaries and aquifers of the Tennessee River that would occur when oil sands mining begins.

    David Whiteside|Tennessee Riverkeeper|April 30, 2015

    Could Fracking Spark a Modern-Day Dust Bowl?

    Oil wells and natural gas may have made individual Americans rich, but they have impoverished the great plains of North America, according to new research.

    Fossil fuel prospectors have sunk 50,000 new wells a year since 2000 in three Canadian provinces and 11 U.S. states, and have damaged the foundation of all economic growth: net primary production—otherwise known as biomass, or vegetation.

    Brady Allred, assistant professor of rangeland ecology at the University of Montana’s College of Forestry and Conservation, and colleagues write in the journal Science that they combined years of high-resolution satellite data with information from industry and public records to track the impact of oil drilling on natural and crop growth.

    They conclude that the vegetation lost or removed by the expansion of the oil and gas business between 2000 and 2012 added up to 10 million tons of dry vegetation, or 4.5 million tons of carbon that otherwise would have been removed from the atmosphere.

    Loss of fodder

    Put another way, this loss amounted to the equivalent of fodder for five million cattle for one month from the rangelands, and 120 million bushels of wheat from the croplands. This wheat equivalent, they point out, adds up to the equivalent of 13 percent of the wheat exported by the U.S. in 2013.

    Net primary production—the biomass that plants make from photosynthesis every day, all over the world—is the basis of all wealth and food security. It underwrites all other human and animal activity.

    Human wealth depends ultimately on what grows in the ground, or what can be dug from the ground, and most of the latter—such as coal, oil and peat—was once stuff that grew in the ground.

    The same net primary production is the basis of what economists sometimes call ecosystem services on which all civilization depends: the natural replenishment of the water supply, pollination of crops, provision of natural nitrogen fertilizers, and the renewal of natural habitat for wild things.

    And what worries the conservation scientists is that this loss of net primary production is likely to be “long-lasting and potentially permanent, as recovery or reclamation of previously drilled land has not kept pace with accelerated drilling.”

    “This is not surprising because current reclamation practices vary by land ownership and governing body, target only limited portions of the energy landscape, require substantial funding and implementation commitments, and are often not initiated until the end life of a well.”

    They say that the land actually taken up by wells, roads and storage facilities just between 2000 and 2012 is about 3 million hectares. This is the land area equivalent to three Yellowstone National Parks.

    The hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” used to extract oil and gas is between 8,000 cubic meters and 50,000 cubic meters per well, which means that the total quantity of water squirted into the ground at high pressure during the 12 years to 2012 could exceed 33,900 million cubic meters. At least half of this was used in areas already defined as “water-stressed.”

    New wells

    The researchers considered the drilling of new wells in Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan in Canada, and in Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Wyoming in the U.S.

    Although there is legislation, it is limited to lands subject to federal jurisdiction, and 90 percent of all drilling infrastructure is now on privately-owned land—at least, in the U.S.

    The study’s authors want decision-makers to confront the challenges of this kind of ecological disruption. There are lessons from history in all this, they warn.

    “In the early 20th century, rapid agricultural expansion and widespread displacement of native vegetation reduced the resilience of the region to drought, ultimately contributing to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s,” they write.

    “It took catastrophic disruption of livelihoods and economies to trigger policy reforms that addressed environmental and social risks of land-use change.”

    Tim Radford|Climate News Network|April 28, 2015

    States Fail to Properly Manage Fracking Waste, Says Groundbreaking Report

    It might seem illogical, but in 1988 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) put a loophole in the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) which regulates hazardous and solid waste, exempting the waste from oil and gas exploration, development and production (E &P) from oversight. While it conceded that such wastes might indeed be hazardous, it said that state regulations were adequate.

    That was then, and this is now. The fracking boom has brought oil and gas operations into states and communities that never dealt with them before. Elected officials in those states are often beholden to those oil and gas interests, especially as the amount of money flowing into elections has multiplied exponentially. Basically, the fox is guarding the henhouse.

    A new study, Wasting Away: Four states’ failure to manage oil and gas waste in the Marcellus and Utica Shale, conducted by Earthworks, explore just how inadequate state oversight of drilling operations is today. It specifically looks at four states that sit on top of the lucrative Marcellus and Utica shale deposits—New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia—to discover exactly how well they are doing in overseeing the identification and handling of the potentially hazardous waste materials left behind after the shale has been fracked.

    Not very well, it found.

    “Many of the questions asked about oil and gas field waste decades ago persist, including what it contains and how it is, and should be, treated and disposed of,” the report says. “Also debated is whether states have the ability and resources to adequately protect water, soil, and air quality in the process. Many policymakers and advocates have started to ask: as drilling continues, where is all the waste going and what happens as a result? States are revising regulations and policies in an attempt to catch up with growing volumes and associated problems. However, these efforts by states, both current and proposed, are lacking.”

    The report points out that a series of  high-profile events over the last seven years has raised public awareness and concern—events such as illegal dumping, wastewater spills and earthquakes. That awareness has also increased thanks to a burgeoning number of studies documenting the toxic ingredients in fracking waste and how they can enter the environment. Those studies were cited by Dr. Howard Zucker, New York state’s commissioner of health, in his testimony that led that state to ban fracking in December 2014.

    “Thirty years ago the Environmental Protection Agency exempted oil and gas waste from federal classification as hazardous, not because the waste isn’t hazardous, but because EPA determined state oversight was adequate,” said report lead author and Earthworks’ eastern program coordinator Nadia Steinzor. “But our analysis shows that states aren’t keeping track of this waste or disposing of it properly. States must take realistic, concrete steps to better protect the public.”

    Earthworks’ report made a series of specific recommendations of the types of regulations states should adopt. They include state-level legislation identifying oil and gas waste as hazardous, filling in gaps in current state laws, requiring testing of wastes before they leave the site, implementing “cradle to grave” tracking of wastes and requiring detailed documentation throughout its lifespan, upgrading testing and monitoring of wastes, and requiring treatment and disposal of wastes at specialized facilities designed to detoxify them.

    It found all four states lacking. While it pointed out that West Virginia has adopted some new regulations and Pennsylvania is currently revising its regulations, it cited numerous shortcomings in how those states handle fracking waste. Of Ohio it said, “Even as shale gas development surges in Ohio, the state has done little to strengthen regulations and procedures related to waste management. HB59, passed in 2013, directed Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) to adopt rules for waste storage and disposal—but critical regulations have still not been put forward for public review and adoption. As a result, operators and disposal facilities have wide discretion to decide whether waste is contaminated and how to dispose of it.”

    “Ohio’s land and water are at great risk from improper and under-regulated disposal of fracking wastes,” said Melanie Houston, director of water policy and environmental health at the Ohio Environmental Council. “As this report details, regulations in Ohio remain woefully inadequate when it comes to protecting human health and the environment from the radiological and chemical risks associated with fracking waste.”

    And although New York has banned fracking inside its borders, it still produces waste from conventional drilling and increasingly accepts fracking waste from other states. And like the EPA rule, it said that New York law specifically excludes all oil and gas field waste from the definition of industrial and hazardous waste.

    “As a result, operators can dispose of waste at municipal waste landfills and sewage treatment plants,” the report says. “The actual tracking of waste is currently left up to drillers and the operators of disposal facilities. Oil and gas operators are not required to report the volume, type, chemical content, disposal process, or origin and destination for waste with any specificity.”

    “This report illuminates the dirty secret of oil and gas development—what to do with the enormous amount of waste generated each year. In New York, problems with the improper reuse and disposal of oil and gas waste persist despite the ban on high-volume fracking,” said Riverkeeper staff attorney Misti Duvall. “We have a state that not only allows importation of waste from Pennsylvania into New York’s landfills, but also permits the not-so-beneficial reuse of oil and gas waste on our roads.  It’s past time for New York to rethink its haphazard approach to oil and gas waste.”

    The report condemned the piecemeal “Create it now, figure it out later” approach taken by the states in the Marcellus and Utica shale region, saying “All four states have taken essentially the same approach—one that unfortunately has inadvertently created an opaque picture of what’s really happening with waste and inadequate efforts to fix problems associated with it.”

    “Drilling waste harms the environment and health, even though states have a mandate to protect both,” said report co-author and Earthworks energy program director Bruce Baizel. “Their current ‘see no evil’ approach is part of the reason communities across the country are banning fracking altogether. States have a clear path forward: if the waste is dangerous and hazardous, stop pretending it isn’t and treat it and track it like the problem it is.”

    Anastasia Pantsios|April 2, 2015

    Fracking Chemicals Found in Drinking Water, New Study Says

    If you ask communities on the frontline of the fracking industry in the U.S. what their greatest concern is about the controversial technology, often the reply is the threat to their drinking water.

    The fracking industry replies in the way it always does to these concerns: it downplays the risks with an arrogance that verges on indifference.

    The standard reply from the industry is that fracking cannot contaminate water as the fracking rocks are normally thousands of feet below drinking aquifers and that there are layers of impermeable rock between the two. Never the twain shall meet.

    But slowly and consistently over the last few years the evidence of water contamination has accumulated as the science has slowly and steadily caught up with the technology. And now scientists have published more compelling evidence of harm.

    Yesterday a new study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which analyzed drinking water taken from three homes in the heart of the shale fields in Pennsylvania.

    And they found what the industry’s critics will argue is damning evidence: traces of a compound commonly found in Marcellus Shale drilling fluids.

    The scientists believe they have answered one of the outstanding issues surrounding fracking and water pollution, by outlining a series of events by which the fracking chemicals could have contaminated the water.

    In 2012, the scientists collected drinking water samples from the households and subsequent analysis in one of the samples found 2-Butoxyethanol or 2BE, a common drilling chemical which is also a potential carcinogen.

    And they believe they know how this chemical has ended up in the drinking water. “This is the first case published with a complete story showing organic compounds attributed to shale gas development found in a homeowner’s well,” Susan Brantley, one of the study’s authors and a geoscientist from Pennsylvania State University told the New York Times.

    Brantley added that: “These findings are important because we show that chemicals traveled from shale gas wells more than 2 kilometers (1.25 miles) in the subsurface to drinking water wells.”

    The scientists believe that the pollution may come from a lack of integrity in the well which passes through the drinking aquifer and not the actual fracking process below.

    If this is the case, it reinforces the concerns of communities from the U.S. to the UK that the fracking industry often has to drill through drinking aquifers to reach the shale oil or gas.

    And many people believe that the issue of well integrity could be the fracking industry’s Achilles heel.

    The wells in this case were drilled in 2009, with a protective casing of steel and cement down to 1,000 feet, but below that the wells had no protective casing.

    Two years later three homeowners in Bradford County sued the drilling company, Chesapeake Energy Corporation, due to pollution of their drinking well water.

    The case was settled the following year, leading to the state Environmental Protection Agency recommending that the drilling company extend the depth of protective casings.

    As other countries look to expand their fracking industries across the globe, so the risk to drinking water increases.

    The paper concludes that “As shale gas development expands worldwide, problems such as those that occurred in northeastern Pennsylvania will only be avoided by using conservative well construction practices.”

    Andy Rowell|Oil Change International|May 5, 2015

    Texas Passes Ban on Fracking Bans (Yes, You Read that Right)

    The Texas state legislature voted yesterday to ban fracking bans. Ever since the people of Denton, Texas voted to ban fracking last November, state lawmakers in cahoots with the oil and gas industry and the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, have attempted to strip municipalities like Denton of home rule authority to override the city’s ban.

    In response, citizens banded together to form Frack Free Denton to fight for home rule. The group has put together a powerful film, which premieres on Friday, documenting their fight to ban fracking within city limits in the heart of oil and gas country. The vote comes despite recent findings by a team of researchers from Southern Methodist University that linked the earthquakes in one area of Texas, which did not have earthquakes prior to the fracking boom..

    Marketplace′s Kai Ryssdal and Scott Trang discuss Texas’s ban and other states considering similar bills. “The bill would provide what’s called state preemption and that is state law here would trump anything that local jurisdictions, cities and towns pass,” says Trang.

    A similar bill, in Oklahoma, passed one chamber. “The sponsor of that bill said he wants to ‘get ahead of what we’re seeing in other states,’” reports Trang. Ryssdal asks if there is a group connecting all these state lawmakers. Trang’s response? You guessed it: ALEC.

    Cole Mellino|May 5, 2015

    Park District Goes Solar, Saves Big While Preserving Open Space

    Not only do community parks provide green space for recreation and leisure, they also increase property values, attract business, and offer gathering places for all social groups — enhancing the quality of life for local residents.

    The South Suburban Park and Recreation District is a special district in Colorado that provides recreational facilities and services for nearly 140,000 residents throughout south metro Denver. “We’ve always tried to save energy; we’ve always tried to save water throughout the parks,” said Brett Collins, the district’s director of planning and development. Sporadic energy-saving tactics had been implemented over the years, including the installation of a highly-efficient irrigation system with computer controllers. “We did a bit here and a bit there, but wanted to bring it all together and do a really big project,” Collins said.

    So the South Suburban Park and Recreation District hired McKinstry, an energy service provider, to assess the district’s facilities and provide guidance on optimizing efficiency while reducing operational costs. As part of its strategy, the district board looked into community solar as a sustainable, cost-cutting tactic that would allow more projects to be included in the overall plan.

    Community Solar as an Energy-Saving Tactic Community solar developer Clean Energy Collective (CEC) presented its community-shared solar solution to the district board. “It’s a huge investment,” Collins said of the $630,400 price tag. “But once we reviewed all the information, it just made sense. The board saw the value in [community solar] and we moved forward.”

    The South Suburban Park and Recreation District purchased 720 photovoltaic (PV) panels in two of CEC’s Denver area solar arrays. Expected to produce 260,000 kilowatt hours (kWhs) of green power each year, the panels will help offset the power requirements for several of the district’s high demand irrigation systems that serve its golf courses and ball fields. The bill credits that the park district receives from Xcel Energy for the clean energy generated will offset the high demand electrical use.

    “All of our golf courses are on non-potable water but a lot of parks are on potable water — so that’s where our big expense comes in.” The computer-controlled irrigation system allows the south metro district to save more water than the typical recreation agency. Still, many of its facilities are aging. “Even if the 30-year-old boiler is still working, it’s not working very efficiently,” Collins said.

    A More Attractive Payback Than Rooftop

    While making upgrades throughout the parks, the district’s sustainability committee considered having solar panels installed on the individual buildings. “I’ve looked into that over the years, but we have never been able to see the payback we want,” Collins said. “Until CEC came along.”

    Rather than the 20-year payback a small rooftop system offered, CEC’s community solar option provides a payback between years six and seven. “That was probably the most important thing, at least for our board, that it was sustainable and it pays back in a reasonable amount of time,” Collins said.

    CEC estimates that in the first year of solar production, the park district will save more than $90,000 on its 170 kilowatt (kW) system. Over 20 years, the projected savings (less the purchase price) is over $1.75 million. “Once it pays back and we’re saving a lot of money in electricity after that sixth year, it helps all-around for the district,” Collins said.

    Going Solar Without Sacrificing Open Space

    The savings enables the South Suburban Park and Recreation District to commission more energy efficiency projects in its comprehensive $5.7 million plan, from installing new windows and doors to replacing water heaters and dehumidification units.

    Part of the district’s inclusive strategy, community solar offers a hassle-free approach to solar without the need to install a ground-mounted array in precious open space. “It seemed more sustainable because we’re not taking up the land,” Collins said. “And we don’t have to maintain it.”

    The 720-panel purchase coincides with the district’s values. “We’re parks and recreation, so that’s one of our missions — to be stewards of the land and preserve our resources,” Collins said. “So this is really exciting.”

    Emily Hois|May 04, 2015  

    Help Save One of America’s Most Pristine and Endangered Rivers from Proposed Coal Mine

    Approximately 45 miles west of Anchorage, Alaska, near Beluga and Tyonek, lies the Chuitna River watershed. Like most of Alaska’s untouched beauty, this area houses pristine aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. These areas are home to animals such as fox, lynx, wolves, coyotes, wolverines, waterfowl, bears, moose and beluga whales. However, the most important renewable resource to Alaska’s economy, culture and well-being includes five species of wild Pacific salmon, including sockeye, Coho, chinook, pink and chum salmon. These five species use the Chuitna River and its tributaries for spawning purposes. Salmon are keystone species in these environments because animals and other organisms rely on them as part of their diet.

    Among this beautiful, pristine, nearly untouched ecosystem, an out of state company, PacRim Coal has proposed a coal strip mine. Not only is the coal market dwindling in today’s economy, but this proposal would be the first in Alaska’s history to even think about mining directly through a salmon stream. A conservative estimate of the total length of salmon streams to be removed would be roughly 13.7 miles through Middle Creek, a main tributary in the Chuitna River watershed. Besides the destruction of the streams, PacRim Coal would have to dig 300 feet down to have access to the coal bed. This estimate only accounts for the first phase of coal mining on West Cook Inlet. The project would have a total of three phases, all destroying salmon habitat. PacRim owns the leases to these three phases, while another company, Barrick Gold holds the surrounding coal leases. Both PacRim’s and Barrick Gold’s leases would displace 57 miles of salmon streams and a total area of 60 square miles, all to produce 12 million tons of coal per year for a minimum of 25 years.

    Map of Proposed Chuitna Coal Strip Mine. Photo credit: Doug TosaBoth PacRim’s and Barrick Gold’s leases would displace 57 miles of salmon streams and a total area of 60 square miles. Photo credit: Doug Tosa

    If PacRim receives the green light, they would set up infrastructure that would make it viable to mine both companies’ coal leases in an area full of streams and wetlands. The established infrastructure would include an eight-mile conveyor belt to transport coal from the mine site to a man-made island, and then a two-mile trestle to reach the barges leaving Cook Inlet. If that doesn’t sound bad enough the coal product would not be staying in or benefiting the U.S., the low-grade coal will be exported to Asian markets.

    The wetlands that would be damaged from the development of the mine would alter the ecosystem in different ways. Wetlands are natural filtration systems, breeding areas and provide habitat for multiple organisms. The protection of all interconnecting waterways including wetlands, rivers, lakes, ponds and oceans are crucial to healthy aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. If a disturbance like a coal mine interferes with a wetland, it may take the wetland over 10 years to regain its natural state including abundant flora and fauna.

    According to an economic report conducted by Center for Sustainable Economy in 2011, “For every $1 generated by things like taxes, royalties and job creation, there is $3-6 in economic losses in the form of environmental damage, reclamation costs and lost economic opportunity.” That figure amounts to $2 billion that Alaska would lose economically over the course of the coal mine. The Chuitna Watershed supports sport, commercial and subsistence fishing adding to the fisheries economy and a way of life for Alaska Natives.

    A public comment period with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources on an application for an in-stream flow reservation applied for by Chuitna Citizens Coalition ended a few weeks ago. There was an overwhelming 7,000 Alaskans that commented in support of the in-stream flow reservation. An in-stream flow reservation is a water right that can be obtained by an individual, organizations or government organizations. A reservation of water is to ensure that the stream level is at an adequate level for the individual or organization applying and the public’s use, while not used for other purposes. An in-stream reservation can be applied to protect fish and wildlife, recreation, transportation and sanitation. If the in-stream flow reservation is accepted, the Chuitna Citizens Coalition will have precedent over others who file later. In this case, PacRim has done that very thing; it has applied for an out-of-stream reservation. An out-of-stream reservation is a water right to remove water from a system for power generation, industrial use, irrigation, mining and recreational (e.g. snowmaking).

    Earlier this month, the nonprofit American Rivers released its list for America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2015, and the Chuitna River came in at number six. The list highlights the major threat of PacRim’s coal mine in the Chuitna River watershed. The report states that the mine would produce 7 million gallons of mine waste per day. The estimated flow of Middle Creek at the southern boundary of the mine is on average 6.5 million gallons per day. This essentially means the proposed mine would take a clean, healthy, productive river and replace it with a river’s worth of polluted waters. Mine waste in the Cook Inlet region would pose threats to the Inlet’s endangered beluga whales and other marine life. The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers is expected to release a draft environmental impact statement soon, initiating a public comment period.

    To bring awareness to this pristine watershed and the threats of the coal strip mine, Save the Chuitna and Patagonia produced a documentary, Chuitna: More Than Salmon on the Line, which has been screened across the country including at the 2015 Wild and Scenic Film Festival.

    Watch the gripping trailer here:

    Ryan Astalos|April 29, 2015

    [I look forward to hearing more about this evolving situation. When the DEIS comes out and the public comment period begins, I will post the information as I receive it.] 

    Seattle Port Lacks Permit for Drilling Rig, Mayor Murray Says

    Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said the Port of Seattle can’t host Royal Dutch Shell’s offshore Arctic oil-drilling fleet unless it gets a new land-use permit.

    Shell has been hoping to base its fleet at the port’s Terminal 5. Environmentalists have already sued over the plan, saying the port broke state law in February when it signed a two-year lease with Foss Maritime, which is working with Shell.

    At a breakfast for a clean-energy group on Monday, Murray said city planners reviewed the planned use of Terminal 5 as a base for the drilling fleet and found that it would violate the port’s land-use permit, which allows a cargo terminal on the site.

    Shell has argued that its planned activities at the terminal — such as docking, equipment loading and crew changes — are no more environmentally risky than loading or unloading shipping containers.

    Dozens of environmental groups including Greenpeace and Climate Solutions have been campaigning against the plan and training for direct action on the water using kayaks and chanting, “Shell No!”

    Murray says he thinks the Port of Seattle is in serious trouble, if oil drilling rigs are the only way for it to be competitive.

    The oil company wants to base part of its Arctic Drilling fleet at Terminal 5 in West Seattle, before heading to Alaska’s north slope. One rig, the Polar Pioneer, is already in Port Angeles and is waiting for a green light to come to Seattle.

    The mayor says the deal is not in line with the region’s values. And the money to upgrade the terminal should be available from other sources.

    “This is a city in a region where businesses are developing and choosing to locate here , where international investment is interested in participating. We should be able to build a vigorous port based on other than bringing (drilling) rigs into the city, for just a few years.” 

    In February, The Port and Foss Maritime signed a two-year contract worth millions of dollars that would be used to upgrade the terminal.

    Bellamy Pailthorp|Associated Press|May 4, 2015

    Duke Energy buys stake in proposed natural gas pipeline

    CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Electric utility giant Duke Energy has purchased ownership stake in the proposed Sabal Trail natural gas pipeline.

    In a statement released Tuesday, Duke Energy announced it will invest about $225 million in the approximately 500-mile pipeline.

    The $3 billion pipeline will run from Alabama, across Georgia, and into Florida.

    The pipeline is scheduled to begin service in 2017. It will require federal and other regulatory approvals, which Sabal Trail Transmission hopes to secure by early 2016.

    The pipeline drew protests from southwest Georgia residents last year, who said they do not want a pollution-emitting compression station near their homes.

    Currently there are only two major pipelines that deliver natural gas to Florida. Both are nearing capacity.

    MyPalmBeachPost.com|May 5, 2015

    FPL’s nuclear-power plan regressive, harmful

    Florida Power & Light argues that its new nuclear project is environmentally friendly, that it will benefit us economically, and that its future plans at Turkey Point are safe. Unfortunately, none of these claims are accurate.

    FPL is currently seeking approval from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission for two new nuclear reactors at Turkey Point and miles of 10-story transmission lines in residential Miami-Dade County and downtown Miami.

    FPL’s project would reduce the availability of fresh water for our communities, it would commit South Florida to antiquated and expensive nuclear technology from last century, and it would render our electric system vulnerable to storm surges from rising seas. FPL ignores these difficult facts.

    Nuclear plants consume vast amounts of water to keep reactors cool. FPL currently accounts for less than 1 percent of the water used in Miami-Dade County, but a nuclear expansion would raise that to 10 percent of water usage. In two decades, the demands on our limited water supply are already projected to skyrocket. FPL emphasizes that the primary cooling system will use reclaimed wastewater. But it ignores the inconvenient fact that its backup cooling system will also draw over 7 billion gallons of water a year from Biscayne Bay and the Biscayne Aquifer, our only source of drinking water, threatening the coastal Everglades, Biscayne National Park, and South Dade well fields. Given the anticipated demands on our shrinking water supply, FPL’s water grab is an irresponsible use of resources.

    When the Turkey Point expansion was first proposed, the projected cost was about $7 billion. The latest projections are $20 billion. Nuclear expansion might make sense for FPL’s shareholders but it doesn’t for us.

    FPL’s project commits us to expensive nuclear power for the next 60 years without fairly evaluating more cost-effective energy that does not require local storage of radioactive waste. The cheapest, cleanest and safest way to meet our energy needs is through energy conservation and efficiency. Conservation is one-fifth the cost of nuclear generation, yet FPL opposes conservation standards and presses for nuclear, the most expensive and risky investment available. Given the falling prices of solar power and new batteries, we question the wisdom of committing customers to $20 billion worth of last century’s technology, while closing the door on cheaper, safer and more environmentally responsible options.

    Florida law allows FPL to charge its customers for the licensing and construction costs for this project. In the past three years, FPL has charged us $209 million. Even if FPL never completes the new reactors, it keeps our money. These charges include new transmission lines in Everglades National Park and the heart of Miami-Dade’s dense commercial and residential neighborhoods. Massive 105-foot tall towers along Dixie Highway would cut through Pinecrest, South Miami, Coral Gables, Coconut Grove, and then Brickell, on their way into downtown Miami, carving tens of millions annually from the county’s tax base and killing thousands of jobs in the process. The proposed transmission lines will not be built to Florida hurricane safety standards. If a tower buckles during a storm, it could destroy the Metrorail and surrounding homes.

    The original decision to build nuclear reactors at Turkey Point, on a hurricane-swept coastline vulnerable to storm surge, was made a half a century before we understood climate change and sea-level rise. FPL’s new reactors would operate until 2080, during which, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recommends that power plants account for three feet to 6.6 feet of sea-level rise. FPL’s application accounts for only one foot of sea-level rise for that period, clearly unrealistic given the five inches of sea-level rise measured locally in the past five years.

    Even one foot of sea-level rise will inundate the area surrounding Turkey Point and turn the power plant into a remote island. A difference of two feet of sea-level rise will dramatically affect the height of future storm surges. FPL’s assertion that new reactors will be safe from a storm surge because they are 26-feet above “sea level,” overlooks the facts that FPL’s “sea level” standard is 27 years old; and the project does not properly account for realistic storm surge projections. FPL ignores these facts to double down on a dangerous position based on yesterday’s science.

    Join us by expressing your objection to FPL’s project as proposed. Contact the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission atTurkeyPoint.COLEIS@nrc.gov. This federal agency has the most authority over FPL’s project and is required by law to account for public comments submitted before May 22.

    By TOMÁS REGALADO, CINDY LERNER, PHILIP STODDARD AND JOSÉ JAVIER RODRÍGUEZ

    Tomás Regalado is mayor of Miami; Cindy Lerner is mayor of Pinecrest; Philip Stoddard is mayor of South Miami; and José Javier Rodríguez is the state representative of District 112.

    Energy rich US states move to quash local limits on drilling

    Lawmakers in Texas and energy producing states across the nation are rushing to stop local communities from imposing limits on oil and gas drilling despite growing public concern about the health and environmental toll of such activities in urban areas.

    The slump in oil prices that has led to job losses in the oil patch has only added to the urgency of squelching local drilling bans and other restrictions the industry views as onerous. The number of jobs nationwide in the sector that includes energy production has fallen 3.5 percent since December, and Texas alone lost about 25,000 jobs in March, according to federal data.

    A half dozen states — Texas, Oklahoma, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Colorado and New Mexico — have imposed or grappled with the issue of putting limits on local municipalities’ ability to regulate drilling or hydraulic fracturing, a practice of blasting huge volumes of water and chemicals underground to release tight deposits of oil and gas. And two of the biggest energy producers in the nation, Texas and Oklahoma, are poised to ban cities and towns enacting any ordinances considered unreasonable to energy exploration, including limits on fracking, water disposal, well maintenance and other activities.

    The backlash against local bans represents the third phase of the U.S. shale boom. In the last decade, fracking spawned a massive expansion in drilling that pushed the United States to the number one oil and gas producer in the world. Cities responded to environmental and health concerns by passing restrictions. Now, state lawmakers are stepping in to shut down the groundswell of local activism in order to keep the energy expansion rolling.

    “It had gotten to the point where various municipalities have been writing extremely detailed and onerous ordinances, making it difficult for companies to operate,” said Ed Ireland, head of the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council, which advocates for developing the rich deposit in Texas.

    About 60 municipalities in Texas — the nation’s biggest oil and gas producing state — have some form of ordinance on the books limiting drilling or fracking, according to the Texas Municipal League. Dallas does not permit drilling closer than 1,500 feet of homes, schools or churches. Suburban Southlake bans drilling during the dry summer months. Mansfield doesn’t allow drilling on Sundays or holidays.

    In Mansfield, a wealthy suburb about 30 miles southeast of Dallas, Tamara Bounds said the loud whir of fracking a few hundred feet from her backyard kept her awake at night for nine months.

    “I couldn’t sleep. I had to barricade my windows with mattresses,” said Bounds, who is running for the city council on a platform that includes tighter control of oil and gas activities.

    Hundreds of natural gas wells dot the hilly landscape, and pipelines snake behind housing cul-de-sacs. A 16-well pad site and compressor station hums behind the city’s performing arts center. Mayor David Cook is an example of the fine line some public officials try to walk in Texas between protecting their communities and supporting the oil and gas industry. He backs the natural gas drilling in the area but opposes efforts by the state Legislature to prohibit communities from setting some rules.

    “Instead of a balancing act, it’s a Texas two-step. Health and safety come first. After that, you do everything you can do to develop the economy of the state of Texas,” Cook said.

    Drilling is forging ahead in energy rich states despite growing evidence that the practices are effecting the environment. In Oklahoma, the state’s geological survey conceded last month it was “very likely” that recent seismic activity was caused by the injection of wastewater from drilling into disposal wells.

    Earthquake activity in 2013 was 70 times greater than it was before 2008, Oklahoma geologists reported.

    Even so, the Oklahoma House approved a wide-reaching bill last month that prohibits cities and towns from banning oil and natural gas drilling, or implementing restrictions that are not “reasonable.”

    When a single Texas community, the university town of Denton near Dallas, voted last fall to impose a ban on fracking within its boundaries, lawmakers in the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature sprang into action to ensure others wouldn’t follow suit.

    There are no fewer than 11 Texas bills designed to ban future local limits on energy production.

    The state’s energy industry lobbied heavily to ensure passage of the Texas legislation, which allows communities to have a say in things above the surface of the ground such as noise, lighting and traffic. But the bill says any local limits have to be “commercially reasonable,” a test that critics contend will allow drillers to do pretty much what they want. The bill sailed through the Texas Legislature and is now headed to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who is expected to sign it into law.

    In Mansfield, the looming law is throwing into doubt an ordinance passed in March that includes notifying potential home buyers if a gas well has been permitted within 300 feet of their property.

    “It could be months of work down the tube,” said Cook, the mayor.

    Texas politics have for decades been awash in oil money. Drilling operations contributed more than $12 billion to state coffers in 2013, accounting for about 4.5 percent of the budget. Oil and gas industry donors contributed about $400 million to 2014 campaigns.

    “Our government in Texas is owned by the oil and gas industry,” said Sharon Wilson, a Gulf regional organizer for the environmental group Earthworks. The 11 bills in the Legislature “are meant to show Texans who’s in charge,” she said.

    EMILY SCHMALL and WILL WEISSERT|Associated Press|5/7/15

    Victims of Coal Ash Contamination Demand Access to Solar at Duke Energy’s Shareholder Meeting

    People from North Carolina communities impacted by coal ash joined allies today to demand access to solar and a transition away from dirty coal. Both inside and outside of Duke Energy’s annual shareholder meeting, teachers, faith groups, business leaders, NGOs and residential customers pressed the company to stop dumping toxic coal ash into vulnerable communities, while blocking access to affordable solar that would benefit them in a variety of ways. As the meeting began, community members took their message inside and protested Duke by calling on the company to stop blocking solar energy.

    “Duke Energy is destroying my community, my air and water with its toxic coal ash, and has the audacity to simultaneously block access to the clean solar energy that people want and need,” said Michael Carroway, who spoke at a press conference outside the meeting about the impacts of Duke’s coal ash on his hometown of Goldsboro, North Carolina. “Duke has worked hard to misinform my community about solar, but the truth is it’s cleaner and cheaper for everyone. It benefits our health and environment and minimizes the need for more dirty power plants and rate hikes.”

    The rally and protest at Duke headquarters were part of a series of actions around Duke Energy’s annual shareholder meeting to send a strong message to the monopoly utility that blocking access to solar, while communities suffer the impacts of toxic coal ash dumping, will not be tolerated in North Carolina or the other states the company serves. On Tuesday, Greenpeace NC flew its Earth-shaped hot air balloon with banners that read: “Duke don’t block solar” and “Solar works for all.”

    On the ground below, community members also spelled out “Duke: we want access to solar” in giant white letters. Leading into this week,​​ “clean graffiti” (​a clean message on a dirty sidewalk) with an #IStand4Solar message was ​implemented ​in strategic locations throughout Charlotte.​

    “Duke Energy cares about its statewide monopoly and large profits over the people that it serves,” said Danielle Hilton, an organizer with Moms Clean Air Force from Charlotte who spoke at the press conference. “It’s clear that the reason the company is blocking access to clean solar energy is to maintain its stranglehold on the energy market here. Unfortunately, the rest of us suffer for it in the form of rate hikes, coal ash spills and polluted air, which harms our health and the climate.”

    Duke has actively lobbied the North Carolina state legislature in an attempt to defeat HB 245, the bipartisan Energy Freedom Act, which would open up North Carolina electricity markets to third party sales, meaning companies could offer businesses, schools and residential customers options for no money down solar. Duke opposes the bill because it could mean fewer customers and profits for them, jeopardizing their fossil fuel-based monopoly in the state.

    “I think it’s important that more people are able to use solar energy because it will mean a healthier world for me and for my children and my children’s children,” said 8-year-old Abigail Driscoll from Charlotte who spoke at the press conference. “I hope that Duke Energy remembers that the decisions they make affect me and my family, now and in the future.”

    Duke has lobbied against beneficial solar policies in other states as well. Their plan is to limit solar choice via third party energy sales; weaken net metering, or the amount of money solar rooftop customers are credited for adding power back to the grid; and work with allies like the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Koch brothers to gut renewable energy policies and incentives. In Florida, according to a Florida Center for Investigative Reporting story, Duke and other utility companies have spent $12 million on political campaigns for state lawmakers since 2010—directly influencing the expansion of distributed rooftop solar in the state. In Indiana, Duke has used its cozy relationship with regulators and representatives to try to push anti-solar policies, including adding a fee for net metering customers, in an effort to maintain monopoly control in the state.

    Perry Wheeler|Greenpeace|May 7, 2015

    Shell’s oil rig is already falling apart — and it hasn’t even left for the Arctic

    In today’s news: The Noble Discoverer, Royal Dutch Shell’s oil drilling rig, already failed a routine Coast Guard inspection — months before it is even scheduled to leave for the Arctic. VICE News reports that inspectors found malfunctioning anti-pollution machinery aboard the rig last month.

    This is a bad omen for everyone.

    Why? Here’s a little history: In 2012, Shell stationed the Kulluk, an oil drilling barge, and two tug boats off the coast of Alaska to drill five oil wells in the Chukchi Sea. After multiple failed drilling attempts, the Kulluk ended up wrecked in the Aleutian Islands. The disastrous oil “exploration” mission ended with the rig’s handlers pleading guilty to eight felonies for marine crimes.

    With that kind of track record, it’s no surprise environmentalists and concerned citizens are up in arms about the company’s plan to return to the Arctic this July.

    Naturally, Shell officials assure us that everything’s JUST DANDY. From VICE:

    Shell spokesman Curtis Smith told VICE News that the oil company still has full confidence in the vessel and its contractor.

    “This system has since been upgraded and passed inspections prior,” Smith wrote in an e-mailed response to questions. “This is a case of mechanical repairs, which from time to time are required on any equipment.”

    This isn’t the first “repair” the company has had to make, however. In December, the Noble Discoverer’s handlers reported that an oil separator and other instruments were out of commission, VICE reports. “Noble Discoverer’s crew struggled to deal with a buildup of water below decks and rigged up a makeshift system to discharge water from the engine room straight overboard — then tried to hide that system from the Coast Guard, federal investigators concluded.”

    But despite the glitches, the rig continues to make its way to Seattle, which would be the home base for the Arctic drilling operation.

    Seattle Mayor Ed Murray threw a roadblock at Shell earlier this week when he announced the Port of Seattle would have to apply for a new land-use permit in order to allow Shell to use its cargo terminal. During a conference in Houston on Tuesday, however, Shell officials announced ominously that they have a “backup plan” if they are blocked from using Seattle’s port, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

    If that’s not doomy enough for you, here’s another taste of the email Shell’s Smith sent to VICE:

    “In the meantime, it’s widely accepted that global demand for energy will double by the year 2050 — so, we’ll need energy in all forms, and Alaska’s outer continental shelf resources could play a crucial role in helping meet that energy challenge,” he wrote.

    ARE YOU KIDDING ME, SHELL? Drilling the planet will NEVER be an answer to solving our global energy needs.

    Ana Sofia Knauf|7 May 2015

    Plans for nuclear dump advance

    Canadian site opposed by 75-plus communities

    Plans for a lakeside nuclear waste facility — a project that more than 75 Michigan communities opposed, that prompted resolutions, bills and opposition from state legislators — have received the thumb’s up in Canada.

    In a nearly 450-page report, the Joint Review Panel recommended the Canadian Minister of Environment approve Ontario Power Generation’s plan to bury 7 million cubic feet of nuclear waste about a half-mile from Lake Huron in Kincardine, Ontario.

    The Minister of the Environment made the report public Wednesday evening.

    In an executive summary of the report, the panel concludes with: “… The project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects, taking into account the implementation of the mitigation measures committed to by OPG together with the mitigation measures recommended by the Panel.”

    The mitigation measures recommended by the panel were not immediately clear.

    In a statement, OPG said the company and a team of scientists will “closely analyze the panel’s conditions, many of which reinforce our commitment to the stewardship of the Great Lakes.”

    “The idea for this project came from the community. OPG developed the DGR with one goal in mind: To create permanent, safe store for Ontario’s low and intermediate-level nuclear waste,” Laurie Swami, OPG’s senior vice president, said in the statement. “We are pleased with the panel’s conclusion that the project will safely protect the environment.”

    The Joint Review Panel was authorized in January 2012 to do an environmental assessment of OPG’s plans to bury low- and intermediate-level nuclear waste about 2,200 feet below ground and 0.6 miles from the shore of Lake Huron in Kincardine, Ontario.

    Now that the panel has submitted its recommendation, the Ministry of Environment can, if it chooses to do so, authorize the panel to give a license to prepare the site and construct the deep geologic repository, according to a statement from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.

    “If the project is authorized to proceed to the next phase of the permitting process, the decision statement will include conditions related to the project that will be legally binding on the proponent,” the CEAA statement said.

    That final authorization and license could take several more months.

    Beverly Fernandez, spokeswoman for Stop the Great Lakes Nuclear Dump, said the organization was disappointed in the panel’s recommendation.

    “We are deeply disappointed that the panel is recommending OPG’s plan be approved,” Fernandez said.

    “This is an intergenerational non-partisan issues that affects millions of Canadians and Americans. It is a decision that will affect the Great Lakes for the next 100,000 years. The last place to bury and abandon radioactive nuclear waste is beside the largest supply of fresh water on the planet.”

    Fernandez said the organization has collected about 75,000 signatures on a petition to stop OPG’s plans. She said 154 communities in the U.S. and Canada oppose the Kincardine nuclear waste dump or any nuclear waste dump in the Great Lakes basin.

    Ed McArdle, chairman of the Southeast Michigan Sierra Club conservation committee, said the announcement wasn’t completely unexpected, but still was frustrating.

    “We’re not going to give up,” McArdle said. “We’re going to work with our Canadian friends and pursue other ways to fight this.

    “In these kind of fights you don’t give up until even after the thing is built.”

    In an interview with the Times Herald last week, Jerry Keto, vice president of nuclear decommissioning at OPG, said OPG could have its license to construct by the end of the year at the earliest.

    Construction would begin in 2018 and last until 2025. In 2022, the company would apply for another license to operate the facility as the application and review process is lengthy.

    “This is a robust process,” Keto said. “This is the most complex and rigorous environmental review in Canada.”

    OPG began studying Kincardine as a possible site for its deep geologic repository in 2001. Keto said the geology is sound and does not present a risk to the Great Lakes. The waste would be buried in limestone beneath a shale cap.

    “The opposition that we’re seeing to the repository has no technical value,” Keto said. “It’s an emotional issue.

    “If the rock were not what it is, we would be looking some place else.”

    Politicians weigh in

    In a statement Thursday, Congresswoman Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, renewed her appeal to the U.S. Department of State to engage the International Joint Commission in the study of OPG’s proposed waste facility.

    We must act before it is too late, which is why I am calling on Secretary (John) Kerry again to take action,” Miller said. “Canada has always been a great neighbor and ally of the U.S., as well as a great steward of the lakes, and I believe that, working through the International Joint Commission, we can come up with a viable alternate site for their proposed nuclear waste facility.”

    U.S. Congressman Dan Kildee expressed disappointment with the panel’s decision, and its failure to consider other sites or growing opposition in the U.S. and Canada.

    “So far, 20 members of Congress — 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans — have also cosponsored my resolution seeking an alternative location,” Kildee said, in a statement.

    “The Joint Review Panel’s conclusions are inconsistent and should not be certified by Canada’s Minister of Environment.”

    U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, in a statement Thursday, said she was disappointed in the panel’s report and will continue fighting against OPG’s plans.

    “By including a number of recommendations, the report clearly recognizes significant environmental risks, and I’m not willing to take chances with the fate of our Great Lakes hoping these recommendations will be followed,” Stabenow said.

    State Sen. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair Township, and Representative Dan Lauwers, R-Brockway Township, have spoken out strongly against OPG’s plan and recently introduced new legislation to stop it.

    In a statement Thursday, Pavlov said it was “extremely troubling” that the panel “turned a deaf ear” to opposition.

    “With today’s decision, the world’s largest supply of fresh water is in peril,” Pavlov said. “It is a sad day for Michigan, Canada and every state in the Great Lakes basin.”

    BETH LEBLANC|TIMES HERALD

    Broken Federal Coal Leasing Program Threatens Climate Progress

    Over the past weeks and months, President Obama has made great strides to curb the climate crisis by both reducing carbon emissions and mitigating the worst effects of climate disruption already felt in communities across the country.

    Actions to increase the efficiency of our cars and trucks, decrease toxic emissions and carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants and continued efforts to promote the thriving clean energy economy are putting the U.S. on a path to climate progress. Case in point: to mark the celebration of the 45th Earth Day, the President visited the Florida Everglades to announce new investments that will make our national parks more resilient to climate disruption.

    But as highlighted by experts at a recent National Press Club event in Washington, DC, even as the administration is reducing carbon emissions, it continues to advance dirty fuel production on public lands. We have seen some progress in the past months—the federal Office of Natural Resources Revenue (ONRR) announced that it will consider updating royalty rate and leasing policies, and in March, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell noted that it is “time for an honest and open conversation” about the federal government’s coal leasing practices and their impact on the climate—but we need more substantive change.

    After all, nearly a quarter of our country’s annual carbon emissions come from coal, oil and gas produced on public lands. Expanding development of these dirty fuels undermines the President’s climate objectives, locks in decades of environmental harm, and saddles current and future generations with billions of dollars in damages as a result of climate disruption.

    For example, the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Utah, much of which is public land, generates approximately 42 percent of the nation’s coal. Mining available coal reserves from just this one area could release 60 billion tons of carbon pollution—more than ten times the pollution saved by the new fuel economy standards.

    In all, 40 percent of coal mined in the U.S. now comes from our nation’s public lands. Both common sense and the latest science make clear that keeping these dirty fuels in the ground is a must if we are to avoid the worst consequences of climate disruption, meet international climate commitments, and achieve the President’s Climate Action Plan goals.

    One of the first steps should be for the administration to reform the federal coal leasing program. Outdated federal coal leasing policies haven’t changed in decades. Royalty rate and policy loopholes allow coal companies to make enormous profits by mining coal on public lands at prices far below market value, while American taxpayers lose millions of dollars each year.

    And while the federal agencies overseeing coal leasing often calculate the amount of carbon pollution that comes with new mines, they have yet to take the next logical step to account for the effect that this pollution has on our climate, communities and economy. Coal companies can sell their cheaply-bought federal coal to affiliate brokers who sell the coal for a profit overseas, allowing the mining company to dodge federal export royalties.

    This social cost of carbon is a robust measure that can be readily calculated using information the agencies already gather in the course of leasing. Developed by scientific and economic experts from the agencies themselves, the social cost of carbon provides a widely-agreed upon method for calculating, in dollars, the damages new carbon pollution will cause as a result of worsening climate disruption. In economic terms, it shows the effect of climate change on people’s health, property and agricultural productivity, among other things. Incorporating this piece of the puzzle is absolutely essential.

    The cost of carbon price tag for just four leases that have been proposed to expand two coal mines in the Powder River Basin—Peabody’s North Antelope Rochelle Mine and Arch Coal’s Black Thunder Mine—could come in anywhere from $43.7 billion to $449 billion over the life of the leases. That’s a far cry from the zero that’s essentially now in the flawed cost-benefit analysis of decision making on new leases.

    Continuing to ignore the social cost of carbon puts us all at risk. Federal agencies, particularly the Bureau of Land Management, should start considering the cost, not just the amount, of carbon pollution before rubber-stamping lease permits to mining companies. Reforming the coal leasing program is a must and would save taxpayer dollars and open space for more clean energy jobs, providing just one more reason (or perhaps billions of reasons) why dirty fuels must remain in the ground.

    Mary Anne Hitt and Dan Chu|Sierra Club|May 9, 2015

    Capture the Leaking Methane!

    I was aware that leaking methane is a problem, both as a greenhouse gas, and as a lost source of energy and revenue.  However, I was unaware of the extent of the problem.  There are two methane clouds in particular that could boggle the mind.  Of course Republicans oppose the solution for one.  They are the cause of the other.

    In March, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell cited a methane gas plume the size of Delaware hovering over the Four Corners area in Northwest New Mexico as evidence that the Interior Department needs to cut “wasted gas that results from venting and flaring during oil and gas operations.”

    This methane hot spot, which is located above an area that contains more than 40,000 wells, arises primarily from leaks in natural gas production and processing equipment spanning a large area of federal lands. While it may be the most visible instance of this issue, it is far from the only instance of methane — a powerful greenhouse gas that traps up to 34 times as much heat as carbon dioxide over the course of a century — being emitted into the atmosphere above public lands. A new report from the Government Accountability Office notes another unfortunate side effect of this inefficiency: the loss of tens of millions of taxpayer dollars each year.

    The GAO has been urging the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), an Interior Department agency, to cut methane emissions via flared or vented gas since at least 2010, when the government office found that 40 percent of this methane could be economically captured and sold. According to the 2010 report, “such reductions could increase federal royalty payments by about $23 million annually and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an amount equivalent to about 16.5 million metric tons of CO2 — the annual emissions equivalent of 3.1 million cars.” … [emphasis added]

    Posted by TomCat|May 8 2015

     

    Air Quality

    The Link Between Air Pollution and Low Birth Weight Grows

    Scientists have known about a potential link between air pollution and low birth weight for a number of years now, and new research further corroborates that if we want to tackle childhood diseases that are associated with low birth weight we need to take air pollution seriously.

    The study, which is published in Environmental Health Perspectives, used the rare opportunity of air pollution reduction efforts surrounding the Beijing Olympics of 2008 to assess how that might affect the development of unborn children.

    It’s thought that massive state intervention reduced the total level of air pollution in Beijing–which often tops international pollution charts–anywhere from a still significant 18 percent all the way up to a staggering 59 percent. Did this affect the birth weight of babies born in that time? The study suggests so. After reviewing the birth weights of 83,672 babies they found that the average birth weight was 23 grams heavier in children who were in the eighth month of development during the Summer Olympics compared to babies born at the same time of year in 2007 and 2009.

    This isn’t the first time that this air pollution/birth weight link has come up, either.  A large European cohort study found that for every 5 micrograms per cubic meter of exposure to fine particulate matter air pollution during pregnancy, the risk of a baby being born with a low birth weight rises by about 18 percent.

    While birth weight isn’t a fool-proof predictor of infant health and development, we know that babies with a lower birth weight tend to be more susceptible to infection, respiratory problems, neurological problems and gastrointestinal issues. They also appear to be at an elevated risk of sudden infant death syndrome. It is worth noting that some of this may be down to the fact the low birth weight and premature birth obviously overlap, and so we have to be careful not to confuse the two. With that in mind, we also know that low birth weight tends to tally with slightly slower development in early childhood. There is evidence that many children born with a low birth weight do in fact catch up by puberty, but in the interests of giving children the best start in life, air pollution’s link to lower birth weight is worth exploring.

    Researcher David Rich, a health scientist from the University of Rochester, United States, commented on the link:

    “Even a short term reduction in pollution in a community has a very large public health impact. Some of these babies will have fewer complications or diseases later in life. So any time we can improve or increase birth weight we’re protecting not only the babies when they are born, but also in later life,” he said.

    That said, the researchers also observed that mothers who were between one and seven months pregnant during the Beijing Olympics tended to have babies who fell largely in step with those born at the same time in 2007 and 2009. The researchers contend that this doesn’t necessarily undercut their findings, but perhaps suggests that air pollution may be particularly problematic in the later stages of pregnancy when fetal development speeds up rapidly. The researchers don’t know exactly why that might be, but Rich speculates that pollution may cause inflammation in the mother, which in turn prevents the developing baby from accessing vital nutrients at this important time; future research could be used to confirm that finding and explore the reasons why.

    In the past, studies have shown that air pollution tends to tally with lung disorders and of course with asthma. There is also some research to indicate an increased likelihood of mothers giving birth to children who will later express moderate to severe autistic behavior if the mother was exposed to a high level of particulate matter when she was pregnant, though while those findings have been corroborated research is still ongoing in that area because, obviously, autism isn’t likely to be down to one fact alone.

    Perhaps the key thing that this research seems to suggest is that our efforts to reduce air pollution can have an effect, and sometimes a dramatic one, even in a short space of time. Let’s hope that when climate change and environment talks commence in Paris this December, the above research will also be brought up as yet another reason why we need to severely curtail our use of fossil fuels and switch to cleaner energy sources because they in turn can provide us with cleaner air and a better and healthier start for our children.

    Steve Williams|May 3, 2015

    National Clean Air Month Highlights Florida’s Top Air Quality

    TALLAHASSEE –The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is celebrating May as Clean Air Month with a proclamation by Governor Rick Scott that recognizes Florida’s air as among the nation’s cleanest.

    Florida proudly boasts 171 state parks and trails, 35 state forests and hundreds of city and county parks that provide an abundance of outdoor recreational opportunities. Breathing clean air is a critical component to enjoying the wonders these places provide Floridians and visitors.

    “In Florida, we are fortunate to breathe some of the cleanest air in the country,” said DEP Secretary Jon Steverson. “I am proud of the department’s efforts to curb air pollution across the state so that we can enjoy the many outdoor activities available to us.”

    Emissions of key industrial pollutants contributing to the formation of ozone and fine particulate matter continue to decline in Florida, a trend that has existed for years. For example, since 2010 power plant emissions of two of these pollutants, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, have decreased 37 percent.

    “Clean Air Month is a time to celebrate Florida’s air quality,” said Justin Green, director of the Division of Air Resource Management. “Thanks to hard work by local and state air program professionals, investments in our air monitoring network and new technology, residents and visitors can be confident they are breathing clean air.”

    According to the most recent “State of the Air” report from the American Lung Association, Florida experienced zero unhealthy days from ozone pollution during the three-year study period. In addition, Florida boasts 28 of the cleanest cities nationwide.

    The department’s Spatial Air Quality System allows web users to access updated air quality data as reported by its statewide network of air quality monitors. Additional information about Florida’s air quality is available through the department’s Division of Air Resource Management website.

    jmahondep|May 5, 2015

    Transportation

    Inexpensive Electric Cars May Arrive Sooner Than You Think

    A new study suggests that battery-powered vehicles are close to being cost-effective for most people.

    Transportation accounts for roughly a quarter of the world’s annual carbon dioxide emissions.

    Electric cars may seem like a niche product that only wealthy people can afford, but a new analysis suggests that they may be close to competing with or 3

    The true cost of lithium-ion batteries in electric cars is a secret closely held by manufacturers. And estimates of the cost vary widely, making it tough to determine just how much lower they must go before electric vehicles with long ranges can be affordable for most buyers. But a peer-reviewed study of more than 80 estimates reported between 2007 and 2014 determined that the costs of battery packs are “much lower” than widely assumed by energy-policy analysts.+

    The authors of the new study concluded that the battery packs used by market-leading EV manufacturers like Tesla and Nissan cost as little as $300 per kilowatt-hour of energy in 2014. That’s lower than the most optimistic published projections for 2015, and even below the average published projection for 2020. The authors found that batteries appear on track to reach $230 per kilowatt-hour by 2018.+

    If that’s true, it would push EVs across a meaningful threshold. Depending on the price of gas, the sticker price of an EV is expected to appeal to many more people if its battery costs between $125 and $300 per kilowatt-hour. Because the battery makes up perhaps a quarter to a half of the cost of the car, a substantially cheaper battery would make the vehicle itself significantly cheaper too. Alternatively, carmakers could maintain current EV prices but offer vehicles with much longer ranges.6

    The range would likely be crucial for many buyers because it’s so much cheaper to “fill” an EV with electricity-charging a car with a 300-mile range could cost less than $10. Given the disparity in gasoline and electricity prices, the study’s authors, Bjӧrn Nykvist and Måns Nilsson, research fellows at the Stockholm Environment Institute, say that if batteries fall as low as $150 per kilowatt-hour, this could lead to “a potential paradigm shift in vehicle technology.”5

    The analysis suggests that the cost of packs used by the leading EV manufacturers is falling about 8 percent a year. Although Nykvist acknowledges that “the uncertainties are large,” he says it’s realistic to think that this rate of decline could continue in the coming years, thanks to the economies of scale that would be created if large manufacturers like Nissan and Tesla follow through with their separate plans to massively increase production. The speed at which the cost appears to be falling is similar to the rate that was seen with the nickel metal hydride battery technology used in hybrids like the Toyota Prius, he says.1

    Nykvist and Nilsson relied on estimates from a variety of sources: public statements by EV manufacturers, peer-reviewed literature, news reports (including from MIT Technology Review), and so-called gray literature, or research papers published by governments, businesses, and academics.+

    Luis Munuera, an energy analyst for the International Energy Agency, and Pierpaolo Cazzola, a transport policy analyst for the same agency, caution in an e-mail to MIT Technology Review that the cost reductions implied in the new analysis “should be taken with care,” since battery cost figures from disparate sources are often not directly comparable. Further, they point out, the degree to which cost decline trends for energy technologies can be extrapolated into the future is unclear. Still, they admit, “we have seen events moving quicker than expected in lithium-ion battery technology.”

    Mike Orcutt|April 2, 2015

    Recycling

    22 Facts About Plastic Pollution (And 10 Things We Can Do About It)

    It seems nearly impossible to escape plastic in our every day lives, doesn’t it? And we can’t escape plastic pollution, either.

    Drowning-in-plastic 

    Plastic is literally at my fingertips all day long. Plastic keyboard. Plastic framed computer monitor. Plastic mouse. The amount of plastic I encounter daily doesn’t end there. Chances are, you can relate. Plastic is an epidemic.

    But where does all this plastic go? We ship some of it overseas to be recycled. Quite a bit ends up in landfills. And more than you can imagine ends up on the loose as plastic pollution, eventually making its way into our waterways.

    Tiny plastic beads used in hundreds of toiletries like facial scrubs and toothpastes have even been found in our Great Lakes—the largest group of freshwater lakes in the world! Giant garbage patches (one twice the size of Texas) can be found floating around in the oceans. And all this plastic pollution is not only a problem for the earth, it’s bad for our health.

    Green Diva Meg and I chatted about the plastic in our oceans on the recent Green Divas myEARTH360 Report podcast, which inspired me to uncover more facts about plastic in all of our lives and how it ends up in our precious water. Have a listen:

    22 Preposterous Facts about Plastic Pollution.

    • In the Los Angeles area alone, 10 metric tons of plastic fragments—like grocery bags, straws and soda bottles—are carried into the Pacific Ocean every day.

    • Over the last ten years we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century.

    • 50 percent of the plastic we use, we use just once and throw away.

    • Enough plastic is thrown away each year to circle the earth four times.

    • We currently recover only five percent of the plastics we produce.

    • The average American throws away approximately 185 pounds of plastic per year.

    • Plastic accounts for around 10 percent of the total waste we generate.

    • The production of plastic uses around eight percent of the world’s oil production (bioplastics are not a good solution as they require food source crops).

    • Americans throw away 35 billion plastic water bottles every year (source: Brita)

    • Plastic in the ocean breaks down into such small segments that pieces of plastic from a one liter bottle could end up on every mile of beach throughout the world.

    • Annually approximately 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide. More than one million bags are used every minute.

    • 46 percent of plastics float (EPA 2006) and it can drift for years before eventually concentrating in the ocean gyres.

    • It takes 500-1,000 years for plastic to degrade.

    • Billions of pounds of plastic can be found in swirling convergences in the oceans making up about 40 percent of the world’s ocean surfaces. 80 percent of pollution enters the ocean from the land.

    • The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is located in the North Pacific Gyre off the coast of California and is the largest ocean garbage site in the world. This floating mass of plastic is twice the size of Texas, with plastic pieces outnumbering sea life six to one.

    • Plastic constitutes approximately 90 percent of all trash floating on the ocean’s surface, with 46,000 pieces of plastic per square mile.

    • One million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed annually from plastic in our oceans.

    • 44 percent of all seabird species, 22 percent of cetaceans, all sea turtle species and a growing list of fish species have been documented with plastic in or around their bodies.

    • In samples collected in Lake Erie, 85 percent of the plastic particles were smaller than two-tenths of an inch, and much of that was microscopic. Researchers found 1,500 and 1.7 million of these particles per square mile.

    • Virtually every piece of plastic that was ever made still exists in some shape or form (with the exception of the small amount that has been incinerated).

    • Plastic chemicals can be absorbed by the body—93 percent of Americans age six or older test positive for BPA (a plastic chemical).

    • Some of these compounds found in plastic have been found to alter hormones or have other potential human health effects.

    Photo courtesy of Shutterstock 

    Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

    Is it possible to go plastic-free?

    Listen to the Green Divas feature interview with Beth Terry, author of Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can, Too.

    Ten Ways To “Rise Above Plastic.”

    • Choose to reuse when it comes to shopping bags and bottled water. Cloth bags and metal or glass reusable bottles are available locally at great prices.

    • Refuse single-serving packaging, excess packaging, straws and other “disposable” plastics. Carry reusable utensils in your purse, backpack or car to use at bbq’s, potlucks or take-out restaurants.

    • Reduce everyday plastics such as sandwich bags and juice cartons by replacing them with a reusable lunch bag/box that includes a thermos.

    • Bring your to-go mug with you to the coffee shop, smoothie shop or restaurants that let you use them, which is a great way to reduce lids, plastic cups and/or plastic-lined cups.

    • Go digital!  No need for plastic cds, dvds and jewel cases when you can buy your music and videos online.

    • Seek out alternatives to the plastic items that you rely on.

    • Recycle. If you must use plastic, try to choose #1 (PETE) or #2 (HDPE), which are the most commonly recycled plastics. Avoid plastic bags and polystyrene foam as both typically have very low recycling rates.

    • Volunteer at a beach cleanup. Surfrider Foundation Chapters often hold cleanups monthly or more frequently.

    • Support plastic bag bans, polystyrene foam bans and bottle recycling bills.

    • Spread the word. Talk to your family and friends about why it is important to reduce plastic in our lives and the nasty impacts of plastic pollution.

    Watch Rise Above Plastics—Plastics Kill from Surfrider Foundation:

    Lynn Hasselberger|The Green Divas|April 7, 2014

    This is What Happens When We Put ‘Flushable Wipes’ Down the Toilet

    It’s a growing problem around the country, and the small city of Wyoming, Minn., can’t take it anymore. Those flushable wipes so many of us love to use are causing an incredible amount of damage to municipal sewer systems and wastewater treatment plants.

    Technically they are indeed “flushable” (as in you can put them in the toilet and won’t see them after you flush). It’s what happens after those wipes go down the toilet that’s causing headaches. They aren’t breaking down like they’re supposed to.

    Instead, what they’re doing is gumming up the works in a big way. All over the country — from little Wyoming, Minn. to New York City — municipalities are having to repair or upgrade sewer equipment at great cost to just keep their systems functional.

    What exactly is happening? After the wipes flush and disappear from your bathroom, they have to make it through the sewer system piping to wastewater treatment plants. They’re supposed to break up almost immediately, like toilet paper does, and flow with the water and the waste.

    Mostly, they reportedly don’t do that. Baby wipes, feminine wipes, sanitized wipes and similar products remain intact and get snagged on piping joints and tree roots that have intruded into the piping. If the wipes do make it further down the line, they inevitably combine with grease and paper products, accreting into sticky, soppy globs that block and bind up treatment plant pumps and waste screens.

    “They basically just form a knot and a clump in [wastewater system] pumps,” Harry Mathos, director of water resources in Beliot, Wisconsin, told RouteFifty.com.

    When that happens, which is constantly, it looks like this:

    Photo from Wyoming, Minn. lawsuit complaint, showing what these flushed wipes end up doing to the municipal sewer system.

    Photo from Wyoming, Minn. lawsuit complaint, showing what these flushed wipes end up doing to the municipal sewer system.

    “It’s a huge problem — an absolutely horrible problem,” the Minnesota Rural Water Association’s Frank Stuemke told the Star Tribune. “Wipes have shortened pumps’ lives and transformed what it means to maintain a system. To smaller communities, in particular, it can be difficult.”

    Difficult indeed, and expensive. Municipal workers around the country who have to deal with this stinky, messy issue on a daily basis call these masses of wipes “polar bears.” Like many cities across the country, Wyoming, Minn. is spending big bucks it can ill afford to keep up with the damage being done.

    “They’re stringy and instead of coming apart, they’ll stretch out and then two, three, four, five, six of them wrap together. It looks like a mop head,” Andy Coppola, plant manager at the Schenectady Water Pollution Control Facility in New York told The Daily Gazette. “Anyplace that stuff can hang up on, it will, and then when one grabs, the next one grabs, the next one grabs, and then you end up with an issue.”

    Finally, the city of Wyoming decided to take action. It is suing six major manufacturers for their “false claims regarding the flushability of these wipes.” The city filed a class action lawsuit in U.S. District Court on April 23, 2015.

    “These flushable wipes do not degrade after flushing,” alleges the city’s complaint. “Rather, the flushable wipes remain intact long enough to pass through private wastewater drain pipes into the municipal sewer line, causing clogs and other issues for municipal and county sewer systems and wastewater treatment plants, resulting in thousands, if not millions, of dollars of damages.”

    The city of Wyoming named six major manufacturers of this kind of wet wipe in its lawsuit. Defendants include Procter & Gamble Co., Kimberly-Clark Corp., Nice-Pak Products, Inc., Professional Disposables International, Inc., Tufco Technologies Inc. and Rockline Industries.

    What’s the industry response to this type of allegation?

    Flushable wipes makers have “empathy for the challenges the wastewater operators are having with nonflushable materials impacting their systems,” Dave Rousse, president of the Association of Nonwoven Fabrics Industry, told the Star Tribune. “However, we take great exception to any effort to blame flushable wipes for the problems being caused by nonflushable wipes.”

    Rousse says the source of everyone’s woe is consumers sending the wrong kind of wipes down the commode. However, many believe even the flushable wipes are not living up to the promises of biodegradability made on their packaging.

    Wipe-clogged sewer systems aren’t a problem limited only to the United States. In 2013, the complaint notes, a “15-ton, bus-sized clog” formed in a sewer main in London, England. It took workers three weeks to dislodge the gargantuan blockade of wipes and grease. It took a further six weeks to repair the damage to the pipes.

    Canada faces this problem, too. It spends about $250 million every year repairing damage caused by flushed wipes.

    In addition to monetary damages, the city of Wyoming’s lawsuit demands:

    • A declaration that the defendants’ flushable wipes do not degrade and are not sewer safe
    • An order enjoining defendants to desist from further advertising, sale and distribution of said “flushable wipes”
    • An order requiring the defendants to establish a fund to compensate the city and others in the class for the cost associated with ongoing clean-up and removal of flushable wipes from their sewer systems

    “I think people really do need to be educated on why they should not be flushing [wipes] into the septic systems,” Linda White, a homeowner in Wadena County, Minn., told The StarTribune. “I was shocked at how expensive it was to the city of Wadena to take care of this problem.”

    Nearly everything we’re flushing contributes to this problem. Despite what the packaging might promise, experts say we should never flush items such as disposable diapers, diaper liners, baby wipes, pre-moistened wipes, household cleaning wipes or brushes, feminine hygiene products (yes, that means tampons, ladies), toilet seat covers, dog poop collection baggies and cat litter.

    Sure, these disposable items are convenient. Are they good for sewer and septic systems? Experience says no, not at all.

    Whether you’re on city sewer or have your own septic system, the only thing you should be flushing is poo, pee and toilet paper. Nothing else is guaranteed to break down fast enough to avoid problems, no matter what the packaging promises.

    Disposability is handy but rarely good for the environment or our infrastructure. All that stuff has to go somewhere when we’re done with it. If it doesn’t magically disappear, we must deal with it.

    Susan Bird|May 4, 2015

    14 Heartbreaking Photos That Will Inspire You to Recycle

    Global pollution has reached unprecedented levels as the trash produced by the more than 7 billion people pollutes the land and sea around the world. All too often, our waste takes on a life of its own after we toss it in the trash without another thought. Animals get tangled up in our trash or mistakenly ingest it, often resulting in death.

    Add to that the effect our polluting activities have on humans and other species and you begin to realize the massive global impact we human beings have. Luckily, there are lots of people out there working to create a better world.

    Here are 14 photos that capture the heartbreaking impact of worldwide pollution:

    birdbagStork trapped in a plastic bag. Photo credit: UnknownbirdplasticAlbatross killed by excessive plastic ingestion in Midway Islands. Photo credit: Population Speak OutoilspillbirdA bird is coated in oil from a nearby spill. Photo credit: UnknownpenguinsPenguins covered in oil. Photo credit: John HrusasurfingpollutionSurfing on a wave full of trash off the coast of Java, Indonesia. Photo credit: Population Speak OutsealplasticA seal with his nose stuck on a piece of plastic. Photo credit: Unknown

    boyswimstrashThis boy spends each morning looking for recyclable plastic to sell to help support his family. Photo credit: George SteinmetzlandfillLandscape full of trash in Bangladesh. Photo credit: Population Speak OutBoy swims in polluted water in India. Photo credit: Green AtomhongkongpollutionFake Hong Kong skyline for tourists because the actual one is so polluted. Photo credit: Molly SmithSea lion strangled by discarded fishing gearA seal’s neck was sliced by trash. Photo credit: Ares CaiusbirdoilA bird is covered from an oil spill. Photo credit: Charlie RiedelturtleplasticA turtle is stuck in a piece of plastic. Photo credit: UnknownturtletrappedA tortoise is trapped by a piece of plastic. Photo credit: Unknown

    Plastic Pollution = Cancer of Our Oceans: What Is the Cure?

    By now, many people know that the ocean is filled with plastic debris.

    A recent study estimates that the amount of plastic waste that washes off land into the ocean each year is approximately 8 million metric tons. Jenna Jambeck, the study’s lead author, helps us visualize the magnitude by comparing it to finding five grocery bags full of plastic on every foot of coastline in the 192 countries included in the study.

    plaschart

    As someone who lives in a highly urbanized coastal city in California, this estimate didn’t shock me. I grew up watching loads of plastic trash spew from river outlets into our ocean. Our beaches are covered with things like plastic bottles, bags, wrappers and straws—all mostly single-use “disposable” items.

    For years, I’ve watched polluted water flow beneath the bridge at the end of the San Gabriel River, a channel that drains a 713 square mile watershed in Southern California. This bridge is special … it’s where my fascination with plastic waste began—it’s where our plastic trash becomes plastic marine debris.

    As Algalita’s education director, it’s my job to help people wrap their heads around the complexities of this issue. Many times, it’s the simple questions that require the most in-depth responses. For example: “Why can’t we clean up the trash in the ocean?”

    I won’t say extracting plastic debris from our ocean is impossible; however, I will say most plastic pollution researchers agree that its output is not worth its input. They believe our cleanup efforts are best focused on land and in our rivers. Here’s why:

    The ocean is imperious and is constantly changing.

    The ocean is complex, and is influenced by an endless list of processes. It’s three-dimensional, interconnected, and unpredictable. It’s massive, dynamic, and acts as one giant imperious force. The fact that the ocean is ever-changing makes it impossible to fully understand.

    Our experience of the ocean is entirely defined by our interactions with it. Most researchers who have studied plastic marine debris will tell you that, logistically, working in the open ocean is arduous and unpredictable. Some days you are completely powerless against its will.

    Waste management ends at the end of the river.

    Humans lose the ability to manage plastic trash once it enters the ocean and becomes marine debris. Ocean cleanup is not a form of waste management. It is simply an attempt to extract plastic debris from our complex ocean.

    There are different types of plastic marine debris.

    Our ocean is filled with all sorts of plastic—from fully intact items like bottles and toothbrushes to plastic fragments, filaments, pellets, film and resin. Recently, a team of researchers from six countries calculated that an astounding 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic weighing 269,000 tons can be found floating in the global ocean. Most of the 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic are small, between just 1mm and 4.75mm in size.

    Each piece of debris is unique, with its own shape, size, and chemical composition. Its structure and buoyancy change as communities of organisms adhere to its surface. Some pieces have been completely transformed into artificial habitats that harbor dozens of species.

    Some plastics, like fishing nets, line and film have a tendency to snag and accumulate other pieces of debris. Imagine a kind of snowball effect as tangled debris rolls around in the ocean’s currents. These composite mixtures come in all shapes and sizes, from massive ghost nets to tiny clusters of monofilament fibers invisible to the naked eye.

    The heterogeneous nature of the debris poses critical challenges that, if not addressed properly, can have significant negative consequences and potentially jeopardize the health of the ocean.

    As you can imagine, ocean cleanup is a controversial issue. Let me try to simplify things—think of ocean plastic pollution as a type of cancer. The cure for ocean plastic pollution is eliminating disposable plastics all together. I’ll be the first to admit that this is never going to happen. So let’s see what prevention and treatment look like.

    Redesigning plastic products to be valuable and sustainable is our biggest leap toward prevention. When designed in cradle-to-cradle systems, plastic products have a much better chance of being recovered and recycled. Also, better product design may ease many of the challenges plastic recyclers face. Waste reduction also falls into the prevention category as it helps scale down the amount of waste to be managed.

    Waste management can be viewed as treatment for the disease. This is how we keep things under control.

    Ocean cleanup is comparable to invasive surgery—and that’s why it’s so controversial.

    Most plastic pollution researchers agree that ocean cleanup is a radical approach to the issue. Many will even denounce it as impractical and overly idealistic. However, this engineering challenge should not be ignored completely … just as surgery for a cancer patient is sometimes our last-ditch effort.

    Surgery is most successful when done by a specialist with a great deal of experience in the particular procedure. The problem is, ocean plastic pollution is a relatively new disease and therefore, there are no specialists in this type of “procedure”—there are no textbooks, courses or degrees related to ocean cleanup. Experience starts now.

    An understanding of the ocean and this “disease” is best gained through experience. If we are to attempt ocean cleanup, our best approach is to connect the proponents of clean-up schemes with people who understand the complexities of the disease—experienced plastic pollution researchers.  And if these plastic pollution experts denounce certain methods of cleanup, we should pay close attention to what they’re saying. Those who propose ocean clean up schemes should embrace the critiques of these individuals, as there is immeasurable value in their scrutiny.

    EWContributor|May 4, 2015

    See the story of Microbeads

    Miscellaneous

    The Positive Environmental Effects of Removing Dams

    Although scientists had long thought that rivers would not be able to handle or recover from dam removal, a new school of thought has taken hold. Now that researchers have paid close attention to the dams that have been removed in recent years, they’ve discovered that rivers not only are remarkably adept at adjusting, but they also thrive.

    Scientists at the United States Geological Survey hope their newly published findings will help to inform future dam-related decisions. “Heraclitus has said you can’t step in the same river twice. Well, you don’t get exactly the same river back after you take a dam off it that you had before, but you can come pretty close,” said researcher Gordon Grant. “In some cases, it can even be difficult to identify in just a few years where dam was.”

    The research has helped to reignite a new debate: should we really have too many dams in the first place? Yes, some dams are built to help prevent against flooding, but just as often dams are constructed to generate hydroelectric power or to make it easier for humans to obtain water. The bottom line, however, is that wealthy entities profit from these dams therefore they tend to go up regardless whether they’re necessary or even particularly helpful to society in the first place.

    Of course, messing with Mother Nature has its consequences. As Scientific American notes, dam construction:

    • Obstructs fish migration
    • Lowers the overall quality of water
    • Generates algae and removes oxygen making it hard for other species to survive
    • Blocks habitats from properly forming
    • Negatively impacts the temperature of the water, thereby wreaking havoc on marine life

    Thankfully, unlike most of the environmentally unsound decisions the human race is actively making, dams don’t seem to cause irreversible harm. While it would have been better to not construct some dams at all, rivers are resilient enough to return to (most of) their former glory.

    Time and time again, researchers found that the sediment trapped behind dam walls takes a fraction of the time initially expected (just weeks or months) to dissipate, and luckily it redistributes evenly downstream. Additionally, the fish populations drastically increase as the fish species quickly start swimming back upstream again, now able to utilize the full habitat.

    Like taking off a Band-Aid, it appears that it’s better to deconstruct it quickly rather than dragging it out over a long period of time. On the whole, rivers respond better to the complete change rather than a gradual adjusting period. Evidently, rivers are prepared to be fully functioning rivers just as soon as we let them.

    National Geographic took a close look at the removal of Glines Canyon Dam, the largest dam ever deconstructed. Experts weren’t sure what would happen to Washington’s Elwha River after a dam that huge disappeared, but the effects have been wholly positive. Not only has the salmon population rebounded, but a wide variety of species that hadn’t been seen in the river in recent years have made a comeback as well. Land mammals and birds have also returned to the area as the food chain replenishes and the river becomes a fully functioning ecosystem again.

    Obviously, no two dams are alike, so the researchers still encourage communities to study the potential effects of removing a particular dam before doing so. The good news, though, is that recent dam removals have provided us with every reason to be optimistic about the process. While there may be no undoing climate change or rainforest destruction, at least we know it’s possible to easily fix the damage that dams have caused. Now we just have to make the choice to do it!

    Kevin Mathews|May 5, 2015

    10 Ways You’re Hurting the Environment and Don’t Know It

    You know the environment needs help, and you’re just the person to do something about it. But sometimes when you think you’re helping, you may actually be harming. Other times you’re just going about your business, and you have no idea that what you’re doing is harmful to the environment.

    Here are 10 ways you’re hurting the environment and don’t know it:

    1. Cleaning up after your dog

    I’m sure we can agree that picking up your dog’s poop is the right thing to do. But using plastic bags as your portal—not so much.

    In 2012, Care2 shared that 78 million dogs living in the United States create 10 million tons of feces annually. That’s a lot of poop, for sure, and it’s got to get picked up somehow, but plastic bags are not the answer.

    As Dogster put it, the plastic bag may be king, but there are other ways to get the job done. They list 13 ways to pick up dog poop, which should be more than enough for you to get the job done without harming the environment. 

    2. Washing your recycling 

    You just finished that last lick of peanut butter, so now it’s time to wash it out so you can recycle it. (Yes, it does need to be cleaned.)

    But water is an essential resource, dangerously dwindling in areas like California, which is now in its fourth year of severe drought. So is it worth wasting water to clean recyclables?

    Yes and no. Clean them, yes, but waste water in the process? No.

    Here’s what to do instead: Simply collect the water you used to clean dishes or pots and pans, pour some into the recyclable, slap a lid on that baby, and shake. You may need to do a little scrubbing to get it ready for recycling, but there’s no reason to waste good, clean water in the process. And if there’s no lid, cup the top with the palm of your hand before shaking.

    3. Purchasing “eco-friendly” products 

    You might think you’re doing the right thing by choosing eco-friendly personal care and cleaning products, but if they’ve got any of these ingredients — polyethylene, polypropylene, polyethylene terephthalate or polymethyl methacrylate — well then, “you’re cleaning up with plastic and being duped into contributing to plastic pollution in the environment”.

    What I’m talking about are plastic microbeads, which are really small particles found in body washes, hand soaps, toothpaste, lip gloss, nail polish and cosmetics designed to be washed down the drain. Unfortunately billions of these tiny plastic particles make their way into our environment everyday, and they end up littering our rivers, lakes and oceans.

    The result is terrible for our environment and the animals living in it because a single microbead can be up to a million times more toxic than the water around it.

    What can you do about microbead pollution? The Story of Stuff Project is leading a coalition of over 100 groups to get these tiny plastic beads out of commerce. You can find out more here.

    4. Recycling

    That’s right. Even if it’s washed, recycling itself can be harmful to the environment. Here are a few ways, according to this must-read LISTVERSE article:

    • The mindset it gives people — The idea is that by putting materials in the recycle bin, by buying products made from recycled material, we’re saving the environment—we’re all a team of individual Captain Planets, kicking pollution to the curb. But how effective is that when the U.S. alone still produces 250 million tons of trash every year?
    • Recycling’s main impact is to convince us that it’s okay to be wasteful in other areas, because we make up for it through recycling. It encourages consumption, rather than pointing out ways to reduce consumption overall.
    • Recycling plants are huge polluters

    …and the list goes on. So yeah, recycling is not the green solution to our consumptive behavior. Eliminating, or at least reducing, is.

    5. Reusable tote bags 

    Of course you’re not harming the environment by bringing your own tote bag to the grocery store, but if that’s where your concern for minimizing waste ends, then Houston, we have a problem.

    It’s shocking how much excess packaging exists in the grocery industry. The other day I went to buy a cucumber at Trader Joe’s. An organic one, mind you. It came wrapped in plastic!

    So much attention has gone to grocery bags, we forget to consider all the other packaging associated with groceries. Stuffing an organic cotton grocery tote bag with a bunch of excessively packaged products seems to defeat the purpose, don’t you think?

    LISTVERSE says, “There are about seven types of plastic that you’ll find in day to day life, and only two of them are recyclable. Anything else placed in a recycling bin will be collected, processed, and sorted, and then thrown straight into a landfill.”

    If you’re looking to help the environment while you gather food, get hooked on products that don’t come smothered in excess packaging. Until packaging-free groceries stores come to your neighborhood, a great place to start is the bulk foods section of your local grocery store, and don’t forget to BYOW (bring your own whatever): mason jar, glass container, reusable sacks, etc.

    6. Choosing organic, all natural animal products

    Sure, “free range” AND “organic” may sound like responsible choices for meat eaters who care about the environment, but no matter how much land livestock have to roam on and how well they are fed, the fact is, livestock production may have a bigger impact on the planet than anything else. And I’m not talking about the good kind.

    If you want to know more, read 10 Reasons Why the Meat Industry is Unsustainable.

    7. Thickening your gravy

    Attention, chefs! If you’re making gravy, hold the corn starch. Sure, it can thicken sauces and soups with the greatest of ease, but corn starch is usually made with genetically modified corn. Here’s why GMOs are a concern.  

    The good news is, you can skip corn starch and still thicken to your heart’s content. Just use arrowroot powder instead. It’s an easily digested starch extracted from the roots of the arrowroot plant that works just as well as corn starch, plus it has a more neutral flavor and can be used at low temperatures.

    8. Upgrading your gadgets

    Updating to the newest have-to-have electronic gadget is commonplace these days. People don’t even wait for things to break anymore before lining up to buy the latest greatest gizmo.

    That consumer thinking is part of the problem.

    Here’s a scary fact: Back in 2012 a partnership of UN organizations reported more than 48 million tons of gadgets are thrown away every year. That’s 11 times heavier than 200 Empire State Buildings.

    The solution is simple: get as much use out of each product you buy before tossing it aside to make room for the new shiny object.

    If you think recycling your electronics absolves you from premature upgrading, think again. Only 13 percent of electronic waste is disposed and recycled properly.

    9. Flushing things down the toilet to spare landfills

    Flushing unwanted items down the toilet is not a magic process that makes things disappear. They end up somewhere, just like the garbage we put on the curb each week.

    Even though some products are marketed as “flushable,” that doesn’t mean you should flush them.

    Here are two Don’t Flush items:

    • Baby wipes: Technically they are “flushable.” It’s what happens after those wipes go down the toilet that’s causing headaches. They aren’t breaking down like they’re supposed to.
    • Kitty litter: Although most green litters are septic- and sewer-safe, it’s best not to flush them. Cat feces contains the Toxoplasmosis gondii (TG) parasite, dangerous to pregnant women and marine life, particularly sea otters. Unfortunately TG is not filtered out in most water treatment plants.

    10. Putting food waste into the garbage disposal

    EcoMyths explains, ”Garbage disposals have been heralded as the ‘next great tool for urban sustainability,’ but while sink disposals do have some clear benefits over trashcans, they are not the greenest way to dispose of your uneaten food.”

    According to life cycle analysis expert Eric Masanet, PhD, of Northwestern University, and Debra Shore, commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, the hierarchy of green ways to dispose of food goes like this, from least green to most:

    • Not-so-green: Throwing it in a trashcan headed for the landfill
    • Light green: Running it through the sink disposal, from which it then heads to the wastewater treatment plant
    • Green: Toss it in your compost bin for efficient composting
    • Greenest ever: Reduce the amount of food we waste in the first place! Globally we waste about a third of our food every year. Talk about an environmental footprint.

    So if you want to spare the planet, the best thing you can do with your food is eat up!

    That’s a wrap

    Sometimes we truly want to do what’s best for the environment, but what’s best isn’t always clear. If you want to do your part for the planet, start by educating yourself.

    Tex Dworkin|May 6, 2015

    Digging science: Citizens amplify knowledge about the natural world

    One of this year’s most popular Sundance Film Festival entries, Tangerine, was shot with an iPhone 5S and edited with an $8 app called Filmic Pro. New technology has also made music easier to produce and distribute, inspiring independent musicians. Science, too, is now in the hands of citizens around the world. From the ocean depths to the outer reaches of distant galaxies, and from projects run out of home garages to research platforms with over a million volunteer contributors, science has never been more accessible to the average person. Citizen science can link people to an established project or encourage those working on their own.

    We’re on the cusp of a major revolution in the way we approach environmental science. In February, a water sample showed that the first trace amounts of ocean-borne radioactive contamination from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster reached North American shores. The sample wasn’t taken from an oceanographic vessel. It was collected in a 20-liter sample bottle from the public dock in Ucluelet, B.C., by a class of Grade 5 and 6 girls participating in a Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution project that connects concerned citizens from North American communities around the Pacific shores. A decade ago, this type of organizing and sample-taking by engaged citizens would have been inconceivable.

    Along with valuable scientific information, citizen scientists also provide significant economic support to science. A paper in the journal Biological Conservation estimates that citizen science has contributed billions of dollars of in-kind funding and even exceeded most government-funded studies over a larger area and longer time period.

    Glen Dennison, an electronic technologist during the week and recreational diver and deep-sea researcher on his time off, offers an example of this new way to conduct science. He’s been in B.C.’s Howe Sound mapping sponge reefs nearly every weekend over the past five years, using his own underwater sonar mapping equipment and homemade sewer pipe cameras (cameras housed in a pipe that can be dropped up to 300 metres to the seafloor). Were the government to undertake this work, it could cost thousands of dollars a day for vessel time and salaries. With assistance from his daughter and a grad student, Dennison has contributed more than $100,000 of his own time and resources to this project. Government researchers have used his maps to better manage sensitive marine ecosystems.

    Citizen science is growing in leaps and bounds. Recently, NatureWatch revamped its website and its popular WormWatch, FrogWatch, PlantWatch and IceWatch programs. For the first time in NatureWatch’s 15-year history, people can use phones or tablets to record, submit and view data. Environmental monitoring is happening as people walk to work, go on vacation or even play golf. You never know when you’ll find a frog in a water hazard!

    NatureWatch’s website walks people new to science through everything they need to know. Like the girls in Ucluelet, you could even make a scientific discovery. Amateur bee observers participating in the American BeeSpotter program identified bee species thought to have disappeared in some areas. You don’t even need to live in the area you’re observing to record scientific data. A Minnesota-based volunteer recorded, for the first time ever, a major migration of deep-sea crabs on Canada’s West Coast by reviewing underwater video footage online as part of a program run by Ocean Networks Canada in Victoria.

    Just as people who learn first aid are not substitutes for paramedics and doctors, citizen science should never be a justification for cutting government science spending. Governments in countries like the U.S. are funding citizen science programs to amplify the effectiveness of government science programs. The U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration facilitates 65 citizen science programs alone. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency runs dozens of programs in areas ranging from water quality to air pollution monitoring.

    Many citizen science programs are based on the simple notion that more eyes lead to better findings. Whether taking pictures of frogs, recording the state of the ice on a local pond or viewing underwater footage taken from the sea floor, citizen science is making a great contribution to Canada’s scientific knowledge. We’re just beginning to realize the full potential of using technology to connect curiosity and concern for the planet with meaningful scientific pursuits.

    By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Research Scientist Scott Wallace.

    In Memoriam

    Agoyo Mbikoyo, one of the rangers in the Democratic Republic of Congo, was shot by a group of armed poachers a short distance from his patrol unit’s campsite.

    Environmental Links

    SFAS International Wildlife News Audubon Advocate Audubon Restore Eco-Voice South Florida Wildlife Care Center Sawgrass Nature Center & Wildlife Hospital The Turtle Hospital The Marathon Wild Bird Center Climate change info Audubon’s Coastal Strand Audubon of Florida News Blog Bioenergy News Climate Progress – climate science, politics and solutions Collins Center for Public Policy Comprehensive Everglades Restoration News EcoWatch – feeds from the WaterKeeper Alliance Everglades Foundation – press releases Everglades Hub Fort Myers News – Press Green Front Pages from Florida Newspapers Herald Tribune Newspapers –  Environmental News KeysNews.com Naples Daily News  – Environmental News National Public Radio Eco-News Riverwatch News about the Caloosahatchee Sierra Club Sierra Club Florida South Florida Watershed  Journal South Florida Water Management District Union of Concerned Scientists – news Yahoo News Search: Everglades NASA Climate Information American Littorial Society log NASA Climate Information Sun Newspapers – Lake Okeechobee News Everglades City News  – Mullet Wrapper IFAW’s World of Animals Magazine

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