ConsRep 1214 B

We never know the worth of water till the well is dry. ~Thomas Fuller, 1732

Announcements

Welcome our new Executive Director, Waterkeeper

The Bay has a new advocate! 

Please join us in welcoming our newly appointed Waterkeeper and Executive Director, Rachel Silverstein.

Rachel joined us in June and has already jumped into advocacy for our Bay.

Since Rachel took the helm, she has successfully led BBWK’s latest Deep Dredge legal battle against the Army Corps of Engineers. 

BBWK’s suit aims to protect Biscayne Bay and our local, threatened corals from irreparable harm.

Rachel has also given BBWK a fresh look with an updated website and new logo.

Rachel will be expanding BBWK’s current focus areas with new programs that center around three core issues impacting our Bay:

clean water, ecosystem protection, and sea-level rise. We’re excited about what’s next!

Your full-time Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper is part investigator, scientist, educator, and advocate, functioning as a public spokesperson for our Bay,

protecting your right to clean water and empowering you to defend your waterways too!

Learn more about Rachel’s vision for BBWK and check out our new look online at: www.bbwk.org.

The Save Vanishing Species stamp is now on sale at post offices and online. Proceeds support a range of international wildlife conservation efforts.

The stamp, which features an Amur tiger cub, is the result of a 10-year effort begun and led by WWF,

in partnership with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the US Postal Service and other international conservation organizations.

How can a stamp make a difference?

The stamp is important to wildlife because all proceeds raised from the premium will go to the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Multinational Species Conservation Funds,

which support efforts to protect wild populations of tigers, rhinos, elephants, great apes and sea turtles.

These efforts include

  • work to help combat poaching
  • habitat protection
  • disease prevention
  • education for local communities about the value of conserving wildlife

The stamp, which costs sixty cents, could generate millions of dollars for international wildlife conservation without any additional cost to US taxpayers.

When you head to the post office to mail cards and packages or buy postage online, look for the Save Vanishing Species stamp!

Hog Island Audubon Camp Early Bird Registration Ends December 15th ‏

The Early-bird deadline for camp is quickly approaching. 

Hog Island Audubon Camp offers six-day programs for adults, teens and families. 

Individuals who sign up for one of Hog Island’s birding and nature programs by December 15th

will receive $50 off the price of enrolling by using the EARLYBIRD code during checkout.

What’s great about 2015?

Hands-on instructors include returning favorites Steve Kress, Scott Weidensaul, and Pete Dunne.

Also joining us for Joy of Birding is seven-time Grammy winner Paul Winter.

 Check to see who is coming to lead your desired session and watch for new instructors to be announced.  

Looking for something new?  Breaking Into Birding will be perfect for entry level birders. 

For those seeking advanced skills in bird banding and bird song recording we have the new Hands-on Bird Science program.

Stop by the Hog Island website to register now for these and other exciting programs.

ARTHUR R. MARSHALL LOXAHATCHEE NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
Ask the Manager – Everything You Wanted to Know!
Wednesday, December 17, 2:30 p.m.

Refuge Manager Rolf Olson will be hosting his first ever “Ask the Manager” meeting on December 17 in the Visitor Center auditorium. 

Here is your chance to interact with Refuge Management, provide your ideas and ask any questions that you might have about the Refuge.

Tram Tours of the Marsh
Monday, December 15, 10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Every Wednesday, 1:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. except December 10
Thursday, December 11, 10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Thursday, December 18, 10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.

Take a Tram tour of the marsh with our volunteer naturalist, who will take you from the Visitor Center to the boat ramp to the LILA impoundments,

then back through the C10 impoundment and the Marsh Trail, across to the Arthur R. Marshall kiosk and back to the Visitor Center. 

Your guide will talk about the Refuge, its birds and other wildlife, the ongoing research in the mini-Everglades impoundments of LILA,

and answer all your questions in the comfort of your shaded electric tram.

RESERVATIONS REQUIRED.  Call the Visitor Center at 561-734-8303.

Guided Canoe Trips
Saturday, December 13, 8:00 a.m. – 10:15 a.m.
Saturday, December 27, 8:00 a.m. – 10:15 a.m.

Meet at the Lee Road Boat Ramp to enjoy a beautiful canoe tour through a portion of the Refuge interior. 

You may rent a canoe for $32 from Loxahatchee Canoeing or bring your own.  (One canoe seats 2 to 3 people.)

RESERVATIONS REQUIRED.  Call the Visitor Center at 561-734-8303.

Night Prowl Everglades Tour
Monday, December 22, 6:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

Meet at the Visitor Center at 6:30 p.m. for a guided night prowl of the Everglades. 

With the new moon just setting, the starry skies should be spectacular. 

Wear long-sleeved shirt, long pants, closed-toed and heeled good walking shoes and bring a jacket, water, a good flashlight and bug spray.

RESERVATIONS REQUIRED – PLEASE CALL 734-8303.  Attendance is limited to 15 people; call to reserve your spot. 

For more information, contact Lew Hecker at lewis_hecker@fws.gov 

Flora and Fauna of the Refuge
Saturday, December 6, 1:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.
Sunday, December 7, 1:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.
Sunday, December 14, 1:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.

See lots of wonderful photos and learn about flora and fauna of the Refuge from our expert naturalist in the Visitor Center auditorium. 

Each session will be different, so come out and enjoy them all!

Guided Bird, Butterfly and Wildflower Walks
Every Friday, 9:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.

Join our volunteer naturalist for an early morning nature walk and see how many birds and other critters you can spot. 

Learn about our migratory and year-round residents of the Refuge and their habitat. 

Your guide will discuss the marsh ecology, answer your questions and identify the birds, butterflies, plants, reptiles and anything else you might find along the way. 

Meet in the Marsh Trail parking lot.

Early Morning Bird Walks on the Marsh Trail
Every Wednesday and Saturday, 7:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.

Join a volunteer naturalist for an early morning bird walk on the Marsh Trail.  Meet in the Marsh Trail parking lot.

Swamp Strolls
Every Monday and Thursday, 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.

Meet a naturalist for a guided tour of the Cypress Swamp Boardwalk. 

Learn about the swamp ecosystem from cypress tree knees to animals that call the swamp home. 

Meet at the pavilion behind the Visitor Center.

Roving Naturalist on Cypress Swamp Boardwalk
Every Tuesday, 1:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m., except December 2
Every Saturday, 9:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.

A volunteer naturalist will be strolling around the Cypress Swamp Boardwalk, answering questions and discussing flora and fauna of the swamp.

Roving Naturalist on Marsh Trail
Every Saturday, 9:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.

A volunteer naturalist will be strolling around the Marsh Trail, discussing the marsh ecology, answering questions and identifying birds, butterflies, plants, reptiles and anything else you might find along the way.

*** Programs subject to change, for more information on any of the activities and programs, please call the Visitor Center at (561) 734-8303.

Events are listed on the Friends website at  loxahatcheefriends.com/events/events.shtml

Celebrate Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary’s 60th anniversary

You can strike out in any direction to shake down your holiday eating – sandy shore, neighborhood sidewalk, regional park or urban green space.

But if you have northern relatives here for a short duration or haven’t been out for yourself in a while, consider a visit to the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.

This Collier County gem was saved 60 years ago from the clutches of Lee-Tidewater Cypress Company, a logging operation intent on converting the world’s last expanse of virgin bald cypress into post-war lumber.

By the late 1940s, threats to the swamp weren’t a new phenomenon:

A warden was patrolling in the early 1900s to protect the largest wood stork rookery in the world, as well as showier wading birds that were slaughtered for their plumes for fancy hats.

But it was the logging of centuries-old, goliath trees that caused the National Audubon Society and a stream of others to raise the support necessary to purchase the invaluable stand.

By Dec. 15, 1954, 2,880 acres were secured-with 640 old-growth acres a gift from the logging company.

The “Corkscrew rookery” became Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, with Audubon warden Henry (Hank) P. Bennett guiding visitors on canoe excursions through the lettuce lakes.

Around 1957, a boardwalk was completed and a chickee hut welcomed intrepid visitors, who arrived via a 4-wheel drive down the dirt-road entrance.

Today, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary encompasses more than 13,000 acres, with the 2.25-mile boardwalk and the Blair Audubon Center the centerpiece of what’s often called the crown jewel of National Audubon Society’s environmental centers.

“Every day throughout the swamp, amazing scenes unfold. With patience, luck and silence, I’ve had the opportunity to see enough to be amazed,” says Sanctuary director Jason Lauritsen.

He recounts moments of deep connection with the ecosystem: “It’s hard to beat standing statuesque in a foot of water in the heart of the bald cypress forest as four dozen raucous wading birds forage on a dense concentration of fish while four otters engage in carefree play, or laying prone on an old logging trail eye-to-eye with a bobcat as he walks within 20 feet of me, casting a casual but lingering glance, or to witness thousands of diminutive tree swallows descending feverishly en masse on a wax myrtle bush, so oblivious to my presence that I could have reached out and touched them.”

The Corkscrew Watershed is part of the Western Everglades, and while it’s still home to the nation’s largest nesting colony of federally endangered wood storks, the watershed also is connected to the Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve and Delnor-Wiggins State Park, and the Estero, Imperial and Cocohatchee rivers along the way. It’s also connected with water quality and wildlife habitat at the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge and the Big Cypress National Preserve.

Currently, Lauritsen says, Audubon is focusing on restoring the health and function of three square miles of Corkscrew’s shallow wetlands by 2020 to support the health of the wood storks and other wildlife.
“Corkscrew serves as a benchmark against which people can identify and measure both the scale of man-induced changes in the environment and a measure of the health of the ecosystem,” he says.

If You Go
* What: A 2.25-mile boardwalk and the Blair Audubon Center, which has a theater, library, photography gallery, restrooms, nature store, and tea room with healthful and vegetarian lunch options.
* Hours: The 2.25-mile boardwalk is open daily from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (last admission sold at 4:30 p.m.), 365 days of the year.
* Admission: $12 for adults; $6 for college students with photo ID; students 6 – 18 are $4; and children under 6 are free. Current National Audubon Society members are $6.
* Details: No pets allowed

* Directions: 375 Sanctuary Road W., northeast of Naples, 15 miles from I-75 on Immokalee Road (Exit 111); 239-348-9151; www.corkscrew.audubon.org

 Upcoming Events:

Corkscrew After Hours, Friday, Dec. 12;

World Wetland Day festival, Saturday, Jan. 31

Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count starts this weekend.

Now in its 115th year, the Christmas Bird Count is the longest-running citizen science project in the world and it has become a family tradition among generations.

Data from the count is driving conservation efforts across the hemisphere.

Discover how Audubon scientists are using Christmas Bird Count data to track bird ranges in the face of climate change.

Travel with CBC compiler Bill Sheehan to northern Maine as he tracks irruptive species and hopes for winter finches during the 115th Christmas Bird Count.

Enjoy a gallery of photos taken from around the world during last year’s Christmas Bird Count.

And don’t forget to find a count near you!

Thanks for all you do for Audubon and for the birds.

USDA seeks public comment on new Environmental Quality Incentives Program rule

In an effort to streamline the program for farmers, ranchers and forest landowners, these changes are intended to simplify the EQIP regulation.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is publishing a rule that outlines how it will improve the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, one of USDA’s largest conservation programs.

The interim final rule includes program changes authorized by Congress in the 2014 Farm Bill.

USDA has established a 60-day comment period for the rule. The rule is expected to be available in the Federal Register and regulations.gov on Friday, Dec. 12. 

Learn more.

Additional Resources:

Learn more about the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

Of Interest to All

WSJ: “U.S. Sugar Soars Above World Prices”

An article in today’s The Wall Street Journal highlights how the antidumping (AD) and countervailing duty (CVD) cases against Mexican sugar imports, filed by U.S. sugar producers in March, have caused U.S. sugar prices to soar well above world sugar prices – and they are expected to rise even more.

Excerpt:

  • “Sugar is getting dearer in the U.S. even as it is getting cheaper in most other places. … In the U.S. futures market, the sweetener is 58% more expensive than on the global market. …
  • “U.S. sugar prices are typically a few cents higher than the world rate due to government policies that restrict imports and support growers. But the gap blew out this year after the government threatened to slap taxes on imported Mexican sugar at the behest of U.S. growers. …
  • “‘The scarcity will drive prices up,’ said Mr. [Joseph] Vittoria [President and CEO of PEZ Candy, Inc.]. ‘That is a frightening thought, because sugar is the lifeblood of our industry.’”

These high prices are not temporary. In fact, U.S. sugar prices are expected to remain high for the duration of any suspension agreements signed in the AD/CVD cases – a minimum of five years.

Congress, Reform the U.S. Sugar Program.

Learn more about the need to reform U.S. sugar policy at www.sugarreform.org.

Fossil-fuel lobbyists, bolstered by GOP wins, work to curb environmental rules

Oil, gas and coal interests that spent millions to help elect Republicans this year are moving to take advantage of expanded GOP power in Washington and state capitals to thwart Obama administration environmental rules.

Industry lobbyists made their pitch in private meetings last week with dozens of state legislators at a summit of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an industry-financed conservative state policy group.

The lobbyists and legislators considered several model bills to be introduced across the country next year, designed to give states more power to block or delay new Obama administration environmental standards, including new limits on power-plant emissions.

The industry’s strategy aims to combat a renewed push by President Obama to carve out climate change as a top priority for his final two years in office. The White House has vowed to continue using executive authority to enact more environmental limits, and the issue is shaping up to be a major flash point heading into the 2016 presidential election.

With support from industry lobbyists, many Republicans are planning to make the Environmental Protection Agency a primary political target, presenting it as a symbol of the kind of big-government philosophy they think can unify social and economic conservatives in opposition.

Life in Central Appalachia has long been defined by the booms and busts of the coal industry. These men in Harlan, Ky., are wondering if this latest bust is here to stay. (AP)

“There is a palpable anger at the EPA in America,” said Nate Bell, a Republican state legislator from rural Arkansas who championed a measure at the ALEC meeting supporting the replacement of the agency. “Mention them, and you will get laughed out of any coffee shop or feed store in my district.”

The power of anti-EPA sentiment in Washington was evident last week when the incoming chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), a vocal denier of science showing a human role in climate change, sent a letter demanding that the EPA withdraw the new power-plant limits.

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and incoming Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have discussed how to stop the agency from moving forward, efforts that could include denying funding the EPA would need to enact the regulations.

Meanwhile, underscoring the extent to which fossil-fuel industry allies will pressure Republicans seen as squishy on key issues, the group Americans for Prosperity began an advertising campaign in two dozen House districts after the November elections, pressing GOP lawmakers to oppose tax breaks for wind-energy firms. The organization was founded and funded in part by billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch.

The industry’s aggressive posture in the weeks after the elections is raising anxiety among environmental groups and their allies, some of whom had poured tens of millions of dollars into losing efforts to boost Democratic campaigns — but have seen Obama’s recent climate actions, including an emissions-reducing deal with China, as major triumphs.

Two dozen chief executives of national environmental groups met last week in the Washington offices of Friends of the Earth to talk about how to respond to what participants called “the assault” by fossil-fuel industry allies. The groups plan to solicit contributions from major liberal donors to support a new organization to counter the industry’s growing effectiveness on the state level.

The advocacy groups worry about the role played by ALEC, which has a successful track record of designing conservative legislation on issues such as guns, criminal justice and voting that has won widespread passage in state capitals.

If enacted by states, ALEC’s measures targeting the EPA could be used to delay the federal rulemaking process, fuel lawsuits and build public opposition to an environmental movement that once had bipartisan support, environmental advocates say. If the industry could delay implementation of the carbon regulations until after Obama leaves office, a Republican president could reverse the limits.

Aliya Haq, a climate change specialist for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the ALEC proposals would “handcuff” states just as they would be required to comply with new federal standards. She said that “ALEC and their cronies would love to see as much delay as possible.”

In Washington, Democrats are gearing up for major battles to defend what many see as a significant piece of Obama’s legacy. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who is losing her chairmanship of the Senate’s environment committee to Inhofe, foreshadowed the hostilities in a statement to The Washington Post, saying the panel is “now dominated by deniers on climate and very strong allies of the polluters.” She said she would “use every tool at my disposal” to fight industry efforts to combat Obama’s climate change initiatives.

In addition to the fights over power-plant emissions, GOP lawmakers are expected to push proposals that could roll back proposed rules on ozone pollution — rules described last month by American Petroleum Institute chief executive Jack Gerard as “the most expensive regulation ever imposed on the American public.”

A critical component of the industry’s strategy is an effort to apply pressure on Washington from state capitals, where the GOP has gained substantial ground.

Republicans now control 31 governorships and more than two-thirds of state legislative chambers, a near-record level of dominance, GOP officials say.

The industry’s approach was evident at last week’s ALEC meeting, where officials of fossil-fuel firms such as Koch Industries and Peabody Energy mixed with lawmakers and ALEC organizers to discuss and sometimes edit proposed model bills.

The Post was granted rare access to some parts of the meeting, which was attended by more than 400 people, including industry representatives and state officials from across the country. Multiple participants in the private sessions that focused on environmental and energy policy provided accounts of what happened. In one closed-door meeting, for instance, Sarah Magruder Lyle, a former Energy Department official who is now a vice president at the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers association, made the case for a proposal that would scale back Obama administration rules on ozone. Her argument, a spokesman for her trade group said, was that the ozone rule was “threatening states’ economies while providing little benefit to the environment or to consumers.”

A separate proposal debated by ALEC participants would give legislatures a role in setting state limits for carbon emissions, including the requirement of a ­cost-benefit analysis.

Another proposed resolution would call for abolishing the EPA and replacing it with a committee of state officials. The idea was put aside after some corporate lobbyists cautioned that it could hurt ALEC’s credibility.

Nevertheless, participants said, the anti-EPA feelings ran so deep at the meeting that an ALEC task force weighing the various proposals agreed to create a “working group” to further consider ways state legislatures could support replacing the federal agency.

“Everywhere I travel in my district, people tell me they are seeing the consequences of EPA overreach,” said state Rep. Yvette Herrell, a New Mexico Republican who attended the meeting. She cited “astronomical” rises in utility bills for her state, which she said relies on coal-fired power plants.

Industry lobbyists said that, after the sweeping GOP victories last month, their clients were optimistic that they could better position themselves against the perceived threat of more regulations.

Scott Segal of the Bracewell & Giuliani firm in Washington said lower public confidence in the EPA will heighten pressure on politicians of both parties to “be sure that benefits of proposed rules are properly calculated and that they do in fact outweigh the costs.”

Industry and state government officials meeting last week also considered ways they could undercut the credibility of the environmental movement and its leading spokesmen. One session held Thursday, called “Big Green Radicals,” included discussion of a national campaign attacking celebrity activists.

Among other things, the campaign has posted a few billboards of prominent environmentalists such as actor Robert Redford, with the headline: “Demands green living. Flies on private jets.”

Tom Hamburger|December 7, 2014

Scott’s DEP hire

Herschel Vinyard, who has been secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection since 2011, recently announced his resignation.

Gov. Rick Scott asked Cliff Wilson, the deputy secretary for regulatory programs, to serve as the interim secretary. Wilson, 35, has been with the DEP for about three years. Eric Draper, director of Audubon of Florida, said: “We don’t know much about Cliff or his background. Not much has happened there to distinguish him.”

No offense to Wilson, but Florida deserves a distinguished DEP secretary. After all, Florida is on the verge of spending billions of taxpayer dollars on programs related to the environment. The state’s natural assets are legion, and many of them were acquired by the public by forward-thinking programs. Yet too many of those same assets are being stressed by development, population growth, invasions of non-native species and the effects of bad political decisions — including sweeping deregulation during the past four years.

Scott faces a decision and as governor could, for instance:

* Propose that Wilson become permanent secretary.

* Appoint a crony or a campaign contributor and charge him with being friendlier to industry than to the environment.

* Aspire to executive greatness and select a leader who has demonstrated a passion for protecting and preserving the environment — even when doing so challenges Scott’s “business first” credo.

When Scott nominated Vinyard nearly four years ago, a spokesman for Associated Industries of Florida lauded the choice, labeling the nominee “a rock-solid businessperson.”

But Floridians seldom felt as though the DEP secretary was dedicated to preserving and protecting Florida’s environmental assets, and maximizing the enormous public and private investments in them. Instead, Vinyard’s tenure seemed to be about creating a “balance” between the financial interests of business and enforcement of regulations.

Perhaps that is one reason 75 percent of voters recently favored amending the state constitution to require Florida to spend a fixed percentage of documentary tax revenue on land and water conservation, also known as Amendment 1.

Implementation of that amendment will provide billions of dollars for preserving and protecting Florida’s environment.

A DEP secretary with a solid conservation record, in addition to top-notch administrative and political skills, could help provide the Scott administration with the credibility it needs to oversee the spending.

The governor, who touts his experience as a private-sector chief executive, can now do what great political leaders do: hire key staffers who inspire their organizations and implement the aspirations of the people.

We hope Scott will seize this moment to leave a legacy — for himself and Florida’s invaluable environment.

Discovery TV show star and partner sent to prison for smuggling snakes

On his reality television show, Swamp Brothers, Robbie Keszey wrestled with scores of alligators, crocodiles and venomous reptiles swarming across his Bushnell snake farm.

But Keszey had a secret sideline. He and his business partner, Robroy MacInnes, were smugglers slipping around state, federal and international law. Last week, their smuggling earned each man a federal prison sentence: a year behind bars for Keszey, 18 months for MacInnes.

The pair, who operated Glades Herp Farm east of Brooksville, collected snakes from the wild in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and purchased eastern timber rattlesnakes that had been illegally collected from the wild in violation of New York law. They transported eastern indigo snakes from Florida to Pennsylvania. And they shipped eastern timber rattlesnakes to Florida.

Their crime was not putting snakes on a plane, despite what Samuel L. Jackson might say about that. It was that all those venomous reptiles are legally protected species, yet Keszey and MacInnes were sending them all over the country and even overseas without permits. The timber rattlers, for instance, were destined for collectors in Germany eager to pay $800 per scaly head.

Keszey and MacInnes’ crimes came to light “as a result of a state and federal investigation into the illegal reptile and snake trade in New York and Pennsylvania,” Justice Department spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle said.

On his TV show, Keszey cut quite a dashing figure with his black cowboy hat and cool confidence while handling dangerous critters. His official biography notes that he previously traveled the country as a personal assistant to guitarist C.C. DeVille of the glam metal band Poison — but his real passion has always been Florida’s reptiles and amphibians.

“Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been interested in reptiles and wildlife,” Keszey wrote on his website. “I would catch frogs and baby turtles and stuff them into my pockets! I drove my parents crazy!” He started handling snakes when he was 8, he wrote, and “by the time I was 13, I knew it was my passion. It went quickly from a few pet snakes to breeding and collecting.”

For the show, Keszey teamed up with his skittish brother Stephen, who had been a bartender in New York City and was more experienced with lounge lizards than real ones. The show depicted him as nervous but eager to learn the ropes at what the website called “Florida’s largest reptile sanctuary and exotic reptile dealership.”

The website said that Glades Herp Farm also “houses Florida’s International Teaching Zoo, which is full of rare species from around the globe and brings in a constant stream of new and different animals each month.”

Swamp Brothers began airing in 2011 on the Discovery Channel. Discovery officials did not return a call seeking comment.

Keszey and MacInnes were indicted by a federal grand jury in Philadelphia in 2012 and convicted last year. At their trial last year, their defense blamed an employee who had avoided charges by cooperating with the government, but the jury voted to convict.

In addition to prison, the pair were sentenced to three years of supervised release. MacInnes was fined $4,000, and Keszey $2,000. They could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

According to federal law enforcement officials, MacInnes told the employee that, if they were caught, what they were doing was no big deal. Judges, used to dealing with murderers and rapists, would consider this a minor offense and any penalty would amount to a slap on the wrist, he reportedly said.

“It’s just snakes,” MacInnes told his employee.

Craig Pittman| Staff Writer|Tampa Bay Times|December 9, 2014|Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report

Eight Jacksonville District projects received congressional authorization June 10

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Eight U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District projects that will provide critical infrastructure to local ports and ecosystem restoration efforts in Florida received approval as part of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) of 2014, which was signed into law June 10.

Four navigation projects and four Everglades restoration projects were included in the bill that, in total, authorized 34 Corps projects across the nation.

“Receiving authorization for these projects demonstrates the valuable work we’re doing here in Florida and the quality work the Jacksonville District continues to deliver,” said Col. Alan Dodd, Jacksonville District commander. “Congressional authorization is the first step.  It now makes these projects eligible for funding during the appropriations process.  After receiving appropriations, we can then finalize designs, partnership agreements and contract actions that will enable us to start construction.” 

The eight Jacksonville District projects that have received congressional authorization are:

  • Jacksonville Harbor’s Mile Point Project: Will improve navigation safety by reducing the impacts of ebb tide crosscurrents at the confluence of the St. Johns River with the Intracoastal Waterway
  • Jacksonville Harbor Project: Will deepen the Jacksonville Harbor channel to allow passage of larger ships, thereby reducing transportation costs and improving navigation safety
  • Canaveral Harbor Project: Will deepen Canaveral Harbor to improve navigation safety and allow passage of  larger ships
  • Lake Worth Inlet Project: Will widen and deepen Lake Worth Inlet to increase overall port efficiency and safety and generate transportation cost savings.
  • Caloosahatchee River (C-43) West Basin Storage Reservoir Project: Will capture and store basin stormwater runoff, along with a portion of water discharged from Lake Okeechobee; Water will be slowly released into the Caloosahatchee River
  • C-111 Spreader Canal Western Project:  Will preserve clean water for Everglades National Park and restore freshwater flows to Florida Bay
  • Broward County Water Preserve Areas:  Will reduce seepage loss from Water Conservation Area (WCA) 3A/3B to the C-11 and C-9 basins and capture, store and distribute surface water runoff from the western C-11 Basin that has been discharged into WCA 3A/3B
  • Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands Project: Will improve the ecology of Biscayne Bay, including the freshwater wetlands, tidal creeks and near-shore habitat by redirecting freshwater runoff that is currently being discharged through man-made canals directly into Biscayne Bay

All eight of these project’s final reports, known as Chief of Engineers, or Chief’s reports, were submitted to Congress for authorization between 2011 and 2014.  One of the district’s broadly-supported ecosystem restoration projects, the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP), is scheduled to complete its Chief’s Report in summer 2014, making it ineligible for the current legislation.  However, under this timeline, the massive restoration project aiming to restore the central portion of the central Everglades will be completed in less than three years since its initiation in 2011.

“I’ve heard concerns about CEPP not making it into this legislation; however, do not lose sight of the fact that four important Everglades restoration projects have just been authorized,” said Dodd. “Two of which, the C-43 West Basin Storage Reservoir and Broward County Water Preserve Areas projects, are ones that CEPP will build off of.  So, although CEPP isn’t included in this bill for authorization, it will not hinder our ability to move forward with projects that need to be constructed prior to CEPP implementation.”

A project’s inclusion in WRRDA does not guarantee funding in the appropriations process. Still, getting a project into an authorization measure is a necessary first step to acquire funding in a later spending bill. With these eight projects authorized, they now move one step closer towards implementation and open up the queue for additional planning efforts that will be delivering completed Chief’s Reports in the months ahead, such as CEPP, for authorization in a future WRRDA bill.

Additional information on these projects available at: www.saj.usace.army.mil

Jenn Miller|U.S. Army Corps of Engineers|Jacksonville District

Florida’s newly appointed Department of Environmental Protection director

Jon Steverson, Gov. Rick Scott’s choice as Department of Environmental Protection secretary, has been an outspoken director of the Northwest Florida Water Management District during his brief tenure there.

Whether he will impress environmentalists with his passion and results at DEP is uncertain.

Scott named Steverson, 39, on Thursday to replace Herschel T. Vinyard Jr., who resigned as expected on Dec. 1 after serving through the governor’s first term. Steverson had served as executive director of the Northwest Florida Water Management District since 2012.

“Jon has dedicated his career to serving Floridians through the protection of our state’s water and natural resources,” Scott said, “and he is committed to our goal of protecting Florida’s natural treasures so future generations and millions of tourists can enjoy our state’s beauty.”

In 2011, Vinyard told a Florida Senate committee during his confirmation that he was passionate about protecting the environment. But he was criticized later by environmentalists for hiring outsiders to lead his department, proposing to sell state lands and for siding with industries on pollution issues.

Steverson may get criticism from some environmentalists.

That’s because the Scott administration and the Legislature — both Democrats and Republicans — have been committed to policies that are too slow or uncertain about producing results for some environmentalists. And both parties voted to undo protections, such as a septic tank inspection requirement that was repealed in 2012.

Industry has a large voting bloc in the Legislature. The environment has almost no one willing to confront industry.

Nevertheless, Eric Draper of Audubon Florida praised Steverson as “a good public servant who can provide solid leadership for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.”

“He brings intelligence and integrity to an important job,” Draper said.

Steverson has shown true intensity on a few issues during his brief tenure at the water management district.

On the Apalachicola River, Steverson criticized Georgia for its water use while defending the livelihoods of seafood workers in Franklin County.

“The people of Georgia can do a little bit less with their water,” Steverson said during a 2013 U.S. Senate hearing in Apalachicola.

“If their water is low up there,” he added, “it means they can’t drive their favorite jet ski into their favorite little cove and they can’t tie up their boat to the dock. Here, it means these guys can’t make a living.”

Steverson was special counsel and chief of legislative affairs at DEP before being picked in 2012 to replace Douglas Barr, who was not reappointed by Scott to the Northwest Florida Water Management District.

On his first day at the district, Steverson said he’d heard the “conspiracy theories” about a DEP takeover of the water management districts but they’re not true.

Steverson described himself as someone who brings sides together to work out solutions. He also defended the Scott administration’s efforts to speed up decisions on permit applications.

He said faster permitting benefits environmentalists who have opposed the effort. Steverson said uncertainty and delays over permitting could lead to complaints to legislators, who then might be inclined to cut the department’s budget during tough times.

“If we’re working together and we’re working efficiently, it really makes it better all the way around and environmental protections remain intact,” Steverson said. “And if you look at what we passed, there is not a lowering of that regulatory bar.”

Bruce Ritchie|independent journalist|editor of Floridaenvironments.com.| Column courtesy of Context Florida.|Dec 11, 2014

Calls to Action

  1. Stop Monsanto’s secret plan to Kill GMO Labeling – here
  2. Support SB 166: Ban Fracking In Florida – here
  3. Save Threatened Bird From Coal Mine Expansion – here
  4. Save our bees – here
  5. Save Bald Eagles From Lead Poisoning. – here
  6. Help stop oil and gas leasing in the Arctic Ocean – here

Birds and Butterflies

Chris the Cuckoo clocks up 60,000 miles

Since being fitted with a satellite tag by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) four years ago, Chris, a Cuckoo named after naturalist and TV presenter Chris Packham, has travelled over 60,000 miles – the equivalent of flying twice round the world. And in his journeys he’s taken in 22 different countries!

The UK’s Cuckoo population has dropped by 72 per cent in the last 25 years. In order to find out what’s driving this decline, the BTO fitted an original five Cuckoos with state of the art tags to enable them to follow the birds as they made their way out of Britain to Africa for the winter. The tags were believed to have a lifespan of two or three years.

Of the first five, Chris is the only Cuckoo still transmitting live data, far exceeding the expectations of the scientists.  He is currently in the Congo rainforest, having arrived at his favored winter spot on 25 October.

Dr Chris Hewson, lead scientist on the project at the BTO, says, “Chris the Cuckoo is a real hero of ornithology. The tag he is carrying has helped us to understand the pressures that he and our Cuckoos face on what is a pretty hazardous migration to Africa.

“He has survived sand storms, hail storms, an exceptionally cold, wet summer, predators over the Mediterranean and in the Congo rainforest, and has crossed the Sahara Desert a whopping seven times since we started following him. We have everything crossed in the hope that he makes it back next spring.”

Chris Packham says, “Chris deserves a medal for what he has given to the understanding of bird migration; he is a truly remarkable bird.

“But even more remarkable is the way in which BTO scientists use the very latest technology to produce contemporary science and then communicate it to a wide audience. It would be so easy to lose this in scientific journals but thanks to the BTO we can all watch enthralled as Chris and all of the other satellite tagged Cuckoos make their way across the globe.

“I’m rooting for all of them and can’t wait until they begin their return journeys back to the UK next spring.”

You can follow Chris, and 15 other satellite tagged Cuckoos on the BTO’s website.  If you are looking for a Christmas gift with a difference, you can sponsor one of the BTO Cuckoos for as little as £10.00 and help to inform Cuckoo conservation.

Visit www.bto.org/cuckoos

The Mystery Of The Missing Martins Video

When half a million songbirds didn’t show up at their usual roosting spot this summer, I went looking for them. My search took me to the back roads of South Carolina, where I saw firsthand evidence of Shakespeare’s influence on American ecology, met a society of strangely enthusiastic landlords, and learned a bizarre fact about the missing birds: They don’t nest in nature anymore. They only breed in houses provided by humans.

Roseate spoonbills making home in Lowcountry

Roseate spoonbill
  • Strains small food items from the water with a long, flat spoon-shaped bill.
  • 3 feet tall with a 4 feet wingspan.
  • Bald, often greenish head, pink wings and long, reddish legs.
  • A ha-ha-ha-ha call that sounds like a chortled laugh.
  • Its North American range is considered to be southern Florida, Texas and Caribbean islands.

Source: Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

The wading bird that eats with a spoon appears to be delicately settling into the decorous Lowcountry. A roseate spoonbill flitted around the Caw Caw Interpretive Center earlier this week, in among the white ibises.

The gorgeous pink bird with a spooning bill like a flattened pelican has been described by the National Audubon Society as “at once beautiful and bizarre.” But the most striking thing about finding the South Florida native in West Ashley in November might be that it’s just not so unusual anymore.

Although its range is still considered to extend no farther north than the Everglades, the spoonbill turns up here by the dozens and dozens each year. It apparently has joined neo-tropical species such as the white pelican, reddish egret and black whistling duck that are moving from crowded, warming subtropical habitats to the roomier, food rich estuaries of the Lowcountry.

And the summering critters are staying as long as the mellow climate allows.

More than 80 were counted in a single bird-watching at the Cheeha Combahee Plantation in Colleton County. A spoonbill was among the birds at the Yawkey Wildlife Heritage Preserve in Georgetown County during a Christmas bird count. They have been spotted as far inland as the Congaree National Park outside Columbia.

Unlike other wading birds that tend to pierce prey, spoonbills simply lap it up like soup. Along with their striking coloring, their “spooning” makes them a “wow” critter for wildlife spotters.

“They are a bird of great character, there’s no denying that,” said Nathan Dias, of Cape Romain Bird Sanctuary.

But spoonbills making themselves at home in the Lowcountry isn’t too rosy a scenario. They are among any number of species documented to be moving north as their historic habitats warm and change. The rice field and marsh Lowcountry – particularly the vast, protected ACE Basin – appears to be a refuge for them.

The beautiful birds grace an already exotic, but changing wild.

“It is an exciting thing to see,” said Keith McCullough, Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission natural history interpreter. “I can remember when roseate spoonbills were an exceptionally rare thing this far north.”

Bo Petersen|Nov 9 2014

Dozens of Crows Suffer and Die in Portland

On Wednesday, November 26, onlookers watched in horror as dozens of crows fell to the ground, convulsing, gasping, seizing, and dying on the downtown streets of Portland, Oregon.

It was recently confirmed that the crows were poisoned. Necropsies performed on each of the crows showed they had digested corn in their stomachs, which is frequently used as bait with poison. This heinous and despicable crime against these beautifully intelligent and incredibly social creatures violates the Migratory Bird Treaty of 1918, making it a federal crime.

A recent study by the University of New Zealand revealed that crows have an understanding of causal effects matching the understanding seen in seven year old human children, are able to solve causal puzzles, and build and use tools to achieve desired outcomes.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) had said they would open an investigation if poisoning was confirmed. Special Agent Gary Young of the Special Ecological Service Field Office in Portland said his agency made arrangements to send the crows to the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory where they determined the birds had not died from natural causes, but were poisoned. Young says they will gather evidence and present it to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

[You can ask U.S. Attorney S. Amanda Marshall to to find and prosecute the person or persons responsible. Please sign # 6 in “Calls to Action” above.]

Rare Atlantic Shorebird Wins Federal Protection

The red knot — a robin-sized bird that makes 9,300-mile migrations — has won Endangered Species Act protection under the Center for Biological Diversity’s 757 species agreement. This epic traveler depends on horseshoe crabs’ eggs for the energy it needs to make its twice-yearly trips between South America and the Canadian Arctic. Thus, as crab populations decline due to harvest by the fishing and biomedical industries, so do the red knot’s. The bird is also threatened by habitat destruction and climate change.

In 2005 environmental groups petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for emergency protection of the species, but the agency stuck the bird on the “candidate” list, where it languished for nearly a decade. Now, because of the Center’s 2011 agreement, the Service has finalized protection for this singular bird.

With the decision to protect the red knot, our children and grandchildren just may have the chance to marvel at one of nature’s greatest spectacles — the marathon migration of the red knot,” said the Center’s Mollie Matteson.

Read more in the Wisconsin Gazette.

[Maybe there’s still hope for a critical habitat designation for the Florida Panther]

Congress Attacking Sage Grouse, Public Lands, Human Health

This is a dangerous time in Congress, the winter stretch between elections and a new batch of incoming politicians. We’re already seeing a rash of troubling provisions that threaten people, wildlife and public lands.

In a military spending bill, one provision would pave the way for a land swap on national forest land in Arizona to accommodate a copper mine; another would automatically renew grazing permits on public lands without any consideration for how the grazing will affect rivers, streams, wildlife and pristine habitat.

In an omnibus spending bill, a rider would prohibit funds to help save greater sage grouse, Gunnison sage grouse and Mono Basin sage grouse from extinction. Still another rider would prohibit the EPA from regulating toxic lead hunting ammunition that kills millions of birds and other wildlife each year and poses a danger to those who eat meat shot with lead ammo.
“All of these are part of a broad, sustained attack on laws that protect our wildlife and public health,” said the Center’s Randi Spivak. Stay tuned for more updates.

Read more about the military spending bill and the sage grouse rider in our press releases.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology State of the Birds Report

Conservation Works, but There’s More Work to Do This week, the Cornell Lab and partners released the 2014 State of the Birds Report. The report commemorates Martha, the world’s last Passenger Pigeon, whose tragic passing 100 years ago spurred the creation of the world’s greatest conservation movement.

In the last century we’ve saved Wood Ducks and Bald Eagles, Kirtland’s Warblers and Brown Pelicans, and more. The new report offers the most comprehensive review of long-term trend data for U.S. birds ever, identifying a Watch List of 228 high-concern species as well as 33 Common Birds in Steep Decline to begin conserving now. See the full report and download the lists. 

Genes reveal histories of bird origins, feathers, flight and song

The genomes of modern birds tell a story: Today’s winged rulers of the skies emerged and evolved after the mass extinction that wiped out dinosaurs and almost everything else 66 million years ago.

That story is now coming to light, thanks to an international collaboration that has been underway for four years.

The first findings of the Avian Phylogenomics Consortium are being reported nearly simultaneously in 23 papers–eight papers in a special issue this week of Science, and 15 more in Genome Biology, GigaScience and other journals. The results are funded in part by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Scientists already knew that the birds that survived the mass extinction experienced a rapid burst of evolution. But the family tree of modern birds has confused biologists for centuries, and the molecular details of how birds arrived at the spectacular biodiversity of more than 10,000 species was barely known.

How Did Birds Become so Diverse?

To resolve these fundamental questions, a consortium led by Guojie Zhang of the National Genebank at BGI in China and the University of Copenhagen; neuroscientist Erich Jarvis of Duke University and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute; and M. Thomas P. Gilbert of the Natural History Museum of Denmark has sequenced, assembled and compared the full genomes of 48 bird species.

The species include the crow, duck, falcon, parakeet, crane, ibis, woodpecker, eagle and others, representing all major branches of modern birds.

“BGI’s strong support and four years of hard work by the entire community have enabled us to answer numerous fundamental questions on an unprecedented scale,” said Zhang. “This is the largest whole genomic study across a single vertebrate class to date. The success of this project can only be achieved with the excellent collaboration of all the consortium members.”

Added Gilbert, “Although an increasing number of vertebrate genomes are being released, to date no single study has deliberately targeted the full diversity of any major vertebrate group. This is what our consortium set out to do. Only with this scale of sampling can scientists truly begin to fully explore the genomic diversity within a full vertebrate class.”

“This is an exciting moment,” said Jarvis. “Lots of fundamental questions now can be resolved with more genomic data from a broader sampling. I got into this project because of my interest in birds as a model for vocal learning and speech production in humans, and it has opened up some amazing new vistas on brain evolution.”

This first round of analyses suggests some remarkable new ideas about bird evolution. The first flagship paper published in Science presents a well-resolved new family tree for birds, based on whole-genome data. The second flagship paper describes the big picture of genome evolution in birds.

Six other papers in the special issue of Science report how vocal learning may have independently evolved in a few bird groups and in the human brain’s speech regions; how the sex chromosomes of birds came to be; how birds lost their teeth; how crocodile genomes evolved; and ways in which singing behavior regulates genes in the brain.

New Ideas on Bird Evolution

“This project represents the biggest step forward yet in our understanding of how bird diversity is organized and in time and space,” said paper co-author Scott Edwards, on leave from Harvard University and currently Director of NSF’s Division of Biological Infrastructure. “Because this information is so fundamental to our understanding of biodiversity, it will help everyone–from birdwatchers to artists to museum curators–better organize knowledge of bird diversity.”

The new bird tree will change the way we think about bird diversity, said Edwards. “The fact that many birds associated with water–loons, herons, penguins, petrels and pelicans–are closely related suggests that adaptations to lakes or seas arose less frequently than we thought.”

Added paper co-author David Mindell, an evolutionary biologist and program director in NSF’s Division of Environmental Biology, “We found strong support for close relationships that might be surprising to many observers. “Grebes are closely related to flamingos, but not closely related to ducks; falcons are closely related to songbirds and parrots but not closely related to hawks; and swifts are closely related to hummingbirds and not closely related to swallows.”

Genome-scale datasets allowed scientists to “track the sequence of divergence events and their timing with greater precision than previously possible,” said Mindell. “Most major types of extant birds arose during a 5-10 million year interval at the end of the Cretaceous period and the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs about 66 million years ago.”

It Takes a Consortium…of 200 Scientists, 80 Institutions, 20 Countries

The Avian Phylogenomics Consortium has so far involved more than 200 scientists from 80 institutions in 20 countries, including the BGI in China, the University of Copenhagen, Duke University, the University of Texas at Austin, the Smithsonian Institution, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Louisiana State University and others.

Previous attempts to reconstruct the avian family tree using partial DNA sequencing or anatomical and behavioral traits have met with contradiction and confusion.

Because modern birds split into species early and in such quick succession, they did not evolve enough distinct genetic differences at the genomic level to clearly determine their early branching order, the researchers said. To resolve the timing and relationships of modern birds, consortium scientists used whole-genome DNA sequences to infer the bird species tree.

“In the past, people have been using 10 to 20 genes to try to infer the species relationships,” Jarvis said. “What we’ve learned from doing this whole-genome approach is that we can infer a somewhat different phylogeny [family tree] than what has been proposed in the past.

“We’ve figured out that protein-coding genes tell the wrong story for inferring the species tree. You need non-coding sequences, including the intergenic regions. The protein-coding sequences, however, tell an interesting story of proteome-wide convergence among species with similar life histories.”

Where Did all the Birds Come From?

This new tree resolves the early branches of Neoaves (new birds) and supports conclusions about relationships that have been long-debated.

For example, the findings support three independent origins of waterbirds. They also indicate that the common ancestor of core landbirds, which include songbirds, parrots, woodpeckers, owls, eagles and falcons, was an apex predator, which also gave rise to the giant terror birds that once roamed the Americas.

The whole-genome analysis dates the evolutionary expansion of Neoaves to the time of the mass extinction event 66 million years ago. This contradicts the idea that Neoaves blossomed 10 to 80 million years earlier, as some recent studies have suggested.

Based on this new genomic data, only a few bird lineages survived the mass extinction. They gave rise to the more than 10,000 Neoaves species that comprise 95 percent of all bird species living with us today.

The freed-up ecological niches caused by the extinction event likely allowed rapid species radiation of birds in less than 15 million years, which explains much of modern bird biodiversity.

South Florida butterflies win federal protection
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service butterfly announcement

Two South Florida butterflies won federal protection as endangered species Monday, with wildlife managers planning to scorch their former habitats with fire to clear the way for the return of the plants they eat.

The Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak and Florida leafwing butterflies once ranged as far north as Broward and Palm Beach counties. Today they pollinate and lay eggs only in isolated pine rocklands in extreme South Florida, with the Florida leafwing found only in one section of Everglades National Park.
They join other South Florida butterflies, such as the Schaus swallowtail and Miami blue, as species struggling to survive the loss of habitat and other threats, from mosquito spraying to disease. Of the 160 butterfly species in Florida, about 20 have declined significantly, with most of those found in South Florida, said Mark Salvato, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“We have butterflies from a variety of habitats becoming imperiled in South Florida,” he said. “By blinking out, they’re telling us that something is wrong in these habitats.”

Monday’s announcement came as part of the settlement of a lawsuit with the Center for Biological Diversity, a Tucson, Arizona-based environmental group that had gone to court against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over delays in deciding whether to protect species under the Endangered Species Act.

“This is an important victory for these two struggling Florida butterflies,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida attorney for the Center. “This designation should help protect the rare and disappearing pine rocklands that are important habitat for a host of Florida species.”

The government announced that it would designate 11,539 acres in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties as critical habitat for the Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak and 10,561 acres for the Florida leafwing. Most of the land is already under federal control, such as parts of Everglades National Park and the Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge.

Taken by storm: 10 years after Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne

The primary reason for the two butterflies’ decline is the loss of pine rockland habitat to development and an absence of fire in the habitat that remained. Without fire, either caused by humans or by lightning, fast-growing vegetation will crowd out the pineland croton plants on which these insects depend for food.

The three-inch Florida leafwing, which looks like a dead leaf when its wings are closed, has vanished from 96 percent of its historical range. The one-inch Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak is gone from 93 percent of its range. Both butterflies had only been discovered in the 1940s.

The best way to restore them to some of their old habitat is with fire, Salvato said, using prescribed burns in places such as Everglades National Park, Big Pine Key and various patches of pine rocklands under the control of the Miami-Dade and Monroe county governments. His recovery outline will be ready in two months or so, he said, and will set out prescribed fires as the key step in returning the butterflies to lands on which they used to live.

“First and foremost, we need to get habitat restoration going,” he said. “These butterflies occur exclusively in pine rockland habitat, and there’s not much of that left. Everywhere their habitat is, it’s degraded. The first thing is prescribed burns. That’s going to be the big one.”
Once habitat is restored, they will consider reintroducing the butterflies to their old territory, possibly through captive breeding, he said.

Other reasons for their decline include parasites, disease, butterfly collectors and the use of pesticides for mosquito control. Most recently, a new Walmart has been announced for some of the land in southern Miami-Dade County used by the Bartram’s hairstreak. Federal wildlife officials are in talks with the developer.

A future threat is sea-level rise, since both species live only at low elevations. But Salvato said that if land managers act quickly, they can save both butterflies.

“I’m pretty optimistic,” Salvato said. “The population in the Everglades of the Florida leafwing is doing well. The hairstreak has a number of populations. It’s something to work with.”

David Fleshler|Sun Sentinel|August 11, 2014

[Maybe there is hope yet for a critical habitat designation for the Florida Panther.]

 Florida Panthers

Conservation success leads to increased human interaction with Florida panthers

Over the past 40 years, Florida panther conservation efforts have resulted in the panther population growing significantly from the1970s, when the panther was first federally listed as Endangered. As the population grows, the chance for interaction between the large cats and humans also increases – which can be bad for both people and panthers.

At one time, reports of panther sightings were rare. Today, even though panthers are generally shy and tend to avoid people, panthers are being seen with increasing frequency.

Panthers typically prey on a variety of wildlife such as deer, wild 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.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) investigates reports of panther depredations on pets and livestock and works with residents to reduce these incidents. So far in 2014, FWC staff has verified 32 panther depredation events, a record number, and all occurred in Collier County. In some cases, more than one animal is killed in a depredation; the 32 events have resulted in the loss of over 50 individual animals.

“The likelihood of panther depredations on backyard animals and pets can be greatly reduced if people take the necessary precautions,” said FWC panther team leader Darrell Land. “The best way to protect small livestock is to keep the animals in a secure, fenced enclosure with a roof, especially at night. Also, pets like dogs and cats should be kept indoors at night or in an outdoor, panther-proof pen.”

Reports of dangerous encounters with panthers are very rare in Florida. However, panthers are large, powerful predators, and people should use caution if they see one. Here are some tips to avoid a negative interaction if you encounter a panther:

  • Give the panther space. Most Florida panthers will avoid a confrontation. Give them a way to escape.
  • Do not run. Stand and face the animal. Make eye contact.
  • Avoid crouching or bending over, as it makes you look smaller, resembling a prey-sized animal.
  • If attacked, fight back with whatever is at hand (without turning your back).

“Panthers are a federally protected species, but people who hurt or kill a panther while protecting themselves or others from bodily harm will not be prosecuted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS),” said Dawn Jennings, USFWS panther coordinator.

The panther is also protected under state law.

“The FWC will not issue a citation to a person if they hurt or kill a panther while they are protecting or defending themselves from injury,” said Nick Wiley, executive director of the FWC. “Force should be used only in circumstances when the safety of human beings is definitely at stake – but in those cases human safety comes first.”

If you experience a panther depredation or encounter, please call the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or #FWC or *FWC on a cell phone.

“If securing pets and livestock in panther-resistant enclosures does not work, we can provide additional technical support. In extreme situations, we have used other measures to discourage panthers, even going so far as removing them from the wild due to safety concerns,” said Land. “But we need to know about a situation before we can assist residents.”

For more information about how to protect people, pets and livestock from panthers and other predators, visit FloridaPantherNet.org and click on “Living in Panther Country.”

To see if panther depredations are occurring in your area, visit FloridaPantherNet.org, click on “Panther Pulse” and scroll down to “Depredations.” You can sign up to receive panther information, including depredation e-mail updates, by simply clicking on the red envelope on any page of MyFWC.com and selecting “Florida Panther” under the “Wildlife/Managed Species” section.

Florida residents can support panther conservation efforts by purchasing a Protect the Panther license plate, available at BuyAPlate.com. Fees from license plate sales are the primary funding source for the FWC’s research and management of Florida panthers.

You can help with panther research by reporting panther sightings and uploading photos and video to the FWC, at MyFWC.com/PantherSightings.

BRING BACK THE POLLINATORS!

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

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

Learn more about our Pollinator Conservation program.  

  Invasive species

Invasive lionfish threaten Gulf of Mexico ecosystem

GALVESTON, Texas – It sounds like something from a horror film: A beautiful, feathery-looking species of fish with venomous spines and a voracious appetite sweeps into the Gulf of Mexico, gobbling up everything in its path. Unfortunately for the native fish and invertebrates it’s eating, this invasion isn’t unfolding on the big screen.

In recent months, news has been spreading of lionfish, a maroon-and-white striped native of the South Pacific that first showed up off the coast of southern Florida in 1985. Most likely, someone dumped a few out of a home fish tank. With a reproduction rate that would put rabbits to shame and no predators to slow its march, the fish swept up the Eastern seaboard and down to the Bahamas and beyond, where it is now more common than in its home waters.

“The invasive lionfish have been nearly a perfect predator,” says Martha Klitzkie, director of operations at the nonprofit Reef Environmental Education Foundation, or REEF, headquartered in Key Largo, Fla. “Because they are such an effective predator, they’re moving into new areas and, when they get settled, the population increases pretty quickly.” The lionfish population exploded in the Florida Keys and the Bahamas between 2004 and 2010. As lionfish populations boomed, the number of native prey fish dropped.

According to a 2012 study by Oregon State University, native prey fish populations along nine reefs in the Bahamas fell an average of 65 percent in just two years. Lionfish first appeared in the western Gulf of Mexico in 2010; scientists spotted them in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, a protected area about 100 miles off the Texas coast, in 2011. Now scuba divers spot them on coral heads nearly every time they explore a reef.

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

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

But here, nothing recognizes them as food – those feathery spines serve as do-not-touch warnings to other fish.

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

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

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

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

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

Pam LeBlanc|Austin American-Statesman (MCT)

Endangered Species

Snow Leopard Cub to Be Rescued From Sad Roadside Cage

New Year’s Eve 2012 proved to be a fateful night for a little snow leopard cub in Pakistan. Villagers from the northern region of Gilgit-Baltistan came upon the months-old cub, all by herself. Fearing for her survival, they took her back to their village.

While the well meaning villagers may have thought they saved the cub’s life that night, they didn’t have a suitable place to keep her. There are no facilities able to care for dislocated wildlife in this area of the world. With no good options available, the cub ended up in a small cage by the Karakoram Highway — and there she has lived for two years.

In this sad little cage, the cub is constantly exposed to traffic noise and pollution, summer heat, and taunting by unkind passers-by. It is truly “an untenable situation for this wild animal,” according to Dr. Ali Nawaz, head of the Snow Leopard Foundation of Pakistan.

Thanks to the efforts of a coalition of six conservation and governmental groups, however, this cub’s life is about to change dramatically for the better.

A new 11,00 square foot wildlife care facility will begin construction in the Naltar Valley in early 2015, thanks to a partnership among the Snow Leopard Trust, the Snow Leopard Foundation Pakistan, Gilgit-Baltistan Parks and Wildlife Department the Embassy of the United States in Islamabad, Pakistan, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), and the Snow Leopard Conservancy.

The cub will be cared for within this facility, which will better approximate her natural habitat than any cage she could live in. Designed with the help of wildlife care and rescue experts at Nordens Ark, the facility will also increase the region’s ability to adequately manage future dislocated or orphaned snow leopards.

Why not just release the cub back to the wild? The Gilgit-Baltistan Wildlife Department consulted experts to determine if she could indeed be returned. Because she now lacks the hunting and defense skills she’d require to survive, returning to the wild is impossible. Instead, she’ll be well cared for.

The new facility will also include a Wildlife Education Center, where the public will be able to learn about snow leopards, how they live, and the dangers they face. The Center will support regional wildlife and habitat education as well as local outreach efforts.

“One of the Education Center’s main purposes is to help people understand that it’s almost always best to leave wildlife in the wild, even young cubs,” said Brad Rutherford, Executive Director of the Snow Leopard Trust. “This is what the villagers didn’t understand when they came upon this cub. His mother may well have been away seeking food and would likely have returned to him.”

“Often, mothers will return for their babies even when it appears they might have abandoned them,” noted Rutherford. “One of our aims through the education portion of the facility is to help people to understand and decipher when and why it is okay to leave animals in the wild — even if they seem to be lost.”

“We believe every snow leopard deserves a better and more secure future,” said Dr. Rodney Jackson, founder and director of the Snow Leopard Conservancy. “That being said, it is important to make sure local people in Pakistan, or anywhere else, will no longer separate a cub from its mother or remove it from the wild.”

This cub, though never able to live as a wild snow leopard, still has an important role to play in Pakistan. She may well help future generations better survive.

“We hope that this snow leopard will serve a useful role as an Ambassador animal, offering people who rarely see a snow leopard with the opportunity to marvel at its beauty and ensure other wild snow leopards are allowed to roam free from threats,” said Dr. Jackson.

From cage to more natural habitat is the happy future awaiting this cub, thanks to villagers, governments, and conservation groups who cared enough to do something for one animal in need. Yes, she’s still in her cage for now, but not for much longer.

Only 4,500 to 6,000 snow leopard remain in the wild. The survival of every one of them is important.

“We are very happy to contribute in this effort to ensure that the snow leopard gets an adequate quality of life,” said IFAW Director of Animal Rescue Katie Moore. “It is our hope that her story carries an enduring message on the importance of leaving wildlife in the wild.”

Susan Bird|December 8, 2014

Endangered St. Lawrence Belugas and the end of an oil port project

St. Lawrence Belugas – and all citizens who rallied for months for their protection – can now take some well-deserved time to unwind. Earlier this week, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) issued a recommendation to alter the status of this small population of beluga whale, downlisting it from “threatened” to “endangered.” This prompted Quebec Premiere Philippe Couillard to issue a VERY strong hint that developer TransCanada should look for alternative sites for its oil port, which would route oil sands bitumen to external markets.

Protests against the proposed terminal peaked months ago, with citizens, commentators and environmental groups sharply criticizing TransCanada’s plans for Cacouna. A big part of the opposition came from the company’s decision to ignore the best available science and move ahead with plans to build the Energy East pipeline terminal in part of the Gulf of St. Lawrence that’s a known gathering place for female beluga whales and their young. This is habitat that’s essential for the survival of an endangered species.

In September 2014, WWF supported a lawsuit initiated by Nature Québec, the David Suzuki Foundation and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, and conducted by the Quebec Environmental Law Centre. The suit resulted in the Quebec Superior Court ordering the suspension of TransCanada’s exploratory drilling, which had been previously authorized by Ottawa and the government of Quebec. The court ruled that Quebec’s Ministry of Sustainable Development, Environment and the Fight against climate change authorized drilling without obtaining proper scientific analysis from Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The court severely criticized the minister for the incomplete analysis, ordering that work be suspended on the project until 15 October.

Subsequently, TransCanada’s encountered further delays when drilling was again suspended due to noise tests that revealed it was exceeding an established 120 decibel limit. The Quebec government then demanded that the company submit a new work plan that clearly showed compliance with underwater noise regulations.

TransCanada did not reach compliance, and the company’s work authorization certificate expired on the 30th of November. Drilling has not resumed.

Science won the day, but are policymakers listening?

The status change for St. Lawrence belugas comes as no surprise to experts. This small beluga population is one of the most studied in the world, and top scientists have contributed to a beluga recovery strategy that falls under Canada’s Species At Risk Act for over three decades. But despite these efforts, we’re still seeing a decline in the St. Lawrence beluga population. It now stands at only 900 individuals.

The Canadian government has completely failed in its legal obligations to protect the St. Lawrence Beluga under the Species At Risk Act! This failure allowed TransCanada to gain the permission it needed to start work in Cacouna. Imagine the time and energy that could have been saved if procedure had been followed. Hopefully, the “endangered” classification will lead to formal designation of the beluga’s critical habitat.

For the past 15 years, Fisheries and Oceans Canada has been studying the possibility of creating a Marine Protected Area (MPA) on a portion of the St. Lawrence Estuary covering almost 6,000 km2, an area roughly the size of Prince Edward Island, and stretching from Rivière-du-Loup, Cacouna and L’Isle-Verte. This area, the first in Quebec, would aim to protect the habitat of the St. Lawrence beluga and the many other marine mammals that live there.

In light of the new circumstances, an MPA seems entirely appropriate. We hope the government will act quickly to make this happen.

The future of the St. Lawrence beluga?

The big question we need to answer now is: what can we do to help this endangered species survive? There’s a lot to learn. We still don’t have a clear picture of St. Lawrence belugas’ wintering conditions, but we think they might be suboptimal. Also, we need to find out if climate change is affecting food sources. To answer these questions, WWF is supporting a research project lead by the Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals (GREMM), which aims to better protect this wonderful and unique species.

Marie-Claude Lemieux|December 5, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key Findings

Ecosystem Services

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

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

Climate Change Regulation and Mitigation

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

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

Livelihoods

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

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

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

Extreme Weather Events

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

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

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

Biodiversity Hotspots

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

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

Recommendations

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

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

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

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

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

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

Access full report here

Lawyers Square Off to Save Okinawa Dugongs From Military Airstrip

Lawyers are in federal court in San Francisco today in our historic case to stop construction of a U.S. military airstrip in Okinawa, Japan, that would pave over some of the last remaining habitat for endangered Okinawa dugongs, gentle marine mammals related to manatees.

Our case, filed by Earthjustice this summer on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity and other American and Japanese conservation groups, is the latest in the long-running controversy over the expansion of a U.S. Marine base at Henoko Bay. There were an estimated 50 Okinawa dugongs left in the world in 1997; today there are probably just a few dozen.

The Center has been fighting for more than a decade to save these vanishing dugongs.

“These gentle animals are adored by both locals and tourists. Paving over some of the last places they survive will not only likely be a death sentence for them, it will be a deep cultural loss for the Okinawan people,” said the Center’s Peter Galvin.

Read more in our press release.

Lawsuit Launched to Protect 17 Amphibians, Reptiles in Southeast

The Center for Biological Diversity this week filed a notice of intent to sue the Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to decide whether 17 increasingly rare amphibians and reptiles in the Southeast should be considered for Endangered Species Act protection.

In July 2012 the Center petitioned to protect alligator snapping turtles, six snake species, the Carolina gopher frog, the Cedar Key mole skink, the Florida scrub lizard and seven lungless salamanders. All of them are threatened with extinction because of habitat loss and other factors. The government has missed its deadline for deciding whether our petition will move forward.

“There’s broad scientific consensus that amphibians and reptiles face a profound, human-driven extinction crisis that requires prompt action,” said the Center’s Collette Adkins Giese. “The Endangered Species Act has a nearly perfect record of stopping animals from going extinct — it’s hands-down our best tool for saving these guys.”

Read more in USA TODAY.

Scientists Urge Federal Protection of Northern Long-eared Bats

The fungal disease “white-nose syndrome” has devastated northern long-eared bats, wiping out 99 percent of the population in their core range. So more than 80 scientists sent a letter Monday urging the Fish and Wildlife Service to finalize last year’s proposal to fully protect them under the Endangered Species Act. Scientists are gravely concerned that the agency may be on the brink of caving to special interests to give the bats only “threatened” instead of “endangered” status — which would let companies continue to log, mine and otherwise destroy bat habitat.

In the eight years since the white-nose epidemic arrived in upstate New York, it has spread to 25 states and five Canadian provinces, killing bats of six different species — about 7 million animals at last count. The northern long-eared bat has been the most severely affected species, and in the Northeast it has nearly disappeared.

Only the western states and Canadian provinces are still unaffected by the fungal epidemic, and most researchers expect these regions will eventually become infected too.

Read more in our press release.

Orcas Suffer Another Heartbreaking Loss, But Efforts to Save Them Are Underway

Critically endangered orcas in the Pacific Northwest continue to face threats that put their future survival in question, and now they’ve suffered another heartbreaking loss with the confirmed death of a pregnant female.

These orcas, otherwise known as the southern resident killer whales (SRKW), live in three distinct pods (J,K and L) and travel through Puget Sound, the Strait of Georgia and the Strait of Juan de Fuca during the summer months before migrating to the open ocean in the winter.

Even with live captures being banned, federal protection and millions spent on research and recovery efforts, they’ve yet to make a comeback. The latest blow comes with the confirmation that the most recent death was Rhapsody (J32), an 18 year-old female member of the J-pod who was found near Courtenay, BC in northwest Georgia Strait. Her loss was compounded by a necropsy that confirmed she was pregnant with a full-term fetus.

Some experts suspect her death was related to complications with her pregnancy, but nothing has been confirmed yet.

“The fetus was decomposing,” Ken Balcomb, Director of the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, who also assisted in the necropsy, told CBS News. “The tests will be able to tell whether the fetus was already dead before the mother died, and therefore may have been the cause of her death.”

Rumors swirled this summer that she might be pregnant, raising hope that these orcas would be welcoming a new family member soon, which makes her death twice as heartbreaking and raises even more concerns about how another loss will affect them.

They have already lost two adult members this year. In August it was reported that 37-year-old L53 (Lulu) and 13-year-old L100 (Indigo) had not been spotted and are presumed to have died, which brought the population’s number down to only 78 members – the lowest it’s been since 1985. In September, orca advocates and researchers celebrated the birth of a calf who was the first to be born to the L pod in two years, but the calf tragically did not survive.

Even though they were protected under the Endangered Species Act in 2005, with the recent loss of Rhapsody there are only 77 left of these orcas left in the wild – which leaves them with 11 fewer members than there were when they were declared endangered.

While they continue to face a variety of threats from boat traffic and noise to toxic pollutants, many believe that the biggest problem is now a lack of food. Their main food source, Chinook salmon, is also endangered due to habitat loss, overfishing and dams. Balcomb, previously stated that addressing their food source is what matters most now if we want to help these orcas recover.

To address this issue, Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) recently started Don’t Let Our Orcas Be Dammed, a campaign that is focused on the rivers the salmon rely on and efforts to remove four dams in the Klamath River – JC Boyle, the Iron Gate, and Copco No. 1 and Copco No. 2. – which runs through Oregon and out to the Pacific in Northern California.

According to WDC: ”Commercial fishermen, native tribes, PacifiCorp (the electricity company that owns and operates all four dams), farmers, fish biologists, and environmentalists have all agreed that taking these dams down is the best thing to help restore the Klamath River Basin. And, it saves money – it will cost less to tear the dams down than it would to upgrade them to today’s standards (including regulations involving fish passage).”

Now WDC is pushing Congress to pass the Klamath Basin Water Recovery and Economic Restoration Act, which will ensure funding for dam removal.

For more info on how to help support the campaign to help these orcas, visit Whale and Dolphin Conservation.

Alicia Graef|December 10, 2014

Slow down as manatees start their swim to warmer waters

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tips on how to spot manatees:

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

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

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

Everglades

DEP PERMIT FOR THE L-8

Critical water storage and treatment will be bolstered by latest construction effort

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Office of Ecosystem Projects issued a permit to the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) today to construct the L-8 Divide Structure, a key component of  strategies to restore south Florida ecosystems. The L-8 Divide Structure will assist the movement of stormwater into the L-8 Flow Equalization Basin providing much needed water storage and, when necessary, directing water from the L-8 Flow Equalization Basin south to designated stormwater treatment areas.  

“The department and the South Florida Water Management District continue to make progress on Governor Scott’s strategies to restore south Florida’s ecosystems,” said DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard. “This project is another significant step forward for the region as we work to increase our water storage and water treatment capacity and move cleaner water south, where it will ensure proper nourishment of Florida’s Everglades.”

The L-8 Flow Equalization Basin will use a 53-foot-deep reservoir capable of storing approximately 45,000 acre-feet of water, or the equivalent of 22,500 Olympic-sized swimming pools of water. The below-ground reservoir was a former rock mine site located in central Palm Beach County. The location’s unique geology allows for deep, below-ground storage, reduces water loss through seepage and minimizes levee safety concerns. The L-8 Flow Equalization Basin consists of seven interconnected cells that will be utilized to manage basin stormwater. During storm events and other peak flow times, the reservoir will act as a storage feature. During dry periods, the reservoir will deliver flows for optimized treatment prior to those flows entering the Everglades.  

Other project elements such as the construction of a permanent discharge pump station and the inflow feature are already underway and on schedule for completion by Dec. 2016. The construction of embankment protection features is also nearing completion. Total project cost for the L-8 Flow Equalization Basin and associated projects is $75.5 million, with $35 million spent to date. Construction of the L-8 Divide Structure is scheduled for Aug. 2014 through Oct. 2016. The total project cost for the divide structure is $5.6 million. When completed, the L-8 Equalization Flow Basin will store up to 15 billion gallons of water so it can be treated and moved south to the Everglades.

The  water quality plan includes:  

  • 6,500 acres of additional stormwater treatment areas, which are man-made managed wetlands that naturally remove phosphorus from water prior to the water being discharged into the Everglades;
  • 110,000 acre-feet of water storage capabilities in flow equalization basins or reservoirs that work with the proposed and existing stormwater treatment areas to regulate flows and optimize treatment efficiency; and
  • Other components of the plan include engineering projects in existing treatment areas and the modification of conveyance features necessary to move the water through the SFWMD’s massive flood control and water delivery features.

Alico to store 34 billion gallons of Caloosahatchee watershed water

 CLEWISTON, FL. — In an ongoing effort to increase water storage to protect South Florida’s coastal estuaries and natural systems, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Governing Board today approved agreements with various land owners including Alico in Hendry county that more than double the overall water retention capacity in its Dispersed Water Management program.

In the largest storage contract, the District reached an agreement with Alico, Inc., on 35,192 acres of ranchland that will retain an annual average of 91,944 acre-feet of water from the Caloosahatchee River Watershed. This is an amount equal to approximately 34.5 billion gallons of water. This property also has the potential of sending water back into the Caloosahatchee River during the dry season.

The approved contracts will add a total potential of 95,812 acre-feet of storage to the program, or about 36 billion gallons annually. This is the equivalent of 1.5 inches of water in Lake Okeechobee, a 730-square-mile lake at the heart of South Florida’s water management system. The program currently has a retention capacity of 93,342 acre-feet across 43 sites.

“Storing water on ranchlands has proven to be an effective tool in the District’s ongoing effort to protect the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries,” said SFWMD Governing Board Chairman Daniel O’Keefe. “Today’s action shows this agency’s commitment to the Dispersed Water Management program, and we support its continued expansion to protect South Florida’s natural systems.”

Don Browne|sw.Florida.blogspot|December 11, 2014

Water Quality Issues

Florida’s Year of Water

Florida is the nation’s “Water State.” Surrounded by estuaries and oceans on three sides, receiving an average of about 150 billion gallons each day from rainfall and underlain by trillions of gallons of fresh groundwater, Florida’s image is synonymous with H2O.

Water in lakes, streams, rivers, wetlands and springs. Water reflecting the sunshine along endless sandy beaches. Water, clean and pure.

Amendment 1, proposed and promoted by the Florida Water and Land Legacy Initiative, received over 700,000 citizen petitions to reach the November ballot and then won the approval of 75 percent of Florida’s voters. Environmental issues consistently achieve high public approval in the Water State.

It is no surprise that Floridians know what is important for their futures — a healthy and protected environment is the bedrock of Florida’s economy and quality of life. Above all else, the most important ingredient for our state’s environmental health is a plentiful supply of pure water.

Unfortunately, within the past few decades, Florida’s image has become more like a mirage than a reality. As a result of our mad rush for economic growth at any cost, Florida has significantly impaired its once pristine waters. Polluted and depleted by harmful human activities, Florida’s waters are fast losing their aesthetic and economic appeal.

Waterways choked by algae. Dying springs. Desiccated wetlands and dry lake beds. Depleted fisheries. Red tide. Sick manatees and porpoises. And a poisoned aquifer.

While Florida’s voters were clear on their support for environmental protection, their election of leaders sent a mixed message. With neither gubernatorial candidate receiving 50 percent of voter approval, it appears that Floridians are confused about who will best ensure a healthy environmental future.

The continuing degradation of Florida’s water resources over the past 30 years, under both Democratic and Republican majorities, is a good indication that neither party has a lock on providing effective environmental protection. This observation proves that neither party has had the ability to stand up to the real decision makers in Tallahassee — the special interests. Under the guise of job creation, economic growth, and creation of durable and consumable goods, a relatively small number of individuals and corporations are reaping big profits by polluting and depleting Florida’s waters. They include home builders, fertilizer and chemical companies, mining operations, industrial farms, and public and private utilities, to name a few.

These special interests and their lobbyists create the myth that environmental protection and economic prosperity are mutually exclusive. We know this myth is not true. We know that polluting and degrading our waters and lands — in the name of job creation and continuing urban and agricultural development — is not our preferred future. That is why Floridians supported Amendment 1 with a super majority.

We are at a crucial point in Florida’s history. Our decisions now will determine if we turn our backs on a sustainable water future, or if we choose to consciously strike off on a new path where we no longer tolerate the depletion and pollution of the public’s surface and ground waters.

Our drinking waters. Our parks. Our springs, lakes and rivers. Our beaches. Our future.

Florida’s elected and appointed leaders need to be reminded that it is we, the people, who pay their salaries. We will not be fooled by rhetoric, by myths, by promises of elusive wealth. We see the nutrient-fueled algae growth in our rivers, lakes and estuaries; the springs turning from blue to green; and the red tides and dying fish — and that is not the future that we Floridians voted for this fall.

Florida’s 2015 Legislature and governor have a new mandate to protect Florida’s fragile water environments from over-exploitation and pollution. Let next year be a true watershed moment in Florida’s history. Plug the loopholes that have been inserted by special interests and compliant politicians in Florida’s Water Resources Act of 1972. Accelerate schedules for water restoration actions. Stress the importance of statewide water conservation. Put new energy into finding ways to stop pollution at its source. And beef up enforcement and public oversight of our water-protection laws. Use Amendment 1 funding to make significant strides toward a healthier environment. And make us proud of our status as the Water State!

Robert L. Knight|Director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute in Gainesville.

Waste not, want not – water to tide

Half a million acre feet wasted to sea? That’s what happened in 1995 at Port of the Islands. But that was before we knew better, right? And restoration is on the way?

The above bar chart shows annual discharge volumes out of the area formerly knows as the Southern Golden Gate Estates to tide. The historical percentiles are shown on the right. As you can see, over 300,000 acre feet still flowed over the weir in 2013. But those flows are numbered. Once the Picayune restoration project is complete, this wasted water will be used to rehydrate Picayune Strand instead, from where it will slow drip as sheetflow to the coastal estuaries below.

Yes and yes.

That wasted water will soon be used to rehydrate Picayune Strand instead.

08 Apr 2014

A New Northern Everglades Water Quality Project Breaks Ground

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information on this project, please click here.

November 5, 2014 in Lake Okeechobee

Let’s Talk About 40 Years of Safe Drinking Water

This month marks the 40th anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act. We’ve made such incredible progress in improving the safety of the water we drink over the past 40 years that today we almost take it for granted. But, clean and reliable water is at the very foundation of what makes our communities strong. It’s what lets our children grow up healthy, keeps our schools and hospitals running, and fuels our economy.

As one part of our commemoration of this important milestone, I’ll be participating in a Twitter chat on Tuesday, December 16, at 1:00 pm ET. We’ll talk about the accomplishments of the past 40 years under the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the challenges that lie ahead. Please plan to join the conversation by asking questions and sharing your ideas for ways that we can continue to ensure we all have safe water to drink!

Want to join me?

Before the chat:
·    Plan to participate on December 16, 2014 starting at 1:00 pm ET.
·    Encourage your friends to take part, too.

During the chat:
·    Tweet questions and comments to
@EPAwater and using the #SafeToDrink hashtag.

To learn more about this milestone for our nation’s drinking water, read my blog post, “Safe Drinking Water Act Turning 40,” and visit the 40 Years of Safe Drinking Water website. You can also watch me discuss the anniversary in this video. I look forward to our chat on Tuesday!

Peter Grevatt, Ph.D.|director of EPA’s Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water|2014 December 12

Great Lakes & Inland Waters

Indian River IWW maintenance dredging starts in January

Navigation maintenance dredging of the Intracoastal Waterway (IWW) Indian River Reach 1 in the Indian River Lagoon will start in early January.  The dredging area begins a half-mile north of the Indian River County line and extends south for approximately eight miles to the Wabasso Causeway.  In addition to improving navigation safety, the dredging will also provide significant environmental benefits by removing muck from the federal navigation channel.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded the $6,058,675 maintenance dredging contract for the Indian River Reach 1 in September to Cavache, Inc., of Pompano Beach, Fla. The contract is funded in partnership with the Florida Inland Navigation District.  The Corps anticipates project construction to last approximately five months.

Currently averaging a depth of 9 to 10 feet, the maintenance dredging will remove approximately 300,000 cubic yards of material from the federal channel.  The work will return the channel to its federally-authorized depth of 12 feet and provide for safer navigation along the waterway.   The dredging will also remove muck from the channel, which is an added bonus for the environment, said Corps project manager Brandon Burch.  Muck is a combination of fine sand and decayed organic material that, when stirred by storms or boat wakes, clouds the water and reduces sunlight penetration that is vital to the health of the aquatic environment.

Cavache will place the dredged material in the Dredge Material Management Area IR2, located between U.S. Highway 1 and the IWW near Sebastian in Indian River County.  The material has been tested and provides no health risk, but the fine silt material is regrettably not suitable for beach placement.

The Corps asks the public to use caution in the channel during dredging operations and for local residents to be patient with the temporary construction noise as the project progresses.  For more information about the Indian River Reach 1 dredging project, please contact Burch at 904-232-2451 or Ms. Shelley Trulock at 904-232-3292.  For more information on Corps of Engineer projects, go to www.saj.usace.army.mil.

Tea Party-Controlled Legislature Pushes ‘Industry-Driven’ Great Lakes Water Withdrawal Bill

The Ohio legislature, dominated by a Tea Party-controlled Republican supermajority, often seems to be creating more problems than it solves. And it could be creating a problem with international ramifications. In its lame duck session, the chamber passed HB 490 last week, a water quality bill which alters standards for withdrawing water from Lake Erie and its tributaries, and sent it to the state Senate, where it’s expected to pass.

The omnibus bill contains some good things, such as new restrictions on use of fertilizers on farmland, one of the causes of last summer’s algae bloom in Lake Erie that shut off the water supply to nearly 400,000 people in the Toledo area. But there’s a lot of dissent about its new rules for the withdrawal of Lake Erie water by industrial and other heavy users. And when there’s disagreement about the impact of something this legislature is doing, it’s wise to be wary especially when the fairly conservative Cleveland Plain Dealer calls it “a last-minute, larded-up mid-biennium agricultural bill” with “an industry-driven, water-withdrawal amendment that could condemn Lake Erie to death by a thousand straws.”

Among other things, the new language would consider only the impact of withdrawals on water level and not on wildlife or pollutant levels, potentially violating the 2008 Great Lakes Compact between the eight Great Lakes states and the international Great Lakes St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact with Ontario and Quebec. Joel Brammeier, president and CEO of the nonprofit environmental group Alliance for the Great Lakes, told the Plain Dealer that if Ohio starts picking and choosing which parts of the compact it wants to follow other states might do the same.

“The risk to the Great Lakes is that we go back and start rehashing more than a decade of work that started in 1998 because Ohio has chosen to renege (on) part of the compact,” he told the paper. “That’s not a good use of anybody’s time.”

The Ohio Environmental Council (OEC) says,”OEC strongly opposes the new amendment to the Great Lakes St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact. We believe the amendment violates the letter and spirit of the Great Lakes Compact and leaves Ohio vulnerable to litigation, poses risks to water quantity and the wildlife of Lake Erie, and will harm the public’s and sportsmen’s enjoyment of Lake Erie and wildlife.”

OEC pointed out that Governor John Kasich vetoed a similar provision in 2011, saying “Ohio’s legislation lacks clear standards for conservation and withdrawals and does not allow for sufficient evaluation and monitoring of withdrawals or usage.”

As the Akron Beacon Journal put it in an editorial, Don’t Break the Compact, the “misguided language has resurfaced.”

The paper expressed the hope that the governor will remove that language when the rushed bill lands on his desk, although it’s hard to guess what Kasich, reelected in a landslide to his second and final term and rumored to be harboring presidential aspirations, will do. State representative Teresa Fedor, a Democrat from Toledo, attempted to remove language in the House but that was voted down. Republican Lynn Wachtmann from nearly Napoleon, Ohio, who runs a bottled water company, pooh-poohed objections, telling the Toledo Blade, “Since we passed the original Great Lakes bill, I don’t believe there’s been a single permit issued by (the Department of Natural Resources) to withdraw additional water from any watershed that I’m aware of. So any reference that this bill or something else previous is any cause of algae bloom is nothing less that ridiculous. The water issue in Toledo has zero to do with this issue.”

Anastasia Pantsios|November 25, 2014

Nicaragua’s Great Lake in Danger

Measuring the Depth of Lake Nicaragua Along Proposed Canal Route Confirms the Worst Predictions

Southwest of the Maderas volcano, where the Rivas coast is a line fading into the distance, Lake Cocibolca’s immensity is on prominent display: breezes softly comb stretches of water that are seemingly endless. Sonar has marked this as the deepest point on the route for the “Great Inter-Oceanic Canal” through a lake that the Spanish conquistadores, stunned upon encountering it, named, “the Sweet Sea.”

Economist Juan Sebastián Chamorro, captain of the ship Calypso, backed up by a Hummingbird 980sci side-scan sonar, calculated that on the muddy shores of El Tule, in the municipality of the San Juan River, there are a scant 10 to 15 kilometers (six to nine miles) along the canal route traced by the Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co., Limited (HKND) that are deep enough to accommodate the huge new Post-Panamax megaships (the latest in super-sized cargo ships). (It is these ships that are the rationale to build this new canal.)

“They’d have to dredge almost the whole route, because what we have is that only a single stretch of the 105 km [65 miles] planned has a depth between 27 and 30 meters [88 and 99 feet],” said Chamorro while he maneuvered the Calypso to keep it from running aground. After analyzing the results, he realized the depths included in the map of the proposed route of the canal were identical to those on maps of the lake made in 1899 and 1972 (and thus unlikely to have been the results of more recent measurements).

Lake Cocibolca has always been in the sights of canal-making ventures. Since the 19th Century, first with the U.S. government and now with the Chinese businessman Wang Jing, who holds the franchise granted by Daniel Ortega’s administration, dozens of projects have been cooked up premised on taking advantage of the lake to sail great ships. But few have made scientific studies of the lake’s depth and the implications of the dredging that would be needed to realize the planned canal.

Last July, HKND’s chief engineer, Dong Yunsong, announced the route for the “Grand Canal,” a route which was not all that different from the one in studies sketched out under former-President Enrique Bolaños. “The Canal will have a total length of 278 kilometers [173 miles], of which 105 are through Lake Cocibolca,” Dong said through a translator.

In Managua, Dong said that the Canal would measure 230 to 250 meters (755 to 820 feet) wide, and that its depth would range between 27.6 and 30 meters (91 and 99 feet). Immediately, Nicaragua’s scientific community intensified its alarm over the future of the Great Lake, Latin America’s second largest. The reason: its scant depth.

The last bathymetric or topographic registry made of Cocibolca dates back to 1972. Though outdated, it is the latest reference available. That report gave the first indications of the unavoidable dredging that the lake would have to undergo to meet the projected specifications of the canal. How much would need to be excavated from the lake’s bottom to run the pit through the waterway? What repercussions would that have on flora and fauna? Would it affect the quality of the water? These are among the questions officials have yet to answer.

To facilitate the measurement of the depths of the Cocibolca, the 105 kilometer route was divided up into several sections marked off, following the map submitted by HKND. The first section went from Obrajuelo to H2, the second section from H2 to H3, the third from H3 to H4, the fourth from H4 to H5, and the fifth from H5 to Tule.

On September 27, an expedition for Confidencial, led by sailors Juan Sebastián Chamorro, commanding the Calypso, and Pedro Joaquín Chamorro (President of the tourism commission of the National Assembly) piloting the boat La Bachi, set sail from the coastal town of Obrajuelo, near the Las Lajas river in Rivas. [Pedro Joaqin is the brother of Confidencial’s editor, Carlos Chamorro, and Juan Sebastian is his cousin.] The Canal pit would exit the lake and cut through to the Pacific right through this small town.

Eighty years old, with more than a dozen books on national geography and natural resources to his name, he is the most authoritative voice in the country on environmental issues. Jaime Incer Barquero, former Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources Ministry (MARENA),…

The day’s mission was to cover the 105 kilometers (65 miles) of the Canal route that were within the lake, following the line drawn by HKND as faithfully as possible. To get coordinates, the sailors traced the map given to them by Dong Yunsong.

This trip was divided by five marks to facilitate measuring the lake bottom in sections. “The five points chosen overlapped with the route supposedly laid out for the canal with a real route done with a GPS. First we traced the points and then we entered them into the GPS, and then followed it to take some depth samples,” said Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, laying out the technical points.

Eleven degrees 24 minutes 385 seconds North were the coordinates. The waters were choppy. The heading was toward the second mark, or H2 as they abbreviated it, five kilometers (three miles) northwest of Obrajuelo, where the Canal route makes a small break toward the island of Ometepe and then proceeds in a straight line.

The first stretch we travel—from Obrajuelo to H2—is five kilometers (three miles) point to point. The depth marked is 2.1 meters (6.8 feet), 27 fewer than the Canal requires. The sonar picked up rocky formations that begin on the coast and go 900 meters (just over half a mile) in. On the sonar screen the rocks appear as corrugated irregularities on the lake bottom. As we moved away from shore, the 2.1 meters (6.8 feet) of depth increased to 8.7 meters (28.5 feet). We have reached H2.

The next stretch is from H2 to H3. The peak of the Concepción volcano, in Ometepe, looks greener as we approach. The current sweeps along some trash. The sonar determines an average depth of 12.3 meters (40 feet) between H2 and H3 and at one point reaches 18 meters (60 feet). La Bachi’s motors speed up and on Calypso’s radio we could hear the voice of Representative Pedro Joaquín Chamorro:

“La Bachi to Calypso, over,” said Chamorro.

“Go ahead, Pedro,” replied Juan Sebastián.

“We’re almost on top of the trench!” came the reply.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Map made by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1899.

When the U.S. was interested in cutting an interoceanic path through Nicaragua, it commissioned studies of the terrain which were presented to the authorities to determine the project’s viability.

One of those documents was a hydrographic study done in 1899, carried out by Rear Admiral John G. Walker, Chief of the U.S. Bureau of Navigation; Colonel Peter C. Hains, of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; and Professor Lewis M. Haupt, a civil engineer.

The measurements of Cocibolca made by the Americans determined that there is a space from the Maderas volcano running West to East where depths vary between “80 to more than 100 feet,” (between 24 and 36 meters).

In 1972, the National Development Institute of Nicaragua (INFONAC) commissioned a bathymetric study of the Great Lake, which established that the lake’s deepest zones matched those the U.S. researchers found, from Maderas towards the Solentiname islands. That is the last study available currently, when the Canal venture is now once again seducing Nicaragua with a promise of progress. But 42 years later, has the depth of the lake remained the same, taking into account the millions of pounds of sediment that have accumulated in the enormous body of water?

WILFREDO MIRANDA ABURTO, CARLOS HERRERA|12.05.14

Officials plan to discuss Kalamazoo River cleanup

KALAMAZOO Officials this week plan to hold a public meeting to discuss ideas being considered for an upcoming Kalamazoo River cleanup. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will provide information and answer questions about cleanup options for the portion of the Kalamazoo River from the Morrow Dam in Kalamazoo County’s Comstock Township to Plainwell.

The meeting is at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Radisson Plaza Hotel in Kalamazoo. The EPA expects to propose a cleanup plan next year. After the plan is announced there will be a public comment period as well as a formal hearing to explain details of the work.

The EPA says Georgia- Pacific LLC, one of several parties legally responsible for the site, produced a feasibility study that describes and analyzes several cleanup options. Those range from no further action to massive multi-million dollar excavations.

The area is part of the 80-mile Kalamazoo River Superfund cleanup. The Kalamazoo River was tainted for decades with industrial waste from paper mills and other manufacturing plants. Problems include contamination by polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. The EPA’s goals for reducing the amount of PCBs in soil and sediment are set in part to protect people’s health and the environment, comply with state and federal regulations and ensure that fish caught in the river other waterways are safe to eat. A fish-consumption advisory has been in place since the 1970s. Officials want to protect people who live, work and play along the river.

Associated Press|12/09/2014

Offshore & Ocean

Soaps and cosmetics found in Antarctic waters

Contaminants from personal care products are beginning to pollute the waters around Antarctica

A University of Canterbury research project has found everyday chemicals used in personal care products including soaps, cosmetics and sunscreens are present in sewage effluents discharged from Antarctic research bases.

Active ingredients in personal care products are a class of emerging contaminants increasingly being studied.

The study, funded by Antarctica New Zealand and reported in the Journal of Environmental Research, was undertaken by a Canterbury PhD student Phil Emnet under the supervision of Dr Sally Gaw, Professor Bryan Storey from Gateway Antarctica and Dr Grant Northcott from Northcott Research Consultants.

“Emerging organic contaminants (EOCs) are contaminants that are not routinely monitored for in the environment and have the potential to have adverse ecological or human health effects,” Dr Gaw says.

Dr Emnet adds: “These emerging contaminants were also found in Antarctic coastal waters at concentrations comparable to more urban areas elsewhere in the world including New Zealand.

“What was interesting was how widespread some of the EOCs were in the Antarctic coastal waters. We found contaminants along larger coastal areas than we expected.

“It is likely that the environmental conditions, including extreme cold, could have contributed to the persistence of some of these compounds in seawater.

“Sewage discharges may therefore be having greater impacts over a much wider area in marine environments than previously thought.”

The presence of these contaminants in surface waters is of international concern as many of these everyday chemicals are designed to be biologically active and may have adverse effects on marine organisms.

However, the vulnerability of Antarctic organisms to these contaminants has not been studied, Gaw says.

“This study will lead to better waste management and monitoring systems being put in place for Antarctic research programs. This study highlights Antarctica New Zealand’s commitment to reducing the impacts of scientific research on Antarctica,’’ she says.

Antarctica New Zealand’s Dr Neil Gilbert says the aim as a responsible national Antarctic program is to use the best available research knowledge to help improve environmental management practices. 

 

Town of Palm Beach’s Sand transfer plant out of operation

The town’s sand transfer plant at the southern tip of Singer Island, already crippled by a reduction in sand flow, is now out of operation because of an electrical failure.

“Right now, the plant is broken and they’re fixing it,” town consultant Mike Jenkins, coastal engineering principal at Applied Technology and Management, said Thursday. He spoke during a public meeting at Town Hall on the status of the town’s beaches.

The town relies on the plant, located at the southern tip of Singer Island, to feed its eroded beaches with sand otherwise trapped by the Lake Worth Inlet jetties.

“An electrical problem occurred early last month,” Coastal Coordinator Rob Weber said. “It’s being corrected right now. It should be fixed by the end of the month.”

It’s the second time this year that town officials have announced a setback for the plant. Last summer, the town said it was investigating the cause of a steep drop in the volume of sand moving within reach of the plant. That problem has caused it to pump far less sand during the last two years than it normally does, town officials said.

After being refurbished in 2010, the plant pumped a little more than 200,000 cubic yards in a year, according to Palm Beach County. But in 2013, it pumped less than 50,o00 cubic yards.

Sand movement is affected by many factors, including weather, tides, current and wave climate, Public Works Director Paul Brazil has said. But he said the town is concerned that an artificial reef may be blocking or diverting the flow of sand away from the plant.

From 2009 to 2011, Palm Beach County installed a 1.9-acre reef off Singer Island, about a mile north of the plant. “It may be a factor, and we’re looking at it,” Brazil said earlier this year.

Town consultants, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have been gathering data and analyzing the problem. Weber said Thursday that findings should be released in January.

When he said the plant was out of operation, Jenkins was responding to a question from resident Connie Gasque, who wanted to know what’s causing the reduction in sand flow. She suggested the cause must be the artificial reef or the sand settling basin north of the north inlet jetty. In 2012-13, the basin was expanded so it would capture more sand in an effort to reduce shoaling in the inlet’s navigation channel.

“If we don’t get sand, we are in big trouble for every reach,” Gasque said (the town’s shore is divided into eight reaches for coastal management purposes).

Weber said, however, that recent wave energy has been pushing more sand near the plant. “If it becomes operational, we can certainly dig that out,” he said.

Woods Hole Group, the consultant that reviewed the town’s 10-year coastal management plan, has referred to the plant as a “critical component” of the town’s coastal protection arsenal.

Sanford Kuvin, whose East Inlet Drive home has faced the inlet for 50 years, said sand from the plant has been reduced to a trickle. “There’s been virtually no sand coming for almost a year now,” he said in an interview later Thursday.

More than 40 people, including town, state and county officials, residents and environmentalists, attended Thursday’s meeting, hosted by the DEP to give a status report on the first year of the Palm Beach Island Beach Management Agreement.

The agreement was implemented in September 2013 by the DEP’s Bureau of Beaches and Coastal Systems to take a regional approach to permitting beach nourishment and inlet management. It applies to the nearly 16 miles of Atlantic coast between the Lake Worth and Boynton inlets, 12 miles of which fall within the town.

William Kelly|Daily News Staff Writer|Dec. 5, 2014

Deeper mill channel sought in St. Andrew Bay

PANAMA CITY — As cargo ships get bigger, Panama City mill company RockTenn is seeking a deeper shipping channel in St. Andrew Bay. 

To begin the process to dredge a portion of the East Channel, Port Panama City is sponsoring a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) study to explore the environmental and economic impacts of the project, which would deepen RockTenn’s cargo terminal from 30 to 36 feet.

As one of North America’s leading manufacturers of paperboard and packaging materials, RockTenn’s Panama City facility produces unbleached Kraft linerboard and bleached market pulp product, which is exported to 28 countries. 

Although the Port Authority does not directly conduct business with the mill, Director Wayne Stubbs said RockTenn’s shipping activity is vital to sustain.

“The ships are getting bigger, so they need to have deeper water to operate efficiently out of that facility,” Stubbs said. “We are cognizant that you need a certain amount of shipping activity to be a healthy port. It’s very important to the whole port infrastructure that (RockTenn’s) activity continues and is sustainable.”

The study began about six months ago and will include a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether the economic benefit justifies the public expense for the project.

“There is a way for a private company to pursue dredging in a federal channel outside their waters, but it’s  pretty difficult to do,” Stubbs said. “In order for (the Corps) to dredge it and maintain it, there has to be some public interest involved.”

VALERIE GARMAN|News Herald Writer|December 4, 2014

FWC, partners see ultimate coral reef-building success

Researchers at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) observed transplanted nursery-raised staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) spawning for the first time this month at Tropical Rocks, just over 4 miles offshore of Marathon. These corals were supplied by the Coral Restoration Foundation and Mote Marine Lab nurseries and outplanted by the FWC. The project was made possible by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act via The Nature Conservancy.

The FWC, in collaboration with the Conservancy and other American Recovery and Reinvestment Act partners, began construction on the Middle Keys coral nursery in late 2009 but suffered setbacks due to a coldwater kill and, later, a warm-water bleaching event. The goal of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act project was to expand the current nurseries, develop new nurseries and outplant high numbers of nursery-grown corals throughout the Florida reef tract and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“This is the first time that we have seen staghorn coral spawning at the reef tract that included corals grown as part of our nursery program,” said Caitlin Lustic, coral recovery coordinator for the Conservancy in Florida. “This spawning event shows that outplanted corals have the ability to reproduce just like a natural colony and furthers our goal of creating breeding colonies of coral that can repopulate reefs on their own.”

The FWC and the Conservancy are reseeding coral reefs in efforts to aid recovery of wild staghorn populations. Staghorn coral contributes significantly to reef growth, island formation and coastal protection while providing essential habitat for a number of important reef fish.

“With this project, we developed excellent working relationships with the Conservancy and the rest of our partners,” said Kerry Maxwell, coral researcher with the FWC. “Together we boosted threatened staghorn populations and realized the ultimate goal of the project: spawning. Even though the project backed by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is complete, I anticipate we will all continue to collaborate toward the common goal of coral reef restoration.”

Can a Young Inventor Stop the Plague of Ocean “Ghost Net” Deaths?

There are ghosts in the ocean, and they claim millions of lives every year.

We’re talking about the lives of sea creatures like fish, turtles and marine mammals which become entangled in lost, discarded or abandoned fishing gear — especially netting. These nets are called “ghost nets” because they continue “fishing” even though no one will ever come to claim the creatures unfortunate enough to become trapped this way.

One Spanish engineering student has devised a way that could ensure no nets ever cause this problem on a long term basis again. His award-winning solution is marvelously simple in concept.

Alejandro Plasencia has created a biodegradable net that carries a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag. Called the Remora System, the netting is built to break down if left in the water for four years. Watch a video about the Remora System here:

“The ghost net and plastic soup phenomena threaten the way of life for many populations, so it’s a problem we were very interested in tackling,” Plasencia told Dezeen magazine. Plasencia’s netting includes d2w, an additive that causes the strands of the net to degrade safely and in a nontoxic manner.

“We were inspired by symbiotic relationships in nature, like the remora fish that attaches to sharks’ skin and keeps it clean by eating parasites, feces and leftovers,” Plasencia added.

“Abandoned fishing nets are a source of the 100 million tons of waste that float in the sea,” according to Plasencia. “Before decomposing into thousand of plastic bits, these ‘ghost nets’ carry on capturing fish and marine mammals.”

Indeed, lost and abandoned netting can cause serious problems for many years if left in place. Whales, dolphins, sea turtles, rays and many fish become caught with no hope of escape. They eventually starve or become the target for other ocean creatures, who themselves can become entangled.

Ghost nets are among the greatest killers in our oceans, and not only because of their numbers. Literally hundreds of kilometers of nets get lost every year and due to the nature of the materials used to produce these nets they can and will keep fishing for multiple decades, possibly even for several centuries.

Part of the ghost net problem stems from what it takes to properly dispose of old netting. Some countries charge fees to fishing operations that need to get rid of nets because it’s a lot of plastic that needs to be appropriately dealt with. Those sometimes hefty fees can lead the more unscrupulous fishermen to just abandon their old netting out in the open ocean.

Why must Remora netting last as long as four years? It’s a question of economics for users. Nets have to function as intended and provide a useful life cycle before they must be replaced. Fishermen will want netting that is strong enough to make their investment in this product cost effective.

The point of the Remora System is to help users find and remove their lost netting if possible. If fishermen realize they can’t find their netting, they employ the system’s associated smartphone app. The app tracks the RFID tag, guiding the fishermen to the exact location of the lost net. They can pull it aboard, fix it and deploy it again.

The “backup plan,” if you will, comes into play if the net remains abandoned or lost. When a Remora net sits in the water for a long time, up to four years, it will safely break down. At this point, future threats of entanglement disappear and the netting doesn’t add to the ocean’s exploding “plastic soup” problem.

Even better, fishermen still using regular netting can employ the system’s RFID tags and the app to monitor and find their gear if it goes astray.

“We looking for a very simple, cheap, small unobtrusive piece of technology which could enter the system and make a huge difference,” Plasencia told Dezeen magazine.

The Remora System won the national-level Dyson Award for Spain and was a finalist in the international-level competition in 2014. The annual James Dyson Award recognizes and rewards engineering students’ ground-breaking ideas, with the intent to “ignite young people’s interest in engineering.”

Hats off to the young man who wants to do something truly helpful to fight two battles — the war against plastic refuse in the ocean and the war on ghost net deaths. Alejandro Plasencia recognized a serious problem and came up with a simple but effective solution.

He’s winning awards. With luck, he’ll also win converts that will enable the Remora System and similar inventions to protect the ocean’s ecosystems around the world.

Susan Bird|December 9, 2014

Good News in Atlantic Stewardship for Sustainable Tuna

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) has created a strong and balanced Final Rule that will reduce the waste of Bluefin tuna and support the long-term sustainability of the U.S. Atlantic bluefin tuna fishery.  The Final Amendment 7 to the 2006 Consolidated Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan was recently released, implementing regulations to commence January 1. 

This is a strong and balanced Final Rule. The new, improved, bluefin tuna fishery includes a suite of responsible management measures that work together to protect areas of high bluefin abundance, significantly reduce and control incidental catch of bluefin overall, and improve data collection and monitoring of the U.S. Atlantic bluefin fishery.

Management of the most magnificent and mercurial fish in the sea is NOAA’s Fisheries greatest challenge.  Seven different ways of taking tuna must be regulated across six different calendar seasons from the Gulf of Mexico to the Gulf of Maine, swallowed by a changing ocean.

Please comment and add your voice to others on the bluefin tuna blog posting: Atlantic Stewardship for Sustainable Tuna.

Wildlife and Habitat

A 31-year Study of Loggerhead Nesting Signals the Alarm on Beach Erosion and Climate Change

Over the period of 31 years, the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Florida has had an estimated 358,243 turtle nests laid on its beach. As reported in an article in the most recent issue of Chelonian Conservation and Biology, the Carr Refuge has been one of the most important areas for loggerhead nesting in the entire Western Hemisphere, and their survival my hinge on preventing beach erosion, which appears to be the biggest factor in egg survival.

The central east coast of Florida is home to one of the largest nesting grounds of loggerhead turtles in the Western hemisphere. Over the period of 31 years, the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge has had an estimated 358,243 turtle nests laid on its beach. This refuge spans some 21 km, of which, 34.5% is publicly owned, 49.8% is residential, 12.6% is commercial, and the remaining 3.1% are small gaps used for public beach access.

An article in the journal Chelonian Conservation and Biology presents data from 1982 to 2012, showing the sea turtle reproduction trends of this area; this is one of the longest, continuous datasets available for sea turtle nesting. The authors show that for over 31 years, the Carr Refuge has been one of the most important areas for loggerhead nesting in the entire Western Hemisphere, and their survival my hinge on preventing beach erosion, which appears to be the biggest factor in egg survival.

The researchers studied hundreds of loggerhead nests and made six classifications of egg-fate: (1) preyed upon by raccoons, (2) eaten by ghost crabs, (3) washed out by erosion, (4) spoiled, (5) prematurity, and (6) a set of other factors (e.g., pipped eggs, infertile eggs, live and dead hatchlings, and infiltration by plant roots). Ultimately, erosion was the main reason that eggs did not reach full maturation.

The authors believe that given the egg-fate tied to erosion, a plan of action needs to be put in place to guard against the pending effects of climate change. Given that the sea level has risen 146 mm in 112 years, and continues to rise at a more rapid pace, the erosion of beaches will also continue more rapidly. This may cause the 49.8% of residential and 12.6% of commercial properties to reinforce their structures on the refuge. Armoring these properties would be disastrous for the habitat. A strategic plan could help prevent this and tackle the problem of naturally occurring erosion issues as well.

Lawrence, KS|(PRWEB)|December 08, 2014

Africa’s Giraffes Are Quietly Disappearing

While conservationists have been ringing alarm bells around the world calling for the protection of charismatic animals like elephants, rhinos and big cats who are disappearing at staggering rates, Africa has yet another iconic species who is in danger of disappearing and in desperate need of attention.

As recently as the late 1990s, there were more than an estimated 140,000 giraffes in Africa roaming 21 countries across the continent, but despite their towering stature as the tallest mammal in the world and seeming prevalence, they have been quietly disappearing from the landscape over the last decade with little fanfare.

According to new research from the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF), their numbers have dropped more than 40 percent over the last 15 years leaving only an estimated 80,000 individuals, but their decline has gone largely unnoticed by the world until now. While researchers don’t want to diminish the threat to elephants, or other species, they note that by comparison there are still 450,000 African elephants left in the wild.

“People love giraffes but they are taken for granted,” Dr. Julian Fennessy, executive director of the GCF, told the Daily Express. “The population has crashed. It’s a silent extinction. People assume they are everywhere and that they are the same across the continent.”

Unfortunately for this species, that’s not the case. Currently, giraffes, who have nine distinct subspecies based on genetics and geographic location, are listed as a species of least concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, but two subspecies – the West African giraffe and the Rothschild giraffe – have recently had their statuses changed to endangered.

Overall, they face the usual suspects when it comes to causes of species loss including habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation and conflicts with humans, in addition to poaching. Giraffes are killed for their meat and parts, but according to ABC News, a relatively new, and false, belief that consuming their brains and bone marrow can cure HIV/AIDS has added to the threats they now face.

Scientists note that our perception that they’re not in trouble and a lack of research have helped keep them off the radar when it comes to species we should be concerned about.

“I think they’re just overlooked,” David O’Connor, research coordinator with the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research, told Scientific American. “They’re so pervasive. Giraffes are everywhere. Look at kids’ books, which are full of giraffes. They’re always in zoo collections. They’re easily visible, so you don’t think we have to worry about them. But we do.”

Now, Fennessy, who is also co-chair of the the IUCN Giraffe & Okapi Specialist Group, and other researchers are putting together data on giraffe numbers to create an accurate census that they expect to publish next year. They hope more information will help raise awareness about the giraffe’s plight and lead to changes in their status that could help protect them.

So far efforts that have focused on protecting them have panned out. In the 1990s the population of the West African giraffe, who lives only in Niger, had dwindled down to a mere 50 individuals but laws banning hunting and poaching and partnerships with local communities are helping them start to rebound.

Hopefully new research and efforts from the conservation community focused on bringing giraffes into the spotlight and increasing protection can help keep these fascinating creatures from vanishing from our world.

For more info on work being done to protect them, visit the Giraffe Conservation Foundation.

Alicia Graef|December 9, 2014

Killing Wolves May Have a Reverse Effect on Livestock Populations

When humans decimated wolf populations, the idea was that farmers would no longer lose sheep and other livestock to the dog-like predators. But that horribly backfired, a new study has recently found.

Looking at 25 years of data, a group of researchers from Washington State University found that more livestock died when wolves were getting culled. It sounds counter-intuitive, but it turns out that for each wolf killed, the chances of a sheep getting killed rises by 4 percent and the chances of cattle getting killed increases by 5 to 6 percent.

“Livestock lobbyists are pretty much vehemently opposed to my research,” Rob Wielgus, one of the lead researchers, told the New York Times. “But in terms of hard science, it stood the test.”

Back in the 70′s the gray wolf was listed as endangered. It took more than 30 years for the wolves to recover, and lethal population control continues to be the primary method for protecting livestock. Killing wolves breaks up wolf packs, which disrupts the general trend of more mature breeding pairs stopping younger wolves from breeding. With all the killings, researchers suspect there are more young breeding pairs with less disciplined wolves. Put simply, killing wolves inadvertently increases their populations.

The reality is, wolves don’t account for most livestock deaths. In fact, they only account for 0.1 to 0.6 percent of deaths. Other predators, disease and birthing are all greater threats. It might be time to look for different solutions, like guard dogs, better livestock security and more people watching over herds.

This post originally appeared on TreeHugger.

Manon Verchot|TreeHugger

Forestry

Naturalist and Dragon join Prince Charles in tackling deforestation

Wildlife television presenter Steve Backshall and top businesswoman Deborah Meaden from the television program Dragon’s Den have joined The Prince of Wales in calling for businesses to help protect the world’s forests.

At an event organised by WWF, Prince Charles met with representatives from some of the UK’s most successful companies, including Boots, Kingfisher and Kimberly-Clark, to discuss how they could help reduce the amount of wood products sourced illegally and from unsustainable resource’s.

“Forests are vital to the life of our planet – one billion people around the world depend on them for their livelihoods and they are home to well over half the world’s terrestrial species,” said Steve Backshall.

“We all need to learn to respect the forest resources we have and use them responsibly. That starts with making sure that the wood products we all use here in the UK come from legal and sustainable sources.”
The UK is the world’s fifth largest importer of wood-based products, consuming materials valued at over £14.4 billion in 2013. The goal is to achieve a market that allows businesses to flourish without impacting on the world’s remaining forests, which are currently disappearing at a rate of one football pitch every two seconds. Global demand for wood is expected to triple by 2050, meaning businesses could see their supply chains severely challenged if they do not act now.

Deborah Meaden, WWF Ambassador, said: “It makes business sense for leading businesses to work together to reach solutions that ensure the long-term supply of a resource on which they, as well as nature, depend. These businesses need forests, and forests need them.”

Canada’s Grandest Rainforest, the Upper Walbran Valley, at Risk from Old-Growth Logging

One of Canada’s most iconic and grandest old-growth temperate rainforests is under threat as signs of potential logging have been discovered in the heart of the Upper Walbran Valley on Vancouver Island.  Ancient Forest Alliance (AFA) activists TJ Watt and Jackie Korn recently documented survey tape marked “Falling Boundary” and “Road Location” in the Central Walbran Ancient Forest, one of the last, largely-intact sections of the unprotected portion of the valley. At this time, the company has not applied for any cutting permits or road building permits from the Ministry of Forests, but the fact that they are surveying the area shows their potential interest in logging there. The Upper Walbran Valley is on southern Vancouver Island near the town of Port Renfrew on Crown lands in Pacheedaht territory, and is being logged by the Teal Jones Group and Western Forest Products.

See the Ancient Forest Alliance’s article in the  Vancouver Observer: Canada’s grandest old-growth rainforest at risk from logging, survey tape discovered
http://www.vancouverobserver.com/news/canada-s-grandest-old-growth-rainforest-risk-logging-survey-tape-discovered?page=0,0

Florida’s Longleaf Pine Forests: a Southern treasure

These rich and vital forests once blanketed the Southeast but today less than 5 percent remains.

Species-rich longleaf pine forests once stretched across the South, nearly unbroken, from Virginia to Florida to Texas. Today less than 5 percent remains of the 90-million acre original system, which included open pine savannas with a lush understory of native grasses and groundcover.

Four of the very best remnants are in Florida’s Panhandle and continue down to the Ocala-Wekiva region. They host a remarkably diverse plant and animal community that includes some 300 bird and 2,500 plant species. Many of them depend upon a forest structure that is maintained by a frequent fire cycle.

Our remaining longleaf pine system faces many threats: fragmentation, development, improper management, and conversion to other planted pine species that don’t harbor as many species, provide lower-quality timber, require more water, and are less adapted to resist catastrophic loss due to fire, storms and forest pests.

The Nature Conservancy has begun a massive project – working across seven states in partnership with many agencies and organizations – to protect, restore and expand the forests. Our goal is to grow the ecosystem to 8 million acres by 2024. This will require land protection, thoughtful land use planning and state-of-the-art stewardship.

As part of this effort, we lead two of four Local Implementation Teams, the Apalachicola Regional Stewardship Alliance and Ocala LITs, coordinating restoration and maintenance work on public and private lands in cooperation with partners.

We collaborate regularly with the U.S. Forest Service; all three of Florida’s national forests include important stands of prime pine habitat. We’ll keep you informed.

Victory: California’s “Redwood Curtain” Saved From Highway Project

Following years of opposition from the Center and allies, the California Department of Transportation has withdrawn its controversial highway-widening project that would endanger ancient redwood trees in Richardson Grove State Park, a beautiful old-growth forest in Northern California.

Richardson Grove, often called the “Redwood Curtain,” is the first old-growth forest travelers encounter driving north along Highway 101 in Humboldt County. It’s crucial habitat for numerous rare species and an irreplaceable landmark. But Caltrans wanted to cut into the roots of ancient redwoods to widen the highway to allow massive trucks through the quiet grove — endangering both trees and forest dwellers.

The Center for Biological Diversity and our partners have sued three times, forcing Caltrans to reevaluate its scheme — and now, after a 2014 suit, the agency has rescinded its most recent proposal.

The Center is ready to go back to court if Caltrans revives the project.

Read more in The Press Democrat.

Wind offers a healthy way to generate power

There’s no free ride when it comes to generating energy. Even the cleanest sources have environmental consequences. Materials for all power-generating facilities have to be obtained and transported, and infrastructure must be built, maintained and eventually decommissioned. Wind turbines take up space and can harm wildlife. Hydro floods agricultural land and alters water cycles.

That’s why conservation is the best way to reduce energy-consumption impacts. Reductions in energy use and investment in energy-efficiency technologies are so significant that the International Energy Agency refers to conservation as the “first fuel”.

No matter how good we get at conserving, though, we’ll always need energy, so we must find ways to employ the least damaging technologies and reduce negative effects. We know the world’s preferred, and currently cheapest, method to generate power — burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas — is the most destructive, causing pollution, global warming and massive environmental damage during extraction, transport, refining and use. And supplies are becoming more difficult to obtain and will eventually run out.

In contrast, wind power doesn’t create pollution or global warming emissions, is affordable and will never run out. Improvements to power-generation capacity, efficiency and affordability will continue to boost its importance in the energy mix. But we must ensure turbines are installed in locations and using methods that reduce negative impacts on humans and wildlife.

Thanks to ongoing research and testing, wind power has come a long way in a relatively short time. Wildlife behaviour studies, along with technological improvements, have significantly reduced harm to birds and bats, and better siting has reduced impacts on other wildlife and habitat. Wind power generation is far safer for birds, bats and other animals than burning fossil fuels.

But what about wind power’s effects on humans, a key argument used by opponents? Turbines, especially older ones, can be noisy, and some people find them unsightly — although I prefer the sight of wind farms to smokestacks and smog. Many problems can be addressed by locating quieter turbines far enough from human habitation to reduce impacts.

As for health effects, a recent comprehensive Health Canada study confirms previous research: Although people report being annoyed by wind turbines, there’s no measurable association between wind turbine noise and sleep disturbance and disorders, illnesses and chronic health conditions, or stress and quality-of-life issues. A 2013 Australian report concluded people living near wind installations where anti-wind campaigns were active were more likely to report health problems, suggesting some issues may be psychological.

Health Canada says more research may be needed and we shouldn’t downplay the annoyance factor. Again, improvements in technology and proper siting will help overcome many problems. And there’s no doubt that fossil fuel development and use — from bitumen mining, deep-sea drilling, mountaintop removal and fracking to wasteful burning in single-user vehicles — are far more annoying and damaging to human health than wind power and other renewable-energy technologies.

Wind energy is also becoming more affordable and reliable. Denmark gets 34 per cent of its electricity from wind and Spain 21 per cent, making wind their largest electricity source. Portugal gets more than 20 per cent, Ireland 16 and Germany nine per cent. All have much higher population densities than Canada. Overall, wind power contributes about four per cent to worldwide electricity generation.

Improvements in grid and storage technologies also mean wind and other renewable technologies are increasingly feasible and desirable, especially as costs continue to drop. Investing in wind and other renewable energy is also good for jobs and the economy and can create greater stability in energy pricing than relying on volatile fossil fuel markets.

Total global investment in wind energy in 2012 was more than $80 billion, creating 670,000 jobs. According to a Blue Green Canada report, investing the $1.3 billion the oil industry gets in annual federal taxpayer subsidies in renewable energy and conservation could create 18,000 to 20,000 jobs, compared to fewer than 3,000 in oil and gas. And we can’t ignore the many related cost impacts of fossil fuel development, from health-care to infrastructure.

To reduce global greenhouse gas emissions at a pace and scale that experts agree is necessary to avoid increasing catastrophic effects of global warming, we need a mix of renewable energy. Wind power will play a large role.

By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation’s Senior Editor Ian Hanington.

Global Warming and Climate Change

We’ll Feel Today’s Carbon Emissions Sooner Than You Think

Convincing people to tackle climate change immediately is a hard sell given its delayed and gradual effects. It’s selfish to dismiss global warming as something future generations will have to tackle, but it’s also human nature. Scientists have found that this attitude is foolish, though, and not just from a human survival standpoint. The latest numbers show that the carbon we emit today will wreak havoc just ten years from now.

Previous conventional wisdom was that it takes decades if not centuries for carbon to reach its peak state of destructiveness. Not true, says the latest study. What you pollute today will cause direct problems in a single decade.

The Carnegie research team noticed an often-ignored variable in climate science projections. Looking specifically at how long it takes for a specific emission to contribute to raising the temperature in the most recent climate models, they saw that effects can be felt much sooner than scientists had assumed.

In other words, people who pollute in the present day will not avoid the consequences of their own carbon emissions as they might have been led to believe. It’s karma in action, which is kind of nice to hear. Then again, it’s obviously bad news for the longevity of the human race.

The researchers hope this study will have the opposite effect by helping to encourage national leaders to take action now rather than delaying tough decisions for future generations. “If we avoid an emission, we avoid heating that would otherwise occur this decade,” said Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie research team. “This will benefit us and not just our grandchildren. This realization could help break the political logjam over policies designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Of course, that’s not to say that our grandchildren won’t suffer worse than us – that still seems inevitable. But if today’s polluters think they’ll be dead before things get bad, they’re kidding themselves. Every reduction in carbon emissions will benefit themselves in the not-too-distant future. Hopefully, that immediacy will impact how we make decisions in the meantime.

Thus far, scientific consensus about a dire future has done little to motivate people toward the aggressive stances necessary to rescue the planet. Certainly, the understanding that carpooling, shopping local, and converting to renewable energies will result in a more pleasant life for you in a matter of years and not just for your hypothetical grandchildren down the road could prove to be a better motivator. If it takes selfishness to encourage contemporary society to be proactive in making environmentally smart choices, so be it.

Kevin Mathews|December 7, 2014

Sea level rise threatening Kennedy Space Center in Florida

ORLANDO, Fla. (Reuters) – Rising seas and pounding waves driven by climate change are chipping away at the coast near the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, threatening launch pads and future operations, scientists said on Friday.

“There’s reason to be nervous now because the problem is so obvious,” Peter Adams, a geology professor at the University of Florida, told Reuters.

Adams and fellow University of Florida geologist John Jaeger released their findings on a day when the space center on Florida’s east coast was celebrating a successful first test launch of the Orion capsule designed to one day fly astronauts to Mars.

Nancy Bray, director of Kennedy Space Center operations, said in a University of Florida news release, “We do consider sea level rise and climate change to be urgent.”

Bray added that NASA’s plans for dealing with climate change included a “managed retreat” in which it will move infrastructure, potentially including launch pads, as needed.

Florida coastal communities could experience about a 2-foot (60-cm) rise in sea level by 2060, the U.S. Geological Survey has previously said. The two main causes are the volume of water added to oceans from glacial melt and the expansion of that water from rising sea temperatures.

The U.S. space agency already has erected a line of manmade dunes to replace eroded natural ones that historically protected the shoreline between launch pads 39A and 39B used by the space shuttle and Apollo missions.

“Without that secondary dune line, we could have saltwater intrusion at the launch pad,” Bray said.

A series of storms including Tropical Storm Fay in 2008, Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012 washed away the protective dunes, Adams said, allowing waves to crest over an old and little-used space center train track.

A parallel road built over electrical power lines and liquid gas fuel lines could be next, Adams said.

Bray said NASA also has developed a plan for dealing with potential effects of climate change at the Wallops Island Flight Facility in Virginia.

Barbara Liston| Reuters|December 5, 2014|Editing by David Adams and Will Dunham

Warming Seas Drive Rapid Acceleration of Melting Antarctic Ice

As warm ocean water rises up to melt them, glaciers around the Amundsen Sea are losing half a Mount Everest a year.

Melting Antarctic glaciers that are large enough to raise worldwide sea level by more than a meter are dropping a Mount Everest’s worth of ice into the sea every two years, according to a study released this week.

A second study, published Thursday in the journal Science, helps explain the accelerating ice melt: Warm ocean water is melting the floating ice shelves that hold back the glaciers.

The two new pieces of research come as officials of the World Meteorological Organization announced Wednesday that 2014 is on track to be the warmest year on record.

Scientists have long worried that the West Antarctic ice sheet is a place where climate change might tip toward catastrophe. The ice sheet holds enough water to raise sea level by 16 feet (5 meters). The region along the Amundsen Sea is the sheet’s soft underbelly, where the ice is most vulnerable. (See “Rising Seas” in National Geographic magazine.)

Earlier this year, researchers at the University of California, Irvine and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory reported that the glaciers flowing into the Amundsen Sea—notably the Pine Island and Thwaites Glaciers—were already doomed to collapse, and at the current rate of melting would be gone in 200 years. A study released Tuesday by members of the same team, published in Geophysical Research Letters, confirms those troubling measurements with ones made by other researchers using a total of four different techniques.

The study shows that ice loss from the Amundsen Sea glaciers has accelerated sharply over the past two decades. Between 2003 and 2011 it averaged an eye-popping 102 billion metric tons every year. Mount Everest—rocks, ice, and all—weighs approximately 161 billion metric tons. (See also West Antarctica Glaciers Collapsing, Adding to Sea-Level Rise.)

The decline is driven less by melting on the surface or changes in snowfall, and more by a speeding up of the glaciers’ journey to the ocean, the scientists concluded. In some cases, glaciers reached speeds of more than a third of a mile in a year as they approached the Amundsen Sea, where they either merge into a floating ice shelf, or fall into the water and become icebergs.

The momentum behind this moving ice means the glacier loss is unlikely to stop any time soon, said University of California, Irvine geophysicist Isabella Velicogna, one of the authors of the new study. Velicogna likened the process to a ball at the top of a hill. “Once you give the first push, the ball just keeps rolling,” she said.

Warming Ocean, Melting Ice

The study published today in Science provides a reason why this conveyer belt of ice might be accelerating. A team led by oceanographer Sunke Schmidtko of the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Germany found that the shallow waters in the Amundsen and nearby Bellingshausen Seas have been warming over the last three decades.

Warming ocean water has been a prime suspect for the decline of ice in the West Antarctic. Massive floating ice shelves there act like a cork, bottling up the ice sheets and glaciers behind them on land. Turn up the temperature in this water bath, and the ice shelves start melting faster, loosening the cork.

This study offers new clues about how that’s happening. Merging a variety of data sets, along with their own observations, the researchers found that deep and relatively warm ocean water known as Circumpolar Deep Water has warmed at a rate of roughly .1 degree Celsius per decade (.18 degree Fahrenheit) since 1975 around most of the continent. That’s thought to be tied to broader climate change that’s pouring extra heat into the oceans, Schmidtko said.

At the same time, this warmer water has been shoaling, or rising closer to the surface, in many spots. In some cases it has risen more than 330 feet (100 meters ) in two decades, reaching depths of 1,000 feet (300 meters).

While one-tenth of a degree might not sound like much, it requires a tremendous amount of heat energy to warm that much water—and that heat can then help melt ice that comes in contact with the water, Schmidtko said.

How far that warmer water encroaches toward ice shelves varies around the continent, a difference that appears to be driven by the wind. As easterly winds blow counterclockwise around Antarctica, they create a current of cold water that acts like a wall, blocking much of the warmer water from getting up to the shallow ocean bottom beneath the ice, Schmidtko said. But those winds have shifted or weakened along the continent’s western edge, making the current weaker and opening the door for warmer water to reach the ice. It’s not yet clear what has caused this change, Schmidtko said.

He and his colleagues found worrying signs that the accelerated melting could spread to bigger glaciers elsewhere on Antarctica. Warm water in the southern Weddell Sea has risen from around 766 yards (700 meters) below the surface in the 1980s to approximately 383 yards (350 meters) after 2010, the scientists found. The ice shelves there connect to glacier systems more massive than the one in the Amundsen Sea. Melting there could cause sea levels to rise up to 10 feet (3 meters).

“If this shoaling rate continues, there is a very high likelihood the warm water will reach the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf, with consequences which are huge,” Schmidt said.

Current predictions of sea level rise may understate the risk because they don’t accurately take into account this shoaling of warm water in the Antarctic, said Sarah Gille, an oceanographer at the University of California, San Diego, who wasn’t involved in the study. “This is really driving at the core of our uncertainty about the future of places where people live around the coast,” she said.

Warren Cornwall|National Geographic|December 4, 2014

As tides rise higher, can mangroves hold on? Researchers dig in to find out

BOGOR, Indonesia—Where tropical forests meet the sea, you’ll often find mangroves, which harbor unique wildlife and store large amounts of carbon.

If that wasn’t enough, a project conducted by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) seeks to show how they could also be protecting our coastlines against rising sea levels.

As climate change leads to global sea-level rise, mangroves’ adaptability could be hugely beneficial. Yet, despite playing a key ecological role in climate change adaptation, mangroves are being lost at a loss rate equivalent to more than 45,000 football pitches each year.“In Indonesia at the moment, we have 2.6 million hectares,” said Daniel Murdiyarso, a principal scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and one of the leaders of the project. “It used to be around 4.5 million hectares in the 1980s. So in the past 30 years, we have lost 40 percent-plus area of mangroves—meaning that the deforestation, or the loss rate, is more than 50,000 hectares a year,” he said.

To help safeguard what the UN has called “one of the most threatened ecosystems on the planet,” CIFOR has set up a project to collect much-needed data on these areas across Southeast Asia.

The scientists are using the “rod surface elevation table marker horizon set method,” known as RSET, that enables them to monitor rates of soil accretion in mangrove forests. To do this, the team must install a series of rods into mangroves’ muddy soil to act as markers against which surface elevation change can be measured.

This may sound simple, but it’s grueling, dirty work in some of the most remote, inaccessible forests in the world. In the video above, the team battles mud and tides to carry out their fieldwork in Bintuni Bay, Papua, Indonesia.

BY Sophie Furnival|1 Dec 2014

Rising ocean floods threaten $10 billion in Texas

Coastal communities throughout Texas will likely experience extreme floods topping 5 feet above the high-tide line by midcentury, and see records broken from Freeport to Corpus Christi. That is the threat under multiple sea level rise scenarios presented in a new report released by Climate Central. At risk are some 37,000 homes, $9.6 billion of property, and 1,600 miles of road on more than 1,000 square miles of land.

More than 1 in 6 homes are threatened at 5 feet in Galveston County, 1 in 5 in Aransas County, and nearly 1 in 4 in Jefferson County, illustrating a threat that confronts the entire Texas coast. Exposure balloons past 175,000 homes by 10 feet, a flood level likely in most coastal areas by end of century under a rapid sea level rise scenario.

“Sea level rise means more floods, reaching higher – and that’s already happening today,” said Dr. Benjamin Strauss, study lead and Climate Central’s vice president for climate impacts. “In Texas, one big concern is the integrity of coastal energy infrastructure, and another is the potential for contamination if petrochemical facilities flood.”

The Plan to Get Climate-Change Denial Into Schools

Activists are pushing educators to teach that human-caused global warming is an opinion—rather than a fact—by issuing textbook ratings of their own.

“As the amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases increase, the Earth warms. Scientists warn that climate change, caused by this warming, will pose challenges to society.”

That language—featured in a fifth-grade Texas social studies textbook from Pearson Education—is exactly the kind of global-warming alarmism that Emily McBurney wants to protect schoolchildren from.

McBurney was a lot happier with an earlier version of the textbook that said, “Scientists disagree about what is causing climate change.” But the publisher cut the material amid pressure from groups like the National Center for Science Education.

The edited educational material, McBurney says, amounts to “a one-sided global-warming climate-change agenda.”

McBurney is a member of the Truth in Texas Textbooks coalition, a volunteer-run organization of more than 100 activists that wants global warming to be taught as an opinion rather than fact.

“If you’re a car salesman and you have a car that has bad ratings, that car is not going to sell,” says Roy White, the founder of Truth in Texas Textbooks and a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel. “That is what is going to happen with these books.”

To shape climate curriculum, the coalition plans to rate textbooks as “good,” “acceptable,” “poor,” or “worse.” The group will score books on an array of subjects—and any educational material that treats global warming as settled science is guaranteed to get low marks.

“We have created a tool so that now people will have a sense of which books are best for their kids.”

Truth in Texas Textbooks formed last year to shape how climate change and scores of other topics are taught. It has no political or religious affiliation but organizers recruit volunteers through tea-party networks and church groups—as well as teachers associations, Rotary clubs, and other civic organizations—and have accused publishers of creating textbooks with an “anti-Christian” and “anti-American” bias.

Teaching that the global-warming theory is controversial reflects public opinion, as there is a sharp divide over the connection between human activity and Earth’s evolving climate. But that approach is sharply at odds with climate scientists, who nearly universally believe the former is driving the latter.

Textbooks are often the first conduit between climate science and young people. The books that the Texas truth coalition is fighting over are expected to be used by more than 5 million Texas public school students for at least a decade. Texas is also the second-largest market for textbooks behind California, and publishers often peddle best-selling Texas textbooks in other states.

And that’s not all: The coalition’s system of rating textbooks could soon spread beyond Texas. White says that activists in California, Florida, Indiana, Maine, Nevada, Ohio, Utah, and Wisconsin have already contacted the coalition to learn how they can create their own rating system.

Advocacy groups giving grades to Texas textbooks is not novel: A conservative Christian organization called Educational Research Analysts has been rating educational material in the state since the 1960s. The group questions scientific evidence for evolution and supports education that promotes abstinence until marriage. Educational Research Analysts also has ties to the Texas truth coalition: Its president, Neal Frey, advised White as he worked to get Truth in Texas Textbooks off the ground.

But Educational Research Analysts hasn’t worked on climate science, which is a targeted area for Truth in Texas Textbooks.

So far, however, the group has struggled. The coalition faced a setback when the Texas Board of Education voted last month to adopt new social-studies textbooks for public schools. Ahead of the vote, major publishers—including McGraw-Hill and Pearson—stripped out passages that cast doubt on climate change. The revisions followed fierce criticism of the content from groups like the Texas Freedom Network, a left-leaning advocacy group that pushes for man-made global warming to be taught in the books, and Climate Parents, an organization dedicated to teaching climate science.

“Administrators and teachers who make the purchasing decisions will see right through the nonsense.”

Eighty-nine new social-studies textbooks have now been approved in the state. But school districts have a lot of leeway over exactly which books to buy, a series of decisions that they’re slated to make this spring.

The coalition sees that policy as an opportunity. It plans to send out a report to school districts detailing the grades assigned to each book. Volunteers are also gearing up to distribute their ratings among concerned-citizens groups and parent-teacher organizations.

“We have created a tool so that now people will have a sense of which books are best for their kids,” White says.

Still, options for altering climate curriculum are limited. None of the approved textbooks that will be used in classrooms next fall dispute the scientific consensus that man-made climate change is underway.

The coalition is working to encourage publishers to make last-minute changes before the books go to print this fall. Barring that, volunteers hope public pressure will inspire teachers to teach climate controversy even if textbooks do not mandate that approach.

“Children are so vulnerable in their younger years and what they hear they believe is truth,” said Karin Gililland, another volunteer with the coalition. “Truth is what this is all about. We want truth.”

Emily McBurney echoed that concern: “I’m afraid that [teaching climate change] is instilling fear in children at a very young age that either we’re going to run out of something or over-pollute the Earth. I didn’t want them to come away with the wrong impression of America.”

But opponents of the coalition insist that teaching the controversy and not the consensus on climate change will lead to devastating consequences.

“Whether climate change is real and caused by humans is not scientifically disputed, and textbooks or teachers who pretend that it is would be mis-educating students,” said Josh Rosenau, the programs and policy director for the National Center for Science Education.

Dan Quinn, a spokesman for the Texas Freedom Network, doubts the coalition will gain traction. He called their reviews “amateurish” and “overtly political” and believes “school administrators and teachers who make the purchasing decisions will see right through the nonsense.”

Volunteers with the coalition remain optimistic and determined to achieve their aim.

“This is just the beginning,” McBurney said. “We’re hoping to spread the word throughout the United States, throughout the world.”

Clare Foran|Dec 8 2014

December 12, 2014 | 5:48 PM

COP20 in Brief, from Lima, Peru

While the picture of exactly where we stand on a climate deal in 2015 is still coming into focus, there are two clear takeaways

Negotiators have just wrapped up two weeks of talks at the 20th Conference of the Parties (COP20) in Lima, and while the picture of exactly where we stand on a climate deal in 2015 is still coming into focus, there are two clear takeaways. First, this has been a critical two weeks with many reasons for #ClimateHope and signs that the tide is finally turning in our favor. Second, we have a lot of work to do between now and December 2015 to get the agreement we need.

Cast Your Vote:

What’s the most important step to reaching a climate agreement in 2015?

Overcoming public apathy with good news about the solutions we have available today.

Vote

Ensuring the US enacts carbon cutting policies to show the world we’re serious about action.

Vote

Mobilize communities worldwide to show grassroots support for strong commitments.

Vote

Activating those most affected by climate change to become a vital force in stopping it.

Vote

Though completely capturing every development at COP20 could easily stretch to the length of War and Peace, we wanted to share several stories that point to key signs of progress we saw in Lima – and the challenges we face in the year ahead.

1. The US is back as a force for climate progress. After years as a pariah in the international climate community, the US put its money where its mouth was and agreed a historic deal with China on emissions reduction last month. The result: the world noticed and Lima attendees even cheered US negotiators. It’s good to be back.

2. The Green Climate Fund hit its target. In 2009, developed nations established the Green Climate Fund to help developing nation adapt to the impacts of climate change and pursue paths of low-carbon development. The goal aims to reach $100 billion in annual public and private contributions by 2020, but the first real milestone was securing $10 billion in commitments by the end of this year. Led by a $3 billion pledge from the US, the fund reached its goal, with a $62 million pledge from Belgium taking it over the line. Many nations including Columbia and Peru also made contributions and even climate denier Tony Abbott’s Australia pledged $200 million.

3. Former US Vice President proved the #ClimateHope message inspires. Addressing negotiators, Vice President Gore posed two questions: “Must we change?”” and “Can we change?”” The answer: unequivocally yes – and more easily and affordably than ever before.

4. Developing nations demand more support from richer countries. One of the major obstacles to a comprehensive agreement in Paris is the level of support developed nations are willing to provide emerging economies to deal with climate change and forgo carbon-fueled development. In short, developed nations say the $10 billion Green Climate Fund is a start and developing nations say much more funding and clarity on its use is critical.

These are just some of the stories to have emerged from Lima, but they all point to the fact that 2015 could be a landmark year for climate action, if citizens around the world come together to compel their leaders to make bold commitments in Paris.

You’ve heard what world leaders have to say about the possibilities for Paris. Now we want to know what you think. Vote in the survey below and let us know your thoughts.

What’s the most important step to reaching a climate agreement next year?

     1. Overcoming public apathy with good news about the solutions we have today.

     2. Ensuring the US enacts bold policies to cut carbon pollution and show the      world we’re serious about action.

     3. Mobilizing communities worldwide to support strong commitments in Paris.

     4. Inspiring those most affected by climate change to get off the sidelines and into the action.

Climate Reality Project|December 12, 2014

Extreme Weather

Typhoon Hagupit Hits Philippines: Climate Catastrophe Is Here Now!

As Typhoon Hagupit hits the Philippines, one of the biggest peacetime evacuations in history has been launched to prevent a repeat of the massive loss of life which devastated communities when Super Typhoon Haiyan hit the same area just over a year ago.

“One of the biggest evacuations in peacetime” strikes a sickening chord. Is this peacetime or are we at war with nature?

hagupitEach year, the people of the Philippines learn the hard way what inaction on emissions mean. They might be slightly better prepared and more resilient, but they are also rightly more aghast that each year—at the same time—the climate meetings seem to continue in a vacuum, not prepared to take meaningful action, not able to respond to the urgency of our time and not holding accountable the Big Polluters that are causing the climate to change with ferocious pace. Photo credit: Greenpeace

I was about to head to Lima, when I got a call to come to the Philippines to support our office and its work around Typhoon Hagupit (which means lash). In Lima another round of the UN climate talks are underway to negotiate a global treaty to prevent catastrophic climate change. A truce of sorts with nature.

But these negotiations have been going on far too long, with insufficient urgency and too much behind the scenes, and not so much behind the scenes, interference from the fossil fuel lobby.

This year, like last year and the year before these negotiations take place against a devastating backdrop of a so-called ‘extreme weather event’, something that climate scientists have been warning us about if we don’t take urgent action.

Tragically, we are not taking urgent action. Nature does not negotiate, it responds to our intransigence. For the people of the Philippines, and in many other parts of the world, climate change is already a catastrophe.

Only one year ago, Super Typhoon Haiyan killed thousands, destroyed communities and caused billions of dollars in damage. Many survivors who are still displaced have this week had to evacuate the tents they have been living in as Typhoon Hagupit carves a path across the country as I write.

It’s too early to assess the impact so far—we are all hoping early indications will spare the Philippines of the same pain that was experienced after Haiyan.

Here in Manila, we prepare to travel to the impacted areas in the wake of Typhoon Hagupit, or Ruby, as it has been named. We will offer what minor assistance we can.

We will stand in solidarity with the Filipino people and we will call out those who are responsible for climate change, those who are responsible for the devastation and who should be helping pay for the clean up and for adaptation to a world in which our weather is an increasing source of mass destruction.

With heavy hearts we prepare to bear witness. We challenge those in Lima to turn their attention from the lethargy and process of the negotiations and pay attention to what is happening in the real world.

We call on them to understand that climate change is not a future threat to be negotiated but a clear and present danger that requires urgent action now!

Each year, the people of the Philippines learn the hard way what inaction on emissions mean. They might be slightly better prepared and more resilient, but they are also rightly more aghast that each year—at the same time—the climate meetings seem to continue in a vacuum, not prepared to take meaningful action, not able to respond to the urgency of our time and not holding accountable the Big Polluters that are causing the climate to change with ferocious pace.

Before leaving for Manila I also received a message from Yeb Saño, climate commissioner for the Philippines: “I hope you can join us as we bear witness to the impact of this new super typhoon. Your help would be very valuable in delivering a message to Lima loud and clear.”

Yeb was the Filipino chief negotiator for three years at the UN climate talks and recently visited the Arctic on a Greenpeace ship to witness the Arctic sea ice minimum. Two years ago in Doha, as Typhoon Pablo took the lives of many he broke through the normally reserved language of dispassionate diplomacy that dominates UN climate treaty talks:

“Please … let 2012 be remembered as the year the world found the courage to … take responsibility for the future we want. I ask of all of us here, if not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?”

Kumi Naidoo|December 7, 2014

Southern California gets ready for damaging storm
Roads flooded, power out for hundreds of thousands upstate

Strong gales and sheets of rain that knocked out electricity, flooded freeways and toppled trees in Northern California churned Thursday to a slide-prone Southern California bracing for its own beating.“It

’s a big storm, as we expected, and it’s headed south with very powerful winds and heavy rainfall,” National Weather Service meteorologist Will Pi said.

Its strong winds felled a tree in southern Oregon, killing a homeless man, 40-year-old Phillip Crosby, who was sleeping on a trail.

Los Angeles should expect rain by the end of the day. Already, one apartment complex in a spot prone to mudslides in Riverside was evacuated.

In the San Bernardino National Forest, lumber workers were loading concrete weights onto the stacks to keep them from blowing away and piling sandbags in front of their shop doors to stave off floodwater. “We’re getting ready this afternoon because it’s supposed to come in tonight,” said Jim Maddox, a worker at Rim Forest Lumber. “You expect the worse and hope for the best.” The San Bernardino Mountains have been hit by wildfires and were already doused by a storm last week, making them vulnerable to mud flows.

The Port of Los Angeles is ready to take on the storm, spokesman Phillip Sanfield said. “If heavy rains come, we’ve got construction crews to check on the docks; police can deal with flooding streets,” he said. Denise George, who sells boats in Marina Del Rey, worried mostly about the wind. “We make sure the halyards are secure, the canvasses are fastened so nothing gets blown off or opened up — so yes, we are battening down the hatches, for sure,” she said.

Martha Mendoza and Ellen Knickmeyer|Associated Press

Perfect storm of lunar tides and nor’easter takes chunk out of stretch of Northeast Florida shoreline

Rough surf with breakers up to 6 feet high pounded Northeast Florida shores Tuesday for the fifth consecutive day of a passing storm contributing to the worst and most widespread beach erosion that Beaches and St. Johns County officials said they’ve seen in a long time.

The nor’easter triggered erosion ranging from an estimated 3 feet to 10 feet at the beach communities in Duval County to up to 30 feet in spots along the St. Johns County coastline, city and county officials told the Times-Union.

St. Johns County appears to have suffered the brunt of the coastal storm that rolled into the region Friday. Erosion runs from 3 feet to 30 feet. The hardest hit areas are at opposite ends of the county, said Michael Ryan, county communications manager.

The North Beaches area between Vilano Beach and the Guana Reserve north of St. Augustine had significant erosion including 30 feet of beach washing away at one site in the south Ponte Vedra Beach area. Also experiencing significant erosion was Summer Haven, an area of homes along Old A1A in the southern-most tip of the county, Ryan said.

Ryan said authorities declared uninhabitable a vacant home in the 3500 block of Coastal Highway south of Ponte Vedra Beach because the beach eroded beneath it. It hasn’t fallen into the ocean, but is damaged and not structurally sound enough for the county to allow people to live in it, he said.

Pieces of Old A1A in Summer Haven have been falling into the ocean. County road and bridge crews have been working on Old A1A throughout the night for the past three days. In other areas, some beach crossovers, walkways and stairs “have been left suspended” by storm erosion, Ryan said.

“We’re still assessing the damage at this point,” Ryan said. County engineering staff as well as road and bridge and beach staff along with Emergency Management personnel have been going up and down the coast monitoring and evaluating the situation for the past few days.

“This has been an ongoing event for three days. We’re watching the weather patterns and the tides, and we do feel we’re on the back side of it now and kind of out of the woods. But we are still monitoring the situation,” Ryan said.

On Monday, the county declared a local state of emergency due to coastal storm erosion. Evaluations by county engineers and representatives from other state agencies determined recent severe wind, lunar tides and high waves have caused erosion that poses an immediate threat of property damage to structures. That declaration allows officials to expedite the process for residents to get permits to fortify their beach homes against the potential coastal storm damage.

The cost of the clean-up, repairs and mitigation to offset the erosion hasn’t been calculated as yet. Because it wasn’t a named storm, St. Johns doesn’t qualify for any federal dollars, county officials said.

In Atlantic Beach, Neptune Beach and Jacksonville Beach, city officials said they received no reports of damage to homes or businesses because of beach erosion. However, erosion is significant in some areas.

“We lost a good 3 feet of beach,” estimated Neptune Beach Mayor Harriet Pruette, noting the erosion began gradually Friday but “the big jump” was Monday.

Rough and high seas continued to batter the shore Tuesday morning. During high tide, the waves surged up to the dunes leaving a sharp drop-off at the end of city beach walkovers and public access points, and surrounding some private beach walkways with water.

“I think it’s the worst erosion that I’ve seen in a long, long time,” said Pruette, a longtime resident who walks the beach daily.

The worst beach erosion appeared to be at the end of Bay, Lemon, Myrtle and Cedar streets as well as at the end of Rose Place. Normally, people walk down a gentle slope from the crossover to the beach. But by Tuesday morning, they faced a 3 foot to 4 foot jump straight down onto the beach, she said.

“The last three days there have been very angry seas and very high seas. It’s been some of the highest that I’ve seen in a while. The water’s run up right to the dune,” Pruette said.

Neptune Beach public work crews Tuesday morning were doing a detailed evaluation of the city’s 21 public access points, most of which had sharp drop-offs of about 3-to 4-feet because of the erosion. However, the public walkovers themselves appear undamaged and stable, said City Manager Jim Jarboe, who did a cursory inspection of those locations.

“The only thing that concerns me is that it [erosion] is starting to eat into the dune,” Jarboe said. The city will be contacting the state Department of Environmental Protection as the first step in replacing the missing sand.

Atlantic Beach appears to have 6 feet to 10 feet of erosion. “It is nearly up to some boardwalks but it didn’t get there,” City Manager Nelson Van Liere told the Times-Union.

Jacksonville Beach Mayor Charlie Latham said “we know that there’s been some substantial wave action and a little bit of damage to the shoreline because of it.”

Jacksonville Beach City Manager George Forbes said they are assessing the erosion and declined to speculate about the possible extent of the damage. The city will be consulting with its beach erosion and renourishment expert. No damage is expected to the beach walkovers , Forbes said.

“This isn’t the first nor’easter we’ve ever had at the Beaches and we do get nor’easters. And yes, it does erode some of the beach. But also, what might not be as well known, is that some of that beach will wash back up also,” Forbes said.

Fernandina Beach City Manager Joe Gerrity said he’s received no reports of beach erosion damage in that city. Nassau County officials couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.

Slideshow: Neptune Beach loses 3 feet of dune in 5 days

Teresa Stepzinski|Dec 9, 2014

Genetically Modified Organisms

New ‘Harmless Herbicide’ to Compete with Monsanto’s RoundUp

A Non-Toxic Herbicide Alternative?

Why use carcinogenic herbicides to kill weeds when a little hot water will do the trick? Botanists and organic gardeners have known this effective, chemical-free way to treat weeds for hundreds of years. Now a UK based company has developed an innovative herbicide-free way to kill weeds utilizing this age-old wisdom.

Weeding Tech’s new products is said to kill weeds in 24 hours with no pesticides or herbicides. This is great news for the world considering that herbicide-resistant crop technology has led to a 239 million kilogram (527 million pound) increase in herbicide use in the United States between 1996 and 2011.

Saint Louis-based chemical Monsanto says it is in the ‘weed-killing’ business, but it is more likely in the ‘people-killing business’ with all the studies coming out on glyphosate’s toxic ramifications. RoundUp accounts for at least $7 billion in annual sales for Monsanto, so it is likely they won’t want to hear about a weed-killing product that is effective and harmless.

Using just hot-water and foam with a patented thermal technology, FoamStream has the following benefits:

  • It visibly kills annual weeds within minutes
  • It contains no harmful active ingredients and is not classified as a herbicide
  • It is safe for unrestricted use in sensitive environments
  • It can be applied in poor weather, avoiding costly delays for farmers

The product has already been trialed successfully in 12 different areas of the UK, and has won multiple awards. It has been proven to be effective at killing invasive species of weeds, without affecting the DNA of plants, inserting BT toxins into the environment, or posing the hazard of cross-pollinating organic crops, as GMO crops meant to withstand herbicides, do.

The Plant Protection Products (Sustainable Use) Regulations which started in the UK in 2012 inspired the recent market success of the product, but it has been in development since the 1990s.

As more individuals desire to reduce the use of traditional chemical herbicides, products like these can help to pave the way. I hope companies like these can give Monsanto and Big Biotech a run for their money.

(This article is not intended to promote the product mentioned, but rather is reporting on (hopefully) less toxic alternatives to what’s already on the market.)

Glyphosate and the deterioration of America’s health

Is rising glyphosate use responsible for increases in modern diseases? Claire Robinson looks at the latest study to raise the question

Is the rise in glyphosate use since the advent of GM crops responsible for the rapid deterioration of health in the US in the last 20 years?

A new study by former US Navy scientist Dr Nancy Swanson and co-authors asks this question. The study charts the huge increase in 22 chronic diseases in the US over the last 20 years and plots it against the rise in the use of glyphosate and the percentage of GM corn and soy plantings.

The correlations, portrayed graphically in super-clear charts, are striking. There’s a highly significant correlation between glyphosate use and the incidence of many of the diseases, including hypertension, stroke, diabetes, obesity, thyroid and liver cancer, kidney disease, and Alzheimer’s. There’s also a highly significant correlation between the percentage of GM corn and soy planted in the US and a similar list of diseases. And the increases in these diseases are not due to people living longer, which the authors adjusted for in most cases.

Does this mean that glyphosate causes these diseases? No – not necessarily. As the authors themselves note, correlation is not causation. The authors do, however, argue that given the known biological effects of glyphosate herbicides, “it would be imprudent not to consider causation as a plausible explanation”.

And while there are thousands of toxic substances and pathogens that could have contributed to the exponential rise in these diseases, the authors state, “No toxic substance has increased in ubiquity in the last 20 years as glyphosate has.”

It’s difficult to argue with this interpretation. And as a scientist unconnected with Dr Swanson and her co-authors told GMWatch, if the issue of GM crops and their associated pesticides were not such a political and economic ‘hot potato’, such a rapid escalation in disease in a population would be investigated as an emergency priority. That may be especially true if the disease in question were caused by bacteria or viruses, where there is massive corporate interest in developing vaccines and anti-bacterial products. In the case of non-infectious diseases, however, where possible culprits may include widely used and consumed GMOs and pesticides, US regulators turn their backs and pretend nothing is happening.

What is required scientifically in order to establish causation? The answer: long-term controlled animal feeding studies performed with the complete glyphosate herbicide formulations as sold to farmers and the public, using realistic doses that you and I could be exposed to and that are currently claimed to be safe. As far as I know, only one study that meets all these criteria has been carried out: Seralini’s study on NK603 maize and the Roundup herbicide it’s engineered to tolerate. The results were clear: doses of Roundup at only half the level allowed in EU tap water were found to cause severe liver and kidney damage and hormonal disturbances.

Arguments against such studies on animal welfare grounds do not hold water. If it is cruel to subject a few hundred or thousand lab rats to environmentally realistic doses of Roundup, it is far more cruel to subject millions of people and animals to these same doses in an uncontrolled experiment where no one is looking at the results and no regulatory action will be taken.

Should we sit back and do nothing until the necessary animal feeding studies can be funded and carried out, and then wait some more time for the regulators to take action? No. It makes sense to minimize our exposure to Roundup and other agrochemicals right now. That means eating organic, filtering our water, avoiding the use of pesticides in our gardens and fields, pressuring local authorities to restrict their use in school grounds and parks and on our roads and pavements, and lobbying for school and hospital meals programs to serve organic and non-GMO food. And if you’re living somewhere other than North and South America, it means doing everything you can to keep herbicide-tolerant GM crops out of your country.

Meanwhile, Dr Swanson’s study (abstract below) provides excellent ammunition against the GMO promoters’ argument that “trillions of GM meals” have been eaten in the US and that Americans are fine. Clearly, they are nothing of the sort.

Christina Sarich|December 9, 2014

Energy

Fracking Linked to Miscarriages, Birth Defects and Infertility

As the level of concern about fracking rises—what chemicals are being used in these “unconventional oil and gas (UOG) operations, whether they are getting into the water and air, and whether information on them is being withheld from communities—a new study adds more evidence that the concern is justified. It asserts that fracking increases the rate of miscarriage, as well as other reproductive and developmental problems.

FrackingCEHFetuses, newborns and pregnant women can suffer serious problems as a result of exposure to fracking chemicals. Image credit: Center for Environmental Health

“In this work,” the six researchers from the Center for Environmental Health (CEH), the University of Missouri and the Institute for Health and the Environment say, “we review the scientific literature providing evidence that adult and early life exposure to chemicals associated with UOG operations can result in adverse reproductive health and developmental effects in humans.”

“Children, developing fetuses, they’re especially vulnerable to environmental factors,” said CEH’s Ellen Webb, the study’s lead author. “We really need to be concerned about the impacts for these future generations.”

The study points out that fracking operations have the potential to pollute the air and water of nearby communities, and “every stage of operation from well construction to extraction, operations, transportation and distribution can lead to air and water contamination” from hundreds of chemicals. It looks at what chemicals are used in fracking, the ways in which they can find their way into the air and water, and the adverse reproductive and developmental effects they are associated with.

Looking at more than 150 papers that analyzed the health effects of compounds and chemicals widely used in fracking, such as benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, xylene, formaldehyde and heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium and lead, they identified a range of associated defects and reproductive disruptions known to be associated with exposure to them.

“Research shows that there are critical windows of vulnerability during prenatal and early postnatal development, during which chemical exposures can cause potentially permanent damage to the growing embryo and fetus,” the study said. “Many of the air and water pollutants found near UOG operation sites are recognized as being developmental and reproductive toxicants; therefore, there is a compelling need to increase our knowledge of the potential health consequences for adults, infants and children from these chemicals through rapid and thorough health research investigation.”

Among the problems the study identified are infertility, miscarriage, impaired fetal growth, low birth weight, preterm birth and birth defects, and it found that rates of these conditions were elevated in heavily fracked areas. It also found many of the same problems in farm animals and pets living in those areas.

Pointing out the dramatic growth in fracking, how commonplace spills and leaks are and the links between the chemicals used in fracking and human health outcomes, the authors advised caution in expanding UOG operations.

“Our heartfelt concern is that if the oil and gas industry continues to develop more wells, then the problem is going to be exacerbated greatly before we finally have answers,” study co-author Dr. Sheila Bushkin-Bedient, told U.S. News & World Report. “In terms of chronic diseases and in terms of finding out the developmental problems of babies, we might not know that for a decade or two. We might not know about cancers for a couple of decades, and by that time, it would be too late.”

While oil and gas industry trade group Energy in Depth pooh-poohed the findings and claimed that all the studies on which they are based have been debunked, Webb said, “Federal and state regulators must not ignore the potential serious health impacts from chemicals for families living in close proximity to fracking and other UOG sites. This growing evidence of health concerns for parents and children suggests that there is an urgent need to halt fracking and evaluate the adverse potential health outcomes for these communities on the front lines of the growing fracking industry.”

Anastasia Pantsios|December 8, 2014

Former Secretary of Energy Speaks Out Against Fracking

Dear Former Secretary of Energy Federico Peña,

Thank you for speaking out against fracking, fossil fuels and climate change! I read your lengthy interview on the topic posted on the Boulder, Colorado, Daily Camera news site here. As a former U.S. Secretary of Energy, you are in a unique position to speak out and make a difference on this extremely important issue.

Former Secretary of Energy Federico Peña was interviewed by Boulder, Colorado’s Daily Camera and spoke out against fracking, fossil fuels and climate change. Photo credit: Daily Camera

However, I am compelled to point out what I believe are problems with your approach to the topic. You make two important statements in the interview that are at the center of my critique. First, you state:

“There are some who would say we shouldn’t allow fracking altogether, we shouldn’t allow any more drilling altogether, because it pollutes the air, it’s a fossil fuel, we ought to get out of it. Well, that would be terrific if we could do it in about 40 or 50 years, if we plan for it, if it’s done in a strategic and methodical fashion.”

And then about climate change, you state:

“I think as a nation and as a planet, we’re going to figure this out. And it may take a crisis, it may take some real soil erosion, it may take some coasts being wiped out around the world. It might take some parts of our country. We’ve got islands off the Florida coast that are worried about this kind of thing. But at some point I think most people will finally come to their senses and begin to take action. Now, the longer we wait, the more dramatic the action’s going to be. No question about that.”

As a climate change activist and a person who wants to protect human and non-human life on our planet, I am unwilling to accept that we have to wait to act aggressively on climate change until “coasts are being wiped out around the world.” Further, my understanding of the best available science is that we have to transition off of fossil fuels much faster than “40 or 50 years.”

I appreciate that you support Obama’s efforts so far, and the efforts of the United Nations so far, but the scientific consensus is that neither of those efforts will happen fast enough to keep coasts from being wiped out. Further, in the interview you state that the transition needs to happen more slowly:

“But if we do it in a very methodical way, so that you don’t disrupt the economy, you don’t disrupt the investments that people have made, that companies have made, there is a way for us to begin to invest in cleaner, alternative fuels over a period of years and then gradually phase out our over-dependence on fossil fuels.”

You certainly realize that “wiping out coasts” will disrupt the economy and disrupt investments? Take a look at this infographic about the social and economic costs of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. As one example, Katrina cost the economy $123 billion and Sandy cost $60 billion. Other hurricanes and typhoons around the planet have been even more costly in terms of human lives. Also, take a look at this document put out by the White House that indicates that a 20-year delay of action on climate change could cost the world economy between $1 trillion and $4.7 trillion.

I strongly encourage you to continue speaking out against fracking, fossil fuels and climate change. We need leaders like you who were in very powerful positions in previous administrations to be the “outside game” to push the American people and the U.S. government in the right direction. We also need leaders like you to drill down on the facts and point out actual costs to the economy and human life of inaction.

Respectfully,

Gary Wockner, PhD|environmental activist|Democrat and fellow Coloradan.

Florida Utilities: No to Solar, Yes to Fracking

If you were the kind of person who liked to sniff out plots and nefarious designs in headlines, you might raise an eyebrow over the recent actions of Florida’s utilities. Over the course of the summer and fall, Florida Power & Light and others basically blocked the state’s private solar industry from having any say in future policy talks, then delivered a fatal blow to solar by cutting down the state’s rebate program.

Now, reeling from this victory, Florida’s biggest utility has announced it wants to get into the fracking business.

According to the Miami Herald, this week FPL asked the Public Service Commission for permission to form a partnership with an Oklahoma fracking company to tap existing natural gas wells. The utility wants to charge customers $750 million a year for the setup — which basically means all the risk in the venture shifts from shareholders to customers.

The utility argues that the arrangement with PetroQuest will save customers money over time by stabilizing gas prices — somewhere between $51 million and $107 million. Right now, the utility buys natural gas off the open market. Under this proposed setup, however, FPL would pocket a 10.5 percent profit — again, with customers paying for it all.

At a hearing this week before the PSC, opponents of the deal argued against fracking, pointing out that there’s nothing to ensure the wells will produce as much gas as the utility says they will.

In all probability, that opposition won’t do much. The scary thing is that the PSC basically always does what the utility wants — case in point, this year’s solar fiasco. Duke Energy Corp. reps have also expressed interest in following FPL’s lead, which means other utilities could be lining up for a pass to enter the fracking business.

The PSC will decided the issue by the end of the year. As the Herald also points out — adding an ominous tone to this whole thing — FPL also is asking that the commission allow the utility to move forward on similar deals without commission approval. Go figure

Kyle Swenson|Dec. 5 2014

What’s Really at Stake in the Florida Solar Battle?

Renewable Energy World Conference and Expo opens in the sunshine state just as the state takes issue with distributed solar power.

Orlando — My friends in Florida often ask me why their state doesn’t use more solar energy. I used to say, “It’s coming.” But that may no longer be the right answer.

Pro-solar groups see hard times ahead in the sunshine state, at least for the kind of solar my friends are talking about — solar panels on homes and business rooftops.  

Their worry stems from a vote taken in late November by the Florida Public Service Commission to end a solar rebate program after 2015.

Losing the rebate program, itself, isn’t the real problem. The rebate isn’t as important as it once was, given the dramatic drop in solar costs, according to Mike Antheil, director of advocacy, Florida Solar Energy Industries Association.

More alarming is what solar advocates fear may follow; they question the motivation for the vote and see it as an opening salvo to bring down distributed solar.

The commission said the rebate program was just too expensive and too few benefited from it.

“We in the solar industry feel pretty confident that is not the real reason,” said Mike Antheil, director of advocacy, Florida Solar Energy Industries Association. “We think it boils down to the simplest answer is usually the right one. The simplest answer is that the people who sell us our electricity are understandably motivated to be sure we don’t produce our own electricity.”

Antheil and other solar advocates see the commission siding with utilities and against distributed generation. It could also be described as the battle between local energy and central generation. Utilities have a financial incentive to build central generation — solar or otherwise — since they can earn a return on the investment. They do not earn a return on distributed solar panels consumers put on their roofs. In fact, the panels rob the utility of electricity sales.

If the utilities dominate solar, Florida is unlikely to develop the kind of democratic grid emerging elsewhere, one where consumers own and control their energy. More likely, solar will come in the form of central plants built by utilities.

Florida regulators aren’t sure the democratic grid is the most cost-effective way to go; the commission chairman indicated he prefers the more conventional approach where utilities socialize costs among their customers. He describe the two sides of the market as supply side (utility solar) or demand side (customer-owned solar).

“I think there is a need for solar. I’m not sure — I’m not convinced that the need for solar is a demand-side need. Maybe a supply-side need. I mean, maybe the supply-side need may be a better way of handling that need. When you have it on the supply side, you don’t have to have $30,000 in your pocket to put it on your roof,” said Art Graham, PSC chairman, according to a transcript of the November 25 meeting.

Fair enough, but are the only two choices a $30,000 bill to the homeowner for solar panels or utility market control? Policies in other states would indicate otherwise. Power purchase agreements, innovative financing and leasing all have emerged as options to make solar affordable to the homeowner or small business.

Further, is it a good idea to place the burden for solar costs on the utility ratepayer when a private market exists that wants to take up the banner?

“We are trying to shift the burden away from the ratepayers,” said FlaSEIA’s Antheil. “As a ratepayer, I have to pay for the new nuclear facility, the new coal and natural facility. I have to pay for industrial scale solar, if they choose to do that. But the solar market wants to shift that investment burden away. That’s why an incentive for a demand-side program, a residential program is so beneficial.”

Even an incentive of just five percent of the total cost of the installed system, would spur the private market to come to the table with the other 95 percent, he said. “That’s a deal for the ratepayer.”

What else could help reduce solar costs for the consumer? Better financing options and property tax exemptions for homeowners and commercial properties with solar, he said. Antheil also suggested that the state look more carefully at the true value of solar beyond just energy production, such as its ability to improve grid stability and decrease line loss.

Most of all, he said, the state needs to keep intact its rules that allow net metering — which gives the home or business the ability to gain credit for selling solar power back to the grid.

And therein lies the biggest worry among solar advocates in Florida.

“I think there is a clear threat and danger to net metering,” said Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE). “You see them laying the ground work for this.”

He fears the state will try to impose a standby charge or adjust the rate to weaken net metering, the cornerstone of the distributed generation market in Florida.

Others take a less gloomy view of events in the sunshine state. Justin Hoysradt, Vote Solar’s regional manager Florida, says that he is “cautiously optimistic.” He pointed out that the commission has announced that it will hold an undocketed workshop (date yet to be set) to discuss future solar policy.  “The workshop is a signal that the commission recognizes that solar is an important part of Florida’s portfolio,” he said.

Solar advocates are working to galvanize support in preparation. SACE released a poll Friday showing strong bipartisan backing for solar in Florida. By almost a five to one margin respondents said they were more likely to vote for a legislator who expands the availability of solar. The poll of 600 registered voters in Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando, Pensacola and Tampa, also found that over two thirds of those surveyed support the state’s current net metering law; specifically 67 percent of Republicans, 77 percent of Independents and 73 percent of Democrats.

Smith said that activists plan to use the public backing to launch a strong campaign to protect net metering, first by elevating public awareness, next by seeking legislative support and finally pursuing a ballot measure in 2016, if needed.

Meanwhile, the state may be a little red in the face (and not from sunburn). The PSC actions have captured the attention of the national media. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow gave Florida a talking to on her show. “In the sunshine state they have decided they are against the sun,” Maddow said.

Hyperbole? Maybe. We’ll see in the coming weeks as the PSC releases its written decision and proceeds with its solar workshop.

Lisa Wood|Contributing Editor|December 07, 2014

Congress Delivers Critical Blow to Wind Power

As Environment America prepared to unveil its report More Wind, Less Warming: How American Wind Energy’s Rapid Growth Can Help Solve Global Warming at a press conference today, the U.S. House of Representatives showed that it continues to resist a clean energy future.

Wednesday evening the House passed H.R. 5771, which extended clean energy credits only until the end of 2014. Today senators Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Tom Udall of New Mexico joined Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, and Anna Aurilio of Environment America at the Senate Visitors Center to talk about the report and the carbon reduction benefits of encouraging the growth of wind power through renewable energy tax credits and urge Congress to extend the credits through 2015.

Wind could be the key to a clean energy future in the U.S. if Congress doesn’t block it. Image credit: Environment America

“The House just delivered a blow to wind power by adopting a meaningless three-week extension of clean energy tax credits,” said Aurilio. “Now it’s up to the Senate to push for a two-year renewal of these incentives, so that Americans can reap the benefits of and cleaner air. Speeding the development of pollution-free wind energy will slow global warming. But Congress needs to invest now in healthy air and a healthy planet.”

“Congress needs to provide stability so that American workers can make more of our own energy here at home and reduce carbon pollution as rapidly and cheaply as possible,” added Kiernan. “We need to get out of short-term thinking, including three-week extensions of the policy that is critical to building more wind energy, the Production Tax Credit. That’s why we are urging the Senate today to stand up for renewable energy, vote for the EXPIRE Act and extend the PTC at least through 2015, before considering a phase-out that would provide a glide path for the industry to keep scaling up.”

At the press conference, Udall urged his colleagues to do the right thing, citing the impacts he sees in his home state.

“New Mexico is at the eye of the storm when it comes to the impacts of climate change,” he said. “But while global warming is a threat we must fight, it’s also a tremendous opportunity to invest in clean energy jobs of the future. Wind has huge potential—not only is it carbon free, it’s abundant in New Mexico and it uses almost no water. Now is the time for Congress to make a commitment to fight climate change and help create jobs of the future by extending the wind production tax credit—not just for one year but long enough for this important industry to meet its full potential.”

More Wind, Less Warming points to the dramatic increase in wind-generated power in the U.S. and says that by 2030, the country could be generating 30 percent of its electricity from wind while cutting power plant pollution by 40 percent over 2005 levels in the same time period. That exceeds the 20 percent that a recent Greenpeace/Global Wind Energy Council report projected wind could be providing of the world’s power by that same deadline.

“The U.S. generates 24 times more electricity from wind power than we did in 2001, providing clean, fossil fuel-free energy that helps the nation do its part in the fight against global warming,” it says. “In 2013 alone, wind power averted 132 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions—as much as would be produced by 34 typical coal-fired power plants,” adding, “But with the United States and the world needing to move toward a future of 100 percent clean energy in order to prevent the worst impacts of global warming, America must do much more.”

Currently, wind generates about 4 percent of electrical power in the U.S. But the report points to nine states—Iowa, South Dakota, Kansas, Idaho, Minnesota, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Colorado and Oregon—that currently produce more than 12 percent of their electricity with wind, and two states—Iowa and South Dakota—in which wind already provides more than a quarter of their power.

There is enough potential wind energy to power the U.S. ten times over, the report says, but tapping offshore wind power will be key to reaching this goal. It cites the success of operational wind farms in Europe as an indicator of what this could mean for the U.S. in terms of producing clean energy.

Anastasia Pantsios|December 4, 2014

Shining a Light on Women Leaders in the Power Industry

Meet the three finalists for the POWER-GEN 2014 Women of the Year Award, the winner of which will be announced next month.

TULSA, Okla. and NASHUA, N.H., — In early 2013, a group of women, dubbed the Women in Power committee, assembled in Orlando, Florida to figure out how to honor women who have dedicated their careers to the power industry. The industry is male-dominated with men making up more than 75 percent of the workforce, according to estimates.

The Women in Power committee believed that it was important to give recognition to the pioneering women who have worked to advance the power industry. To do this, the committee asked power industry stakeholders to nominate women they admired for a Woman of the Year Award, which would be given out at POWER-GEN International. To judge the nominees, the committee came up with three focus areas. 2014 is the second year for this award.

The first and most important accomplishment that the committee believed a potential Power-Gen Woman of the Year should have made is advancing the power industry. In addition, the committee judged nominees by their leadership abilities, as well as their ability to collaborate with, influence, and mentor others. Finally, the committee believed that a potential Power-Gen Woman of the Year should impact her community through industry associations and other organizations. After four months of collecting nominations, the 19-member committee voted on the nominees and came up with three finalists, who are described below.

One of these women will be named the Power-Gen 2014 Woman of the Year at the annual awards banquet on Monday, Dec. 8, which takes place at the Disney’s Odyssey Pavilion at Epcot in Orlando, Fla. The banquet is part of the POWER-GEN International Conference and Exhibition and the co-located NUCLEAR POWER International Conference and Exhibition, Renewable Energy World Conference & Exhibition, North America and the Power-Gen Financial Forum.

The 2014 Power-Gen Woman of the Year will give a keynote speech during the Women in Power Luncheon on Tuesday, December 9 at the Orange County Convention Center also as part of the co-located conferences.

Here’s a look at the finalists:

Diane Drehoff – “I like to be a trailblazer…I like to be first.”

Throughout her 42-year history in the Power Supply industry, Diane Drehoff has been part of many “firsts.” She was the first woman in Westinghouse to call on an electric utility for Power Systems equipment. She was the first employee in Westinghouse to be nominated for and selected to be an IEEE Congressional Fellow. And she led the Westinghouse Power Generation business to become the first US Power Generation business unit certified to ISO 9001 Quality Standards.

Her interest in power plants started when she was 10 years old. “My dad was a generation account representative for Westinghouse in Oklahoma City. One Saturday, he got a call from the plant personnel over at the OG&E Belle Isle power station, a small 15-MW turbine. I guess that my dad had child care duty that day, so he took me and my sister with him to go over and talk to the plant people about an issue they were experiencing. When you are 10 years old, a turbine generator, even one that is only 15 MW, is an impressive sight. I was fascinated by the size and complexity of all of the piping and  components that I saw and was quite interested in understanding just how all of that equipment could produce electricity.”

This initial spark of interest in power generation led to her Electrical Engineering degree from Stanford. She joined Westinghouse out of college where she worked in diverse areas such as sales representative, generation projects manager, and director of total quality for power generation. Says Drehoff of her early years in the industry, “I was very excited to be selected as a spokesperson in 1980 for a balanced energy equation in the U.S. I had the opportunity to talk to media across the country about the need to support all types of energy sources including solar, wind, gas, coal and nuclear. I felt this was an important message for Americans to understand and support.”

For many years there were very few women entering the power industry as a profession; Drehoff was always quite visible in terms of her performance and overcoming apprehensions about women in the business. She adopted a posture of being just one of the team and never felt that she was treated differently than male associates. She was a model for putting her customers’ needs as the highest priority and rallying the team she worked with to go the extra mile to provide the best service possible. During her career Drehoff has experienced at least a half a dozen major power plant failures that required extensive repairs and replacements. In each case, she was able to provide leadership and creative solutions that resulted in successful and timely restoration of those units to service.

Drehoff’s years of experience and success both at Westinghouse and at Siemens have made her one of only a few women in the company who have achieved a top leadership position. Her diverse background and industry experience have enabled her to have a clear understanding of today’s power industry needs and to steer the Siemens service products and offerings in a direction that enhances the performance of the power industry assets she serves. She was recently a featured speaker in the Women of Siemens series, where she spoke to a global audience of 300 women and men about her career and the lessons she has learned throughout her 42 years of work experience. She was able to reach employees in Europe and Asia and has been contacted by many of her listeners to give further perspectives on their career paths. Drehoff gives her time and effort to coaching and mentoring early career professionals to encourage rewarding careers in the power industry. She is currently a mentor for the Women Unlimited Lead program in the Orlando, Florida area, a program for women of diverse companies and locations which focuses on women identified to be candidates for executive roles.

Of her illustrious career, she says, “I have always taken pride in being very proactive in providing services to our power customers that maximize their ability to be online providing power to their customers. I am completely committed to being a 24 hours per day, 365 days per year support team for the power industry.”

Colleen Layman – She truly demonstrates and lives the Society of Women Engineers tagline, “Aspire, Advance, Achieve.”

Colleen Layman has over 20 years of experience in the engineering design, construction, commissioning and operation of power generating facilities. Currently as a vice president  and the industrial water principal at HDR, Layman works closely with HDR engineers across the country. She is also the boiler chemistry expert within the power generation group at HDR. Working in the power industry, a traditionally male-dominated field, for the past 20 years has been both a challenge as well as an opportunity in her experience. Layman says: “For much of my career, I have been the only woman in the meeting room, a situation that I have grown to be comfortable with over the last 20 years, but a situation nonetheless that I continue to hope will become less and less frequent. Over the years after walking into many construction trailers at power plant sites that were full of men, I have learned that I can choose to allow my solo female status to be a benefit to me or a detriment. Being the only woman (or one of only a very few women) in the room or at a meeting, the others at the meeting will tend to remember me after that meeting simply based on that solo status. How they will remember me, what impression they will have of my skills or expertise is in my power to control and is where I can use ‘being the lone woman in the room’ to my advantage.“

Layman has been an integral leader with the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) since the year 2000 and is currently serving on the Society Board of Directors as president-elect of the organization, which boasts a membership of nearly 30,000 worldwide. “The desire for female mentors is probably one of the most fundamental reasons that I originally joined SWE and a key reason for my continued involvement. Through SWE I have had the opportunity to network and connect with other women in many different industries, but with similar work-related challenges and experiences. These women have become my support system — they answer the questions that often male mentors simply can’t and provide understanding and advice when I feel overwhelmed, need a confidence boost to give something new a try, or just want someone to listen. They have also instilled in me the importance of paying it forward and mentoring other women (and men) coming up in the ranks behind me, something that I greatly enjoy doing.” As part of her SWE activities Layman takes part annually in Congressional visits organized by the SWE Government Relations and Public Policy Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. where she meets one-on-one with elected U.S. officials to increase awareness of the need for and the importance of increased diversity and inclusion in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce.

Layman’s path into engineering had an unusual start. “I was really unaware of what engineering was until my senior year of high school. My calculus teacher, Sister Socorro, approached me in the hallway between classes one day and asked the question many high school seniors dread “What are you planning to do after you graduate?” My response was a simple one that I expect she heard many times during her career, “Sister, I don’t know.” Her response was simply that she believed that I was going to be an engineer. Of course, since I didn’t know very much about what an engineer actually did, I just looked at her with a rather blank stare. But she took the time that afternoon, and several more afternoons over the next couple of months, to explain to me what an engineer did and why she thought that engineering was the perfect career for me. I listened and was probably not 100 percent convinced, but I trusted her and followed her recommendations on what to major in and what schools to apply to. And, thankfully I followed her guidance as she was 100 percent right; today I cannot imagine being happy doing anything else. She was a tough teacher, but I remember her fondly for taking the time to get to know me and direct my skills and interests in the right direction.”

“Be yourself, be authentic” is the best lesson that Layman ever learned. “To succeed you need to be comfortable and confident in your own skin; pretending to be something that you are not, for instance pretending to be ‘one of the boys’ at work, is counterproductive and does not lend to doing your best work or being happy doing that work. Organizations also derive the most value from diversity when people feel comfortable to be themselves and to voice their opinions and ideas freely. I can contribute more to the success of my organization, and in turn be more successful myself, if I don’t censor my ideas based on what I think others in the group will accept or want to hear.

Throughout Layman’s 21-year career in the Power Industry, she has provided leadership to her project teams, quality engineering to her clients, and inspiration to young men and women aspiring to become engineers.

Mary Powell – “I can’t imagine a better time to be in [the Energy] business.”

Since Mary Powell began working at Green Mountain Power (GMP), she has transformed the organization, turning it from a business almost in bankruptcy into one of the leading utilities in Vermont and the nation. Currently CEO of GMP, Powell recognized early on that customers ideally want their energy to be three things: reliable, clean, and low cost. Powell’s vision was to achieve these three goals, and she has persevered and moved forward by energizing and inspiring her team to build upon her vision. Her commitment to renewable energy was far ahead of the curve for the utility industry, and many of the programs that were initiated by her leadership have now become standard requirements. By owning wind and solar systems, GMP is able to control costs more effectively and therefore pass these savings onto its customers. GMP now owns two wind projects and several solar projects throughout the state, and more projects are in development by GMP and with development partners. Powell recognized the value of customers generating their own solar energy and wanted to reward them for doing so. This reimbursement program kicked off net metering solar within the state, and GMP was a leader in this. It was also important to Powell that it was easy for customers to easily navigate the permitting and interconnection process. She spent significant time creating an efficient process for customers to remove any process roadblocks that would discourage customers.

Of her early years, Powell says, “I grew up in a theatrical home and went to a specialized high school for the arts. I actually believe that my training in the arts is a key part of what has fostered any leadership success I have had. Thinking broadly and colorfully about the possibilities ahead of us has been a key part of what has inspired me and helped me to work with teams to achieve transformational work.” Powell has consistently bucked the traditional utility culture. She has moved GMP forward as one of the leading utilities in the nation by creating a culture focused on being “fast, fun, and effective.” She believes people are at their best when they are having fun. The GMP Colchester office has an open floor with Powell right up front and center in her standing desk near the front door. There are no gatekeepers needed to speak to her, and she is often found reaching out to speak to her employees. Although there are over 600 individuals who work at GMP in multiple offices throughout the state, Powell has made it a priority to get to know everyone.

“I have been a non-engineer in an engineering world and I think that part of my success has been in developing a deep appreciation and understanding of the technical aspects of our business but, at the same time, looking at them from a perspective of possibilities.” She is often heard saying that a thousand conversations are what make a difference. Without knowing her employees or customers, Powell wouldn’t be able to learn what she needs to know in order to lead the team. Her down-to-earth and compassionate spirit lends well to this type of leadership style, and by casual discussions with employees, colleagues, and even customers, she is able to learn from her stakeholders and share her vision for GMP. This also leads to spur-of-the-moment mentoring on Powell’s part, and she often forms informal groups to discuss topics such as women in leadership roles and work/life balance. Through open dialogue she inspires and mentors all those who work around her.

One of her most important lessons learned is “you will never lose if you focus on doing what you believe in and bringing your authentic self to your work. It is so important that we have a “north star” that guides us and anchors us, when needed, to what we know we believe and value and to what we would love to see accomplished.”

As Powell looks forward toward the rest of her career she says: “I am so excited about the possibilities of radically transforming our energy delivery system to one that is much more interactive with customers and communities. We recently launched a partnership with NRG that I am convinced will have transformative results and I see unlimited possibilities for adding value to the lives of the customers we serve, the economy and the environment.”

Robynn Andracsek|Contributor |November 20, 2014

Generating Heat and Power from Waste Is Focus of BioEnergy Tour during REWNA

Renewable Energy World Conference, North America and Power-Gen International Attendees visit an energy garden at the start of Power Generation Week in Orlando, Florida.

Orlando — Forward-looking Disney doesn’t fool around when it comes to waste. In fact, the billion-dollar operation has been separating its waste for more than 20 years and recently began using its organic waste to generate power. How that power is created was the focus of Monday’s tour of the Harvest Power Orlando Energy Garden.

The facility has 3.2-MW of capacity to produce power, 400 kW of which it uses to power its own operations. The other 2.8 MW are exported to the local utility, Reedy Creek Energy Services, at a wholesale rate of $0.06 per kWh. Reedy Creek Energy Services is the municipality created to serve Disney’s 25,000 acres of amusement parts and attractions in Florida.

The Harvest Power system starts with food waste and FOG (fats, oils and grease) from Disney as well as T-WAS (thickened waste activated sludge) from the nearby wastewater treatment facility. The food waste is continuously fed into a turbo separator, which removes packaging including tin cans and cardboard boxes.  After separation, the food waste slurry is combined with FOG and T-WAS biosolids and sent to the anaerobic digester where it ferments for 28 days before heading to the mix tank for 4 days and then the post-digester.  At the end of the process, Harvest Power is left with fertilizer pellets that it sells for $800 per ton.  Disney has a 20-year contract with Harvest Power to supply food waste, which it does in a big way. According to Dole Doerr, plant operator, Disney delivers up to 100 tons of food waste every day and 20,000 gallons of FOG.

Through the anaerobic digestion process, the food waste, FOG and T-WAS create biogas, which is cooled, scrubbed and then fed into two 1.6-MW capacity generators to create power.  During the power conversion process, waste heat is also captured and used in the drying process to make the fertilizer pellets. The electricity is fed into the grid and meets about 3 percent of Disney’s electricity demand.

Doerr said that the waste-to-energy plant produces 31,000 cubic meters of biogas every day, runs 24 hours a day and employs 10 people.  The system is the largest private biogas facility in North America and cost $25 million to build when it was constructed in 2011.  Harvest Power received an $8 million grant from the U.S. government and the remaining $17 million was privately financed. Entec Biogas GmbH and Environ built the anaerobic digesters.

As one might imagine, odor control is important. “It’s all about the odor,” said Doerr, who explained that the Odotech odor detection technology that is in use at the plant not only detects when there is a strong odor in the air, but also knows from which direction it is coming and how to neutralize it.

Jake Jacobson of Ring Power took the 25 tour attendees (all with ear plugs) through the building that houses the two generators. Jacobson explained that Ring Power operates the two units plus one piece of switchgear and pointed out the substation, located right outside of building.

Guy Van Doren of LAN Associates is assisting Harvest Power with the minor modifications to the plant and explained to attendees how the waste heat is captured and used. He said the Harvest Power Energy Garden works so well because it can use the heat in its operations. “When you have even distribution of heat and electricity and you can use the heat from the generator you have an ideal situation,” he said.

Jennifer Runyon|Chief Editor|RenewableEnergyWorld.com|December 08, 2014

Fracking ban introduced ‏

We’re at an important moment in the debate over fracking in the Florida Everglades: Senators Darren Soto (D-Orlando) and Dwight Bullard (D-Miami) have introduced SB 166, a statewide ban on this dangerous threat to our land and water and the health of our communities.

Progress Florida has been fighting fracking in our state throughout the year. We’ve helped demonstrate that it’s possible to make progress on this critical issue despite a governor and legislative leadership soaked in Big Oil’s money. Earlier this year, we helped stop two bills in the legislature that would have denied the public’s right to know what chemicals are pumped into the ground during the fracking process. When an illegal acid fracking operation was discovered on endangered panther habitat in the western Everglades, we helped convince the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to pull all drilling permits for the offending company, Hughes Co.

The victories have had an important impact on the debate over fracking. Now that a statewide ban has been introduced, we can’t afford to let up now. Let’s support Sens. Soto and Bullard in this critical effort.

As Sen. Bill Nelson wrote to state environmental officials over the summer, “We cannot tolerate expanded industrial drilling activities that pose a threat to the drinking and surface water so close to the Florida Everglades.” The same goes for the rest of our state.

Please sign #2 in “Calls to Action” above.

Banks Fear Risk of Investment in Fossil Fuels

In a move that’s likely to cause consternation in some of the world’s most powerful corporate boardrooms, the Bank of England has disclosed that it is launching an inquiry into the risks fossil fuel companies pose to overall financial stability.

A growing number of senior figures in the financial community—some of them controlling many millions of dollars worth of investment funds—have been pressing fossil fuel companies to disclose how investments would be affected if energy reserves became frozen or stranded by regulatory moves associated with tackling climate change. Photo credit: Ellen Gibson / Fossil Free Future

Mark Carney, governor of the UK’s central bank, has written to British Members of Parliament telling them that his officials have been discussing whether or not coal, oil and gas reserves held by the fossil fuel industry are, in fact, unburnable.

“In light of these discussions, we will be deepening and widening our inquiry into the topic,” Carney says.

The burning of fossil fuels releases hundreds of thousands of tons of climate-changing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Catastrophic change

The idea is that if global warming is to be tackled and catastrophic climate change averted, such energy resources will have to be left where they are—under the ground. They will, in effect, become frozen or stranded financial assets.

Carney’s letter, written at the end of the October this year but only recently made public, is addressed to the British parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee.

Carney tells the Committee—which has been carrying out its own investigation into the frozen assets question—that a special unit within the Bank of England responsible for identifying and reducing risks in the financial system, will also be considering the issue “as part of its regular horizon-scanning work on financial stability risks”.

Joan Walley, the head of the Audit Committee, told London’s Financial Times that investors should consider what effect regulatory action on climate change would have on their fossil fuel investments.

“Policy makers and now central banks are waking up to the fact that much of the world’s oil, coal and gas reserves will have to remain in the ground unless carbon capture and storage technologies can be developed more rapidly,” Walley said.

A growing number of senior figures in the financial community—some of them controlling many millions of dollars worth of investment funds—have been pressing fossil fuel companies to disclose how investments would be affected if energy reserves became frozen or stranded by regulatory moves associated with tackling climate change.

Carbon Tracker, a not-for-profit thinktank based in London, has been warning of what it sees as the dangers to investors and to the entire financial system of continued investment in the fossil fuel industry.

Vulnerability of assets

“The Bank of England has set a new standard for all central banks and financial regulators on climate risks by agreeing to examine, for the first time, the vulnerability that fossil fuel assets could pose to the stability of the financial system in a carbon constrained world,” Carbon Tracker says.

The question of stranded or frozen assets has been raised at the latest round of global negotiations on climate change taking place in Lima, Peru.

Christiana Figueres, the head of the UN’s Climate Change Secretariat, told the Reuters news agency that the long-term goal of negotiations must be the elimination of all greenhouse gas emissions by 2100—a goal that could not be achieved unless most fossil fuels were left in the ground. “We just can’t afford to burn them,” Figueres said.

Kieran Cooke|Climate News Network|December 9, 2014

Goal to End Fossil Fuels by 2050 Proposed at Lima Climate Talks

A draft negotiating text was circulated yesterday at the UN climate summit in Lima, Peru that would cut carbon emissions to zero by 2050, earlier than many other proposals, and could spell the end of the fossil fuel industry. It’s one of the most ambitious proposals to come out of the conference.

According to The Guardian of London, the countries behind this aggressive proposal to address climate change include Norway, Sweden, the Marshall Islands, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Peru and Panama. Their hope is that it will provide a negotiating framework heading into next December’s final talks in Paris.

The 33-page draft text suggested that developed countries reach peak emissions by next year en route to eliminating them entirely by 2050 and achieving negative emissions by 2100. It noted that “the time frame for peaking may be longer in developing countries, in the context of equitable access to sustainable development.” and suggested pathways to achieving its goal.

Reaction from environmental activists was positive, although they cautioned that it will take some determined advocacy and hard work to keep it in the final agreement to be hammered out in Paris.

“I think we have to say to ourselves that the chances of this stuff staying in the text are down to all of our collective efforts in demanding that this stays in the text,” Ruth David of Greenpeace UK told Guardian writer Graham Readfearn. “This is not only civil society but also progressive businesses who have to make their voices heard in keeping this in the text. The chances of this stuff surviving are dependent on the efforts that we collectively make to influence politicians to do the right thing.”

“This text won’t be settled here,” Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists told The Guardian. “It is an options text that then needs to be translated into a legal text and it won’t be decided until the last night at Paris. So which long-term goal survives the end of the day we won’t know until a year from now. But there was incredible political momentum coming out of the climate summit in New York where about 60 national leaders endorsed the need for a long-term goal as part of the Paris agreement and that number is continuing to grow. We have more and more businesses, faith groups and unions speaking out—there is a momentum building around this and I think by Paris next year the chances of a strong goal staying in the agreement are probably much greater than they are right now.”

On the other hand, major carbon emitter Saudi Arabia said the 2050 goal was not achievable. Khalid Abuleif, Saudi Arabia’s lead climate negotiator, told the Financial Times, “We really don’t think it’s realistic at this stage with the current technology and current economic model base we have.”

Anastasia Pantsios |December 9, 2014

Al Gore Urges Obama to Reject Keystone XL Pipeline

Democracy Now! is broadcasting from the United Nations climate summit in Lima, Peru, where high-level talks have just gotten under way. Here is the coverage from today:

With an impassioned plea for climate action on Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry is the highest ranking U.S. official to attend the annual U.N. Climate Change Conference since President Obama took part in the 2009 Copenhagen talks. While Kerry spoke for 30 minutes, he never addressed an issue on the minds of many: the proposed Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline. Kerry must make a final recommendation to Obama about whether the $8 billion pipeline should be approved. Amy Goodman speaks to former Vice President Al Gore, who attended Kerry’s speech, about why he wants Obama to reject the Keystone XL. She then tries to raise the issue with Kerry and top U.S. climate negotiator Todd Stern, but both refuse to answer.

The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Lima, Peru, has entered its final day of scheduled talks. Deep divisions remain between wealthy and developing nations on emission cuts and over how much the world’s largest polluters should help poorer nations address climate change. On Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry flew into Lima and made an impassioned plea for all nations to work for an ambitious U.N. climate deal next year in Paris. Kerry said time is running out to reverse “a course leading to tragedy.”

We speak with youth activist Alyssa Johnson-Kurts of the group SustainUS about rules at the United Nations Climate Conference that require protesters to submit banners and slogans for approval. She says the regulations bar mention of specific names, officials and projects. “We tried to submit a banner that would have an arrow with Keystone XL in one direction and a livable future in the other direction and they rejected that proposal,” Johnson-Kurts says. Civil society faces increasing separation from what takes place inside the conference. “The irony of course is that very few restrictions are placed on the fossil fuel companies that come here,” notes our guest Jamie Henn, co-founder and communications director of the climate group 350.org.

For the first time ever, delegates at the U.N. Climate Change Conference are talking about entirely phasing out fossil fuels by 2050, setting up a showdown with the energy industry that profits from their extraction. We speak to Jamie Henn of 350.org about the state of the U.N. talks, the world’s growing divestment movement, and President Obama’s comments casting doubt on the Keystone XL this week on the “The Colbert Report.”

While the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has claimed that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline would create 250,000 jobs, labor researchers say the jobs figures have been vastly distorted. We speak to Sean Sweeney, director and founder of the Global Labor Institute at Cornell University and Bruce Hamilton, vice president of Amalgamated Transit Union.

We wrap up our week-long coverage from Lima at the United Nations Climate Conference, where negotiators are hours away from the formal end of the talks. “If developed countries don’t put down the resources that the poor countries need to prepare for climate change to protect themselves from the real impacts they are facing already, then you are going to leave poor people around the world facing hunger, facing increasing poverty without being able to cope,” says Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam. “Yet they didn’t create the crisis of climate change, and they don’t have the means of solving the problem of climate change on their own. So it is an issue of justice, an issue of human rights.” We also speak with Dipti Bhatnagar, climate justice and energy coordinator at Friends of the Earth International, who helped plan a die-in at COP20 to call attention to those ignored in the global agreement under negotiation.

Videos

Democracy Now!|December 12, 2014

Land Conservation

Legislators will decide whether to limit impact of environmental initiative

House and Senate Republican leaders are preparing legislation to rewrite many of the state’s existing environmental laws to respond to recent passage of Amendment One, which requires the Legislature and governor to set aside one-third of all taxes collected from the documentary tax on real estate transactions to preserve environmentally-sensitive land and protect and improve water quality. Lawmakers warn that painful tradeoffs lie ahead. This photo was taken in Rainbow Springs State Park in central Florida northwest of The Villages. Courtesy of Florida Department of Environmental Protection

TALLAHASSEE – Florida environmentalists say they were forced to go to voters to get permanent funding for land and water protection because legislators neglected the need for too many years. But now — even though Amendment 1 passed with 75 percent of the vote — the Legislature will get the last word.

House and Senate Republican leaders are preparing legislation to rewrite many of the state’s existing environmental laws to respond to the amendment, which requires the Legislature and governor to set aside one-third of all taxes collected from the documentary tax on real estate transactions. Lawmakers warn that painful tradeoffs lie ahead.

How legislators make those tradeoffs will determine whether the implementation of Amendment 1 is a cordial affair — in which both proponents and lawmakers agree to compromise — or whether the debate becomes a test of wills and, potentially, lawsuits. 

“In this new reality, as we work to apply this new portion of our constitution and faithfully implement the will of the voters, there is going to be some pain,’’ said Senate President Andy Gardiner in a speech to the Senate on Tuesday during the swear-in ceremony for members.

Gardiner conceded that the proposal to generate between $10billion to $20 billion for environmental causes over the next 20 years could “make a significant impact on the future of water and natural resources,” but emphasized that “implementing this amendment will be a challenge.”

Amendment 1 is expected to raise between $300 million and $500 million a year for projects intended to preserve environmentally-sensitive land and protect and improve water quality. At its core, the amendment weakens the Legislature’s most coveted power — the power of the purse — by taking away the ability of legislators to control a small piece of the state’s $75 billion budget.

As a result, Gardiner’s message was directed at both environmental advocates, who drafted the amendment, and his fellow lawmakers, whose power has been clipped by the proposal.

“We already spend hundreds of millions of dollars of doc stamp revenue and other state revenues on many initiatives that benefit Florida’s environment and natural resources,” Gardiner said in his speech. “The challenge facing this Senate is the impact Amendment 1 will have on transportation, affordable housing, and economic development, and other priorities which also receive doc stamp funding.”

Environmental groups don’t see these trade-offs as an either-or. They argue that legislators should use the doc stamp revenues to restore full funding to environmental programs that are already in law, instead of drafting new legislation.

“All the programs are already in place,” said Will Abberger, director of the Florida Water and Land Legacy, which put the amendment on the ballot. “They just need to be funded.”

The groups also believe that, as the economy recovers and real estate transactions increase, revenues from doc stamp taxes will be enough to also expand housing and transportation programs.

Clay Henderson, an Orlando lawyer and one of the amendment’s authors, said the Legislature would not be facing this challenge if it hadn’t “zeroed out any land conservation in the last few years and cut back on water resource protection.”

The ballot initiative came about after Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature repeatedly cut programs that protect the state’s vulnerable springs and watersheds, and dismantled the Department of Environmental Protection division in charge of acquiring environmentally-sensitive land.

During that time, funding for Florida Forever, the land buying program used to protect water supplies and habitat, dropped from $300 million a year to a total of less than $29 million over the last four years. The governor and legislators used the savings from those cuts, and revenue from the doc stamp tax, to lower taxes and steer money into other spending priorities.

Amendment 1 was intended to reverse that trend, and repair the degradation of water recharge areas and the state’s aquifer-fed springs.

Critics are worried, however, that legislators will do to Amendment 1 what they did to state lottery funds and education – used the dedicated funding source to supplant, not enhance, existing programs.

“It’s a $20 billion poker game,” Henderson said. “We’ve seen the effects of massive pollution on the Indian River Lagoon and all of our springs are harmed. You can’t fix this by moving money around.”

House and Senate leaders say they will honor the will of the voters.

“It’s absolutely going to require a lot more money and we’ll find it,” said Rep. Richard Corcoran, a Trinity Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

But Sen. David Simmons, R-Maitland, Gardiner’s point man on the issue, said he believes the amendment is so broadly written it gives lawmakers the ability to replace money now spent on existing environmental programs with the doc stamp money.

“I believe that the wording of the constitutional amendment gives the Legislature broad authority to deal with it — and that includes transferring those programs that are general revenue over to the doc stamps,’’ he said. “We are not going to play shell games.”

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, a Merritt Island Republican, has signaled he wants an increase in funding for land and water protection but prefers a go-slow approach that prevents a ballooning of doc stamp revenues as the economy recovers. His staff is working on reorganizing the funding of all environmental programs and creating an accountability system for the money.

Henderson warns that voters will not support attempts to pay for existing environmental programs by supplanting general revenue money with doc stamp funds.

“What part of 75 percent do they not understand?” he asked, referring to the vote results. If legislators refuse to put enough new money into fixing the state’s water woes, the environmental groups will “go back out to the thousands of people who signed petitions and gave money and remind legislators” on Election Day, or take them to court, he warned.

When it comes to deciding which environmental projects will get funded, Eric Draper of Florida Audubon urges legislators to do what has worked in the past: “the legislature creates criteria and the agencies decide what projects to do.”

Florida Forever projects, for example, are chosen by a 10-member citizens panel appointed by the governor and state agencies based on objective criteria. Similar programs exist for the Rural and Farm Lands program, the Water Sustainability Trust Fund, Rails to Trails, the Florida Communities Trust, SWIM and the Conservation Land Management program run by the Division of State Parks.

“If there’s just one pot of money and the Legislature starts handing the money out in the Appropriations Act, it becomes a lobbyist-driven process,” Draper said.

Simmons said he supports having the Legislature provide the parameters with projects selected using a “scientific approach” that addresses the needs of both state and local governments.

Gardiner said that legislators will conduct public hearings beginning in January in an “open dialogue” about “what Amendment 1 will mean.”

“We’re not here to advocate one way or the other,” he told reporters, “but we want people to understand the potential impact.”

Mary Ellen Klas|Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau|11/23/2014

Four Recreational Trail Projects to Begin

~Projects develop new community recreational trails~

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida Recreational Trails Program executed four contracts in four counties for the development and renovation of trails. After being awarded competitive-grant funds during the 2013 and 2014 submission cycle, these four projects can now begin.

The Recreational Trails Program provides competitive-grant funds to local communities to renovate, develop or maintain recreational trails and trailside facilities. Contract agreements are for two years, with two one-year extensions permitted pursuant to the recreational trails program administrative rule.

“Without the grant funds provided through the Recreational Trails Program, some of these community projects might not exist,” said Rick Mercer, director of DEP’s Office of Operations.  “We are happy that the contracts are now in place and the work to develop and renovate these recreational trails can begin.”

The four contracts executed by the Recreational Trails Program are as follows.

  • The village of Palmetto Bay – Funding will be used for the renovation of the west restroom and 2,000 linear feet of 6 to 8 feet wide, multi-use asphalt trail and related facilities.
  • The city of Rockledge – Funding will be utilized for the construction of 12,513 linear feet of 12-foot wide, stone multi-use trail, with a bridge and related facilities.
  • The city of Chiefland – Funding will be utilized for the construction of 1,200 linear feet of 12-foot wide, porous asphalt trail and related facilities.
  • The Foundation of Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce – Funding will be used for the construction of 1,705 linear feet of 8-foot wide multi-use trail, 16 benches, signage and related facilities.

The Recreational Trails Program is a federally funded assistance program of the United States Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration. A portion of the grant awards must be matched by the grantee. In Florida, the competitive-grant program is administered by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Land and Recreation Grants section within the Office of Operations.

latashawalters| December 5, 2014

Conservation amendment’s passage revives hopes for sugar land buy

Florida voters’ overwhelming approval of the water and land conservation amendment has revived hopes the state will buy some sugar land to send Lake Okeechobee water south, but environmentalists are wary about how lawmakers will use the money.

Nearly 75 percent of voters passed Amendment 1 in November to set aside 33 percent of real estate transaction taxes over 20 years to buy, restore, improve and manage conservation lands, including rivers, the Indian River Lagoon and Everglades.

More than $600 million will be available next year and the Legislature will decide how to appropriate the money in its March-through-May session.

Environmental groups such as the Everglades Foundation want the state to buy 46,800 acres of U.S. Sugar Corp. land south of the lake to send excess water into the Everglades, therefore virtually eliminating discharges into the St. Lucie River estuary.

The state has set aside $90 million over the next three years to raise the Tamiami Trail in Miami-Dade County to allow water to flow more easily into the Everglades, so the next step should be to buy land to move water south, said Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg. He was former Gov. Charlie Crist’s chief of staff and helped draft a 2008 U.S. Sugar Corp. land buy, but the state purchased only 26,800 of the 187,000 proposed acres in 2010.

Isadora Rangel|(@Isadora_Rangel2)

State OKs Harmony Ranch buy for wetlands

The South Florida Water Management District Board of Governors on Thursday morning approved a plan to buy about 1,800 acres of Harmony Ranch, a site west of Hobe Sound where houses and businesses once were proposed, and restore it to a water-cleansing wetland.

The board agreed to spend $17.2 million from the Florida Forever Fund and combine it with $3.2 million from Martin County to make the $20.4 million cost.

The county’s share is from the half-cent sales tax residents paid from 2007 to 2012 to buy land for parks and conservation.

The land is roughly a third of the 4,500 acres of pasture along Bridge Road west of Florida’s Turnpike where Palm Beach developer Otto “Buz” DiVosta once planned to build 4,000 houses and 2 million square feet of business space.

Tyler Treadway|(@TCPalmTreadway)

Air Quality

EPA Proposes New Rules To Curb Ozone Levels

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency unveiled new rules today to reduce emission levels for smog-causing ozone, which is linked to asthma and other health problems.

The draft measure calls for lowering the threshold for ozone from 75 parts per billion to between 65 ppb and 70 ppb. The agency said it would take comments on an ozone level as low as 60 ppb.

“Bringing ozone pollution standards in line with the latest science will clean up our air, improve access to crucial air quality information, and protect those most at-risk,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a statement. “It empowers the American people with updated air quality information to protect our loved ones — because whether we work or play outdoors, we deserve to know the air we breathe is safe.”

The Clean Air Act requires the agency to review standards every five years. The ozone levels were set at 75 ppb in 2008 by President George W. Bush’s administration.

The new rules are likely to draw opposition from industry groups as well as Republicans. Critics say the standards will hurt jobs and adversely affect an economy that is only just recovering from the Great Recession.

Jay Timmons, the president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, said today that the proposed rules would jeopardize the manufacturing sector.

“This new standard comes at the same time dozens of other new EPA regulations are being imposed that collectively place increased costs, burdens and delays on manufacturers, threaten our international competitiveness and make it nearly impossible to grow jobs,” Timmons said in a statement. “Before the Obama administration moves the goalposts with yet another set of requirements that will make it more difficult for manufacturers across the country, they need to allow existing ozone standards to be implemented and give time to American businesses to meet those already stringent and onerous requirements.”

Rep. Pete Olson, R-Texas, told the Los Angeles Times that the current ozone standard was healthy and the new levels would hurt the economy.

“The law as it stands now says [the EPA] can’t look at jobs,” Olson told the newspaper. “But if you don’t have jobs, you don’t have health care, and that is a public health issue.”

The EPA’s McCarthy rejected those claims in an op-ed article on CNN.com. She said states will have until 2020 to 2037 to meet the new standards, depending on how severe the area’s ozone problem is.

“Critics play a dangerous game when they denounce the science and law EPA has used to defend clean air for more than 40 years,” she said. “The American people know better.”

The rules must be finalized by Oct. 1, 2015.

Krishnadev Calamur| November 26, 2014

Recycling

Watch: Baby Sea Turtles at Risk from Plastic Pollution

Ocean debris is a serious problem with nearly 80 percent blown in from landfills or transported through our waterways until it reaches the ocean. And plastic bags make up a significant amount of that pollution. To illustrate the toll plastic bags take on our land, sea and wildlife, Boomerang Bags, an Australian non-profit working to reduce the number of plastic bags, presents the “Bag Monster”.

Watch this humorous, yet poignant, short video to see why we need plastic bag bans everywhere:.

Cole Mellino|December 2, 2014

Europe Passes Historic Limits on Plastic Bags

European Union (EU) members would have to set goals to reduce the amount of lightweight, one-use plastic bags in circulation under new draft rules agreed upon by member countries. The rules would require that EU countries do one of two things: institute policies that would reduce bag use from the current level of nearly 200 per person annually to 90 by 2019 and 40 by 2025 or require that they not be given out free plastic bags after 2018. The rules would apply to bags thinner than 50 microns, which comprise about 90 percent of the plastic bags used used in Europe and the ones mostly likely to become litter or waste.

“This is an historic moment for all of Europe,” said European Parliament member (MEP) from Denmark Margrete Auken, who is steering the legislation through the European Parliament. “For the first time ever we have agreed on ambitious measures to reduce the amount of plastic bag waste in the environment. This is good news for the environment and all Europeans who expected the EU to take ambitious action on plastic bags. As front-running countries have demonstrated, dramatically reducing the consumption of these disposable bags is easily achievable with a consistent policy. Swiftly phasing out these bags is a readily-implementable solution to the pervasive problem of plastic waste in the environment.”

One of those front-running countries is Italy, where the bags were banned in 2012. Italian Minister for the Environment Gian Luca Galletti expressed support for the EU action, saying, “The agreement reached enables Europe to effectively tackle a very relevant environmental problem, thanks to the joint efforts of its institutions: today we have the right tools to greatly limit the use of plastic bags and to disseminate new environmental best practices that contribute to developing waste management in the individual states and at European level.”

According to the European Parliament press release, “In a business-as-usual scenario, consumption of plastic bags is expected to grow further. Estimates also suggest that over eight billion plastic carrier bags became litter in the EU in 2010.”

That, of course, is fine with PlasticsEurope, the representative organization for plastics manufacturers. The group said of the proposed limits, “It opens the door for member states to ban not only plastic bags but other types of packaging. Such an inconsistent political framework would hinder investments and innovation and would create barriers to trade in packaged goods in Europe.”

The group favors charging for plastic bags instead, something the UK already has on the table, although its Tory representatives to the European Parliament oppose the new EU rules.

“Plastic bags blight our countryside and oceans and kill millions of marine animals each year,” said MEP Catherine Bearder, a Liberal Democrat. “The Lib Dems in government are already set to curb plastic bag use by introducing a 5p charge next year. It makes sense for the rest of Europe to follow suit. I’m deeply concerned that Conservative MEPs refused to support legislation to reduce their use across the EU.”

In September, California became the first U.S. state to pass a law banning one-use plastic bags although many cities and counties have already taken action.

Anastasia Pantsios|November 28, 2014

9 Ways to Cut Out Plastic

Plastic is piling up everywhere. It disintegrates into tiny pieces that wash into rivers, lakes and seas, along with those tiny microbeads that come in many body washes and facial scrubs. There are huge gyres of plastic debris in the oceans with tens of thousands of tons of plastic. Plastic bags end up in the stomachs or birds, fish and other wild creatures, and plastic bottles and food containers end up in landfills where they can remain for hundreds of years.

But more cities and counties including the state of California are banning those single-use plastic bags so many stores give away like they were candy. And more consumers are becoming conscious of what they can do to avoid adding to the problem. You are probably already doing some of these things; think about doing a few more.

1. Even if the store tries to give you those one-use bags, don’t take them. In the last few years, reusable tote bags have caught on in a big way. Countless stores now sell them cheaply—usually 99 cents, in case you forgot one of the many you got as a promotional item at an event, meeting or conference. You can find totes that scrunch up into packages half the size of your hand and slip easily into a pocket or purse when they’re not in use. But if you do forget your tote and the store doesn’t have any for sale, don’t let them bag your stuff with only one or two items per bag.

2. Everywhere you go it seems like someone is passing out bottled water, another big waste-maker. Take along a reusable water bottle to that meeting or seminar and avoid picking up yet another bottle of water. And don’t buy those cases of individual water bottles for your home. If you like to have spring water or distilled water on hand, many stores sell gallon jugs that can be refilled.

3. Bring a thermos to your favorite coffee shop or that sandwich joint where you like to have lunch, and pass on the Styrofoam cup, as well as the one-use lid and the plastic straw. Ask to have the sandwich in paper if possible, or if you’re eating in, ask to have it unwrapped.

4. If you find yourself with plastic containers on hand, recycle. Use them for craft projects like you did back in Girl Scouts or make planters for seed-starting or growing herbs or sprouts. If you’re not artsy or don’t have a green thumb, give them to a local arts organization or scout troop which can put them to use. Everyone’s pushing recycled art these days so they’ll be glad to have them.

5. At the grocery store, look for foods with a minimum of packaging. As much as possible, avoid prepackaged foods wrapped in layers of plastic. And if you shop regularly at a farmers market or farm stand, bring back whatever you took got your purchases in. These small entrepreneurs can usually reuse those apple and berry baskets, egg crates and other containers.

6. Buy products like cleaning supplies and cat litter in cardboard containers instead of plastic if possible. And speaking of cat litter, those plastic jugs can really pile up—but some pet stores now offer refillable cat litter containers. Considering how many the average cat owner goes through, this is a great way to cut down on plastic waste. Your cat will never know the difference.

7. Throwing a party? Don’t buy a lot of plastic cups and silverware and then throw it all away when the guests leave. Use glass and silverware—or if you don’t have enough silverware and you’re worried guests will break a glass, wash and reuse the plastic. Don’t think “disposable.”

8. Make sure your cosmetics, including your toothpaste, don’t have those microbeads that have found their way into our lakes, rivers and oceans. More and more brands are phasing them out; look for those environmentally friendly brands.

9. Alas, today’s electronic devices—and all the plastic casing they contain—are meant to be disposable rather than repairable. Try getting a little longer life from each; don’t think you need the latest and most feature-laden gadget. And if something can’t be fixed for less than it would cost to buy new—sadly, too often the case—don’t just toss it in the trash. Look for a facility that accepts old electronic items for recycling.

Anastasia Pantsios|December 4, 2014

Food Waste Diversion is Key to a Sustainable Community

Over 20% of our country’s landfills consist of food we throw away.

When this organic waste breaks down in the landfill with other types of waste, it produces methane gas. When organic waste breaks down separate from the other waste in your composting bin, it creates carbon dioxide. Both methane and carbon dioxide are greenhouse gases, but methane is over 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the earth’s atmosphere. Plus, the compost created from the diverted organic waste is a nutrient rich soil that can be used to garden. Diverting food waste is important because it turns something usually considered waste into a resource, which also decreases the amount of emissions from landfills.

Our project, Zero Waste Composting, has worked with area businesses, restaurants and schools to help divert food waste from landfills. Reducing organic waste has had a significant impact here in Iowa City. Our landfill is able to now produce more compost for the community to use. More people are educated on why composting is important and how they can take part in reducing organic waste in landfills. And, it saves space in the landfills, is economically viable because it generates money for the landfill, and produces less harmful greenhouse gases.

The diversion process and its benefits shouldn’t only be limited to our community. Many communities can get involved and help decrease the amount of food waste being sent to their landfills. Diversion can take place in homes, schools, restaurants and businesses.

At home, families can create a backyard compost pile that can benefit their garden. Food scraps, like coffee filters, egg shells and vegetable and fruit scraps can all be composted in a home composting area. Schools, restaurants and businesses can also start diverting their food waste. It’s an easy transition, with many third-party businesses willing to help. Most food waste, including meat and dairy, can be diverted when being sent to a commercial composting facility. The food waste is then hauled away to a composting facility.

Other cities and towns can learn from our successes and divert food waste from their landfills as well. Communities should start by contacting their local landfill to see what options are available for organic waste diversion in their region. Schools, restaurants and businesses should then educate students, employees and consumers about the benefits of composting before implementing a diversion program. If a compost facility is unavailable in a region, communities can still divert organic waste by showing families how to create backyard compost piles and compost their home food and yard scraps. The model we used is simple, and many communities can implement it.

Lillianne Brown|senior|Iowa City High School,|Iowa City|member of the Zero Waste Composting team|winner|President’s Environmental Youth Award in 2014|2014 December 10

Groundbreaking Study: 5 Trillion Pieces of Plastic Floating in World’s Oceans

You’ve probably heard of the 5 Gyres, those huge deposits of plastic found in rotating masses in the world’s oceans. Now a new study released yesterday by the 5 Gyres Institute provides the first comprehensive estimate of how much plastic there actually is in the world’s oceans. It found that plastic was not just confined to the gyres, but was widely dispersed throughout the oceans. The report was compiled from information gathered during 24 expeditions from 2007-2013.

The estimate concludes that approximately 5.25 trillion plastic particles—about 269,000 tons—have ended up in the oceans. It looked at both microplastics and macroplastics. Previously, studies only look at particular size classes of plastic so their density estimates were much lower. The study showed that, despite a loss of microplastics from the surface of the five gyres, there was a large volume and widespread distribution of the smallest of the microplastics in remote ocean areas.

“When The 5 Gyres Institute formed, we set out to answer a basic question: how much plastic is out there?” says Marcus Eriksen, director of research for the 5 Gyres Institute. “After six long years and a wide-reaching collaboration, we have completed the most comprehensive plastic pollution study to date. We’ve found microplastic ocean pollution, in varying concentrations, everywhere in the world. Our findings show that that the garbage patches in the middle of the five subtropical gyres are not final resting places for floating plastic trash. Unfortunately, the endgame for microplastic is dangerous interaction with entire ocean ecosystems. We should begin to see the garbage patches as shredders, not stagnant repositories.”

Plastic, swept into the ocean from rivers, coastal activity and shipping lanes, degrades into microplastics as it travels from land to distant parts of the oceans. These plastics have been found in ice cores, coastal sediments, the circulatory system of mussels, zooplankton, lugworms living in sediment, on the sea floor and in the water column. The widespread dispersal of microplastic is an issue since smaller particles absorb more pollutants which are then ingested by marine organisms.

“The garbage patches could be a frightfully efficient mechanism for corrupting our food chain with toxic microplastics,” said Eriksen.

The 5 Gyres Institute hopes the new information will spur more people, businesses and government agencies into action.

“Knowing that plastic pollution becomes hazardous waste in the ocean, it is essential that innovative products and packaging designed for recovery replace the single-use, throw away culture of the past,” said Eriksen. “The good news is, we don’t have to go out and clean the oceans, and if we stop adding to the problem, the oceans will clean themselves. It’s time to focus our mitigation strategies upstream from production to disposal. The status quo is not acceptable. Our goal is to vanquish the idea that oceans can bear our waste and to usher in an age of restoration and responsibility.”

Anastasia Pantsios|December 11, 2014

Miscellaneous

FEMA Flood Control Policy in Desperate Need of Overhaul

Now that streams here in Oregon are rising with runoff from autumn storms, I’m reminded that when it rains it pours. Oregon’s last major flood was in 1997. We’re due. And in every region of the country, high water inevitably reoccurs over and over again.

More important, the floods are going to get worse. Ironically, both droughts and floods will become more extreme according to the models of climate change.

First, let’s look at the bright side. Biologists tell us that floods are fundamentally good for rivers, even though the initial results might look a little rough. The scouring actions of floods create deep pools that every angler knows are essential as cold-water refuges for fish. Floods rearrange cobbles into riffles needed for aeration of water, create habitat for invertebrates that become fish-feed, and accumulate gravel essential for spawning fish—salmon, for example. Floods recharge groundwater that we depend upon later in the year, and they nourish riverfront forests—best habitat of all for wildlife. The rub is not that rivers flood, but that we’ve built houses and businesses directly in the way.

Even after a century of aggressive efforts to “control” floods with dams and levees costing taxpayers dearly, America suffers increasing flood damages averaging $8 billion per year according to the National Weather Service. One reason is that we keep adding more development on the floodplains.

To address the long-standing problem, and to replace disaster relief, Congress in 1968 enacted a National Flood Insurance Program with this logic: the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) would subsidize otherwise unaffordable flood insurance for people who are already located on flood-prone land, but only if their local governments acted to eliminate flood damage incurred by future development. In other words, to accommodate mistakes of the past but not of the future. Zoning is the key: areas expected to flood at least once in 100 years have been designated as floodplain (courts have consistently upheld open-space zoning for floodplains since the 1920s).

Under the Program, the amount of damage should have shrunk by attrition. However, owing to influence by the building industries, the FEMA-approved flood zones have not halted floodplain development. Rather, they’ve allowed for “flood proofing” by adding fill to artificially raise the level of the land or by elevating structures on pilings.

FEMA’s approach hasn’t worked. Earthen fill that’s trucked-in to raise the level of floodplains pushes the water elsewhere—onto neighbors’ properties—like a rock dropped into a bucket of water that’s already full. Structural reinforcements have proven no match for riverbank erosion or channel migration, which has occurred ever since rivers began to run. Furthermore, errors of mapping and the increasing intensity of storms have delivered floods far exceeding those expected on the agency’s maps, which continue to allow vulnerable investments.

As a result, new development that was supposed to be risk-free continues to sap insurance subsidies and also, disaster relief funds have been doled out at $6 billion even in years without budget-busting events such as Hurricane Sandy. What was supposed to be a catalyst for ushering development to safe havens has become a subsidy for even more development squarely in the path of damage.

There’s plenty of room for construction elsewhere; only 5 percent of America’s landscape is flood-prone. But because of development built in harm’s way, the Flood Insurance Program runs at a whopping $24 billion deficit, somehow tolerated in an age when conservative taxpayers rail against programs as essential as education and health care. Why are floodplain developers given a pass that pushes such a sensible program toward bankruptcy?

This topic is timely because the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries department is considering a new rule directed at the FEMA program. Floodplains in Oregon and California, for example, would be mapped more accurately. Development in acutely hazardous areas would be stopped. Though universally needed, these sensible steps would apply only on the agency’s home turf: streams where endangered or threatened species of fish and wildlife still exist, including coastal waterways in the Northwest that are vital for coho salmon.

This modest proposal deserves support. Beyond that, the Flood Insurance Program cries for overhaul.

The alternative is greater flood damage, skyrocketing private and public costs, and unnecessary human suffering. And all the while, we taxpayers are underwriting the destruction of our rivers’ precious natural qualities.

It’s time to quit making the same mistakes over and over again.

Tim Palmer|December 2, 2014

GTM Research Reserve Invites Public to Hike the Trails for the Holidays

~Step out of everyday living into the sights and sounds of nature~

The GTM Research Reserve reminds everyone that the holiday season is a great time to bring the family and out-of-town guests to the Ponte Vedra Beach and Marineland reserve sites to explore the trails or to visit the Environmental Education Center’s Exhibit Hall. The five northern trails are located near Guana Dam in Ponte Vedra Beach in St. Johns County. The southern trail is at the River-to-Sea Preserve bordering the town of Marineland at the northern tip of Flagler County.

“The GTM Research Reserve is a wonderful place to visit during the holidays,” said Michael Shirley, Ph.D., director of the GTM Research Reserve. “The Education Center provides a unique indoor activity that is especially popular with children, while the outdoor trails provide a great way for everyone to experience Florida’s beautiful natural environment.”

The GTM Research Reserve encompasses almost 74,000 acres of estuary and uplands, and offers nearly 17 miles of great trails for walking, hiking, biking, horseback riding, dog walking, nature viewing and picnicking.

Trained volunteers give free interpretive trail and beach explorations. Maps are available in the GTM Research Reserve’s Environmental Education Center and at the GTM Marineland field office for hiking on your own. Explorers might see aquatic wildflowers, a tidal salt marsh estuary (where the river meets the sea), great blue herons, snowy egrets, storks, roseate spoonbills, pelicans, owls, deer, gopher tortoises, mussels, clams and oysters.

The trails are open daily from 8 a.m. until sunset. Horses and leashed pets are allowed on the Guana Ponte Vedra Beach trails and dogs are allowed on the trail at Marineland. All pets must be on a 6-foot leash at all times. There is a $3 parking fee per vehicle at the Ponte Vedra Beach site.

Please visit www.gtmnerr.org to download a trail map or to reserve a spot for one of the free guided explorations.

latashawalters |December 5, 2014

An Insurance Policy for Climate Change? How Seed Banks Are Protecting the Future of Food

By now, most Americans know that the world’s rainforests are being cut down at an alarming rate, coral reefs are dying from ocean acidification and warming and the sea is being overfished to the point of exhaustion. We are in the midst of an unprecedented collapse of biodiversity, the largest extinction event since the dinosaurs disappeared from the earth 65 million years ago.

It is essential that we preserve the remaining crop varieties that we still have.

But fewer people have heard about another ongoing mass extinction that involves the foods that we eat. More than 75 percent of the fruit and vegetable varieties that humans once consumed have already gone the way of the woolly mammoth and the saber-toothed tiger, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. And half of all domesticated animal breeds have been lost in roughly the past century.

Apple historian Dan Bussey says that of the 20,000 named apple varieties that have been cultivated in North America, only 4,000 remain. Thousands of varieties of rice once flourished in the Philippines. Today, less than 100 varieties survive. And similar numbers could be cited for virtually all of our food crops.

This massive loss of diversity is — you guessed it — the result of the rapid spread of industrial agriculture and the increasing standardization of the food industry, where unconventional varieties have been squeezed off of supermarket shelves.

A third of the world’s land area is dedicated to agriculture. Farmers’ fields and pastures comprise (after the oceans) the second largest ecosystem on the planet. This vast tract has been largely transformed into sterile monocultural deserts in which all other organisms are suppressed with agrochemicals, and only the cash crop is allowed to thrive. Whether it is soy in the Brazilian Amazon, wheat on the Ukrainian steppes or corn in Iowa, a single high-yield variety typically dominates the landscape for as far as the eye can see.

It is a system that has proven to be fabulously efficient and productive. But this productivity has come at a cost: Once rich soils are quickly being “burned” by the continual application of petroleum-based fertilizers; fresh water aquifers are pumped dangerously low for irrigation; streams are poisoned with herbicides and pesticides and vast dead zones fan out from river deltas like the Mississippi, which drain toxic agricultural residues far out into the sea.

But even apart from this ecological damage, some agronomists question the wisdom of planting only one crop. If the single seed variety that everyone is sowing turns out to be unsuited to future climactic conditions, or lacks resistance to insect and crop diseases which are going to be increasingly on the move into new areas as climate change advances, then we will be out of luck. We won’t have the genetic diversity on hand to breed new, resilient varieties that can withstand the rigors of a climate-changed world.

The roughly 1,750 other seed banks worldwide are functioning as a kind of Noah’s ark.

That’s one reason that it is essential that we preserve the remaining crop varieties that we still have, says John Torgrimson, the executive director of the Seed Savers Exchange, the largest US organization dedicated to preserving heirloom seeds. “While not every traditional variety tastes great or looks great, its genetics may be invaluable 50 or 100 years from now when the climate is different,” Torgrimson told Truthout.

“There are qualities in varieties that we don’t even know about,” he said. “It might be resistant to a particular disease; it may grow well in a particular region; it may have certain traits that will allow us to deal with climactic conditions going forward. Diversity is an insurance policy.”

But it is an insurance policy that has become increasingly hard to come by. In earlier times, farmers saved their own seeds in the fall for replanting in the spring. In the 1930s, a scant 0.5 percent of farmers planted store-bought hybrid seeds, according to Torgrimson. Today, that number has soared to over 90 percent. “Big companies, like Monsanto, Dow and DuPont, are pretty much driving what farmers are growing,” he said. In some cases, farmers are actually forbidden by contract to collect the “patented seeds” from their own harvest for replanting next year.

The end result is that the incredible agricultural creativity demonstrated by farmers painstakingly breeding ever-new varieties of fruits, grains and vegetables over hundreds of generations has now effectively ground to a halt in the United States and much of the developed world, replaced by a small cadre of crop scientists creating commercial varieties in high-tech labs and experimental plots for sale by multinational corporations.

In the face of this growing consolidation, groups like Seed Savers and the roughly 1,750 other seed banks worldwide are functioning as a kind of Noah’s ark to preserve crucial genetic diversity during our current flood of monoculture and high-tech industrial seeds. One organization that is working regionally to preserve the United States’ agricultural legacy is Native Seeds Search, based in Tucson, Arizona, which collects traditional drought-tolerant varieties of corn, wheat, beans and squash (called landraces) for use locally and in other arid areas around the world.

Technology has largely transformed modern farming into an assembly line operation.

The group’s former director, Bill McDorman, told Truthout that they aren’t just saving the seeds; they are also gathering tribal stories about how to grow them, when to plant, how to tend the plants and how to store the harvest.

“There are fields where Hopi blue corn has been grown successfully every year for the past 60 years, with no external inputs, no fertilizer; they never watered it; that’s what they have learned to do over a thousand years, so for us just to take a few of those kernels and say, there are some genes in there that we can use, misses the point,” he said.

These genetic resources, McDorman says, need to be used to seed a new kind of farming modeled on the successful place-based agricultural systems of the past.

“The Hopi elders tell us to share, share, share, get this stuff back out and into a vibrant regional agriculture; that’s the real way to save them,” he said. “In an era when 10 companies own 87 percent of all seed [varieties], it’s time for the rest of us to find what’s left and use that to start our own agriculture based on our own seed-saving.”

Recently Monsanto approached Native Seeds Search to buy rare teocinte seeds, the wild ancestor from which our present-day corn was bred. Modern plant breeders are keen to acquire the hardy forebears of crops, which contain genes that are suited to harsh conditions in the wild. By crossbreeding these resilient weeds with their far less hardy domesticated cousins, breeders hope to produce new varieties that will be suited for survival in a tougher future.

Native Seeds Search “politely turned Monsanto down,” said McDorman, fearing perhaps that the agricultural giant might attempt to patent the teocinte and claim it as its own exclusive “intellectual property.” The group stamps the words, “These seeds are not to be used for commercial development with a patent outcome,” on all of the packets that they sell.

There is little effort to develop locally adapted crop varieties, whose sale would be too modest to interest big agriculture.

To date, Native Seeds Search has preserved 2,000 unique landraces native to the American Southwest. Even more ambitious in scale and global reach is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a facility tunneled under a mountain on the island of Spitsbergen in the Norwegian Arctic, which stores over 783,000 different crop seeds from all corners of the earth. Svalbard founder Cary Fowler conceived of the frozen repository as a backup for regional seed banks worldwide, one place shielded from natural and human disasters where all of the world’s remaining varieties could be securely stored.

Svalbard came none too soon. The rice seed bank in the Philippines was recently destroyed by fire. Afghanistan’s gene bank, which contained hundreds of unique breeds of apricot, almond, melons and plums, was ransacked during the fall of the Taliban. Iraq’s seed facility located in the town of Abu Ghraib was looted and destroyed during the insurgency against US forces.

Last April, the seed bank in the ruined city of Aleppo, Syria — the very region where agriculture is believed to have started 10,000 years ago — shipped its entire collection of barley, fava bean and lentil seeds, along with ancient races of durum and bread wheat, to Norway for safekeeping.

Fowler told Truthout that most other regional seed banks around the world are not faring much better. “If you look at these seed banks, what you see is not a pretty picture. There are virtually none that operate on a secure, multiyear budget,” he said. “Many lack backup cooling systems for when the electricity fails. There is a slow drip, drip of extinction as germination rates decline. That’s just not the way to manage a resource that you may need not just next year, but 50 years from now.”

“They have to get these seeds into the hands of farmers.”

But the biggest problem, Fowler says, is that these facilities have never conducted a genetic inventory of their own collections. He compares it to having a library, but no card catalog to help locate what you are looking for on the shelves. We need a massive research push, he says, to study the traits contained in seeds and ultimately to make use of them in developing new varieties that are suited to future climactic conditions.

But who is going to pay for this? In the past, government sponsored agricultural research, often through the network of state-run land grant agricultural colleges, which bred seeds and developed farming techniques suited to their own regions. These programs, however, have been decimated in recent years.

“The University of Arizona even as late as the ’60s had a state of the art center to study agriculture here in Arizona and produce new varieties for the desert,” said McDorman, the director of Native Seeds Search. “Their funding to do that has been cut every year for the last 17 years. They are down to $5,000 annually to do research on local varieties. Their 1,700-acre state-of-the-art farm was recently leased out to Monsanto to do research on genetically modified cotton for use in North Africa. Why? Because the only money for research nowadays comes from large industry.”

It’s not just state agricultural programs that are being gutted. The same cuts are happening at the federal level as well, according to Fowler. “In the late 1800s, the federal government — we didn’t have a tea party then! — was sending out 20 million boxes of seeds to farmers for experimentation purpose, and this is how we came to have crops that were adapted to all of the ecological niches in this country,” he said.

Nowadays, by contrast, with government effectively out of the research business, there is little effort to develop locally adapted crop varieties, whose sale would be too modest to interest big agriculture. In fact, for many of the fruits and vegetables that we depend on, there is virtually no research at all. “The private sector is focused on a handful of major seed crops [soy, wheat and corn],” Fowler said. “So they are not putting major efforts into quote unquote ‘minor crops,’ which may be minor for them economically, but major crops for the rest of us nutritionally.”

To date, Native Seeds Search has preserved 2,000 unique landraces.

This research gap is especially acute in poorer countries. “What is going to convince big seed companies to put in the investment to produce varieties adapted to ecological niches in Africa when people there can’t even afford to buy the seed?” Fowler said.

His solution: “National seed banks around the world should figure out which traits and seed will be needed [to adapt to changing conditions] and distribute them,” he said. “They have to get these seeds into the hands of farmers and empower them to be the breeders and developers that underdeveloped countries lack because they don’t have a big and viable commercial research sector. They’ll do it. Farmers like to experiment, to try something new; they love that.”

One such farmer-based project is Parque de la Papa or Potato Park, a 22,000-acre, farmer-led potato preserve located in Cusco Valley in the Peruvian Andes where six Quechua communities have banded together to grow more than 600 native breeds, which come in all shapes, sizes and colors, from purple to yellow and red, in the region where potato cultivation began.

Climate change has been warming the Andes, where temperature rises have been documented since the 1950s, forcing farmers to grow their cold-loving varieties at ever higher altitudes. “Farmers in difficult environments such as mountains and drylands are at the front line of climate change,” Krystyna Swiderska, an agricultural specialist at the International Institute for Environment and Development, told Truthout. “They are already experiencing the impacts of climate change and are having to develop ways to adapt.”

In earlier times, farmers saved their own seeds in the fall for replanting in the spring.

During the insurgency of the terror group Sendero Luminoso in the 1980s and ’90s, many highlanders sought refuge in urban areas, abandoning their farms and imperiling many potato varieties, some of which were planted on only a handful of fields and were lost. Fortunately, many other breeds had been preserved by the International Potato Center (CIP) in Lima, which distributed them to farmers after the insurgency ended in 2000.

When the great potato famine led to the starvation of a million people in Ireland during the mid-1800s, most of the potatoes grown on the island were of a single variety, the Irish Lumper, which was susceptible to the blight. In stark contrast, Andean farmers plant a wide diversity of varieties. CIP director Barbara Wells compares it to “modern investors in the stock market, who diversify their investment portfolios to deal with the risk and volatility in the stock market.”

“I plant about 250 varieties of potato,” said farmer Lino Mamani, of the Potato Park. “Planting a diversity of potatoes is vital for food security — it means we will always have food. This practice comes from our ancestors.”

In the past, farmers’ traditional knowledge was largely ignored by agricultural scientists, and viewed as unscientific and untested. Nowadays, there is a growing respect for what they know.

“We view farmers as researchers,” said CIP scientist Stef de Haan. “They are continually innovating and are probably ahead of the curve when it comes to adaptation since they are in the field identifying problems and evaluating options.”

Swiderska, the agricultural specialist, agrees that farmers are some of our best guides to adapting agriculture to a climate-changed future. “Traditional knowledge is holistic, focusing on the interconnections between different parts [soils, water, biodiversity, culture] and on complexity of systems, rather than reductionist like science. It is a different type of knowledge, but just as important,” she said.

Technology has largely transformed modern farming into an assembly line operation, in which farmers have left decisions about which seeds to plant and what pesticides and fertilizers to apply to the big agricultural corporations that supply them.

But now, with climate change disrupting regional agriculture around the world in very different ways, some farmers want to take back the control they had relinquished to big agriculture. They are hoping that, with the help of the incredible seed wealth developed by their ancestors over countless generations, they can continue to feed themselves — and us — in the uncertain years ahead.

Richard Schiffman|December 10, 2014

Putnam set for leadership role in conservation debate

Ag Secretary Putnam poised for big role in water fight

TALLAHASSEE — There are lots of cooks in the kitchen as Florida faces the related tasks of drafting conservation plans along with seemingly incongruous rules for cleaning and preserving water supplies.

Ranchers and developers want to shape any new regulations. Environmentalists want reforms in practice and not just on paper. The king-making business lobby in Tallahassee wants to ensure this spring’s coming debate over water and land conservation doesn’t present any bumps in the road for future growth. And politicians galore are looking for opportunities to claim credit.

Corralling these interests and addressing the state’s potentially crippling water shortages will depend on the political leadership of some key figures.

Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, declared last year the Legislature would act this spring on water policy. Gov. Rick Scott has touted his recommendations for conservation land buying after years of zeroing it out of the budget.

But the politician who will have the some outsized say-so is Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. The Bartow Republican was proselytizing on Florida’s worsening water woes when Scott was campaigning to dismantle Florida’s growth and environmental rules.

While environmentalists have long viewed Florida’s agriculture commissioner position as a mouthpiece for Big Sugar and agriculture interests, the current occupant is well-respected and an all-but-declared serious gubernatorial contender. As evidence of his growing clout, look at what happened at a Cabinet meeting last week.

Scott wanted to vote down a proposed easement agreement to protect 322 acres on a central Osceola County cattle operation called Camp Lonesome. The acreage contains wetlands, prairie and pine flatlands that drain into Lake Marion and eventually the Kissimmee River, a prime target of restoration efforts to save the Everglades.

The governor voted against the project, because he said its $549,000 price tag was too close to the appraised value, and the state should try to cut a better deal. But Putnam then respectfully argued for why voting it down would be dangerous.

He argued if the Cabinet planned to keep approving conservation projects as the real-estate market recovers — and the Amendment 1 mandate voters approved last month means they basically have to — policymakers should stop making arbitrary judgments based on how close the sale gets to the appraised value.

Panther habitat near Naples and bear habitat outside Orlando are going to be more valuable for either ecosystem protection or more intensive development.

“We either need to consider each individual parcel as it is brought to us, or we need to adopt a policy on what we’re willing to pay,” Putnam said. “But we can’t have ambiguity for the landowner who doesn’t know whether they are negotiating in good faith with the state.”

Camp Lonesome proved as much for Scott. The Cabinet overruled him, after Putnam was joined by Attorney General Pam Bondi. “I think we can do better for our taxpayers, but the motion carries,” Scott said, tersely.

Afterward, he said Florida’s 28,000 acres of purchases during his first term showed he supported conservation of environmentally threatened ecosystems.

But this is exactly the kind of land buying that Florida’s agriculture and development industries, Republican policymakers, and the business lobby want. It’s a vision of how Florida will continue to try to have it both ways: remaining a development magnet for retirees while trying to keep from choking off its most threatened spaces.

And Putnam is clearly going to keep wielding outsized influence over the land and water conservation debate.

Aaron Deslatte|Orlando Sentinel

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

Posted in Of special interest | Leave a comment

ConsRep 1214 A

“All birds, of course, are miracles, and humans have known this for millennia. We have looked to birds as oracles. Our hearts soar on their wings and their songs. Even the tiniest bird can teach us that life is larger than humankind alone.” Sy Montgomery, Author, Birdology

Announcements

Register today for the 115th Audubon Christmas Bird Count.

As a citizen scientist, your efforts make a difference.

Your participation in the Audubon Christmas Bird Count is a great way to help scientists and environmental organizations

from around the world assess the health of bird populations and guide conservation action.

Feeder watchers, field observers, count compilers, and regional editors all make an enormous contribution.

Data from the Christmas Bird Count is shaping our understanding of birds and what we need to do to ensure their future.

Register now.

SAVE THE DATE:

Audubon of the Western Everglades Presents: 

Feathers and Friends Gala

February 12th, 2015

Keynote Speaker Author/Photographer :

Mac Stone

Naples Beach Hotel (Beach Side)

851 GULF SHORE BOULEVARD NORTH,

NAPLES, FLORIDA 34102

6:00 pm Cocktails – Cash Bar

7:00 pm Dinner

Followed by Speaker

$125.00 per person

Reserve your seat today.

Call Lori at 239~643~7822

or e-mail audubonwe@live.com

See you on February 12th!

Save the Date:  Everglades Coalition 2015 Conference

 

The 30th Annual Conference – Key Largo, FL
January 8th, 9th & 10th, 2015

Click here for more information.

‘Ding’ Darling lecture series features nationally acclaimed experts

The granddaughter of Ansel Adams, prolific environmental writer and documentary filmmaker Bill Belleville,

celebrity birding authors Don and Lillian Stokes, and solar power pioneer Neville Williams

headline the eagerly awaited 2015 “Ding” Darling Nature Store Friday Lecture Series at J.N. “Ding’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island

The free 14-week series kicks off on Friday, Jan. 9, 2015, in the “Ding” Darling Visitors & Education Center Auditorium with a panel discussion

by the Stokes, Karl Werner, and Dave McQuade titles “How to Be a Better Birder through Social Media.”

The Sanibel Captiva Trust Company is sponsoring the 2015 lecture series with support from the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge (DDWS).

Due to their popularity, the free lectures will be held twice each Friday, at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.

“The Sanibel Captiva Trust Company has a true commitment to conservation and the health of our wildlife,

and we’re so grateful to have them team up with the Society on our lecture series,” said Birgie Miller, DDWS executive director.

Other lectures will examine the Florida Highwaymen artists, pesticides, the Everglades, and other relevant topics. The season’s complete schedule is listed below.

Book signings follow all of the starred (*) lectures. Seating for the lectures is limited and available on a first-come basis.

As usual, Wildlife Drive is closed on Friday, but visitors are welcome to enjoy the free “Ding” Darling Visitor & Education Center

and recreational opportunities at Tarpon Bay Explorers, the refuge’s official concessionaire located at its Tarpon Bay Recreation Area.

For more information, call 239-472-1100 ext. 241 or log on to www.dingdarlingsociety.org/lectures.

For the schedule of the 2015 DDWS Film Series, please visit http://www.dingdarlingsociety.org/films.

Jan. 9 – Panel Discussion: “How To Be a Better Birder Through Social Media”

*Jan. 16 – Speaker:  Author Bill Belleville, “The Peace of Blue” 

*Jan. 23 – Speaker: Author/Photographer Mac Stone, Everglades: America’s Wetland

*Feb. 30 – Speaker: Author Neville Williams, “Our Solar-Powered Future”

*Feb. 6 – Speaker: Author Jeff Klinkenberg, Alligator in B Flat

*Feb. 13 – Speakers: Authors Don and Lillian Stokes, “Beautiful Birds of Sanibel”

*Feb. 20 – No Lecture – Volunteer Luncheon

*Feb. 27 – Speaker: Author Gary Monroe, The Highwaymen

March 6 – Speaker: Sarah Adams, “Memories of My Grandfather, Ansel Adams”

*March 13 – Speaker: Author Frederick “Fritz” Davis, Banned: A History of Pesticides and the Science of Toxicology

*March 20 – Speaker: Author Marie Read, Into the Nest: Intimate Views of the Courting, Parenting, and Family Lives of Birds

*March 27 – Speaker: Peggy Macdonald, Marjorie Harris Carr: Defender of Florida Environment

April 3 – Speaker: Jeremy Conrad, “Sea Turtles”

April 10 – Speaker: Jerry Lorenz, “Roseate Spoonbills”

As a non-profit 501(c)3 organization, DDWS works to support J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge’s

mission of conservation, wildlife and habitat protection, research, and public education

through charitable donations and Refuge Nature Shop proceeds.

Three New Eagles

The Audubon Center for Birds of Prey is proud to welcome three new Bald Eagles as part of our permanent display family.

Sadly, these birds are unable to be released back into the wild. But thanks to bird “adoptions” by people like you,

our team of volunteers and staff were able to complete extensive renovations to three of our bird aviaries to accommodate these new additions.

The three eagles will now be featured as Audubon Education Birds, where their unique stories will educate school children and the public on the threats that Florida’s Bald Eagles face in the wild.

You can help by “adopting” one of our new eagle residents. An adoption is an investment in the care, feeding, and medical treatment of patients and residents at the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey.

Also, the holiday season is a great time to give an Audubon Center for Birds of Prey Adopt-a-Bird as a gift for friends, family, teachers, and neighbors.

Please note that gift adoptions must be submitted no later than December 18 to be received by December 25.

Please state the name of the specific eagle you would like to adopt on the adoption page.

Of Interest to All

Obama Administration Selects 26 Communities to Develop Local Food Projects, Encourage Economic Expansion/ Local Foods, Local Places Initiative encourages creative economic development in 26 communities in 19 states

ATLANTA–Today, on behalf of the White House Rural Council, six federal agencies joined to announce 26 communities including Tuskegee, Alabama, have been selected to participate in Local Foods, Local Places, a federal initiative providing technical support to integrate local food systems into community economic action plans. Under this effort, a team of agricultural, transportation, environmental, public health and regional economic experts will work directly with the communities to develop specifically identified local food projects. Project proposals include repurposing vacant land into local food production, developing year-round retail markets for local food products, and establishing food hubs to increase local food supply chains.

“The Local Foods, Local Places initiative illustrates that communities are thinking about creative ways to integrate local food in their community economic development plans,” said USDA’s Deputy Under Secretary Doug O’Brien. “The projects developed via Local Foods, Local Places will revitalize rural Main Streets and urban downtown areas, and create market opportunities for food producers and entrepreneurs.”

“Our agencies are working together to make a visible difference in communities,” said EPA Acting Deputy Administrator Stan Meiburg. “By promoting farmers markets, community kitchens, and other efforts to increase access to healthy food, we are supporting local businesses in struggling downtown neighborhoods and preserving farms and undeveloped land. It’s good for people’s health, good for the economy, and good for the environment.”

“The Local Foods, Local Places Initiative recognizes the relationship between available transportation and the health and well-being of our communities. This collaboration provides local communities an opportunity to transform vacant spaces into vibrant spaces, which will provide better food options and better mobility for their residents,” said U.S. DOT Undersecretary Peter Rogoff.

Delta Regional Authority Federal Co-Chairman Christopher Masingill announced Tuskegee is one of seven communities in four states that will be receiving Local Foods, Local Places technical support in the Delta region via conference call. The Tuskegee community will receive technical assistance to pursue a plan for economic development and food security through downtown revitalization and regional marketing initiatives. A complete list of communities participating in the Local Foods, Local Places Initiative is available here: http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/lflp_community_list.pdf

“As a region historically centered on agriculture, it is important to strengthen and grow the local food systems that have supported the Delta communities and this country for centuries,” said DRA Federal Co-Chairman Chris Masingill. “The Delta Regional Authority is proud to support this innovative program which is in an investment into community health and economic growth for workers, businesses and families in the Delta region.”

Local Foods, Local Places is a partnership among USDA, EPA, U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), the Delta Regional Authority (DRA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The initiative draws on the Administration’s Partnership for Sustainable Communities, USDA’s Seven Strategies for Economic Development and other place-based strategies to address regional challenges. The 26 Local Foods, Local Places communities were chosen from among 316 applicants. The initiative is jointly funded at $800,000. This amount, and the projects it will support, will make a significant impact in communities involved in the Local Foods, Local Places initiative.

USDA Secretary Vilsack identified strengthening local food systems as one of the four pillars of USDA’s commitment to rural economic development, along with production agriculture (including expanding export markets and improving research), promoting conservation and outdoor recreation opportunities, and growing the bio-based economy. Local Foods, Local Places is part of USDA’s commitment to support local and regional food systems. USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative coordinates the Department’s policy, resources, and outreach efforts related to local and regional food systems.

About the White House Rural Council

To address challenges in Rural America, build on the administration’s rural economic strategy, and improve the implementation of that strategy, the president signed an executive order establishing the White House Rural Council. The council coordinates the administration’s efforts in rural America by streamlining and improving the effectiveness of federal programs serving rural America; engage stakeholders, including farmers, ranchers, and local citizens, on issues and solutions in rural communities; and promoting and coordinating private-sector partnerships. The work of the White House Rural Council and USDA to bring investment to rural America is an example of how the Administration is creating smart partnerships with the private sector to better support Americans in all parts of the country.

Jason McDonald|epa.gov|December 3, 2014

Alico buying three Florida citrus producers for $363 million

Despite citrus’ decline from disease, Alico pledges to grow the industry in its vast acreage. Its Florida land buys now make it the biggest U.S. producer, Alico says.

Agricultural giant Alico Inc. is buying three Central Florida citrus operations for $363 million in an aggressive move that the Fort Myers company says will make it the largest citrus producer in the United States. The deals announced Wednesday more than triple Alico’s agricultural footprint to more than 30,000 acres and triple its return to shareholders. The deals show Alico is gambling that Florida’s orange groves will bounce back from the citrus greening bacteria that has devastated the industry — to the point of pledging to replant trees that have been lost to the disease.

“It shows a commitment that’s sorely needed right now,” said Ansley Watson Jr., executive director of the Florida Citrus Processors Association. Right now, he said, “the processors have been getting to the point where there is almost not enough fruit to run their plants.”

Alico CEO Clay Wilson said his company has no other intention for its new acquisitions than to keep producing citrus over the long haul.

“Alico is a farming company foremost,” he said in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times.

He acknowledged that “anybody in Florida who owns land is in the real estate business,” but said he doesn’t see any demand to develop the land his company is buying, explaining, “Where we’re located is so far from the coast, I don’t see doing anything like that in my future.”

As for planting new trees, he said, “for a long time, growers were not very optimistic about the future of their groves and didn’t plant trees. My dad always told me, ‘Your future as a farmer is in young trees.’ So we never stopped.”

In the biggest of the deals disclosed Wednesday, Alico is paying $274 million for Orange-Co. LP, which has about 20,263 acres, one of the largest contiguous citrus grove properties in the state. The deal was financed in part through proceeds from Alico’s recently announced $97 million sale of its sugarcane assets.

Separately, Alico is also buying Silver Nip Citrus for $72 million, adding 7,434 acres into its fold, and in September it closed on the acquisition of Gator Grove for $16.6 million, adding about 1,241 acres contiguous to the Orange-Co property.

Together, the deals will boost Alico’s annual production to about 10 million boxes, or roughly 10 percent of Florida’s citrus production. Last season, Alico produced 3.4 million boxes. That 10 million boxes puts it ahead of all other American citrus producers, the company said.

However, Consolidated Citrus, which is mostly owned by King Ranch of Texas, controls 40,000 acres of planted trees, which is more than the 32,000 that Alico will now own.

Martin Genauer, partner at Berger Singerman in Miami, which represents Orange-Co., said his private client, whom he declined to name, has owned its acreage for about 10 years. Neither a concern of the future of the industry nor the threat of citrus greening was the impetus to sell, he said.

“I don’t think there was any particular factor. … I think the offer was attractive,” Genauer said. “There were probably some other uses they have for the money.”

Wilson said he has had discussions about buying some of the properties for a couple years, and the deals jelled simultaneously this year.

He described the acquisition as “transformative” for his 54-year-old company, an endorsement apparently echoed by Wall Street. Shares in Alico surged 18 percent in early trading Wednesday before closing at $40.90, up $5.06 or 14.13 percent.

The Alico deal is “clear evidence of the consolidation that has been going on the last decade or so, but it’s also a show of optimism,” said Andrew Meadows of Florida Citrus Mutual, a growers advocacy group. “Despite all the premature reports of our demise, we’re still bullish. Growers are still bullish on the future of the industry, and I think this deal is representative of that.”

Doug Ackerman of the state Department of Citrus agreed: “This is a clear statement that Florida citrus remains an attractive sector for growth. They’re betting on Florida citrus, and so are we.”

The future of orange juice

Oranges are so intertwined with Florida’s identity that the fruit is emblazoned on state license plates. In 1967, the Legislature named orange juice the official state beverage. The orange blossom is the official state flower. The orange is the official state fruit. There is a Citrus County and an Orange County. The football stadium at the University of Florida is even named for Alico’s former CEO, citrus baron Ben Hill Griffin Jr., who died in 1990.

Florida produces more than 70 percent of the U.S. supply of citrus and is second only to Brazil in global production. But the industry has been in serious decline for decades.

Hurricanes, canker and, most recently, citrus greening have taken a deep toll, prompting more and more growers to sell their groves to developers. Meanwhile, orange juice has fallen out of favor as a breakfast drink, with total U.S. retail sales dropping to the lowest level in at least 15 years during the 2012-13 season.

As a result, Florida land devoted to citrus — which includes grapefruits and tangerines as well as oranges — plummeted from about 815,000 acres in 1996 to about 515,000 acres at last count.

Greening, also known as huanglongbing, HLB, or “yellow dragon” disease, has proved to be the toughest foe to date. First discovered in China, the bacterial infection is spread by a gnat-sized insect called the Asian citrus psyllid. It shrivels up the trees’ roots, so they don’t absorb water as well, and the trees begin dying. Greening currently affects every orange-producing county in the state.

After years of frustration and despair over greening’s effects on their groves, growers and researchers say they see hope. One option is growing genetically modified oranges, a solution that would require approval by regulators and acceptance by consumers. More immediate options include heating trees and using antimicrobial treatments.

Few groves in the state have been spared at least some greening. But Wilson said the groves Alico bought had to have a “relatively minor” presence of the disease to be considered.

In its latest forecast, the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicted Florida would produce about 108 million boxes of oranges in the 2014-2015 season, up 3 percent. The uptick is in line with Alico’s projections.

“We have a better crop than we had last year, which is a huge (improvement) from where we were the past two years,” Wilson said.

Alico is so confident in the future, he said, that it’s hunting for even more land to buy.

Wilson said he isn’t bothered that orange juice consumption has fallen to a record low. The industry blames supply and demand, saying some shoppers are no longer able to afford orange juice as a weekly shopping staple because low production has driven prices up too high.

“The simple fix is to produce more juice,” Wilson said, “and that’s what we’re attempting to do.”

Jeff Harrington and Craig Pittman|Tampa Bay Times Staff Writers|December 3, 2014|Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

Barbra Streisand: ‘God Help Us!’ Sen. Inhofe to Head Committee on Environment

Inhofe, of course, is Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, author of The Greatest Hoax: How The Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Our Future and soon to be chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

Corn tells of an encounter with Inhofe at the 2009 U.N. climate meeting in Copenhagen where Inhofe was a conspicuous presence, acting as a self-proclaimed “truth squad” to debunk climate change.

“He slithered in and out of the cavernous media filing center, ever at the ready to speak to reporters looking for the other side quotes denigrating the proceedings, claiming that climate change was no more than a hoax, and celebrating the summit’s failure to produce a binding and comprehensive treaty,” said Corn, who confronted him about who, exactly, was driving this “conspiracy.”

“Hollywood liberals,” he responded and when pressed for who those might be, he came up with a single name: “Barbra Streisand.”

Inhofe had mentioned Streisand in his book, along with other “Hollywood liberals” Leonardo DiCaprio and John Travolta.

Streisand linked to the article on her Twitter feed and proudly took credit for being more reality-oriented than Inhofe, not a high bar to clear.

Anastasia Pantsios|December 3, 2014

Shocking Scale of Wildlife Trafficking Online Exposed

We know poaching and wildlife trafficking are posing serious threats to wild animals and imperiled species, but the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) just released a new report that has exposed how online marketplaces are contributing to these problems on a staggering scale.

The report, Wanted – Dead or Alive, Exposing Online Wildlife Trade, illustrates how with just a few simple clicks thousands of endangered species are bought and sold online with little oversight.

Over a period of six weeks earlier this year, IFAW’s investigators found 33,006 live wild animals and their parts and products available for sale on 280 online marketplaces in 16 different countries after looking specifically for species who are offered some level of protection from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

According to the report, species listed on CITES Appendix I and II were available for sale in 9,482 advertisements with an estimated worth of at least $10,708,137 (USD). Of these, 54 percent of the advertisements were for live animals while 46 percent were for animal parts and products.

While ivory, reptiles and exotic birds were the most widely traded items – with ivory and suspected ivory featured in almost one-third of all advertisements and reptiles accounting for one-quarter of the items found for sale – ads also featured rhinos and live cats or products made from cats, including tigers, leopards, ocelot and lynx, along with bears and primates including, baboons, chimpanzees, marmosets and orangutans.

The numbers and species affected are seriously daunting and almost unreal, but Tania McCrea-Steele, IFAW’s Global Internet Wildlife Trade Team Leader who headed the investigation, really puts it in perspective, writing:

Now I am aware we are in danger of being desensitized to statistics but just stop and think about it – that’s over 33,000 wild animals and their body parts being sold in a scant 42 days, in a limited few countries.

Take that figure and then imagine how many wild animals suffer for this needless trade across all the countries of the globe every day of the year. If you are like me, you’ll be reeling by the discovery that the World Wide Web puts so many endangered animals at risk from trade.

According to a statement, IFAW found more than 1,000 items that were clearly questionable enough to turn over to law enforcement for further action from countries around the world, but it still fears those are only the “tip of the iceberg.”

IFAW is now urging all parties involved from governments and policy makers to law enforcement agencies and online marketplaces to work together to help end cybercrimes involving wildlife.

“What is clear is that online market places should protect endangered wildlife by working with police and customs to catch wildlife cybercriminals, banning the sale of goods made from endangered wildlife and informing their customers about the poaching crisis and the laws against illegal wildlife trade,” said McCrea-Steele.

“At the same time governments need to introduce stronger legislation that specifically targets online wildlife crime and must encourage and support their enforcement agencies in making sure wildlife cybercriminals are apprehended and prosecuted,” she added.

As IFAW notes, it’s also up to us as consumers to help raise awareness about wildlife trafficking and protect animals by simply not buying them or their body parts.

Alicia Graef|December 1, 2014

7 new national parks? Be part of this historic moment! ‏

Congress is on the verge of making history–lawmakers will introduce a bipartisan package of more than two dozen national park bills on the floor of the Senate for passage next week. The package, already passed by the House of Representatives, represents the largest expansion of our National Park System in more than three decades and includes:

  • the creation of seven new national park units
  • the expansion of nine national park units
  • the approval of resource studies for eight possible park sites
  • and the funding authorization extension of 15 Heritage Areas

These new sites will deepen our knowledge of America’s history and tell American stories of innovation, science, and nature—strengthening our country’s best idea, the National Park System.

Many of these bills have been years in the making, including the designation of the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park in New York and Maryland, Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument in Nevada, and the Manhattan Project National Historical Park with sites in Washington, Tennessee, and New Mexico. These places deserve to be preserved for all Americans to experience and enjoy.

This bill package is the result of true bipartisan leadership shown by members in the House and Senate, and it breaks a five-year stalemate on public lands measures in Congress. National parks continue to bring together people across the political spectrum to benefit all Americans.

Take Action: Send a message to your senators urging them to support the bill package when it comes to a vote! Encourage them to be part of this historic moment.

With such overwhelming bipartisan support, we hope the park bill package will be on its way to the White House next week for the president’s signature.

Please sign #6 in “Calls to Action” below.

Thank you for taking action to support our national parks.

Kristen Brengel|Senior Director|Legislation and Policy|National Parks Conservation Association

Calls to Action

  1. Take action now to fight climate change – here
  2. Tell Your Senators to Keep Country of Origin Labels Safehere
  3. Save Rare and Beautiful Birds from Extinctionhere
  4. Marbled Murrelets in Trouble – here
  5. Stop Closing in on Florida Panthers’ Habitathere
  6. Encourage Congress to Support National Parks Bills – here
  7. Protect America’s Arctic Ocean from oil and gas drilling once and for all – here
  8. Protect Alaska’s Walruses From Dirty Oil Drilling and Global Warming – here
  9. Tell PSC to deny Florida Power & Light’s request for fracked gas – here

Birds and Butterflies

Bird Cams Viewer Spots Montana Ospreys in Texas

Live bird cams have all the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster. We get an intimate, birds-eye view of the stars, and can’t help but fall in love as we watch their story unfold. The birds are practically celebrities. So imagine the surprise of Sally Mitchell, an avid watcher of the Cornell Lab’s Montana Osprey cam, when she met one—all the way down in Texas.

Not 5 miles from her home in Rockport (near Corpus Christi), Mitchell was walking along the beach taking photographs of local egrets. “I heard an Osprey call,” she said, “which was unmistakable after having watched the nests so often online.” She looked around, camera swiveling, and spotted one sitting on a nearby light pole.

Peeking through the lens, Mitchell did a double take. A baby blue smudge on the bird’s left leg caught her eye, a band with bold, white writing reading “M8.” “I knew he must have been from Montana,” Mitchell said. It was the same kind of band the Montana Osprey Project uses to identify birds that hatch around Missoula.

Mitchell passed her photos along to Dr. Erick Greene, a professor at the University of Montana and part of the research team that runs the Montana Osprey Project. He quickly confirmed that he had banded this particular bird in July—appropriately enough, at a nest on the home field of the local baseball team, the Missoula Osprey—and only a mile and a half away from the Bird Cams Osprey nest in Hellgate Canyon, Missoula, Montana.

“The first picture I opened, I knew instantly it was one of our birds,” said Greene. “These are such rare events, and I just got this tingle.” The rarity of resighting a bird without any kind of tracking device cannot be overstated. Along with Rob Domenech of the Raptor View Research Institute, Greene has banded upwards of 200 Ospreys since the Montana Osprey Project began in 2006, and only three of those birds have ever been resighted.

Greene got back to Mitchell with the exciting news and asked her if she would give the bird a name. She settled on Emmett, a clever echo of his identification number.

Mitchell said she plans to keep watching and photographing Emmett during his stay in Texas. Dr. Greene looks forward to gaining new insights into Osprey behavior, much as he did with the Osprey cams. “The first time we put up a camera, in the first five minutes I was watching it, I was seeing stuff I’d never, ever seen before,” said Greene. Mitchell’s photography will help Dr. Greene fill in the gaps about a bird whose previous life we already know so much about.

Two Ospreys from Montana are wintering right next to each other near Rockport, Texas, after making separate 2,000 mile migrations.

Emmett is a young-of-the year who was luckily resighted by a Bird Cams fan without any tracking.

Olive, an adult female, is being tracked by satellite and wound up on almost the exact same stretch of coastline.

Data from MPG Ranch and Raptor View Research Institute.

Turns out, Emmett isn’t the only Missoulian in eastern Texas, which is a popular wintering destination for Ospreys. Real-time location data shows that an adult female Osprey named Olive, who nested this year less than 15 miles from Emmett’s nest, has settled within 20 miles of him in Texas. She’s even given Rockport a flyby every now and again. Another Montana bird, named Rapunzel, is staying just up the coast near Galveston for the winter.

Other satellite tracking research has shown that Ospreys from certain breeding areas often do winter in the same regions. For instance, Ospreys from the Northeast work their way down the Atlantic coast, then island-hop through the Caribbean and Cuba to South America; whereas West Coast Ospreys tend to hug the shoreline and settle in Baja California. Midwestern Ospreys head south on similar paths but seem to disagree about which spot is best. Some peel off west to Mexico’s Pacific coast, while others head east for the Gulf of Mexico. Regardless, Greene said, having two birds end up so close to each other at both ends of their migration is rare.

Emmett’s migration remains pretty mysterious. We know he flew lengthwise across the country, logging at least 2,000 miles to make the trip, and that juvenile Ospreys figure out their own migration routes and destinations. What we don’t know is what the birds do while on the move, or why they choose certain areas to eventually settle down in.

Emmett works on his fishing skills in Rockport, Texas. He’ll probably stay around Texas for the next few years until he’s ready to try to find a mate and raise young of his own—at which point he’ll most likely head back to Montana. Photo by Sally Mitchell.

“He probably won’t migrate back next summer—he’ll probably stay for another full year,” said Greene. Juvenile Ospreys stay up to four years in their wintering grounds, presumably honing their fishing skills so they can provide for a mate and young when the time comes. Take heart, Missoulians—and in a few years, keep an eye out for that M8 band. “Males tend to settle closer to where they are born,” Greene said. “My prediction would be that Emmett will probably end up somewhere in that general area [of Missoula] up in Montana.”

For now, Mitchell is more than content to have Emmett nearby. She sets out regularly to play paparazza. “I’ve checked his two favorite sites almost every day,” she said. She marveled at the sheer odds involved in spotting him—“When you think of the territory they cover and the birds that have been banded, that I should see him is miraculous,” she said.

So if you pass through Rockport any time soon, keep an eye out for blue bands and a white belly. Just be careful asking for any autographs.

victoria|Cornell Lab of Ornithology|November 25th, 2014

Two New Ways to Find New Birds

Use the power of eBird to know where and when to go birding—from your desktop with new eBird Targets, and from your phone with the groundbreaking BirdsEye app, for iPhone and just released for Android, too

Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Snowy owl sighting thrills birdwatchers

Birdwatchers are excited about a snowy owl sighting in Marysville.

Wendy Tartar, of the Michigan Audubon Society, said seeing one of the residents of the Arctic tundra this far south is unusual.

“Snowy owls typically only come down when the food supply is low in the Arctic,” she said. “Usually you find these birds around the Hudson Bay area.”

Last year, a snowy owl was spotted near Lakeside Beach in Port Huron.

Tartar said the high survival rate of last year’s snowy owl offspring is likely the cause of the sighting.

“Since all of the babies survived last year there is more of a demand for food and not enough to feed all of the owls,” she said. “This is called an irruption, when their typical habitat or food supply is disrupted.” Larry Farrer, 68, of Marysville spotted the owl perched along River Road, just south of Chrysler Beach earlier this week.

“The last time I saw one in this area was 40 years ago,” Farrer said. “They have shown up since then, but I never actually saw them. It’s a beautiful creature and when I saw it I ran back up to my house real quick and grabbed my wife so she could see it too.”

Farrer said the owl has been staying near Chrysler Beach this past week and thinks it will stay there for the winter.

“It will follow the winter back up to Canada once it warms up here,” Farrer said. “But for now I think it will stay in that area to get food.”

To track snowy owl migrations, visit the website projectsnowstorm.org.

Nicole Hayden|Times Herald|12/04/2014

5 Top Spots for Birding in Florida

Birding, Go Green, Off The Beaten Path, Outdoorsy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kevin Mims

 

Endangered Species

The Rescue of Creedence and Rev:

An entangled manatee and her calf are treated and released After eight weeks of care at Lowry Park Zoo’s Manatee Hospital, Creedence is ready for release along with her calf Rev.

It was on August 26, 2014, when concerned citizens in Pinellas County noticed a distressed manatee swimming in Allen Creek, located near Clearwater, Florida.

The female manatee, who was accompanied by a dependent male calf, had become entangled in crab trap line and had deep wounds on both of her flippers. Luckily, quick-thinking citizens called the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Manatee Hotline and the manatee mom and calf were successfully rescued by a team that included staff from FWC and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

The manatees – named “Creedence” and “Rev” after Creedence Clearwater Revival, a rock band popular in the late 1960s and early 1970s – were taken to Lowry Park Zoo’s Manatee Hospital in Tampa, Florida, where the crab trap line was removed from Creedence’s flippers. Rescuers and caregivers from the FWC, Clearwater Marine Aquarium, and Lowry Park Zoo help carry the mother and calf duo into the water where they were released side by side.

After eight weeks of care at the Manatee Hospital, Creedence’s wounds had healed and she and Rev were ready to be released. On October 22nd, the 860-pound Creedence and 335-pound Rev were loaded into the FWC Manatee Rescue truck and taken to the boat ramp at Cove Cay Marina in Clearwater where they had initially been rescued.

Teams from FWC, Lowry Park Zoo, and the Clearwater Aquarium helped carry the two manatees into the water where they were released side by side, much to the delight of nearby spectators who burst into applause as the mother and son duo swam off together.

Florida State Representative Dana Young, a volunteer and Trustee of the Lowry Park Zoological Society, was also on hand and participated in the manatee’s release. “I’m a sixth-generation Floridian and have grown up around Florida waters my whole life,” said Representative Young. “To be able to work with Lowry Park Zoo and the Florida Wildlife Commission to rehabilitate injured manatees and release them back into the wild just gives me chills. It’s a wonderful program.”

To report injured manatees, please call 1-888-404-FWCC (3922), *FWC or #FWC on your cellular phone or send a text message to www.Tip@MyFWC.com. You can also use VHF Channel 16 on your marine radio.

Watch the Video showing Creedence and Rev’s release in October 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vF9TX-R5b4o

Baby bats bundled up like ‘mini burritos’ in cleaning cloths as animal sanctuary finds a novel way to nurse them back to health

  • Australian Bat Clinic and Wildlife Trauma Centre cares for orphaned bats
  • The yellow cleaning cloths are used to comfort the animals
  • The animals are eventually released back into the wild when they are well
  • Were orphaned during a recent heat wave that killed thousands of bats

See a Video

 

Simon Cable|MailOnline|6 December 2014

Bluefin tuna gets much-needed protections from longline fishing ‏

The National Marine Fisheries Service is improving protections for imperiled bluefin tuna, sea turtles, sharks, and sea birds from reckless longline fishing!

 

Thanks to a tidal wave of comments sent in demanding protection for the Atlantic bluefin tuna, the National Marine Fisheries Service is improving protections for imperiled bluefin tuna, sea turtles, sharks, and sea birds from reckless longline fishing!

This massive public outpouring turned a glimmer of hope in the global effort to save bluefin tuna into a reality.

Because of this action, the Fisheries Service established new seasonal restrictions on the use of pelagic longline fishing gear (miles-long lines with thousands of hooks). These restrictions will protect critical spawning grounds and other areas.

The new protections also:

  • Establish an individual bluefin quota system that provides a strong incentive for commercial vessels to avoid bluefin
  • Drop measures that would have allowed the use of pelagic longline gear in biologically important ocean areas and increased the catch of billfish, sharks, sea turtles, and other imperiled species

This is an important victory for our oceans, but more work remains to be done to reduce the use of unsustainable fishing gear and impacts to the many species it hooks. Earthjustice will continue to fight for bluefin tuna and other species that swim with them.

I hope we have many more victories like this to share soon. Stay tuned at Earthjustice.org/oceans.

Brian Smith|Oceans Campaign Manager|Earthjustice|12/06/14

Giant Galapagos Tortoise Makes ‘Miraculous’ Recovery

The Española giant Galapagos tortoise, which can weigh 250 kg (550 lbs) and live a century, was really in bad shape in the 1960s. The island of Española, which is part of the Galapagos, only had 15 individual — 12 females and 3 males — remaining at the species’ lowest point, thanks in part to the introduction of feral goats introduced in the ecosystem over a hundred years ago. The goats out-competed the tortoises for the cacti that they prefer eating. But thanks to a 5-decade conservation effort, the species now seems to have made a ‘miraculous’ and, most importantly, stable recovery.

This is a nice contrast to the tragic fate of Lonesome George, who we wrote about in 2012. The world’s last remaining Pinta Island tortoise, George died at age 100, sealing the fate of his species.

How was the Española population of giant tortoise saved? The Galapagos Islands National Park Service began a program of captive breeding and reintroduction in 1973. Using an enclosure on another island to help some of the remaining tortoise to focus on breeding, they were successful in reintroducing more than 1500 of the captivity-raised giant tortoise offspring on the island of Española.

For this effort to be successful, the non-native goats had to be culled, and eventually exterminated. Otherwise, the life-sustaining cacti could never have recovered:

“[The goats] would feast on the roots… and chew away at the bark, and eventually that would topple these cacti. And then they had an incredible buffet of maybe 500-1000 years of cactus growth, demolished in a week or two,” explained Professor Gibbs, from the College of Environmental Science and Forestry at the State University of New York.

According to Prof Gibbs, “more than half” the tortoises released since that time are still alive, and they are breeding well enough for the current population to move forward (if slowly — we’re talking about giant tortoises after all…), without further help from humans.

Michael Graham Richard|TreeHugger|December 5, 2014

Millions of bees die because of Neonicotinoid pesticides manufactured by Bayer and Syngenta and 94% of GMO corn in US is treated with either imidacloprid or clothianidin pesticides

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that Neonicotinoid class of pesticides and clothianidin adversely affect the immune system of honeybees by promoting replication of a viral pathogen in them.

According to the Italian scientists, a molecule is triggered by Neonicotinoid pesticides that could harm bees’ colony. The researchers discovered that neonicotinoid insecticide clothianidin can increase the levels of a specific protein in bees and negatively affects the immune system response in bees and make them more susceptible to be attacked by harmful viruses and pathogens. 

gmo-corn-treated-with-neonicotinoids-pesticides-manufactured-by-Bayer-Syngenta-kill-bees

The leading author of the study, Francesco Pennacchio and his colleagues found that leucine-rich repeat protein known as LRR in bees could negatively affect the activity of a protein involved in bees known as NF-κB immune signaling. When bees are exposed to neonicotinoid insecticide clothianidin, there is significant increase in enhancement of the gene encoding leucine-rich repeat protein that suppresses NF-κB immune signaling. 

Researchers found that other classes of neonicotinoids such as imidacloprid and Thiamethoxam also affect the immune system of bees, while insecticides like organophosphate chlorpyriphos do not affect NF-κB immune signaling.

When the researchers infected the bees with a common pathogen known as deformed wing virus, they found out that the pathogen attacks the bees’ immune system when the bees are exposed to neonicotinoid insecticide clothianidin or imidacloprid. Although the virus is very common in bees, the bees immune system keeps the virus ineffective and in check. 

According to the leading author of the study, Francesco Nazzi “The reported effect on immunity exerted by neonicotinoids will allow additional toxicological tests to be defined to assess if chronic exposure of bees to sub-lethal doses of agrochemicals can adversely affect their immune system and health conditions. Moreover, our data indicate the possible occurrence in insects, as in vertebrates, of a neural modulation of the immune response. This sets the stage for future studies in this research area, and poses the question on how neurotoxic substances may affect the immune response.”

Giant biotech Bayer and Syngenta who manufacture neonicotinoids are spending millions of dollars lobbying to prevent neonicotinoids ban in US and have sued the European Commission for banning these classes of pesticides:

While countries in EU put a three year ban on Neonicotinoid class of pesticides including thiamethoxam, imidacloprid and clothianidin, the US Department of Agriculture fails to ban these classes of pesticides that are killing millions of bees. Keep in mind that the US secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack is the former pro-biotechnology governor of Iowa who was awarded as governor of the year by biotech companies.

Giant biotech Bayer and Syngenta who manufacture neonicotinoids are spending millions of dollars lobbying to prevent the ban on neonicotinoids and they have sued the European Commission for banning these insecticides.
These corporations have also posted thousands of fake documents all over the internet misleading everyone that neonicotinoids are perfectly safe and other problems including
lack of biodiversity and increase in pathogens are the main causes behind bees’ decline.

Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, DuPont and Dow are lying. GM crops treated with neonicotinoids are related to colony collapse of bees and 94% of US corn is treated with either imidacloprid or clothianidin pesticides:

Also, despite the false promises of biotech that GM crops will reduce the use of pesticides, the truth is that since introduction of GMOs, the use of pesticides have increased by 500 million pounds.

In fact, according to the Pesticide Action Network of North America (PANNA), 94 percent of U.S. corn seeds are treated with either imidacloprid or clothianidin and as a result, honey bees are subjected to increasingly toxic load of neonicotinoids in corn fields.

More and more studies are showing adverse effect of neonicotinoids on bees’ immune system:

Although Syngenta and Bayer are trying to spread misleading information by placing biodiversity and pathogens as main causes of the bees’ decline, the independent scientific studies have mainly linked neonicotinoids to colony collapse of bees.

In fact, in a study published in the Science Journal, the leading author of the study and the professor of biology at the University of Sussex, Dr Dave Goulson, says that “Exposure to neonicotinoid pesticides, which are essentially a neurotoxin, was affecting the ability of the bees to learn, to find their way home, to navigate, to collect food, and so on, which is hardly surprising if you realize they’re neurotoxins. … What we found, which was I must admit surprising in its extent, was that the treated nests did grow more slowly, but most dramatically, the effect on queen production was really strong. So we had an 85 percent drop in queen production of nests that were exposed just for that two-week period to pretty low concentrations of these pesticides compared to the control nests.”

It’s time to put corporate greed aside and ban the use of neonicotinoids that are destroying millions of bees and butterflies:

87% of plants are pollinated by bees and if we fail to do something about the fact that GM crops treated with neonicotinoids are the main reason behind colony collapse of bees, we are going to shoot ourselves in foot and start a chain reaction where many plants and species die as a result.

The scientific community and biologists suggest that if honeybees disappear, we will only have few more years to live since a chain reaction will start to eradicate certain species due to lack of pollination and will effects crops and birds and so forth.

Currently, beekeeper are losing up to 50% of their bee hives and instead of proposing an immediate ban on GM crops and neonicotinoids, our selected officials allow giant biotech including Monsanto, Syngenta and Bayer spend billions of dollars promoting and selling their toxic insecticides and GM foods.

The main priority of corporations like Syngenta and Bayer IS NOT to protect honeybees and other pollinators, but to protect their profit from manufacturing neonicotinoids insecticides. Just in 2012, Syngenta’s sales of Thiamethoxam increased and exceeded to more than one billion dollars. How could that be and how could any society tolerate what they do?

- See more at: http://seattleorganicrestaurants.com/vegan-whole-food/gmo-corn-treated-with-neonicotinoids-pesticides-manufactured-by-Bayer-Syngenta-kill-honeybees.php#sthash.FKEEJ4Ax.dpuf

Wild & Weird

Why Backyard Birds Are Getting Drunk on Fermented Berries

‘Tis the hangover season for many birds—some of which are ending up in “drunk tanks.”

If birds that feed on winter berries in the Northern Hemisphere seem to be painting the town red, it could be because they’re intoxicated.

Alcohol forms in berries as they ferment with the first frosts, and the birds that gorge on these winter fruits may get drunk more often than we think, scientists say. (See National Geographic’s backyard bird identifier.)

“Most birds likely just get a bit tipsy, and very few people would be able to pick them out as intoxicated,” said Meghan Larivee, laboratory coordinator at the government agency Environment Yukon in Canada. “However, every now and then, some birds just overdo it.”

Such was the case with several Bohemian waxwings (Bombycilla garrulus) that flew into Whitehorse, Yukon, this fall, and ended up in “drunk tanks” after bingeing on fermented berries of the rowan tree.

The birds were admitted to the territory’s Animal Health Unit, a wildlife facility equipped with modified hamster cages in readiness for the influx of berry-seeking migrants.

While there’s no Breathalyzer for birds, it’s pretty clear the waxwings were flying under the influence, according to Larivee.

“They cannot coordinate their flight movements properly or at all, and they are unable to walk in a coordinated way,” she said in an email.

The birds, who come in with juice-stained beaks, are checked for illnesses that might otherwise explain their groggy condition. They generally recover after a few hours, she said.

Less fortunate are those intoxicated birds that die in collisions with buildings—two such fatalities were recorded in Whitehorse this fall.

While there are numerous anecdotal reports of such incidents in North America and Europe, there have been few studies to show that alcohol is indeed the cause.

One problem is that there’s no routine test for diagnosing alcohol poisoning in animals, said Paul Duff, a veterinary scientist with the U.K.’s Animal and Plant Health Agency. The tests are “relatively expensive, and alcohol can disappear quickly. And toxicity leaves no characteristic lesions,” he said.

In 2011, Duff was called in as part of a police investigation into the suspicious deaths of 12 common blackbirds (Turdus merula) at an elementary school in the county of Cumbria in northern England.

Postmortem results, which included the detection of significant levels of alcohol in a liver sample, suggested the birds succumbed after eating fermenting rowan berries.

The same agency made a similar diagnosis for a group of redwings (Turdus iliacus) in 1999. The birds sustained fatal falls onto concrete from a berry-laden holly bush.

The relatively large livers of waxwings and other species that rely on berries to get through winter are thought to help the birds handle alcohol. Young birds, however, may be more vulnerable.

Duff noted that the blackbirds he investigated in 2011 were all immature. “It is possible that adults learn to avoid toxic berries,” he added.

A more obvious risk factor for drunk birds, certainly for those that flock to urban areas, are buildings and hard surfaces.

Bohemian waxwings that make their way south to Britain from Scandinavia in winter often make a beeline for ornamental berry trees in shopping center parking lots and residential areas.

In such an environment, being unable to fly straight may be lethal, said Ben Andrews, a wildlife advisor with the U.K.’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

“We’ve had the odd report from people phoning us up and saying they’ve had a waxwing or waxwings dead under their window and things like that,” Andrews said.

If you come across a live bird that appears drunk but uninjured, Andrews advises putting the animal in a cardboard box with some air holes for a few hours until they sober up and can be released.

But if outbreaks of insobriety aren’t so unusual among berry-eating birds, might climate change make them even more frequent?

Though not an unusual fall phenomenon, freezing causes the berries to convert starches into sugars, while subsequent thawing makes it possible for yeast to get in and speed up the fermentation process, Larivee explained.

Larivee’s recent waxwing patients were admitted to her Yukon animal unit following several frosts and thaws due to warmer temperatures. Average global surface temperature increased 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit (0.85 Celsius) from 1880 to 2012, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“We have to look at longer term trends when speaking about climate change, but we are seeing some changes,” Larivee said.

While these effects are most pronounced in winter, “we also likely have longer autumns, which gives more time for berries to ferment, but still have early frost that allow sugars to be produced in berries early in the fall,” she said.

James Owen|National Geographic|December 3, 2014

Everglades

Audubon’s State of the Everglades Report – Fall/Winter 2014

Click here to download your free copy of our comprehensive biannual report on the River of Grass.

Water Quality Issues

State Partners Collaborate to Enhance Water Quality, Provide Hunter-Safety Education

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the South Florida Water Management District and Florida Department of Environmental Protection recently closed on the J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area/M-O Canal/Water Management Project and the Mecca Public Shooting Park site in Palm Beach County.

The district can now proceed with the project for flood control, waterway improvement and hydrological restoration and enhancement. Much of the hydrology of the area and surrounding topography was altered in the 1960s by historic drainage and water improvement projects. However, subsequent research and study supports the importance of natural hydrology to restore and maintain the natural functions of the ecosystem.

Under the direction of Governor Rick Scott, the SFWMD convened a multi-agency working group in September 2012 to develop a plan for strengthening the M-O Canal in an effort to meet current standards and to improve flood protection and safety to the residents in the surrounding areas.

“This project required multi-agency coordination, which is imperative today,” said Director of DEP’s Division of State Lands Kelley Boree. “The teamwork will allow us to move forward with this important water quality project that will have tremendous impacts to native flora and fauna and provide public access in a densely populated area of our state.”

Additionally, FWC may proceed with the development of a public shooting park in Palm Beach County on the 150-acre Mecca Farms site. The facility will provide hunter-safety educational programs, training and recreational benefits. The proposed shooting park will address the need for a public recreational shooting facility in the region and provide a venue for other shooting sports events.

“The successful closing of this project demonstrates excellent collaboration for multiple public benefits including improved wildlife habitat, important water management facilities, and a much-needed venue for shooting sports and hunter education,” said Nick Wiley, Executive Director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “We are especially thankful for the efforts of Palm Beach County, the South Florida Water Management District, the Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida and our shooting sports partners for making it possible to begin development of a state-of-the-art public outdoor shooting park that will provide hunters and shooters of all ages a safe and convenient place to practice marksmanship skills.”

FWC is proposing to develop the public shooting park facility utilizing funding from the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration and Hunter Safety Grant program as well as generous support from the Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida.

latashawalters|December 4, 2014

Department Completes Statewide Rulemaking to Protect Surface Waters, Wetlands

TALLAHASSEE – A more than yearlong rulemaking process to provide more consistency for environmental resource permitting, which affects surface waters and wetlands, goes into effect today.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Florida’s five water management districts previously used at least five different versions of the rules, which regulate permits designed to regulate activities that affect Florida’s wetlands and surface waters. An ERP is required before beginning any construction activity or operation that would affect wetlands and other surface waters or contribute to water pollution. The permit process exists to protect Florida’s lakes and streams, wetlands and other surface waters from stormwater pollution, flooding and any other environmental risk factors.

“Environmental protection is everyone’s responsibility and should be everyone’s goal. Having a permitting process that Florida’s residents can understand will help accomplish that goal,” said DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard. Jr. “Creating a statewide ERP rule allowed us to make long-overdue improvements to a confusing process while maintaining our stringent environmental standards.”

The Department began the rulemaking process in June 2012, following legislation signed being in April by Governor Rick Scott granting the Department authority to create one statewide rule for the environmental resource permit program.

The new rule standardizes processing procedures, definitions, and forms that need to be submitted. The permit fee categories have also been standardized and the permit processing fees are now based upon the area of work activities instead of the fee being based upon the entire site or parcel of land

The Department worked with the water management districts, local governments, citizens and businesses throughout the development of the statewide rule, hosting more than 10 workshops, most via webinar and exceeding 150 participants at each webinar. For the first time, stakeholders were able to communicate, discuss, comment and make suggestions in an online open discussion forum and participate in workshops via webinar. This allowed allow interested individuals to comment on the rule drafts and offer suggestions on rule revisions. All interested parties were able to see the comments and responses during the rulemaking process.

To assist with implementation and understanding of the new statewide rule, the Department also hosted a webinar to assist the regulated community. Over 700 landowners, environmental consultants and engineers participated. Additional training opportunities are being provided this week by the Water Management Districts and the Department’s local offices.

Today, the Department is also rolling out an electronic application site where applicants will be able to apply for ERP permits by submitting the application and associated materials online instead of having to submit paper copies to the Department. This new service was developed alongside the statewide ERP rulemaking process. This will save time and money for applicants and the Department.

To access information on the rule or access e-Permitting visit http://www.dep.state.fl.us/water/wetlands/swerp/

North Pole Sues Koch-Owned Oil Company Over Contaminated Water

The city of North Pole, Alaska, used to have clean groundwater. But now, it’s the polar opposite.

According to a lawsuit filed by the city last week, two oil companies are responsible for polluting North Pole’s groundwater and some private drinking water wells with a mysterious chemical. The chemical, called sulfolane, leaked from an oil refinery that the lawsuit alleges was negligently operated — both by current refinery owner Flint Hills Alaska Resources, which is owned by Koch Industries, and former owner Williams Alaska Petroleum.

“The presence of sulfolane contamination in the city’s groundwater has rendered that groundwater unfit for human consumption and endangers the public health or welfare,” the lawsuit reads, according to a report in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. “Ultimately, these hazardous substances have migrated off the refinery property and have contaminated the groundwater down gradient of the refinery and within the city, including wells owned by the city and supplying drinking water to the city’s inhabitants.”

Alaska’s North Pole is, of course, not the real North Pole, but it definitely bears the spirit of Christmas. According to the town’s official website, North Pole’s street lights are decorated like candy canes, and buildings are painted with Christmas colors and designs. Streets are given names like Santa Claus Lane, Holiday Rd., Saint Nicholas Drive, and Blitzen. The town has holiday lighting contests, Santa cruises, and sled dog competitions. Every winter, North Pole hires “Santa’s helpers” to respond to thousands of letters that are mailed to the city.

But Christmas spirit is not the only thing inhabiting North Pole. The city has housed the state’s largest oil refinery since 1977, the Earth Resources oil refinery, which connects to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, one of the largest pipeline systems in the world. From 2004 up until now, the refinery has been owned by Koch-subsidiary Flint Hills Resources.

It’s been known since at least 2001 that the refinery was contributing to sulfolane pollution in the North Pole. But in 2009, Flint Hills discovered levels of the chemical that were “significantly higher than expected,” and began notifying homeowners in the surrounding area. It began a process of cleaning up the groundwater, but the costs proved to be too much. Earlier this year, the company announced it would cease operations because of the “enormous” expense of cleaning up the sulfolane.

Flint Hills has maintained that it is not the source of North Pole’s pollution. Instead, it blames the previous owners: Earth Resources of Alaska which owned the refinery until 1980; MAPCO, which owned it until 1998; and Williams Alaska Petroleum, which bought MAPCO and took over the plant until its sale to Flint Hills in 2004. Flint Hills spokesman Jeff Cook told the News-Miner that “the record is clear” on who caused the pollution: and notes that after discovering it, Flint Hills took extreme measures to provide clean water to the city, drilling new water wells “a cost of millions of dollars” and then donating the system to the city, free of charge.

Only Flint Hills and Williams Alaska are listed as defendants in North Pole’s lawsuit, but the city has indicated that more defendants may be added, according to the News-Miner.

Whoever is responsible, the Alaska government has conceded that the pollution is a problem. In a 2013 report on the situation, the state called the situation “unprecedented … due to the distance that sulfolane has traveled in groundwater, and the number of properties affected with private drinking water wells.”

North Pole residents who have been affected have been provided with alternate sources of drinking water, the report said. But right now, it’s unclear how the pollution would affect human health. Alaska’s report said there is “little information” on the human health effects of sulfolane, but notes that residents who drank water contaminated with the chemical were “not likely” to experience negative symptoms. As for long-term effects and toxicity, the Alaska government says it hopes to gain a better understanding in the next four to five years.

Sulfolane is not the only pollutant that has plagued North Pole due to problems at the refinery. According to a 2001 report from Alaska’s Department of Environmental Conservation, while the refinery was owned by Williams Alaska, it had 258 spills of jet fuel, gas, and crude — spills that together totaled 243,306 gallons of oil spilled onto the ground. The number of petroleum spills during that time averaged more than ten every year, excluding the years of 1990 to 1999, when the refinery averaged more than 14 spills every year.

Emily Atkin|December 4, 2014

Offshore & Ocean

Mile Point passage work going out for bid

Bigger ship traffic might find smoother sailing to Jacksonville port terminals by summer 2016 now that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is preparing to seek bids to fix the Mile Point passage.

The construction could cost $25 million to $50 million, according to the Corps’ pre-solicitation posted Wednesday. A pre-solicitation is a heads up to contractors that a bid advertisement is on the way.

The Corps intends to advertise the bids Dec. 15 and bid responses would be due in 60 days, which Corps project manager Jason Harrah said would be Feb. 12.

The project would be awarded in March or April for a construction timetable of 12-18 months, indicating completion in summer or fall of 2016.

Harrah said the Corps hopes to complete the project by the summer of 2016.

The St. Johns River and Intracoastal Waterway intersect at Mile Point, creating crosscurrents that limit the passage of larger ships during ebb tide, the period between high and low tides.

The Corps posted a pre-solicitation Wednesday for contractors interested in reconfiguring the training wall at Mile Point. The work consists of relocating and reconfiguring the existing training walls; dredging the confluence area; and marine animal, bird and turbidity monitoring as well as other demolition, clearing and grubbing.

For information about the Mile Point project, visit fedbizopps.gov and search in Florida.

It’s been a long-awaited marine and economic development project that supporters say will open the port to more and larger ships, increasing imports and exports, leading to more jobs and construction of logistics centers.

“More cargo in turn brings industry and related jobs to Northeast Florida and

that’s what it’s all about,” said JaxPort spokeswoman Nancy Rubin.

In 2012, the Corps had estimated the cost to fix Mile Point at $36.5 million, but those costs would be different today.

In describing the issues with Mile Point, the Corps said the crosscurrents on the ebb tide create navigational restrictions that affect inbound ships with a draft greater than 33 feet and outbound vessels with a draft more than 36 feet.

JaxPort said the strong currents threaten large container ships whose heavy cargo makes them less navigable, creating a potential safety hazard as well as significant delays where ships are forced to wait for high tides.

JaxPort, which said it and the state have been working with the federal government to work on a fix for Mile Point since 2006, said funding for the project is in place from the state.

In January 2013, Gov. Rick Scott announced a commitment of $36 million in state funding for construction of the project.

JaxPort and the Corps each paid for half of the $2 million preconstruction design and engineering work before then, Rubin said.

Harrah said no federal funding was available this year for the construction of Mile Point, which the Corps wants to complete before the much larger and more expensive St. Johns River deepening and dredging project.

Harrah and Florida Rep. Lake Ray said the state could be reimbursed for Mile Point through future federal funding.

The fix for Mile Point is part of the overall focus by the port and city to deepen the St. Johns River to accommodate larger ships, especially those that can navigate the Panama Canal after its expansion is completed next year.

“Let’s get it done because it is so vital to our port and our community,” said Ray, who also is president of the First Coast Manufacturers Association.

Ray said the state’s funding for the Mile Point project flowed from federal transportation funding.

“Let us pay for that and see what we can get paid on the deepening project,” he said.

The federal Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 provided authorization for the Mile Point project and separately for the deepening of the St. Johns River.

Ray said he would be working on funding for the deepening in the next legislative session.

Rubin said the total deepening project is calculated at $684 million. The cost would be shared among federal, state and local governments. She said the Corps is designing the project.

Crocker doesn’t protest Citizens bid

Crocker Partners did not file a protest against the Citizens Property Insurance Corp. decision to negotiate space at EverBank Center Downtown.

The protest period expired at 5 p.m. Nov. 24. That clears the way for the Citizens Property Board of Governors to take action on the Jacksonville consolidation at its regularly scheduled meeting Dec. 10.

“The board is expected to finalize the move to the EverBank Center,” said spokesman Michael Peltier, who said Citizens Property received no additional correspondence from Crocker since the notice of intent to protest was filed Nov. 10.

Crocker Partners, which owns the Prominence office center in Baymeadows, is the runner-up for the Citizens Property lease.

Citizens Property, a state insurance provider, decided Nov. 6 to negotiate with Amkin West Bay LLC, the owner of EverBank Center, for a 950-job operations center.

Citizens Property said if that deal didn’t work, it would negotiate with Crocker Partners.

Josh Edwards, vice president of Crocker Partners V Freedom LLC, said previously the filing was made to preserve Crocker’s rights in the event a protest was needed. He did not return a telephone call Monday to talk about the decision to not protest.

Karen Brune Mathis]Managing Editor|Financial News and Daily Record|December 2, 2014

Suez canal scheme ‘threatens ecosystem and human activity in Mediterranean’

Scientists say new channel will herald arrival of more invasive species, with potentially harmful impact on region as a whole

The continuing expansion of the Suez canal risks causing serious harm to marine lifeforms and economic activity in the Mediterranean sea, scientists are warning.

Egypt is building a second “lane” to the Suez canal, as well as widening the existing channel, in an “ominous” scheme scientists fear could allow greater numbers of non-indigenous species to enter the Mediterranean and endanger the native ecosystem.

“The enlargement of the canal will increase the number of invasions from the Red Sea resulting in a diverse range of harmful effects on the ecosystem structure and functioning of the whole Mediterranean sea, with implications to services it provides for humans,” Bella Galil, a marine biologist at Israel’s National Institute of Oceanography, told the Guardian.

Writing in the Biological Invasions academic journal, Galil and 17 colleagues accept that the expansion will go ahead despite their concerns, and acknowledge that the revenues from an enlarged canal are likely to bring Egypt a much needed economic boost.

But they ask Egypt to first conduct an impact assessment to determine the project’s likely environmental footprint, and any preventive measures to mitigate the dangers ultrasound, and increased salinity in certain parts of the canal.

There are about 700 non-indigenous species in the Mediterranean, according to the scientists, about 350 of which have entered from the Suez Canal since its construction in the late 19th century. Some of these species “are noxious, poisonous, or venomous and pose clear threats to human health”, while others have destroyed the habitats of local creatures.

Among the most destructive recent entrants from the Suez is the silver-cheeked pufferfish, a non-native fish containing toxic chemicals that has caused several people to be treated in hospital in the eastern Mediterranean in the past 10 years. Two kinds of herbivorous rabbit-fish – the dusty spine-foot and its cousin the marbled spine-foot – have destroyed vast swaths of underwater seaweed forests in the eastern Mediterranean, after migrating through the Suez in recent decades.

Perhaps the most dangerous newcomer is the nomad jellyfish, or Rhopilema nomadica. Once only found in tropical waters, the nomad jellyfish invaded the Mediterranean via the Suez in the 1970s. Now its vast swarms, which can measure tens of miles in width, frequently make commercial fishing impossible and have sometimes closed tourist beaches lining the Mediterranean for days at a time.

“This isn’t just about the effect on other species,” said Stefano Piraino, a jellyfish expert at the University of Salento, and one of the 18 signatories. “We’re talking about a threat to human life and human activity, including tourism, agriculture, and fisheries.”

Some of the jellyfish have temporarily disabled power stations lining the eastern Mediterranean, after the swarms became stuck in the stations’ seawater-powered cooling systems. Nearby fishermen have found their catches ruined for similar reasons. “Jellyfish can be 90% of the catch – and the remaining fish are very damaged, so the value of the fish is greatly reduced,” said Piraino.

This year, researchers at the university of East Anglia estimated that jellyfish from the Suez would cost fishermen in the northern Adriatic sea – which is only a small part of the Mediterranean – €8.2m (£6.5m) in financial losses.

The 18 scientists have called on signatories to the Convention of Biological Diversity, a UN-organised pledge to conserve the world’s ecosystems, to press Egypt to conduct an impact assessment into the environmental effects of the canal expansion.

Responding to the call, Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, executive secretary of the convention on biological diversity, acknowledged the potential environmental and socioeconomic effects of the Suez expansion, and asked Egypt to implement an environmental assessment. “We trust that, as party to the Convention on Biological Diversity, Egypt will adhere to its obligations,” Dias told the Guardian.

Construction of the bypass, dubbed the “new Suez canal” by the Egyptian government, began in August. It will allow two-way traffic for 45 miles of the canal’s 120-mile length, creating room for more ships, and potentially more revenue for cash-strapped Egypt. The project has been warmly received by many Egyptians, who contributed 80% of the 64bn Egyptian pounds (£5.6bn) raised to build the new canal, after the government promised them a 12% annual yield on their investment.

Criticism of the project is seen as unpatriotic, with some local newspapers calling it “the project of the century” and comparing it to Egypt’s surprise attack on Israel in 1973 – one of the proudest moments in modern Egyptian history. But it has come under fire from thousands of locals whose homes have been destroyed by the construction work.

Senior representatives for the Suez Canal Authority did not respond to two written requests for comment or answer their phones.

Patrick Kingsley|30 November 2014

Wildlife and Habitat

Rare elephant twins born in Northern KZN (PHOTOS)

There is less than one percent prevalence rate of elephants twinning

Scientific evidence suggests that there is less than one percent prevalence rate of elephants twinning and even less of a chance that both twins survive into adulthood, making the birth of these young elephant twins an incredibly rare natural occurrence.

The yet unnamed twins were born to a 31-year-old elephant cow called Curve, so named for the curve of one of her tusks. She birthed three offspring before delivering the twins, all of which were male. Paternity of the twins points to Ingani, a 44-year-old elephant bull that died slightly more than a year ago. The sex of the twins remains unconfirmed as Curve is being given enough space and a fighting chance to beat the mortality odds for the twins.

Elephant specialist, Dr Ian Whyte, the retired projects manager: Large Herbivores: Department of Scientific Services at the National Parks Board, Kruger National Park said: “Though a few cases of twinning have been reported in the Kruger National Park, an examination of the reproductive tracts of over 1,200 adult cows culled in the Kruger National Park during population control operations did not yield a single case of twins.”

“Mortality of one of the twins usually occurs as the increasing demand for milk by two calves cannot be met by the mother and the less dominant of the two calves usually cannot gain access to its share. One rather famous matriarch in Kruger dubbed MaMerle produced a set of twins in 2002, both of which survived to post weaning age, and she then produced a second set in 2006, both of which had survived to more than a year old when she was last seen. Curve needs a stress free environment to beat the odds.”

Well established population stabilizing measures for the region’s elephant are in place; vasectomies as well as Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) to stabilize the population since August, 2008. Against these odds, the elephant twins were safely birthed, surely a positive sign for long and healthy lives.

jenny bipat|4 December 2014

Global Warming and Climate Change

Scientists Warn Leaders at Lima Climate Talks: Ocean Warming Drives Record Temperatures

It’s official, even though it won’t be conclusive for a few months yet: if present trends continue, 2014 will be one of the hottest years on record—and quite possibly the hottest of them all.

Preliminary estimates by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO)—published to provide information to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change annual round of negotiations, currently being held in Lima, Peru—show that this year is set to be a record breaker largely because of record high global sea surface temperatures.

These, combined with other factors, helped to cause exceptionally heavy rainfall and floods in many countries and extreme drought in others.

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the convention, said: “Our climate is changing, and every year the risks of extreme weather events and impacts on humanity rise.”

Above normal

It is the warming of the oceans—which the WMO says “will very likely remain above normal until the end of the year”—that is chiefly perplexing the scientists.

The WMO’s provisional statement—to be finalized in March next year—on the Status of the Global Climate in 2014 shows that the global average air temperature over the land and sea surface from January to October was about 0.57°C above the average of 14°C for the 1961 to 1990 reference period, and 0.09°C above the average for 2004 to 2013.

If November and December follow the same trend, the WMO says, then 2014 will probably be the hottest on record, ahead of 2010, 2005 and 1998. This confirms the underlying long-term warming trend.

“The provisional information for 2014 means that 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all occurred in the twenty-first century,” said the WMO secretary-general, Michel Jarraud. “There is no standstill in global warming.

“What we saw in 2014 is consistent with what we expect from a changing climate. Record-breaking heat, combined with torrential rainfall and floods, destroyed livelihoods and ruined lives. What is particularly unusual and alarming this year are the high temperatures of vast areas of the ocean surface, including in the northern hemisphere.

“Record-high greenhouse gas emissions and associated atmospheric concentrations are committing the planet to a much more uncertain and inhospitable future.”

Weather patterns

The high January to October temperatures occurred in the absence of a full El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). An ENSO occurs when warmer than average sea-surface temperatures in the eastern tropical Pacific combine, in a self-reinforcing loop, with atmospheric pressure systems, affecting weather patterns globally.

Among the remarkable features of 2014’s first 10 months are land surface temperatures. The WMO says they averaged about 0.86°C above the 1961 to 1990 average, the fourth or fifth warmest for the same period on record.

Global sea-surface temperatures were unequivocally the highest on record, at about 0.45°C above the 1961 to 1990 average. Temperatures were particularly high in the northern hemisphere from June to October for reasons, the WMO notes, that “are subject to intense scientific investigation”.

The ocean heat content for January to June was estimated to depths of 700 and 2,000 meters, and both were the highest recorded. Around 93 percent of the excess energy trapped in the atmosphere by greenhouse gases from fossil fuels and other human activities ends up in the oceans, so the heat they contain is essential to understanding the climate system.

The early part of 2014 saw global average measured sea level reach a record high for the time of year. Arctic sea ice extent was the sixth lowest on record, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center in the U.S., but Antarctic daily sea ice reached a new record for the third consecutive year.

Some impressively anomalous rainfall and floods made 2014 a year to forget as fast as possible. The UK winter was the wettest on record, with 177 percent of the long-term average precipitation. In May, devastating floods in southeast Europe affected more than two million people, and in Russia, in late May and early June, more than twice the monthly average precipitation fell in parts of southern Siberia.

In September, southern parts of the Balkan peninsula received over 250 percent of the monthly average rainfall, while parts of Turkey had more than 500 percent. Heavy rains caused severe flooding in northern Bangladesh, northern Pakistan and India, affecting millions of people.

Searing drought

In contrast, parts of northeast China, large areas of the western U.S., Australia and Brazil experienced searing drought.

But the incidence of tropical storms and cyclones recorded was lower than the 1981 to 2010 average in much of the world.

The WMO Global Atmosphere Watch Program shows that atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O) reached new highs in 2013—the most recent data processed to date.

Globally-averaged atmospheric levels of CO2 reached 396 parts per million (ppm), approximately 142 percent of the pre-industrial average. The increase from 2012 to 2013 was 2.9 ppm, the largest year to year increase.

Atmospheric CH4 concentrations reached a new high of 1,824 parts per billion (ppb) in 2013, about 253 percent of the pre-industrial level, and concentrations of N2O reached 325.9 ± 0.1 ppb, a rise of 121 percent

Alex Kirby|Climate News Network|December 3, 2014

McKibben Stepping Down But Continuing Fight for Climate Justice

My wife Sue and I are in Sweden this week—the Swedish Parliament is honoring me (which really means all of you) with the Right Livelihood Award, the so-called “alternative Nobel Prize.” We’re all in good company—the other honorees are veteran human rights activists from Sri Lanka and Pakistan, and some guy named Snowden.

The trip comes at the end of a remarkable autumn, which has given me much to think about. The great People’s Climate March in New York happened 25 years to the day after the publication of The End of Nature, the book I wrote when I was 28 years old, and the first book for a general audience about climate change. That sea of people—and the pictures flooding in from other marches around the world—made me feel as hopeful about our prospects as any time in that quarter-century.

We’ve built a movement, that’s the key thing. And it’s beginning to make a dent—by the time that day was over (and remember that it ended with the Rockefeller Brothers Fund announcing their divestment from fossil fuels) I was letting myself think that we’d seen the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel industry.

Which doesn’t mean we’re guaranteed a victory, of course. Unless that end to coal and oil and gas comes swiftly, the damage from global warming will overwhelm us. Winning too slowly is the same as losing, so we have a crucial series of fights ahead: divestment, fracking, Keystone, and many others that we don’t yet know about.

That means we need to be at our fighting best, which in turn explains why I’m stepping down as chair of the board at 350.org to become what we’re calling a “Senior Advisor.” If this sounds dramatic, it’s not. I will stay on as an active member of the board, and 90 percent of my daily work will stay the same, since it’s always involved the external work of campaigning, not the internal work of budgets and flow charts. I’m not standing down from that work, or stepping back, or walking away. Just the opposite.

But no one should run a board forever, and so I think it’s time someone else should be engaged in that particular task, leaving me more energy and opportunity for figuring out strategies and organizing campaigns. And also more time and energy for writing, which is how I got into all of this in the first place.

Anyway, that writing and strategizing will probably go better if I’m home once in a while. The constant travel of the last seven years has helped a little, I hope, to build this movement, but I’m ready for a bit more order in my life. Don’t worry—I’ll still be there when the time comes to go to jail, or to march in the streets, or to celebrate the next big win on divestment. But I’d like to see more of my wife.

I’m proud of the way we’ve grown as an organization, big enough to be running successful campaigns all over the world, big enough to be helping spearhead the People’s Climate March or playing our part in battling pipelines, mines, wells from Alberta to Australia—and big enough to be building the climate solutions and political will necessary to take on the power and money of the fossil fuel industry.

That size and complexity means we need a board chair who is as good at dealing with organizational budgets as carbon budgets. KC Golden will be taking over on an interim basis—he’s a remarkable organizer from Seattle, and his big-picture thinking on what we really need to do to win this fight has been a guiding light for the climate movement for years.

And 350.org is blessed with an amazing staff, including the crew of then-young people with whom I launched the group back in 2007. They are less young now, and they’ve turned into some of the most talented organizers on the planet. Over the years, they’ve expanded our team to include some of the wisest and most passionate climate activists in the world. Our goal, always, has been to build campaigns that volunteers around the planet can make their own, and that’s what we’ll keep doing.

In truth, it’s been the great joy of my working life to be a volunteer here at 350.org, just like all of you. I’m looking forward to the next 25 years—the quarter century that will decide whether we make progress enough to preserve our civilizations. Together we’ve built a movement; now, together, we’ll deploy it to confront the greatest crisis we’ve ever faced. 2014 will be the hottest year in the planet’s history; that means we have to make 2015 the politically hottest season the fossil fuel industry has ever come up against, and 2016 after that, and …

We have found our will to fight, and that gives us a fighting chance to win. I’m happy to be here in Stockholm accepting this prize on our behalf, but for me it will be the biggest honor of all simply to be shoulder to shoulder with you as we go into battle.

Bill McKibben|December 4, 2014

Position Paper of La Vía Campesina:Environmental and Climate Justice Now!

We continue organizing, mobilizing, and building alternatives to redress the climate crisis and defend Mother Earth.

We, La Vía Campesina, indigenous people, small farmers, youth, migrants, rural workers, agricultural day laborers, fisherfolk, artisans, alongside our allies in the struggle for profound social transformations, are coming together in Lima for the COP 20 to reiterate once again our commitment to feeding the people of the world, to organizing, mobilizing, struggling and building alternatives that cool down the planet, not just for our own benefit but for all those who share Mother Earth.

Very recently, civil society witnessed again how the people of the world continue defending ourselves and rejecting the false solutions of capital and its institutions who claim to take us into account. With 2014 being International Year of Family Farming, the World Bank and its allies in the United Nations (UN) tried selling the world what they termed “Climate-Smart Agriculture” as some sort of new product that would put the brakes on the climate crisis once and for all. However, on the streets of New York and within the Climate Summit itself, we unmasked this fallacy and informed public opinion what “Climate-Smart Agriculture” is all about: more industrial agriculture, more World Bank financing and support for the capital of the few, more contamination and plundering of natural resources, more exploitation of lands, territories, peoples and workers. Above all else, it is part of the same green economy proposal based on less justice and less ecology.

In the United States of Sandy (2012) and Katrina (2005) – where the poor suffer most the intensification of each hurricane, flood, drought, and forest fire – we added our voice as organized small farmers, blacks, indigenous, migrants, fisherfolk, women and youth to the largest street demonstrations in the history of climate change. There, once again, we demanded: Environmental and Climate Justice Now!  

Before New York, we were in Venezuela for the Social PreCOP Meetings of 2014. There, we contributed to the Margarita Declaration which was later submitted to government representatives from 40 nations, including the countries that make up the Bolivarian Alternative for the People of

the Americas (ALBA). Those countries that share our perspective will be taking the PreCOP message to the formal Conference of the Parts (COP 20) in Lima, Peru, and will be supported in the streets by our Peruvian organizations and their local, national, regional, and international allies.

We will be mobilized on the streets of Lima to participate in the People’s Summit on Climate Change, raising our voices as we did in Rio (2012), Durban (2011), and Cancun (2010), and will demand that as part of the preparations of a draft for the first binding agreement since Kyoto – to be signed in December 2015 during the COP 21 in Paris, France – that all signatory states fulfill their commitments and promises to reduce carbon emissions and global warming to 2 degrees, as has been recommended by the scientific community in order to avoid a climate debacle of catastrophic proportions.

Summits come and summits go, each with its own historical weight and significance, while we in La Vía Campesina continue to build the social base necessary to achieve our principal demand – food sovereignty, the recognition and protection of our people, our lands, our territories, and an end to all attempts at privatizing humanity’s commons. In addition, we make special mention here of the increase in forced migrations caused by the climate crisis. If there is one thing that truly symbolizes the human tragedy of climate change, it is the roughly 50 million human beings that today live between the countries that expelled them, and the nations that reject them.

Present in Peru, we reiterate:

  • The green economy does not seek to put an end to climate change or environmental degradation. Instead, it looks to generalize the principle that those who have money can continue to pollute. To date, they have used the farce of carbon credits to continue releasing greenhouse gases. Now there is talk of biodiversity credits. That is, companies will be able to destroy forests and ecosystems so long as they pay someone who promises to conserve biodiversity somewhere else. Tomorrow they will likely invent credits to trade and destroy water, landscapes, and clean air.
  • The payment for environmental services is being used to displace indigenous people and small farmers from their lands and territories. The mechanisms most being promoted by governments and companies are REDD and REDD Plus, which they affirm will reduce greenhouse gas emissions caused by deforestation and forest degradation. These mechanisms are in fact being used to impose, with derisive payments, management plans that deny rural families and communities their right to access their very own lands, forests, and watersheds. In addition, these projects guarantee companies unrestricted access to collective forests, increasing the likelihood of biopiracy. They also impose contracts on communities for periods of over 20 years, limiting community control over lands that are leased by indigenous and small farmers in a process that will most likely result in these communities losing the resources they depend on for survival. The basic idea behind the so-called environmental services is to take control of people’s natural resources and then reach into new areas.
  • Another green economy initiative is to convert plants, algae, and all organic residues into a source of energy to substitute fossil fuels: what they call “the use of biomass”. These “agrofuels”, as we call them, have already caused millions of hectares of lands once covered in forests or food crops to be converted into lots for feeding machinery. If the use of biomass for energy becomes widespread, we will see life in the oceans reduced even further because many marine species will be left without anything to feed on. We will also see our soils unable to recover their organic material, essential for conserving fertility and protecting against both erosion and draught, and witness our animals starve as crops and feed become more rare and expensive. Water will also become rarer, be it because of agrofuel production or because our soils won’t have the capacity to absorb and retain water because soil organic matter will be missing.
  • Then comes “climate-smart agriculture”, which aims only to impose a new Green Revolution on people – this time including transgenic crops – and suggests we give up our demands for effective mechanisms to defend ourselves against climate change, accepting instead insignificant payments that work just like REDD. This proposal also seeks to impose production systems on us that are highly dependent on agrochemicals, such as direct seeding accompanied by aerial spraying of RoundUp – defined by its promoters as “low-carbon agriculture”. In short, they will force us to do their type of agriculture, and we will lose control of our territories, our ecosystems, and our watersheds.
  • One of the most perverse false solutions promoted during international negotiations is that which calls for restricted access to and use of irrigation waters. Based on the pretext that this water is scarce, they propose that it be concentrated on “high-value crops”. That is, that irrigation be saved for export crops, agrofuels, and other industrialized crops instead of to water the crops that feed our people.
  • The promotion of technological fixes that are in no way real solutions is part of the agenda and discussions that took place in Rio. Among the most dangerous are geoengineering and the acceptance of transgenic crops. To date, no geoengineering solution has proven itself capable of addressing the climate problem in any significant way. On the contrary, some forms of geoengineering (such as ocean fertilization) are considered so dangerous that they have been prohibited internationally. For us to accept transgenics, they promise to create crops that are resistant to drought and heat. The only crops they offer, however, are those resistant to their herbicides which, in fact, has now brought about a return to the market of highly toxic herbicides such as 2,4,-d.
  • The most ambitious plan, described by some governments as “the greatest challenge”, is to place a price on all of nature (including water, biodiversity, landscapes, wildlife, seeds, rain, etc.) so as to privatize (using the excuse that conserving nature requires money) and later charge us for its use. This is what they call the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), and is in fact the final assault on life and nature, as well as on the means with which our people survive as workers, farmers, hunters and fisherfolk.
  • We call on civil society to pressure governments so that they remove all barriers to decentralized, community-controlled renewable energy solutions including solar, wind, and tides and that these receive funding for the design and implementation of said energy systems. At the same time, we must educate people about the benefits of community-based energy systems, the preservation of small farmer systems based on agroecology, a sustainable environment, as well as economies that are healthy, local, dignified, and just.

Once again we present our proposals, in contrast to the false solutions sold by the culprits of the climate crisis. In Peru, as we have done in other COP Summits, we affirm:

  1. We must transform the world’s industrialized, agro-export food system into a system based on food sovereignty, on the return of land’s social function as producer of foods and sustainer of life, based on local production, processing, and distribution. Food sovereignty allows us to end monocultures and agribusiness, foment small farmer systems of production characterized by greater intensity and productivity, increased economic opportunities, better care for the soils, and a healthy diversified harvest. Small farmer and indigenous agriculture is also the way to cool down the earth: it has the capacity to absorb, or avoid, up to 2/3 of the greenhouse gases released annually.
  2. 20% of arable lands worldwide are currently in the hands of small farmers and indigenous people. With just 1/5 of all arable lands, our families and communities produce over half the world’s foods. Ours is the most secure and efficient way to overcome hunger in the world.
  3. To secure food for all and the restoration of climate balance, agriculture must return to the hands of small farmer communities and indigenous people. For this to occur, integral agrarian reforms are urgently needed that are truly transformative, putting an end to the extreme and increasing land concentrations that are negatively affecting humanity. These agrarian reforms will provide the material conditions for agriculture to fulfill its role as humanity’s caretaker, which is why the defense of small farmer and indigenous agriculture is a collective responsibility. In the immediate future, it is necessary to halt all transactions, concessions, and transfers that result in further land concentration and grabbing and/or the displacement of rural communities.
  4. Small farmer and indigenous systems of agriculture, hunting, fishing, and herding help care for food and the planet and, as such, should be adequately supported by unconditional public funding. Market mechanisms – such as carbon credit and environmental services schemes – should be dismantled right away and replaced by real measures such as those mentioned above. Putting an end to contamination is the responsibility of all, and no one can evade this buying up the “right” to destroy.
  5. The only legitimate use of what international entities and companies call “biomass” is as food for living beings and the restoration of soil fertility. The emissions released as a result of energy misuse should be reduced at the source, bringing and end to wasteful consumption. We need renewable energy sources that are decentralized and controlled by the people.

We of La Vía Campesina, small family farmers, landless workers, indigenous and migrant communities – men and women – stand in direct opposition to the commodification of nature, of our territories, of water, seeds, foods, and human life. We reiterate what we said at the People’s Summit of Cochabamba, Bolivia: “Humanity is facing an historic decision – we can continue along the path that capitalism created, based on predation and death, or set about on the path of harmony with nature and a respect for life”.

We repudiate and denounce the green economy as one more masked attempt to cover up increased corporate coveting and food imperialism across the globe. It is a brutal way for capitalism to try washing its hands, and offers nothing but false solutions such as “climate-smart agriculture”, carbon trading, REDD, geoengineering, transgenics, agrofuels, biocarbon, among other market solutions to the environmental crisis.

Our challenge is to reestablish another way of relating to nature, and between peoples. This is our right and responsibility, and for this reason we will continue the struggle to do so, calling on all people to keep up the endless fight for food sovereignty, for integral agrarian reforms, for the return of territories to indigenous people, for an end to capital’s violence, and to restore agroecological small farmer and indigenous food systems.   

message to the formal Conference of the Parts (COP 20) in Lima, Peru, and will be supported in the streets by our Peruvian organizations and their local, national, regional, and international allies.

We will be mobilized on the streets of Lima to participate in the People’s Summit on Climate Change, raising our voices as we did in Rio (2012), Durban (2011), and Cancun (2010), and will demand that as part of the preparations of a draft for the first binding agreement since Kyoto – to be signed in December 2015 during the COP 21 in Paris, France – that all signatory states fulfill their commitments and promises to reduce carbon emissions and global warming to 2 degrees, as has been recommended by the scientific community in order to avoid a climate debacle of catastrophic proportions.

Summits come and summits go, each with its own historical weight and significance, while we in La Vía Campesina continue to build the social base necessary to achieve our principal demand – food sovereignty, the recognition and protection of our people, our lands, our territories, and an end to all attempts at privatizing humanity’s commons. In addition, we make special mention here of the increase in forced migrations caused by the climate crisis. If there is one thing that truly symbolizes the human tragedy of climate change, it is the roughly 50 million human beings that today live between the countries that expelled them, and the nations that reject them.

Present in Peru, we reiterate:

  • The green economy does not seek to put an end to climate change or environmental degradation. Instead, it looks to generalize the principle that those who have money can continue to pollute. To date, they have used the farce of carbon credits to continue releasing greenhouse gases. Now there is talk of biodiversity credits. That is, companies will be able to destroy forests and ecosystems so long as they pay someone who promises to conserve biodiversity somewhere else. Tomorrow they will likely invent credits to trade and destroy water, landscapes, and clean air.
  • The payment for environmental services is being used to displace indigenous people and small farmers from their lands and territories. The mechanisms most being promoted by governments and companies are REDD and REDD Plus, which they affirm will reduce greenhouse gas emissions caused by deforestation and forest degradation. These mechanisms are in fact being used to impose, with derisive payments, management plans that deny rural families and communities their right to access their very own lands, forests, and watersheds. In addition, these projects guarantee companies unrestricted access to collective forests, increasing the likelihood of biopiracy. They also impose contracts on communities for periods of over 20 years, limiting community control over lands that are leased by indigenous and small farmers in a process that will most likely result in these communities losing the resources they depend on for survival. The basic idea behind the so-called environmental services is to take control of people’s natural resources and then reach into new areas.
  • Another green economy initiative is to convert plants, algae, and all organic residues into a source of energy to substitute fossil fuels: what they call “the use of biomass”. These “agrofuels”, as we call them, have already caused millions of hectares of lands once covered in forests or food crops to be converted into lots for feeding machinery. If the use of biomass for energy becomes widespread, we will see life in the oceans reduced even further because many marine species will be left without anything to feed on. We will also see our soils unable to recover their organic material, essential for conserving fertility and protecting against both erosion and draught, and witness our animals starve as crops and feed become more rare and expensive. Water will also become rarer, be it because of agrofuel production or because our soils won’t have the capacity to absorb and retain water because soil organic matter will be missing.
  • Then comes “climate-smart agriculture”, which aims only to impose a new Green Revolution on people – this time including transgenic crops – and suggests we give up our demands for effective mechanisms to defend ourselves against climate change, accepting instead insignificant payments that work just like REDD. This proposal also seeks to impose production systems on us that are highly dependent on agrochemicals, such as direct seeding accompanied by aerial spraying of RoundUp – defined by its promoters as “low-carbon agriculture”. In short, they will force us to do their type of agriculture, and we will lose control of our territories, our ecosystems, and our watersheds.
  • One of the most perverse false solutions promoted during international negotiations is that which calls for restricted access to and use of irrigation waters. Based on the pretext that this water is scarce, they propose that it be concentrated on “high-value crops”. That is, that irrigation be saved for export crops, agrofuels, and other industrialized crops instead of to water the crops that feed our people.
  • The promotion of technological fixes that are in no way real solutions is part of the agenda and discussions that took place in Rio. Among the most dangerous are geoengineering and the acceptance of transgenic crops. To date, no geoengineering solution has proven itself capable of addressing the climate problem in any significant way. On the contrary, some forms of geoengineering (such as ocean fertilization) are considered so dangerous that they have been prohibited internationally. For us to accept transgenics, they promise to create crops that are resistant to drought and heat. The only crops they offer, however, are those resistant to their herbicides which, in fact, has now brought about a return to the market of highly toxic herbicides such as 2,4,-d.
  • The most ambitious plan, described by some governments as “the greatest challenge”, is to place a price on all of nature (including water, biodiversity, landscapes, wildlife, seeds, rain, etc.) so as to privatize (using the excuse that conserving nature requires money) and later charge us for its use. This is what they call the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), and is in fact the final assault on life and nature, as well as on the means with which our people survive as workers, farmers, hunters and fisherfolk.
  • We call on civil society to pressure governments so that they remove all barriers to decentralized, community-controlled renewable energy solutions including solar, wind, and tides and that these receive funding for the design and implementation of said energy systems. At the same time, we must educate people about the benefits of community-based energy systems, the preservation of small farmer systems based on agroecology, a sustainable environment, as well as economies that are healthy, local, dignified, and just.

Once again we present our proposals, in contrast to the false solutions sold by the culprits of the climate crisis. In Peru, as we have done in other COP Summits, we affirm:

  1. We must transform the world’s industrialized, agro-export food system into a system based on food sovereignty, on the return of land’s social function as producer of foods and sustainer of life, based on local production, processing, and distribution. Food sovereignty allows us to end monocultures and agribusiness, foment small farmer systems of production characterized by greater intensity and productivity, increased economic opportunities, better care for the soils, and a healthy diversified harvest. Small farmer and indigenous agriculture is also the way to cool down the earth: it has the capacity to absorb, or avoid, up to 2/3 of the greenhouse gases released annually.
  2. 20% of arable lands worldwide are currently in the hands of small farmers and indigenous people. With just 1/5 of all arable lands, our families and communities produce over half the world’s foods. Ours is the most secure and efficient way to overcome hunger in the world.
  3. To secure food for all and the restoration of climate balance, agriculture must return to the hands of small farmer communities and indigenous people. For this to occur, integral agrarian reforms are urgently needed that are truly transformative, putting an end to the extreme and increasing land concentrations that are negatively affecting humanity. These agrarian reforms will provide the material conditions for agriculture to fulfill its role as humanity’s caretaker, which is why the defense of small farmer and indigenous agriculture is a collective responsibility. In the immediate future, it is necessary to halt all transactions, concessions, and transfers that result in further land concentration and grabbing and/or the displacement of rural communities.
  4. Small farmer and indigenous systems of agriculture, hunting, fishing, and herding help care for food and the planet and, as such, should be adequately supported by unconditional public funding. Market mechanisms – such as carbon credit and environmental services schemes – should be dismantled right away and replaced by real measures such as those mentioned above. Putting an end to contamination is the responsibility of all, and no one can evade this buying up the “right” to destroy.
  5. The only legitimate use of what international entities and companies call “biomass” is as food for living beings and the restoration of soil fertility. The emissions released as a result of energy misuse should be reduced at the source, bringing and end to wasteful consumption. We need renewable energy sources that are decentralized and controlled by the people.

We of La Vía Campesina, small family farmers, landless workers, indigenous and migrant communities – men and women – stand in direct opposition to the commodification of nature, of our territories, of water, seeds, foods, and human life. We reiterate what we said at the People’s Summit of Cochabamba, Bolivia: “Humanity is facing an historic decision – we can continue along the path that capitalism created, based on predation and death, or set about on the path of harmony with nature and a respect for life”.

We repudiate and denounce the green economy as one more masked attempt to cover up increased corporate coveting and food imperialism across the globe. It is a brutal way for capitalism to try washing its hands, and offers nothing but false solutions such as “climate-smart agriculture”, carbon trading, REDD, geoengineering, transgenics, agrofuels, biocarbon, among other market solutions to the environmental crisis.

Our challenge is to reestablish another way of relating to nature, and between peoples. This is our right and responsibility, and for this reason we will continue the struggle to do so, calling on all people to keep up the endless fight for food sovereignty, for integral agrarian reforms, for the return of territories to indigenous people, for an end to capital’s violence, and to restore agroecological small farmer and indigenous food systems.   

WWW.VIACAMPESINA.ORG|03 December 2014

Extreme Weather

Powerful typhoon slams into the eastern Philippines

LEGAZPI, Philippines —Typhoon Hagupit slammed into the central Philippines’ east coast late Saturday, knocking out power and toppling trees in a region where 650,000 people have fled to safety, still haunted by the massive death and destruction wrought by a monster storm last year.

Packing maximum sustained winds of 109miles per hour and gusts of 130 mph, Hagupit made landfall in Dolores, a coastal town facing the Pacific in Eastern Samar province, according to the Philippines’ weather agency. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Although it was unlikely to reach the unprecedented strength of Typhoon Haiyan, Hagupit’s strong winds and heavy rain were possibly enough to cause major damage to an impoverished region still reeling from the devastating November 2013 storm, which left more than 7,300 people dead or missing.

There are many trees that have toppled, some of them on the highway,” police Senior Inspector Alex Robin said late Saturday in Dolores, hours before Hagupit made landfall. “We are totally in the dark here. The only light comes from flashlights.”

From Eastern Samar, Hagupit — Filipino for “smash” or “lash” — was expected to hammer parts of a string of island provinces that was devastated by Haiyan’s tsunami – like storm surges and ferocious winds.

Hagupit weakened slightly Saturday but remained dangerously powerful and erratic, officials said. Robin said about 600 families had hunkered down in Dolores’ three-story municipal hall, one of many emergency shelters in the town.

“Everyone here is just looking for a place to sleep,” he said. “All the windows are closed, but it is still cool because of the wind and the rain.”

Eastern Samar province Rep. Ben Evardone said electricity was also knocked out early Saturday in Borongan city, about 43miles south of Dolores, where the government had set up a command center for rescue and relief operations headed by Interior Secretary Mar Roxas.

Evardone said the strong winds also felled trees and ripped off roofing sheets.

“Everybody is in fear because of what happened during (Haiyan),” he said. “We can already feel the wrath of the typhoon. Everybody is praying.”

Big waves have pushed seawater over concrete walls along a boulevard, flooding it, Evardone said.

Army troops deployed to supermarkets and major roads in provinces in the typhoon’s path to prevent looting and chaos and clear debris, all of which slowed the government’s response last year, said Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang, head of the Philippines’ 120,000strong military.

“We’re on red alert, so the entire armed forces is being mobilized for this typhoon,” Catapang said.

Teresa Cerojano and Oliver Teves|Associated Press|12/07/2014

California Experiences Worst Drought in 1,200 Years

While rain this week provided California with some relief from a long spell of high temperatures and dry weather, it scarcely made a dent in the state’s multi-year drought. And they’ll hardly be encouraged by a new study, which says the drought is the worst in the region in 1,200 years.

In the study published this week in the American Geophysical Union’s Geophysical Research Letters, researchers Daniel Griffin, University of Minnesota assistant professor and Climate & Global Change fellow of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Kevin J. Anchukaitis of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute pointed to California’s last three years of the worst drought conditions in a century, and asked “But how unusual is this event?

Extremely unusual, was the answer they arrived at, based on a study of blue oak tree growth rings in central and southern California, which Griffin called “as close to nature’s rain gauges as we get.” The two scientists found 66 dry periods, with only three close to the current one—and none quite as severe. And they learned that 2014 was the worst drought year in the region in 1,200 years.

“There is no doubt that we are entering a new era where human-wrought changes to the climate system will become important for determining the severity of droughts and their consequences for coupled human and natural systems,” said Anchukaitis in announcing the study.

“We demonstrate that while three-year periods of persistent below-average soil moisture are not uncommon, the current event is the most severe drought in the last 1200 years, with single year (2014) and accumulated moisture deficits worse than any previous continuous span of dry years,” said the study. “Tree-ring chronologies extended through the 2014 growing season reveal that precipitation during the drought has been anomalously low but not outside the range of natural variability. The current California drought is exceptionally severe in the context of at least the last millennium and is driven by reduced though not unprecedented precipitation and record high temperatures.”

“We were genuinely surprised at the result,” said Griffin. “This is California—drought happens. Time and again, the most common result in tree-ring studies is that drought episodes in the past were more extreme than those of more recent eras. This time, however, the result was different.”

This week’s U.S. Drought Monitor, out yesterday, showed that 99.7 percent of California of the state is still in one of its drought categories, with more than half the state still in the highest category “exceptionally drought.” Since the results were based on rainfall through Tuesday, they did not take into account this week’s rains.

“Despite respectable amounts of precipitation falling across the northern half of the state, no changes were rendered to the California drought depiction this week,” the agency said. “Snowpack is just starting to form and is below what is normally expected for December 1, while reservoirs are just starting to receive more water than is being lost, which is later than would normally occur. December 1 marks the start of the wettest time of the year for California. Typically, about one-half of California’s annual precipitation is expected to fall during the December-February season. However, more than this is needed to offset the accumulated deficits. Finally, stream base flow levels in many areas are still low and indicative of a lack of groundwater response in watersheds so far this cold season. This suggests that groundwater reservoirs still require replenishment.”

DroughtMonitorMore than half of California is still under “exceptional drought.” Image Credit: U.S. Drought Monitor

“It’s going to take a couple years of average or above-average rainfall so that we can not only fill our reservoirs, build our snowpack, but also recharge our groundwater basins,” Bill Croyle of California Department of Water Resources told USA Today. “The ground is so dry, and the groundwater basins in those higher elevations have no water in them.”

Anastasia Pantsios|December 5, 2014

Genetically Modified Organisms

Monsanto Stock Downgraded After Worst Growth in 7 Years

Here’s one for the history books, and a slap on the wrist for stock-holders like Bill Gates and George Soros. Monsanto stock has been downgraded to ‘Neutral’ from ‘Buy’ after an annual seed dealer industry survey showed bleak returns.

This may be the most depressing news in seven years for Monsanto, but great news for the seed industry, which has been monopolized by the chemical peddler since the early 1990s. The target price for (MON +0.1%) has been lowered from $140 to $127. Conditions affecting the downgrade include “greater discounting, reduced trait purchases, reduced spending on seeds, and share gains for non-major seeds brands” – with hardly a mention of the grass-roots, and international efforts of people to shine a light on Monsanto’s illegal influence on the world seed market.

 

“We are downgrading Monsanto from Buy to Neutral, due to the findings from our seventh Annual Seed Dealer Survey, which came back the most negative for the seed industry in the history of the survey,” Chris Shaw of Monness Crespi Hardt wrote. “The unprecedented results of this year’s survey has led us to be more cautious on Monsanto’s outlook for the current seed selling season.”

The firm who conducted the survey said the 50-plus dealers who responded are seeing challenging industry conditions – including greater discounting as a second straight year of significantly lower farm profits forces farmers to watch their spending closely, including on seeds. Could this be due to the outright false advertising by Monsanto that their GMO seeds would increase yields and be impervious to glyphosate and other herbicides?

Or what about the complete failure of Bt crops, designed to withstand the use of Monsanto’s favorite product – RoundUp? Indian farmers went belly-up trying to plant Monsanto seeds, causing an epidemic of suicides across the country. When Bt cotton started to fail, Big Biotech tried to blame the farmers. Come again?

US farmers are also complaining that biotech seeds are becoming much too expensive, resistant to weed killer, and can contaminate conventional seed crops.

Doug Gurian-Sherman, author of a 2009 study for the Union of Concerned Scientists comments on the failed promises of GM seeds to outperform conventional seeds:

“The technology has really been hyped up a lot. Even on a shoestring, conventional breeding outperforms genetic engineering.”

Hopefully this will spawn a new financial front against Monsanto as hedge fund managers and insider traders start dumping devalued Monsanto stock. Want to defeat the biotech hydra? Start with Wall Street.

Christina Sarich|December 5, 2014

Exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup Pesticide Doubles Cancer Risk

The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found a link between some pesticides and a significantly increased risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma—a type of cancer of the lymphatic system. In this type of cancer, tumors of the lymph nodes or within the lymph system can form. According to the review of 44 studies, 80 active ingredients in 21 classes of chemicals, researchers found that exposure to glyphosate the main ingredient in Roundup doubles the risk of this deadly cancer.

According to an article in Rodale News: “There’s been a striking increase in the number of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma cases over the past three decades, and a major new scientific review suggests chemical pesticides—particularly glyphosate, the active ingredient in the popular weedkiller Roundup—are playing an important role in fueling the cancer.”

Glyphosate’s increasing use can be attributed to the rise of genetically-modified food crops. Monsanto, the manufacturer of Roundup is also the creator and manufacturer of genetically-modified seeds, the use of which has skyrocketed over the last two decades.

Monsanto touts its weed killer as safe, declaring on its website that: “Roundup herbicides and other glyphosate products can be used as part of an environmentally responsible weed control program and fit with our vision of sustainable agriculture and environmental protection.”

While the company claims that its product is safe the pesticide that is also known as the “Darth Vader chemical” has been linked to other serious health conditions and environmental degradation. It has been linked to autism, allergies, cancer, Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), Parkinson’s disease, depression, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, infertility, Alzheimer’s disease, and more. In a peer-reviewed report by Anthony Samsel, a retired science consultant and Dr. Stephenie Seneff, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) research scientist, found that glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup caused nutritional deficiencies and systemic toxicity.

Additionally, while Monsanto may claim its product somehow contributes to “environmental protection” environmentalists assure us that this chemical doesn’t just wash off produce, and instead is finding its way into air and water supplies, as well as killing pollinators like butterflies and bees.

Michelle Schoffro Cook|December 5, 2014

This Holiday Season say NO to GMO Chestnuts

A nut rests the spiny bur of a rare surviving American chestnut tree. A fungus wiped out almost all of the trees, which once numbered in the billions. (The American Chestnut Foundation/Via Associated Press)

In a society rising up against the corporate capture of our food supply in the form of GMOs, a new untested and not-yet-approved GMO food is being promoted: the GMO chestnut.

Not surprisingly, a recent op-ed in the Washington Post makes the absurd assertion that this emerging new GMO food as the answer to hunger and a step toward reconnecting with our food supply:

Repopulating our woods — and even our yards, our commons and our courthouse lawns — with [GE] American chestnuts would put a versatile, nutritious, easily harvested food source within reach of just about everyone. For those living on the margins, it could be a very real hedge against want. For everyone, it could be a hedge against distancing ourselves from our food, which can be the first step toward a diet low in the whole foods that virtually every public health authority tells us we should eat more of.

GMO chestnuts are whole foods?  A food source for the poor?  Not too many people know how to eat chestnuts anymore.  And what is the health impact of eating GMO chestnuts?

The scientists developing the GMO chestnuts argue that they have been modified only with the insertion of a single wheat gene, so what can possibly be the harm?  We eat wheat, right?  But as any ecologist, or thinking geneticist knows, genes outside of the genome in which they evolved can do highly unpredictable things.  And the genome into which they are inserted is damaged in the process resulting in mutations.  These mutations in turn lead to unanticipated consequences.  So no, just because it is a single gene from wheat, it is not inherently safe.

The author of the op-ed goes on to make the utterly uninformed assertion:

[The GMO Chestnut] wasn’t created for personal profit or for the benefit of corporations or farmers. It contributes to a wholesome, healthful diet. And it’s intended solely for the public good.

Yeah, not quite.  A look at the partners and funders of this program at SUNY ESF over the years reveals some very disturbing bedfellows.  Monsanto and ArborGen among them.  ArborGen is a GE tree research and development company based in South Carolina that has requested permission from the USDA to sell GE eucalyptus trees by the billions for planting across the Southern US from South Carolina to Texas.  Oh yes, and ArborGen is jointly owned by International Paper and MeadWestvaco–timber multinationals.

Eucalyptus trees will be an ecological disaster.  They are non-native, invasive, water-greedy, suppress the growth of other vegetation, provide no habitat for wildlife, and are explosively flammable.  Yet ArborGen wants to see them in huge plantations along the US Gulf Coast.

So if the GE chestnut tree is truly “intended solely for the public good,” why is ArborGen involved?  For one reason.  The GE American chestnut tree is being promoted to convince the public that GE trees can be beneficial.  The hope is that they will help change the extremely powerful public opposition to GE trees and open up markets for new GE tree “products” that could mean big big profits for timber and biomass companies.

GE Chestnut trees are part of a very specific (and expensive) public relations strategy–open the door for other GE forest trees: GE eucalyptus, poplar and pine.

And what will be the impact on the forests of releasing GE American chestnut trees into them?  The scientists envision these GE trees growing by the billions throughout the Eastern forests of the US.  To achieve this, they plan to release these GE trees in a fully fertile state to spread their pollen and seeds widely, contaminating any wild American chestnuts in their path.  So much for restoring the naturally blight resistant American chestnuts, they will be contaminated along with the rest.

How would the damaged genomes of these GE trees, that can grow for centuries, react to the various environmental stresses they encounter?  How would drought, extreme cold, floods, etc impact them?  What if the gene were to stop working suddenly (known as “gene silencing”) and these trees again became susceptible to the blight?  And what if this newly blight-susceptible wheat gene was transferred back to wheat, threatening the wheat crop?

No, far from helping us achieve food sovereignty and food independence, this GE American chestnut tree is a Pandora’s box of potential disasters best left closed.  Fortunately, it has not yet been approved for large-scale release.  We are working to ensure this never happens.

Anne Petermann|Global Justice Ecology Project|November 27, 2014

Glyphosate and the deterioration of America’s health

Is rising glyphosate use responsible for increases in modern diseases? Claire Robinson looks at the latest study to raise the question Is the rise in glyphosate use since the advent of GM crops responsible for the rapid deterioration of health in the US in the last 20 years?

A new study by former US Navy scientist Dr Nancy Swanson and co-authors asks this question. The study charts the huge increase in 22 chronic diseases in the US over the last 20 years and plots it against the rise in the use of glyphosate and the percentage of GM corn and soy plantings.

The correlations, portrayed graphically in super-clear charts, are striking. There’s a highly significant correlation between glyphosate use and the incidence of many of the diseases, including hypertension, stroke, diabetes, obesity, thyroid and liver cancer, kidney disease, and Alzheimer’s. There’s also a highly significant correlation between the percentage of GM corn and soy planted in the US and a similar list of diseases. And the increases in these diseases are not due to people living longer, which the authors adjusted for in most cases.

Does this mean that glyphosate causes these diseases? No – not necessarily. As the authors themselves note, correlation is not causation. The authors do, however, argue that given the known biological effects of glyphosate herbicides, “it would be imprudent not to consider causation as a plausible explanation”.

And while there are thousands of toxic substances and pathogens that could have contributed to the exponential rise in these diseases, the authors state, “No toxic substance has increased in ubiquity in the last 20 years as glyphosate has.”

It’s difficult to argue with this interpretation. And as a scientist unconnected with Dr Swanson and her co-authors told GMWatch, if the issue of GM crops and their associated pesticides were not such a political and economic ‘hot potato’, such a rapid escalation in disease in a population would be investigated as an emergency priority. That may be especially true if the disease in question were caused by bacteria or viruses, where there is massive corporate interest in developing vaccines and anti-bacterial products. In the case of non-infectious diseases, however, where possible culprits may include widely used and consumed GMOs and pesticides, US regulators turn their backs and pretend nothing is happening.

What is required scientifically in order to establish causation? The answer: long-term controlled animal feeding studies performed with the complete glyphosate herbicide formulations as sold to farmers and the public, using realistic doses that you and I could be exposed to and that are currently claimed to be safe. As far as I know, only one study that meets all these criteria has been carried out: Seralini’s study on NK603 maize and the Roundup herbicide it’s engineered to tolerate. The results were clear: doses of Roundup at only half the level allowed in EU tap water were found to cause severe liver and kidney damage and hormonal disturbances.

Arguments against such studies on animal welfare grounds do not hold water. If it is cruel to subject a few hundred or thousand lab rats to environmentally realistic doses of Roundup, it is far more cruel to subject millions of people and animals to these same doses in an uncontrolled experiment where no one is looking at the results and no regulatory action will be taken.

Should we sit back and do nothing until the necessary animal feeding studies can be funded and carried out, and then wait some more time for the regulators to take action? No. It makes sense to minimize our exposure to Roundup and other agrochemicals right now. That means eating organic, filtering our water, avoiding the use of pesticides in our gardens and fields, pressuring local authorities to restrict their use in school grounds and parks and on our roads and pavements, and lobbying for school and hospital meals programs to serve organic and non-GMO food. And if you’re living somewhere other than North and South America, it means doing everything you can to keep herbicide-tolerant GM crops out of your country.

Meanwhile, Dr Swanson’s study (abstract below) provides excellent ammunition against the GMO promoters’ argument that “trillions of GM meals” have been eaten in the US and that Americans are fine. Clearly, they are nothing of the sort.

Nancy L. Swanson, Andre Leu, Jon Abrahamson, and Bradley Wallet|Journal of Organic Systems 9(2), 2014

Energy

Leaked Internal Presentation Details the Oil Industry’s Campaign to Stop Clean Energy

The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) — whose members include Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, ConocoPhillips, BP, and others — was caught red-handed late last month when a leaked internal presentation revealed a coordinated campaign to stomp out climate and clean energy progress in California, Oregon and Washington by propping up over 15 front groups that purport to represent the views of concerned citizens and the broader business community.

The leak comes on the heels of NRDC’s report released this month, which unmasked eight of the front groups that are campaigning against California’s climate and clean energy laws, as having direct ties to the oil industry.

Fortunately, Californians have shown they can see through Big Oil’s smoke and mirrors tactics. In 2010, voters rejected an oil-funded ballot measure to derail the state’s pioneering clean energy law, AB 32, by a margin of more than 2 to 1. And just recently, Chevron’s $3 million campaign to influence the outcome of the city of Richmond’s local elections (which just happens to be the home of a Chevron refinery) completely backfired.

WSPA’s Colony of Front Groups

The 15-plus WSPA-backed front groups include:

  • AB 32 Implementation Group
  • CA Fuel Facts*
  • California Drivers Alliance*
  • Californians Against Higher Oil Taxes*
  • Californians Against Higher Taxes*
  • Californians for Affordable and Reliable Energy (CARE)*
  • Californians for Energy Independence*
  • Concerned Mineral Owners of California
  • Fed Up at the Pump*
  • Fueling California*
  • Kern Citizens for Energy
  • Oregonians for Sound Fuel Policy
  • Save Our Jobs
  • Tank the Tax
  • Washingtonians for Sound Fuel Policy
  • Plus multiple local hydraulic fracking campaigns

The concentrated interests invested in dirty energy are powerful, well-funded and committed to protecting the status quo. WSPA’s metastasizing colony of anti-clean energy front groups is a startling reminder of the length to which the oil industry will go to protect their market share. As reported by the Northwest News Network radio news team, WPSA spokesperson Tupper Hull described the graphic above as “just an attempt to sort of put on a single slide a graphical depiction for folks as to how many issues we’re involved in and the various coalitions that we’re working with to represent the industry’s point of view.”

I can see why they would need a graphic just to keep track. WSPA’s new crop of front groups and the campaign behind them is indeed impressive. They are attacking climate and clean energy policies – both existing and under development – in California, Washington, and Oregon. They are engaging (and in some cases pretending to speaking on behalf of) consumers, launching petition drives, tracking and attending every policy and public forum, funding reports designed to back their interests, backing or attacking elected leaders to influence politics, and running aggressive and misleading ad campaigns. Since 2009, the oil industry has reported spending over $70 million on lobbying in California alone.

If only they showed the same determination and innovation in cleaning up their operations and developing clean energy alternatives for their customers.

But while eye-opening in its candor, the leaked presentation reveals nothing new. It’s the same strategy the oil industry has employed for decades. The outfits may change over the years, but as we are reminded yet again: beneath all the phony sheep’s clothing, it’s ultimately the same big bad wolf.

Merrian Borgeson|NRDC|December 03, 2014

This article was originally published on NRDC and was republished with permission.

Gas and Coal To Replace Hydropower in Brazil, Pollution to Follow

Brazil, the world’s cleanest energy user, is getting dirtier.

Sao Paolo, Brazil — The Brazilian government is seeking to award contracts in an auction tomorrow for natural gas- and coal-fueled power plants, reversing a drive that previously favored renewable-energy projects. It would lead to the first new thermal plants in three years, after the government scaled back such projects and awarded wind contracts starting in 2009 and solar energy earlier this year.

The government is seeking to award contracts in an auction tomorrow for natural gas- and coal-fueled power plants, reversing a drive that previously favored renewable-energy projects. It would lead to the first new thermal plants in three years, after the government scaled back such projects and awarded wind contracts starting in 2009 and solar energy earlier this year.

Thermal plants, which are faster and easier to build and open than wind or hydroelectric facilities, will be used as a stopgap to ensure energy supplies after the worst drought in eight decades dried up reservoirs at hydro-dams that produce 70 percent of Brazil’s power. Without the extra energy supplies, Brazil may be forced to ration power as soon as next year if the drought continues, said BNP Paribas SA and consultant Thymos Energia.

“Coal and gas plants can meet an urgent need,” Bernardo Bezerra, a manager at the Rio de Janeiro-based energy consultant PSR, said in an interview. “The big question mark is: Is it worth contracting an expensive source of energy for so many years, when you have cheaper and cleaner sources available like wind simply because of a short-term need?”

Brazil’s energy research and planning agency, known as EPE, says it is.

“It’s important for the security of the system that we have more thermal energy — it was because of thermal that we avoided rationing last year,” Jose Carlos de Miranda Farias, EPE director of electric energy research, said in a telephone interview from Brasilia. “We need to guarantee supplies to Brazilian consumers who refuse to deal with energy shortages of even half an hour.”

Using fossil fuels at a time of need highlights tensions facing Brazilian policy makers as they join United Nations talks next week aimed at limiting global warming. While envoys from 190 nations are pushing for an agreement in 2015 to limit fossil-fuel emissions, Brazil may need to boost emissions to stabilize its power market and meet growing demand.

Brazil, the biggest polluter in Latin America, had a 6.7 percent jump in carbon emissions last year, according to data from BP Plc. That was the fastest increase worldwide after Qatar, Colombia and the Philippines. A spokesman for Brazil’s Ministry of Mines and Energy wasn’t immediately available to comment.

For the world to meet its goals of limiting global warming, Brazil would have to cut carbon emissions an average of 0.9 percent a year until 2040, the International Energy Agency estimates. Current government policies put Brazil on course for annual increases of 1.8 percent over that period, the Paris- based institution estimates.

Brazil restarted all of its idled thermal-power plants to make up an energy shortfall as hydroelectric output plummeted. Use of the costlier energy source boosted electricity spot prices to records.

Wind and solar developers including Renova Energia SA and Enel Brasil Participacoes Ltda were the only companies to win contracts in the last auction on Oct. 31.

Wind will still play a big role in tomorrow’s A-5 auction — the renewable source accounts for about 14 gigawatts of installed capacity on offer, or almost half of the projects that qualified to bid. In Brazil’s energy auctions, the government sets a ceiling price and developers bid down the price at which they are willing to sell the power. The lowest bid wins the contract.

The big shift in this auction is that thermal plants come with the best terms. In an effort to lure more projects, the nation’s energy regulator raised the cap on thermal-electricity rates to 209 reais ($83.51) a megawatt-hour from an initial proposal of 197 reais. The new price is more than twice that of the last gas project that was awarded in 2011.

And unlike the auction held last month, when the first federal contract was awarded for solar plants, the government is grouping all the projects together. That means gas and coal plants will compete head-to-head with clean-energy producers.

“The pressure is no longer on cleaning up the energy mix in Brazil — we already have a clean mix,” Rafael Brandao, co- owner of Rio Alto Energia, a renewable-energy developer, said in an interview in Sao Paulo. “This is a good excuse to dirty up that mix.”

Electric grid operator ONS says water levels at Brazil’s most important dams are averaging just 15 percent of total capacity, almost two months into Brazil’s rainy season. A year earlier, when the drought was starting, reservoirs were 41 percent full.

Tomorrow’s auction “is an intelligence test: Does the government understand that now is a good time to install more thermal-electric generation?” Joao Carlos de Oliveira Mello, president of consultant Thymos Energia, said in an interview at Bloomberg’s office in Sao Paulo. “Since 2009, we haven’t planned for any thermal-electricity. Brazil needs a cheap and stable thermal-electric complex.”

Vanessa Dezem|Bloomberg|December 01, 2014

World’s Largest Solar Farm Goes Online In California

Another giant solar farm has been constructed on desert lands in California, stealing the title of the largest solar plant in the world. The farm, which is called Topaz, recently went online after its final 40-megawatt phase was completed, making it the first 500-plus megawatt solar plant to be up and running in the US.

Located in San Luis Obispo County on California’s Carrizo Plain, Topaz consists of a whopping nine million solar panels sprawling across 9.5 square miles of land. This sets it apart from the Ivanpah Solar Power Facility in California’s Mojave Desert, which creates energy by directing sunlight towards a central boiler using thousands of mirrors. While it generates a lot of green energy, the Ivanpah farm has received a lot of criticism because the intense sunlight has been scorching wildlife, in particular birds. Topaz, however, does not use mirrors but photovoltaic solar panels instead. 

Construction of the $2.5 billion project began two years ago, but it wasn’t anticipated to be finished until early next year. The company behind the project, First Solar, said that the plant should generate 550 megawatts, which is enough to supply around 160,000 average homes. What’s more, it will also displace 377,000 tons of carbon dioxide each year.

Topaz’s location was chosen after proximity to existing electrical transmission lines, land use and environmental sensitivities were all taken into consideration. According to First Solar, the farm is located on “disturbed farm land” with limited productivity, miles away from the more sensitive areas in the Carrizo Plain National Monument.

Topaz might hold the title for the world’s largest solar farm at the moment, but it will be overtaken possibly as early as next year when the Solar Star plant achieves full capacity, which should generate almost 580 megawatts. Both Solar Star and Topaz are owned by MidAmerican Solar.

Justine Alford|December 1, 2014

Rape of Appalachia Continues as Obama Administration Fails to Stop Mountaintop Removal

The process of mountaintop removal mining has made accessing coal seams easier and less labor intensive. It’s also blighted the Appalachian landscape of West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia where it’s taking place, destroying 10 percent of the land in central Appalachia, ravaging forests, burying more than 2,000 miles of streams in debris and polluting water supplies with coal ash and chemicals. And it’s helped decimate employment in the coal industry, dealing another blow to one of the country’s poorest regions. It’s great for Big Coal, not so great for ordinary citizens.

In 2009, the White House Council on Environmental Quality, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), produced a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with an interagency action plan “designed to significantly reduce the harmful environmental consequences of Appalachian surface coal mining operations, while ensuring that future mining remains consistent with federal law.”

Today the Alliance for Appalachia, a coalition of grassroots citizen groups, released a study assessing how well that plan had been implemented and what still needs to be done. While pointing to some successes, the group said much stronger actions are needed to avert future disasters like the chemical dump that fouled the drinking water for hundreds of thousands of West Virginians in January.

“The coal industry is never going to be like it was in the 30s,” said Teri Blanton, a volunteer with the Alliance for Appalachia and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth. “The jobs have been on a decline since the beginning. We need to realistically think of the future of Appalachia and fix this mess. We could employ ten times the number of workers just fixing the toxic pollution mountaintop removal has left behind. We need reinvestment in Appalachia—not just clean energy, but cleaning up the messes left behind by dirty energy.”

The report stressed the urgent need for federal action in light of the failure of state agencies to adequately oversee the impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining. It pointed to the revelation that Fraser Creek Mining in Kentucky appears to have violated the Clean Water Act more than 28,000 times, getting only a slap on the wrist in response, and suggested that while in some cases the permitting processes for mining facilities were initially scrutinized more closely or even resulted in permit denials, pushback from the industry has resulted in laxness and lack of follow-through.

It revealed that much of what was promised in the 2009 MOU has not not been acted upon and that there have been setbacks such as a cutoff in funding for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) study on the health impacts of mountaintop removal mining. And it asks Obama administration to follow through on its proposals.

Specifically, it asks for a Selenium Standard to guarantee citizens the ability to test for selenium pollution in their water, a strong Conductivity Rule to monitor dangerous high conductivity based on scientific research the EPA has already done, a Stream Protection Rule to preserve a strong stream buffer zone requirement so mining waste can no longer be dumped in streams and a strong Minefill Rule to address currently unregulated dumping of coal-burning waste into abandoned mine sites.

“Now is the time to get these policies on the books so future administrations can have something to work with,” said Ann League of Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment, a member group of the Alliance for Appalachia.

In addition, it urges that USGS funding for Appalachian health studies be restored, that review of Clean Water Act permits be improved, that the Army Corps of Engineers consider health impacts in permitting decisions and that stronger stakeholder engagement is implemented.

“Administration officials have offered to meet with representatives of the Alliance for Appalachia in bi­annual meetings and monthly conference calls to ensure that these concerns are addressed and yet have taken no action to do so,” the report says. “Representatives from all agencies involved in the surface coal mining process should be in attendance at these promised gatherings. These participants should include, but not be limited to, enforcement, environmental justice, water quality and legal staff of pertinent agencies. This is the minimum engagement needed. For truly effective stakeholder engagement, agencies should be meeting with impacted communities on the ground near affected sites.”

The report concludes, “Much work is needed to complete the MOU process, to ensure effective regulatory enforcement in our region, to create sound rule­makings, to strengthen citizen engagement and to invest in a bright future for Central Appalachia. We are a coalition of organizations that represent thousands of citizens who are ready to work. This report is a measure, an invitation and a call for the Obama Administration to do the same.”

Anastasia Pantsios|December 3, 2014

Founding Father of Fracking Boom Is Crying the Blues

The price of a barrel of oil has been dropping steadily due to decreasing demand and a glut of oil on the market, thanks in large part to the fracking boom in the U.S. Last week, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), led by Saudi Arabia, announced it wasn’t going to cut back on production. The announcement sent prices down to less than $70 a barrel, creating financial worries for some banks and a billionaire whose wealth depends upon the success of fracking.

Billionaire oilman Harold Hamm, referred to by Bloomberg as “the founding father of the U.S. shale boom” who helped drive the discovery and development of North Dakota’s oil-heavy Bakken shale formation, lost half his fortune in the last three months, the publication reports.

“Will this industry slow down? Certainly,” Hamm told Bloomberg. “Nobody’s going to go out there and drill areas, exploration areas and other areas, at a loss. They’ll pull back and won’t drill it until the price recovers. That’s the way it ought to be. This is a bump in the road, a correction, an adjustment that we’re going through right now.”

Oil prices of more than $100 a barrel were a large driver of fracking exploration. But as prices drop, fracking for oil in areas such as the Bakken could become unprofitable. But Hamm believes the price will rebound. He claims that his company, Oklahoma-based Continental Resources, can make a profit at $50 a barrel and plans to boost output next year. “Hamm declined to say how those plans may change if prices fall further,” Bloomberg reported, adding “In the most profitable areas of the Bakken, producers can turn a profit on average with oil prices above $65.03 a barrel, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.”

You might want to hold those tears for Hamm, who was Mitt Romney’s energy advisor when he ran for president in 2012. Half his net worth still amounts to about $10 billion dollars.

But Hamm isn’t the only one getting edgy about declining oil prices. The oil and gas industry sold Americans a rosy portrait of energy independence thanks to fracking, and some banks, buying into this picture, exposed themselves to risk from dropping prices.

“A huge chunk of the shale oil boom can be traced back to Wall Street, where years of low interest rates have encouraged energy companies to fuel their growth by tapping eager investors in the bond and loan markets,” reports The Financial Times in an article headlined “U.S. Shale Lenders Caught in Energy Sell-Off.” “Massive investment by oil drillers and exploration companies in U.S. energy and shale gas projects in recent years has been partly financed through cheap borrowing in the capital markets as well as loans from banks.”

The publication reported that share prices of banks in shale oil areas nosedived in the wake of OPEC’s decision and the subsequent price decline, with drops of as much as 7.45 percent. It suggested that continued price decline could trigger a wave of debt restructuring or losses on the banks’ energy-related loan portfolios.

Forbes Magazine contributor Loren Steffy also commented on the impact of declining oil prices on investors and investments.

“Cheaper fuel prices are a good thing for the global economy, but oil’s decline has been so fast and so unexpected that it’s caught many in the energy industry by surprise,” he wrote. “Companies already are paring capital budgets and some are slowing plans for new drilling. That’s already hurting oil field service providers and offshore rig operators, who will bear the brunt of the decline.”

“Will the rejuvenated U.S. Oil Patch fall victim to its own success?” he asked. “A prolonged weakness in crude prices, of course, could take a toll. Companies with too much debt or too many expensive drilling projects are likely to be in trouble. Look for more consolidation among smaller producer in particular. And financing may dry up if prices continue to decline.”

And despite his relentlessly optimistic outlook abut the future of fracking and domestic oil production, Hamm told Steffy that Continental wouldn’t be adding any new rigs in the Bakken in 2015.

“The company had announced plans in late September to increase capital spending to $5.2 billion from $4.6 billion this year, but Hamm said it now intends to keep its spending flat, essentially cutting its capital budget by $600 million,” Steffy wrote.

With its much lower oil production costs, Saudi Arabia has the upper hand in this international game of chicken.

“U.S. producers, having pushed output to its highest in three decades, find themselves facing the paradox of achieving energy independence: the more oil they produce, the harder it becomes to reduce imports,” said Steffy. “That’s because as oil prices fall, expensive hydraulic fracturing projects become unprofitable, tipping the scales in favor of cheaper imports.”

Anastasia Pantsios|December 2, 2014

Beluga Whales Obstruct TransCanada’s Energy East Pipeline Port

TransCanada’s hopes of pushing through its proposed Energy East pipeline quickly, before opposition similar to that which has delayed its Keystone XL pipeline for six years could gather force, have hit yet another snag. The pipeline, which would carry tar sands crude oil from the Alberta oil fields east across continental Canada to ports in Quebec and New Brunswick for export, would be longer than Keystone XL and have a larger capacity. It also potentially disturbs the habitat of Beluga whales in the St. Lawrence seaway—and there’s the rub.

Anticipating a report released yesterday declaring the status of the animals moved from “threatened” to “endangered” with full habitat protection, TransCanada announced this weekend it was suspending work on its Cacouna oil export terminal in Quebec, pending its assessment of the report. In a statement TransCanada said, “We are standing down on any further work at Cacouna, in order to analyze the recommendation, assess any impacts from Energy East and review all viable options as we look ahead.” The company also cancelled a public information meeting scheduled for this Thursday.

But today, Canada’s national newspaper The Globe and Mail reported, “Alberta Premier Jim Prentice and Quebec’s Philippe Couillard all but put an end Tuesday to the Energy East proposal to build an oil export terminal in Cacouna, Quebec, saying it’s time for the company to go back to the drawing board for a key portion of its $12 billion pipeline and port proposal.”

The report, issued by The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), whose member provincial, territorial and federal wildlife agencies and non-governmental advisers assess threats to Canadian wildlife, said that the Beluga population in the St. Lawrence estuary has been reduced to 1,000 animals from a one-time high of 10,000.

“This majestic whale has become a conservation icon for the province of Québec and a major draw for tourists,” said the report. “Today, St. Lawrence Estuary Beluga face a new suite of mounting threats, including toxic algal blooms, pollution, noise disturbance and industrial developments. There are worrying signs of recent declines and unexplained deaths of calves. This small population is now at considerably greater risk of extinction than when it was assessed as Threatened by COSEWIC 10 years ago. Without protection of its critical habitat, this population is expected to shrink further. The St. Lawrence Estuary Beluga was assessed as Endangered.”

In a joint press conference today with Prentice, who is a pipeline proponent and is currently traveling around Canada promoting pipelines to move the Alberta tar sands to ports, Couillard said, “It’s a very significant piece of information. It’s not my role to speak for the promoter [TransCanada], but it seems very difficult to me to continue to see a petroleum terminal on that site with information like that. Now it’s up to the promoter to find alternative sites. It’s not for me to do, it’s for them to do.”

Despite TransCanada’s efforts, opposition to the pipeline is growing. Polls such as a recent one by the Université de Montréal found that few Quebeckers support it, and many elected officials are speaking out against it as well. They include Montreal mayor Denis Coderre, who called it “risky” and said, “Tell me what kind of benefits there are. Because so far, according to our fiscal specialists and economists in Montreal, the benefits are very minimal.”

Anastasia Pantsios|December 2, 2014

Lawsuit Filed Calling for Ban on Fracked Oil Bomb Trains

Earthjustice has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Sierra Club and ForestEthics, challenging the Department of Transportation’s rejection of their July request for an immediate ban of DOT-111 rail tanker cars carrying volatile crude oil from the Bakken shale formation.

A fireball follows the derailment of two trains, one carrying Bakken crude oil, outside Casselton, North Dakota last December. Photo credit: U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) called in 2012 for an immediate ban for these tankers, which are prone to puncture in the case of accidents, crashes and rollovers, causing explosions and fires. Two-thirds of the rail cars carrying crude oil through the U.S. are DOT-111s. The industry has insisted that discontinuing their use or phasing them out rapidly would be too costly, asking for four years to phase out the older cars and up to six years for the newer ones. This lawsuit challenges the Department of Transportation’s assertion that they have responded sufficiently to the dangers posed by the cars.

The court filing said, “Petitioners ask the Court to set aside and remand the Secretary’s denial of the petition to ban shipping Bakken crude oil in unsafe tank cars because the Secretary failed to consider pertinent evidence and several relevant factors, including the Secretary’s past findings that the surge in crude-by-rail shipments of Bakken crude in dangerous tank cars poses imminent hazards and emergency unsafe conditions, the number of rail accidents and oil spills likely to occur during the time it will take to stop shipping Bakken crude in the most hazardous tank cars through rulemaking, Canada’s more expeditious phase out of the most hazardous tank cars and the safety hazards of allowing the industry to more than double the crude oil fleet before removing the most dangerous tank cars from crude-by-rail shipping.”

“Most of the explosive crude oil on U.S. rails is moving in tanker cars that are almost guaranteed to fail in an accident,” said Earthjustice attorney Patti Goldman. “The risks are too great to keep shipping explosive Bakken crude in defective DOT-111s. The NTSB called them unsafe two decades ago, and by the DOT’s own estimates, the U.S. could see 15 rail accidents every year involving these cars until we get them off the tracks.”

Referencing the accident in July 2013 that killed 47 people and leveled more than 30 buildings in the city’s downtown, Goldman said, “We can’t afford to wait for another Lac-Mégantic, Quebec-type catastrophe to happen here.”

The train that exploded in Lac-Mégantic was carrying the flammable Bakken crude oil when its brake system disengaged in the middle of the night, sending 60 DOT-111 cars roaring at high speed into town, where they derailed and blew up near a popular nightspot, killing many of the patrons. That was only the most lethal of the many derailments and fires caused by unsafe rail cars carrying the flammable cargo, and their numbers have dramatically increased with the fracking boom. In 2008 just as the boom got underway, 9,500 carloads of oil moved over U.S. rails; in 2013 railroads carried more than 400,000 carloads of crude oil. More crude oil was spilled in rail accidents in 2013 than in the previous 38 years, when the government started collecting data on such spills.

“The oil industry wants to double the number of tanker cars moving crude oil on U.S. tracks before removing any of these antiquated cars,” said Sierra Club attorney Devorah Ancel. “And the Department of Transportation is playing along, allowing industry up to six years to get these cars off the tracks. That’s too long to wait for a recall of these dangerous tank cars.”

With the DOT slow to act, many communities through which the trains pass are acting on their own, with communities on the west coast particularly aggressive in seeking to protect themselves through litigation.

MapThis map shows where derailments, explosions and fires have occurred since 2012 (in red), and the communities seeking to protect themselves against the bomb trains (in green). Image credit: Earthjustice

“More than 25 million Americans live within a mile of a railroad track that could be hauling explosive crude oil, and towns and emergency responders across the country are calling for action,” said Matt Krogh, ForestEthics extreme oil campaign director. “The administration’s draft regulations are too little and far too late. We are challenging the administration to ensure that the oil industry, railroads, and the federal government do not wait to take these dangerous tanker cars off the rails.”

Anastasia Pantsios|December 3, 2014

FPL asks permission to drill for natural gas

 

Florida Power & Light wants to get into the natural gas fracking business and it wants its customers to pay for it.

At a hearing on Monday, the state’s largest utility asked regulators for permission to charge customers up to $750 million a year to form a partnership with an Oklahoma oil and gas company because, it argues, the investment would help FPL stabilize fuel prices and save customers money.

How much? Estimates indicate the savings would be between $51 million and $107 million over the life of the project – or a total of 50 cents to $1 for the average customer over several years. In addition to the savings, FPL argues that customers also will benefit from less volatility in fuel prices.

In tapping a well that already produces gas, FPL argues, customers are unlikely to see price increases because exploration costs will be offset by savings from the investment – the first time any utility has asked to have its customers pay for gas exploration.

Opponents, representing the state’s largest commercial electricity users and the general public, had a simple response to the question before the Public Service Commission: “No thank you.”

They argued at a day-long hearing that the risks of operating the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, outweigh the rewards. They said FPL can’t be sure that the natural gas wells will produce enough gas to meet its needs and customers will shoulder the costs of dry wells, environmental impacts and market changes for the next 50 years.

“Fifty years is a long time to receive guaranteed profits on something that’s not guaranteed,” said Eric Sayler, an attorney for the Office of Public Counsel, which represents the public in cases before the Public Service Commission.

He said the idea is an attempt by FPL to earn a guaranteed profit on the investment and have the risk borne by customers, not shareholders.

“No other utility has attempted to put this in its base rate,” he said.

FPL attorney John Butler downplayed the potential for risk and emphasized the innovation.

“With natural gas representing such a large component of FPL’s fuel bill, we have been searching for a way to both reduce and stabilize the cost of natural gas,” he told the commission. “We believe we’ve found the answer. FPL is proposing to invest in gas reserves that would meet a portion of our gas needs at the cost of production, rather than having to buy that same volume of gas at market prices.”

The PSC, which rarely rejects an FPL request, will decide the fate of the proposal by the end of the year. If approved, the investment will take place next year and FPL is asking for permission to go forward with similar proposals in the future without first seeking regulatory approval.
PSC chairman Art Graham said the issue was taking the commission into “uncharted territory” and wanted to proceed carefully, in the event the panel’s ruling is challenged.

Other companies are watching. Chief financial officer for Duke Energy Corp. Steve Young told Bloomberg News last month that his company is studying FPL’s proposal carefully because it is also considering asking regulators to let it invest in gas exploration to lock-in prices and earn profits from investments.

Under the proposal, FPL would partner with Oklahoma-based oil and gas drilling company PetroQuest and pay them for extracting natural gas. The company runs a fracking operation in a region known as Woodford Shale region of Oklahoma’s Arkoma Basin.
FPL would house its investment in its subsidiary, Butler said, “to provide greater accounting transparency.”

FPL would recover the costs associated with extracting the gas by passing it onto customers through the fuel clause on all FPL bills. FPL would earn a profit of 10.5 percent on the investment. Under the fuel clause, customers pay 100 percent of all fuel costs.

Right now, FPL buys natural gas on the open market and does not make a profit off of it. To offset swings in price in the volatile oil and gas industry, FPL hedges its purchases.

During testimony, FPL executive Sam Forrest said this was just another way of hedging against price swings. He acknowledged that there was little risk in the project for the company but, he said, there would be distinct benefits for customers.

“Ownership in gas production offers long-term price stability as the cost of gas is tied directly to production costs,” he said. “FPL’s customers will still benefit should gas prices drop but will be partially protected by investment in gas reserves should gas prices rise.”

Jon Moyle, attorney for the Florida Industrial Power Users Group, said FPL had another motive: profits. The company had built out its power plants with $1.5 billion investment in upgrading its fleet in recent years, he said, and now is looking to find a way to add new costs to its base rates so that it can continue to enhance shareholder profits.

“How are they going to grow the company? Here’s one way: We’ll get into the oil and gas business,” Moyle said. “This is not a good deal for ratepayers.”

He suggested that the PSC, which enforces the law but doesn’t make policy, should ask the legislature to decide it if wants utility companies to use customer accounts to pay for investments.

“This is purely making policy,” Moyle said, “and we don’t think it should be done without the Legislature saying give it thumbs up or thumbs down.”

Mary Ellen Klas|Miami Herald|December 4. 2014

New Coal Ash Leaks Found at Duke Energy’s Buck Power Plant

Back in mid-November, two environmental groups—Waterkeeper Alliance and Yadkin Riverkeeper—spotted a gusher of orange goop below the normal waterline of the Yadkin River, pouring from the unlined coal ash impoundments at Duke Energy’s Buck Station in central North Carolina, located next to the river. Naturally they were curious to know what toxins were flowing into their waterway this time, so they had the stuff tested.

Today the two groups, along with the Southern Environmental Law Center, which is representing them in their ongoing battle over unsafe coal ash storage and pollution at the now-closed Buck Station facility, revealed that the testing showed high levels of arsenic, lead and selenium, along with barium, cadmium, manganese and chromium, all at levels exceeding safe standards for human health. It found known or suspected carcinogens like cadmium at eight times the level allowed for groundwater and surface water. It found arsenic at three times the legal limit and barium at 6,000 times the level deemed safe for human health. These chemicals are routinely found in coal ash.

“This new evidence confirms the extent and magnitude of the coal ash pollution leaking into the Yadkin River,” said John Suttles, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “The volume and level of pollution from Duke’s leaky coal ash lagoons will require more than a band-aid solution to protect the river and nearby communities.”

The leakage was only spotted because the Yadkin River’s water level was lowered to 14 feet less than normal to accommodate a state Department of Transportation project. At normal levels, the flow of coal ash into the river is hidden from view. That suggested to the Waterkeeper Alliance and Yadkin Riverkeeper observers that there may be even more contamination lurking out of sight.

Duke Energy stores coal ash in unlined pits next to High Rock Lake, an impoundment of the Yadkin River,where environmental groups found high levels of many toxic heavy metals found in coal ash.

“It was deeply unsettling to find that known coal ash contaminants have been leaking directly into the Yadkin river below the waterline for an undetermined period of time,” said Yadkin Riverkeeper Will Scott. “We hope that Duke Energy will take these new leaks as evidence that the only way to protect the Yadkin River from further contamination is to move the ash from Buck to safe, lined storage.”

“Riverkeepers across North Carolina have found dozens of toxic leaks from Duke’s coal ash ponds that you can actually see flowing right out of the impoundment walls and into nearby rivers and streams,” said Pete Harrison, an attorney for Waterkeeper Alliance. “We’ve also been concerned that the contaminated ground water might be leaking into the rivers below the water’s surface, where nobody can see it. These latest tests don’t just confirm our fears, they show that the toxic loading into the water is actually far worse than we’d imagined.”

Although Duke Energy retired its coal-fired units at the Buck Power Station in April 2013, there is still coal ash stored on site. Duke doesn’t appear concerned or feel urgency about taking action, since it has neither announced a closure timetable for the impoundments nor publicly acknowledged any leakage from the coal ash ponds.

A Duke Energy spokeswoman pooh-poohed the environmental groups’ claims saying the river was well-protected, and telling ThinkProgress, “By the way, the orange color is often caused by iron bacteria, a naturally-occurring and non-harmful bacteria that occur commonly in this area because of iron-rich soils.”

Anastasia Pantsios|December 5, 2014

Texas Town Sues to Uphold Fracking Ban, Protect Democracy

The little guys aren’t taking this one lying down. In November, voters in Denton, Texas—fed up with oil and gas drilling companies unwilling to work with citizens to put some reasonable protections in place and with state and local regulators for allowing new fracking wells near homes, schools, parks and hospitals—passed a ban on fracking, despite being hugely outspent. The Texas Oil and Gas Association, representing the fracking companies, and the state’s General Land Office responded with lawsuits to protect their “right” to push fracking on unwilling residents.

DetonOnFrackEven kids can’t help noticing the impact of fracking on their community. Image credit: Frack Free Denton

Now Denton is fighting back with lawsuits of its own. Yesterday, with the fracking ban taking effect on Tuesday, the Denton Drilling Awareness Group (DAG) and Earthworks, the groups that led the Frack Free Denton ballot initiative, filed intervention papers in both lawsuits, seeking to assert the right of citizens to decide what happens in their own neighborhoods. The groups are represented by the Texas local government law firm Brown & Hofmeister; attorneys from national environmental organizations Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council are asking the permission of the court to act as co-counsel.

“Denton residents, with Republican and Democratic majorities, voted overwhelmingly to ban fracking,” said DAG president Cathy McMullen. “Our city has the legal power to prevent bakeries from setting up shop in residential neighborhoods. To suggest that we don’t have the legal power to similarly bar fracking, a much more dangerous process, is the height of industry arrogance.”

“The state and industry could have respected Denton communities’ health, safety and property,” said Earthworks’ energy program director Bruce Baizel. “They chose not to. The ban is the result. Now, rather than constructively engage with the community, they simply overlook their regulatory failure and move to overturn democracy through legal action.”

At issue is whether local communities have the right to regulate oil and gas operations within their borders or whether, as the lawsuits by the oil and gas interests claim, Denton’s voter-approved ordinance is overridden by state regulators in contradiction of Texas’ long tradition of home rule authority over gas and oil development. There are many other local oil and gas regulations in effect across Texas, including in Dallas just to the south of Denton, which seems to contradict the contention of the frack-friendly interests.

“The State of Texas has granted municipalities the right to oversee oil and gas operations,” Earthjustice managing attorney Deborah Goldberg pointed out. “The people of Denton have exercised that right, and we intend to help preserve it. Communities from California to Texas to New York are fed up with the abuses of the oil and gas industry. When state and federal officials won’t stand up for the public, citizens must have the right to use local democracy to protect themselves.”

“This fight cuts to the heart of our democracy, and it is far from over,” said Natural Resources Defense Council attorney Dan Raichel. “The people of Denton have voted to keep fracking away from their homes and schools—they will not be bullied by powerful oil and gas companies that want to make a profit at the expense of their health. Denton is a pioneer in Texas, but it is not alone. This community joins hundreds of others around the country—and in Texas—that are demanding the right to determine what happens within their own borders.”

Anastasia Pantsios|EcoWatch|December 6, 2014

Gas Prices Are Plummeting, and the Environment Could Be Roadkill

Buyers are abandoning the Prius for carbon-spewing SUVs, undermining efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Gasoline prices keep plunging in the United States, falling to an average $2.73 a gallon on Wednesday—down 16 percent from a year ago. While that puts money in drivers’ pockets and boosts the economy, there’s an environmental price to be paid.

That’s because Americans seem to have a Pavlovian response to cheap gas: As prices get smaller, their vehicles—and greenhouse gas emissions—get bigger.

Case in point: Toyota reported on Tuesday that sales of its 4Runner sport utility vehicle jumped 53 percent in November, and sales of the Highlander SUV rose nearly 17 percent. “Toyota dealers set new November sales records for light trucks and SUVs,” the company said in a statement.

And sales of Toyota’s 51 mpg Prius hybrid? Down nearly 14 percent.

“Clearly, if oil prices stay low—and that is a reasonable probability—it does make the story for alternative vehicles and fuel-efficient vehicles more problematic,” said Daniel Sperling, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis.

“Low gasoline prices are creating a problem for car companies, as they have government requirements to make vehicles more efficient to meet fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards, while on the other hand, low gasoline prices are pushing people in the other direction,” he added.

Given that Americans tend to keep their vehicles for a decade or more, many of those newly purchased SUVs will be on the road for many years to come. But it’s unlikely that people will be driving their big new cars more just because they’re saving money at the pump, said Sterling, who studies gas prices’ impact on consumer behavior.

“The effect of gasoline prices on vehicle driving is pretty small,” he said. “In economic terms, people are very inelastic in their response to gasoline prices in the short term. People are locked into where they live, where they work, and very few people have access to good public transit.”

But that’s not the case when it comes to vehicle purchases, he said, and drivers’ return to big SUVs and trucks is not good news.

In California, where transportation accounts for nearly 40 percent of the state’s carbon spew, regulators are counting on rising sales of plug-in hybrids, electric cars, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles to help the state meet an ambitious goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050.

The plunge in gas prices comes just as Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai prepare to launch their first mass-market fuel cell cars in California, where the government is spending tens of millions of dollars to help build a statewide network of hydrogen fuel stations.

But Sperling doesn’t expect cheap gas to send the car of the future into a ditch. Automakers plan to sell or lease only a few thousand hydrogen cars initially, and buyers will be the type of environmentally conscious drivers who want the greenest ride in their driveway. (It helps that companies such as Hyundai are including the hydrogen fuel as part of the car’s lease.)

Even today’s biggest cars and trucks are much more fuel-efficient than those sold during the last big-car boom. “The automotive industry has changed dramatically in the last 10 years,” Sperling said. “They are putting massive amounts of money into improving the fuel efficiency of vehicles.”

One solution to the fallout from fluctuating gas prices would be for the government to impose what Sperling calls “feebates” on vehicle sales: If you buy a gas guzzler, you pay a $2,000 to $3,000 fee. But if you opt for a super-efficient car, you get that cash back as a rebate. “It creates the perfect funding source for electric and fuel cell vehicles, and no taxpayer money is involved,” said Sperling.

One more thing, before you consider trading in your 30 mpg Ford Focus for a 14 mpg Ford Expedition: Remember 2008? Gas prices soared to more than $4 in California, prompting scores of drives to ditch their suddenly very expensive SUVs and monster trucks.

“It is amazing how short people’s memories are sometimes,” said Sperling.

Todd Woody|senior editor for environment and wildlife|TakePart|December 04, 2014

Land Conservation

Bogota To Create Latin America’s Largest Urban Nature Reserve

BOGOTA — Authorities in Bogota are banning road and building construction across 14 square kilometers (5.4 square miles) in the Colombian capital, in a bid to create the largest urban nature reserve in Latin America.

New restrictions will turn a sector of the existing Thomas van der Hammen Reserve into a “biodiversity corridor” spanning Guaymaral, Corpas and Suba, three adjacent districts of northern Bogota, a city increasingly marked by high-rise construction and extreme air pollution.

The reserve will protect wetlands and wildlife exclusive to the area, not to mention subterranean waters. The Northern Bogota Regional Forest Reserve plan “envisages … restrictions on owners in the Reserve, though we also intend to start buying plots, which will allow us to start building and designing a park,” Bogota planning chief Gerardo Ardila says.

He says the city will be able to create “an environmental park of great value and one of the biggest parks in Latin America.” The municipality has already begun buying nine plots of land here, where it plans to plant two million plants, 300,000 of which are coming from the Bogota Botanical Garden.

Recycling

Holiday Waste: 6 Million Tons of Trash to Landfills

Did you know that household waste increases by 25 percent between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day? Learn where we waste most and how to curb holiday waste this year.

Between our regular household trash plus extra food and shopping waste, we send an additional million tons of waste to landfills every single week. That adds up to around six million tons of holiday waste by the end of the year.

My friend Jeff McIntire-Strasburg over at Sustainablog shared the graphic below on holiday waste, and I have to be honest here. It kind of rocked me. I knew that we wasted more during the holidays, but the scope across the whole U.S. is more than I could have imagined. Get some stats on our holiday waste below, and after the graphic check out some ideas on how we can curb those massive amounts of extra trash.

Holiday Waste: 6 Million Extra Tons to Landfills

The graphic breaks down holiday waste into a few different categories, so let’s look at each one. Let’s bust some holiday waste, y’all!

Paper Waste, Ribbons, & Gifts

From gift wrap to greeting cards to shopping bags, we waste a ton of paper over the holidays. Actually, make that more like over four million tons. Here are some ideas to help reduce paper waste.

  • Don’t shop, make! Skip the shopping bags and disposable packaging and make some holiday gifts yourself. Check out this list of DIY holiday gifts for everyone on your list. You can also give experience gifts rather than material gifts.
  • Agree not to gift at all. According to the stats on that graphic, we spend around $800 million on holiday gifts, and nearly 60 percent of them end up unwanted. What if we agreed to skip the gift all together and just spend time with each other instead? We could save money and resources and maybe have a more meaningful holiday!
  • Skip the cards. Greeting cards are a lot of fun, but they’re also incredibly wasteful. Instead of a card, could you write your to and from right on your gift? If you end up with greeting cards from well-meaning family and friends, you can reuse them when the holidays are over.
  • Rethink gift wrap. Instead of disposable paper, try one of these reusable alternatives to conventional gift wrap.
  • Skip the ribbons. I love a ribbon as much as anyone, but they have such a short life. When you receive ribbons on your gifts, stash them away to reuse in craft projects or future gift wrapping of your own.

Christmas Trees

I am not going to tell you to forgo your Christmas tree this year. But you can make sure that your tree doesn’t contribute to holiday waste by keeping it out of the landfill.

  • Choose a potted tree. A smaller, potted tree can be just as festive as a cut tree. You can plant it yourself or donate it to a local tree-planting group.
  • Compost that tree. It might take some extra effort, but composting your tree can make a big difference. You don’t have to necessarily bust out the chain saw and cut your tree into compostable pieces (though if you do, high five!). Find a local composting service to pick it up.
  • A forever tree? Maybe. My husband and I got a hand-me-down plastic tree that we used for years. Plastic trees definitely have their merit. You store and reuse them from year to year, which means less waste. Artificial trees are often made from PVC, which off-gasses toxic chemicals into your home. If you do go with an artificial tree, make sure you choose one that’s nontoxic.

Fossil Fuels and Batteries

Those holiday parties, Christmas lights, and all of that cooking means using more electricity during the holidays. Try some of these tips to reduce your power bill and greenhouse gas emissions this year.

  • Christmas lights. Send those old school Christmas lights to the recycling center, and go with efficient LED lights. You can also save energy by using fewer lights and unplugging when you’re not enjoying them.
  • Batteries. When you’re choosing holiday gifts, skip the ones that require batteries unless you are certain that your recipient really wants them. As a mom to a toddler, I can tell you that I’m grateful for any gift that doesn’t light up, play music, or talk. If you do find the perfect gift that requires batteries, a set of rechargeable batteries makes a nice little stocking stuffer to go with.
  • Gas. Holiday travel means a huge spike in our use of gasoline. Could we offset that a bit by driving less when we aren’t traveling? If you’re driving to see family, maybe you could take the train to work or walk to the store instead of driving. If we could cut just a single gallon from our overall gasoline usage during the holidays, we’d reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by a million tons!

Food Waste

Food waste is one of my pet peeves, and it increases by 25 percent during the holidays.

  • Save energy in the kitchen. Cooking is one of the biggest energy users during the holidays. Use these techniques to cook your holiday feast with less energy.
  • Reduce packaging waste. Disposable packaging is a part of food waste that we don’t tend to focus on, but plastic, paper, and cans pile up during the holidays. Try these plastic-free cooking tips that help you use less disposable packaging. When you do end up with food packaging, compost and recycle what you can to keep as much out of the landfill as possible.

Becky Striepe|December 6, 2014

Turning waste into building blocks of the future city

Cities were invented for a multitude of purposes. First was the need for the concentration of vital resources in a given region – then came their role as places for worship, trade, governmental control and military defence. But in our modern age, urban spaces were conceived and shaped primarily around mass market industrialization.

Today the consequences of the post-industrial city have had an incredible impact on the environment. It is widely accepted cities impinge on areas well beyond their borders. Waste streams in cities are the leading factor in pollution of the areas outside their geo-political boundaries.

Urban waste must be reconfigured – our time has run out. Reports of garbage problems from Naples in Italy to Beijing in China underscore the size of the problem. Landfills are filled and incinerators have the potential to release poisons such as dioxin. We must have a new strategy towards refuse in urban places, one that includes the design of consumables in the first place. Many concepts exist already, but what are some of the most radical solutions to our wasteful ways?

Recently, the planet reached 400 parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere for the first time since modern humans evolved. Reversing such wasteful habits will require tremendous effort, as minuscule changes will not alter this course. Humanity has reached its peak of one-way consumption.             

Now is the time to design waste to regenerate our cities. What are the possibilities for urban environments after our aged infrastructure is recalibrated? How might bigger cities and waste mix? One key idea is that waste is not recycled through infrastructural mechanisms but instead up-cycled in perpetuity.

All over the globe municipal waste is on the rise. In China, the amount of municipal solid waste produced is rising by 6% per year. It has kept pace with the rapid urbanization in China. Many parts of South America are also rapidly urbanising and their waste has grown with it. Brazilian cities have had a steady 10% increase in waste headed for landfills. India will see a 500% increase in e-waste – materials from cell phones, TVs, refrigerators – destined for urban landfills. A lot of it is imported from developed countries. South Africa and China will also have to deal with 400% more garbage from foreign e-waste.

Mankind will have to solve our waste problem in cities. If we don’t, it’ll be the end of us. There are a number of possible solutions, and some of them are already being adopted.

Super-sized waste

The first credible step is to reduce trash by considering the life cycle of objects we make. Things that are designed for obsolescence should be outlawed. Additionally, products must be manufactured with the intent to reuse, disassemble, take back or upcycle.  For instance, instead of tossing out bottles we could adapt them for use as planters, lighting fixtures, building wall elements.

Other cities have highly organised systems to solve these problems. In Zurich, the city requires individuals pay handsomely for waste that is simply discarded, while thorough recycling is encouraged by free citywide collection services. Therefore well over 90% of municipal waste inside Zurich is recycled and sent to incinerators to produce energy. Burning waste is not the answer but it does have opportunities in the mid-term. It requires substantial need for enforceable regulations, comprehensive industry controls, economic feasibility plans, and the latest ultra-expensive technology such as plasma gasification plants.

In similarly developed cities – Malmo, Tokyo, or Copenhagen – it makes sense to use a waste-to-energy processes. These prevailing urban populations are stable and easily taxed to support such a system – not so easy in developing cities such as Lagos or Jakarta.

Outreach programs that invite the public to observe civic waste systems as a spectacle are instrumental in spreading awareness. The Hangzhou Environmental Group in China has over 10,000 tourists a year visiting its landfill facility. Freshkills landfill in New York will be transformed into the largest public park in over 100 years that will showcase engineered nature from waste. Cuba, an island nation that has been cut-off from trade imports, has conserved almost everything through carful recycling of parts – from 1950’s cars to eyeglasses, nothing is wasted. 

Look at how such a system might affect the US. America is the lead creator of waste on the earth, making approximately 30% of the world’s trash and tossing out around three-quarters of a ton per US citizen per year. It seems value has devolved into rampant waste production: mega-products scaled for super-sized franchise brands, big-box retail, XXL jumbo paraphernalia and so on. The US mindset is typifying a throwaway consumer culture. Where does it all end up? Heather Rogers said in her investigative book Gone Tomorrow that throwing things away is unsustainable. The first step we must take is reduction – meaning a massive discontinuation of objects designed for obsolescence. Then we need a radical reuse plan. Our waste crisis is immense. What is our call to action?

New York City is currently disposing of nearly 33,000 tons of waste per day. Previously, most of this discarded material ended up in Fresh Kills on Staten Island, before operations were blocked. Manhattan’s inhabitants discard enough paper products to fill the Empire State Building every two weeks. Terreform ONE’s Rapid Re(f)use and Homeway projects strive to capture, reduce and redesign New York’s refuse infrastructure. The initiative imagines an extended city reconstituted from its own junked materials. The concept remakes the city by using all the trash entombed in the Fresh Kills landfill. Theoretically, the method should produce, at minimum, seven new Manhattan Islands. New York City’s premier landfill was started by the divisive urban planner Robert Moses and driven by apathetic workers and machines. Now, guided by a prudent community with smart equipment, we must reshape it.

‘Smart trash’

How could this work? Outsized automated 3-D printers could be modified to rapidly process trash and to complete the task within decades. These potential automatons would be entirely based on existing techniques commonly used in industrial waste compaction devices. To accomplish this job, nothing drastically new needs to be invented. Most technologies are intended to be off-the-shelf. Instead of machines that crush objects into cubes, compaction devices could benefit from adjustable jaws that would craft simple shapes into smart ‘puzzle blocks’ for assembly. The blocks of waste material could be predetermined, using computational geometries, in order to fit domes, archways, lattices, windows, or whatever patterns would be needed. Different materials could serve specified purposes: transparent plastic for fenestration, organic compounds for temporary decomposable scaffolds, metals for primary structures and so on. Eventually, the future city would make no distinction between waste and supply.

If you think this sounds familiar, it is. Think back to the 2008 Pixar animation WALL-E.  At approximately the same time that Rapid R(e)fuse was initiated, the movie was announced. WALL-E’s name is an acronym: Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth Class. Left behind by mankind, he toils with trillions of tons of non-recycled inner-city trash. He tirelessly configures mountains of discarded material. Why pyramids of trash? WALL-E’s daily perpetual feats seem almost futile. The film omits exactly why he is programmed to pile refuse; and there is the shortcoming.

There’s a deeper motivation for stacking refuse. What if the rubbish was refabricated to become real urban spaces or buildings? If it is plausible to adapt current machinery, how much material is available? At first sight, any sanitary landfill may be viewed as an ample supply of building materials. Heavy industrial technologies crush cars or to automatically sort out garbage are readily available. 3-D printing has exhausting capabilities if adjusted to larger scales. This is where Terreform ONE’s city began.

The envisioned city would be derived from trash; not ordinary trash, but ‘smart refuse’. A significant factor of the city composed from smart refuse is ‘post-tuning’ – and we would have to adapt this raw material for use. Integration into the city texture would be a learning process. In time, the responses would eventually become more attuned to the needs of the urban dweller. This new city may be built from trash, but it will also be connected via computers. The buildings blocks will learn.

Cities, unlike machines, are similar to a complex ecology. Ecology is capable of achieving a continuous harmonious state, or even further, a positive intensification. If ecological models are productively everlasting, urban models can logically follow.

Mitchell Joachim|Architect, urban designer and co-president of design think tank Terreform ONE.

Miscellaneous

Satellite-Tagged Guadalupe Fur Seal Sterling Archer Heads Straight for a Seafood Buffet

Little is known about this threatened species, but a satellite tag gives researchers never-before-seen insights into what happens when a Guadalupe fur seal is rehabilitated and released off the coast of California.

Stranding Coordinator Geno DeRango knew he had a fur seal on his hands as soon as he heard the growl coming from inside the crate he was lifting off of The Marine Mammal Center’s rescue truck.

He had been told the truck was transporting a California sea lion named Sterling Archer, but this growl was most definitely a fur seal. Geno was sure of it—he had recently returned from a research trip in Chile where he worked with South American fur seals and listened to those growls nearly nonstop for weeks.

Once he had weighed the animal and brought her to an empty pen, Geno opened the crate door and a Guadalupe fur seal hopped out. Although called “seals,” Guadalupe fur seals are actually members of the sea lion family. They have external ear flaps and long front and hind flippers, making them difficult to distinguish from juvenile California sea lions based on looks alone.

The volunteers who had identified Sterling Archer as a California sea lion had likely never seen a Guadalupe fur seal before, as these animals are rarely seen near shore. In its nearly 40-year history, The Marine Mammal Center has rescued fewer than 60 Guadalupe fur seals—and only six of these have been adult females like Sterling Archer.

Guadalupe fur seals disappeared from California waters by 1825 due to hunting for the fur trade, and today the only known breeding colony is on Guadalupe Island, 150 miles off the coast of Baja California. These animals are considered a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act; they are protected by law in both in the United States and in Mexico. And Guadalupe Island is now a protected area for seals and sea lions.

Because Guadalupe fur seals are so rarely in our care, Geno and the Center’s veterinary team worked closely with the volunteer animal care crews to ensure they had the proper training before working with Sterling Archer.

Their dense fur makes them difficult to grab and restrain for medical procedures, and adults like Sterling Archer are often stronger than restrainers realize—sometimes resulting in what Geno calls a “bucking bronco” situation. That thick fur also requires a lot of grooming, so volunteers were instructed to monitor for this behavior, which can be an important health indicator.

When Sterling Archer first arrived in our care, she was emaciated and malnourished. She was also lethargic, refused to eat and moved erratically—all behaviors similar to those seen in California sea lions affected by domoic acid, a neurotoxin produced by microscopic algae.

Sterling Archer was started on a regimen of fluids delivered subcutaneously, or under the skin, a treatment used to help quickly rehydrate sick animals and flush any toxins. Because she wouldn’t eat on her own, trained volunteers fed her ground-up fish “smoothies” pushed through a tube into her stomach.

Within a week, volunteers began noting Sterling Archer’s grooming behavior, and soon she was eating whole fish on her own. Sterling Archer continued to improve and put on a healthy amount of weight over several weeks. After proving to veterinary staff that she could catch live fish, she was approved for release back to the wild.

An Eye in the Sky
Researchers know very little about what Guadalupe fur seals do out in the wild once they leave their rookeries on Guadalupe Island. This is in part because there are so few of them, but also because these animals are pelagic, meaning they spend most of their time out at sea, far from shore.

So before Sterling Archer left the Center’s care, Research Biologist Lauren Rust and Marine Scientist Tenaya Norris attached a satellite tag smaller than a deck of cards to her fur with special waterproof glue. The tag is fitted with an antenna that can send data to satellite receivers any time the animal surfaces.

When the tag pings multiple satellites, it is able to triangulate an approximate location. Sensors within the tag also monitor pressure to determine depth, which provides researchers information on the number of dives the animal makes as well as length of dive.

By putting all of this data together, The Marine Mammal Center’s research team is able to better understand this mysterious animal’s behavior. While monitoring Sterling Archer’s individual journey, they may also gain potential baseline data about the overall range and feeding habits of Guadalupe fur seals in the Pacific Ocean that can help inform policymakers reviewing the animal’s threatened status.

Sterling Archer’s Journey
Sterling Archer was released at Rodeo Beach, just north of San Francisco, during National Geographic’s annual BioBlitz event to inventory species in our national parks. Renowned marine biologist and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Sylvia Earle opened the door of Sterling Archer’s crate and wished her well. From there, Sterling Archer headed out into the Pacific. In 1998, researchers satellite-tagged an adult female Guadalupe fur seal that had been rescued and rehabilitated at the Center. That animal, Emiliano, swam back to Guadalupe Island, Mexico, within two weeks of her release.

The Center’s research on Emiliano’s journey is one of few scientific publications documenting Guadalupe fur seal behavior at sea, so the scientists monitoring Sterling Archer’s movements thought she might head south too.

Instead, she headed west.

For the first few weeks of her journey, Sterling Archer traveled long distances each day (indicated by the dots on the map—one for each day her tag sent location data). But then she began to slow down, spending more time in particular areas (noted on the map as clusters of daily locations).

Had Sterling Archer lost her way? Quite the contrary, as it turns out.

At first, the researchers monitoring her progress worried that she was confused or lost. Long-term exposure to domoic acid, the neurotoxin that may have caused Sterling Archer’s health problems, can result in memory loss and neurological damage.

But as the Center’s research team continued to watch her movements and began to analyze the full set of data they received, they saw a pattern.

By overlaying oceanographic data on the map of Sterling Archer’s journey, the Center’s researchers were able to determine that she had potentially found a region called the North Pacific Transition Zone. In this area of the ocean, which shifts seasonally and annually, cold, nutrient-rich polar water to the north meets warmer, nutrient-poor water to the south. The North Pacific Transition Zone is known to be a highly productive area—essentially an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet for large marine animals like elephant seals, tuna and leatherback sea turtles. But Sterling Archer’s movement into this area is the first time this behavior has been documented in Guadalupe fur seals.

Sterling Archer map

This map shows the daily locations where Sterling Archer was tracked by satellites.

© The Marine Mammal Center

Contributing to Greater Scientific Understanding
Sterling Archer’s satellite tag stopped transmitting after approximately three months, likely when the satellite tag’s battery ran out. But what we learned during her short journey will continue to live on.

After conducting a detailed analysis of all of the data from Sterling Archer’s satellite tag, the Center’s research team will publish their findings in a scientific journal, giving other researchers access to this valuable discovery and greatly enhancing the scientific community’s overall understanding of Guadalupe fur seal behavior.

The more we know about what Guadalupe fur seals do once they leave Guadalupe Island, the better we can protect this threatened species and ensure its continued survival.

The Marine Mammal Center|December 2, 2014

Milkweed touted as oil-spill super-sucker — with butterfly benefits

Low-cost fiber sought by Parks Canada and habitat-stressed monarchs

A Quebec company is taking a unique approach to cleaning up oil spills by producing the world’s only industrial crop of milkweed, which will be used as new kind of absorbent.

Franç​ois Simard, creator of Protec-Style, has a contract with Parks Canada to supply national parks with oil-spill kits. The kits come with various sizes of absorbent tubes filled with milkweed fiber.

Simard says milkweed has a unique ability to repel water, which makes it perfect for oil spills on land or water.

“You can leave an absorbent

[milkweed] sock in water and it will only absorb the oil. It’s very unique in nature to have fibers like that,” said Simard in an interview at his factory in Granby, Que. 

Franç​ois Simard, creator of Protec-Style, holds one of his absorbent milkweed-fiber oil-spill cleanup kits. (Margo McDiarmid/CBC)

Milkweed has long been considered a rural pest. But Simard, a former chemical engineer, says the plant’s unusual qualities caught his interest.

The white fibers that you can often see floating in the fall breeze are light and hollow and able to absorb four times more oil than polypropylene, the artificial product now used to clean up spills.

Simard has set up a co-operative of 20 farmers in Quebec to grow 325 hectares of milkweed. He says there are another 35 growers on a waiting list.

Low-cost spill cleanup

After the milkweed is harvested, the fibres are separated from pods and seeds and then stuffed into absorbent “socks” or tubes at Simard’s factory.

Each kit can absorb 200 litres of spilled oil.

“It’s less expensive to use milkweed to collect the oil that was spilled in nature because you have more capacity, you need less absorbent, therefore there is less of a cost of disposal,” said Simard.

A comparison shows how much milkweed material, right, and polypropylene, center, would be needed to fully absorb a spill of the diesel oil in the container on the left. (Margo McDiarmid/CBC)

Parks Canada is interested in the milkweed spill kits because they fit with its mandate for environmental stewardship, says Mikailou Sy, who is head of environmental management for Parks Canada. The contract is worth $186,651 and will supply 50 national parks

The kits will be set up near where park wardens fill up their vehicles and in work yards where petroleum products are used. Staff will be asked to use the milkweed first to assess how well it works.

“Each time there is a spill, however minor it is, our people will be instructed to use this product first and to see whether it is more effective than the product they used before,” said Sy in an interview with CBC.

There is also an added environmental benefit.

Habitat for monarchs

Milkweed plants are the only place where the orange and black monarch butterfly lays its eggs. The monarchs, some of which migrate a grueling 3,000 kilometers every year from Canada to Mexico, are in steep decline. It’s partly because milkweed, which is both a habitat and food source for the monarch caterpillar, is being destroyed by pesticides.

A monarch butterfly that Franç​ois Simard has named Bob perches on his arm. Demand for Simard’s oil-spill kits means more milkweed crops that are beneficial for the butterflies. (Margo McDiarmid/CBC)

There’s a growing movement in North America to plant milkweed along the migration route to help the disappearing butterfly. Last year, the leaders of Canada, Mexico and the U.S. signed an agreement to make greater efforts to protect the butterfly.

Simard says that’s why his crop has added environmental benefit.

“The more milkweed we grow, the more monarchs we’re going to see.”

Simard, says this year’s small milkweed crop in Quebec’s Mauricie region was an example of what could happen.

“There were so many butterflies in the field that people on the road … had to stop,” he says. “They were wondering what was happening. It was just growing 20 hectares that made the whole difference.”

Simard is also working on plans to produce and test milkweed fibres for cold weather insulation with winter clothing manufacturer Chlorophylle.

But in the meantime, his small factory is busy filling up the milkweed oil spill kits that will be sent out to national parks this winter.

“It’s very useful, and Mother Nature will thank us for it.”

Margo McDiarmid|environment reporter|CBC News|Dec 01, 2014

The absorbent qualities of milkweed were known in the 1940’s, but no one would grow milkweed commercially. I am doing my little bit for the Monarchs by planting 3-4 varieties of milkweed on my fence lines and around a tree in my front yard. I don’t plan to harvest the crop.]

Forget jaws, here’s CLAWS!

Diver manages to land 12lb lobster reckoned to be SEVENTY years old… and takes it home to meet the dog 

A freediver managed to catch a 12lb lobster that he reckons could be as old as 70.

Forrest Galante, 26, a biologist, was diving near Anacapa Island off the Californian coast when he found the huge Pacific Spiny lobster lurking on the sea bed.

A specimen of this size would have been common decades ago. But now, as a result of overfishing, the crustaceans rarely weigh in at more 3lbs.

 

Mr Galante faced a dilemma over whether or not to eat the lobster, who he named Albert Girther because of his impressive size, but in the end he decided to let him live.

Mr Galante caught the lobster on October 6. He said: ‘I’ve been doing this for ten years and I’ve never seen a lobster as big as Albert Girther – which is his name.

‘I mean any lobster that can bear hug a man must be pretty huge and he had no problem with that.

Originally I thought he was the world’s biggest lobster but I was just excited – I’m pretty sure he is the biggest lobster caught off the west coast this year though.

‘They normally only manage to grow to around three pounds because of intensive fishing so it’s really rare to find one this old and big.

‘I won an award from my free diving club last year for bringing in a 9.4lb lobster, so Albert has definitely surpassed that.’

Deeeelicious: But Mr Galante resisted the urge to eat Albert and instead let him go in a marine reserve

Pacific spiny lobsters are nocturnal and Mr Galante was on a night dive when he found Albert. Pictures show the disconcertingly large crustacean gripping onto to Mr Galante with its long legs.

Spiny lobsters are distinct from the more-recognizable clawed lobsters, not having the mammoth pincers on their front legs that make the latter so apparently fearsome. Because they lose all their hard parts each time they moult it is not possible to accurately age them, so biologists make guesses based on the lobsters’ size and weight.

I’ve got to say it was tempting to take him home and eat him – he had pounds and pounds of delicious meat

Mr Galante took Albert home to his family in Santa Barbara, California, where he introduced his meaty new friend to the dog.

‘I’ve got to say it was very tempting to take him home and eat him – he had pounds and pounds of delicious meat but he was clearly a good breeder, so my family and I decided that we had to put him back into the water so he could have more children,’ Mr Galante said.

‘We took him to the Ty Warner Sea Centre where he was put in a tank and gorged on food but we were not going to leave him in captivity.

‘We put him back into the water in a marine reserve off the coast of California which does not allow fishing, so he can live out the rest of his days in peace.’

Damien Gayle|MailOnline|3 December 2014

Fish and Wildlife Service May Overhaul Rule Permitting Incidental Take of Eagles

Just as the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) issues its first permit under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA) [1] authorizing a wind energy project to “take” golden eagles over the next five years, the agency also has announced that it intends to conduct a comprehensive review of its eagle permitting program under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).[2]

The questions USFWS intends to address during this review could result in a more workable permitting regime, such as by replacing the “no net loss” and “unavoidable take” concepts of the existing rules with more flexible, practicable standards. However, the outcome of the NEPA process is, by its nature, uncertain and will take time (USFWS optimistically projects 18 months). This raises questions regarding how BGEPA permits will be processed in the interim. USFWS has received at least 13 programmatic permit applications, and is in advanced pre-application discussions with multiple wind energy projects. The agency’s stated intention to develop a standardized mitigation regime for BGEPA permits will also require close attention. Finally, it is an open question as to whether USFWS can make changes to the permitting rules flexible enough to avoid additional rule revisions in the future. The existing regulations are less than five years old, and yet they have already had a storied and complicated life.USFWS will host scoping meetings in five cities during a 90-day public comment period that ends on September 22, 2014. USFWS aims for a draft NEPA document in early 2015, followed by a final NEPA document and promulgation of revised permitting rules in late 2015.

1. Background

BGEPA prohibits “take” of bald and golden eagles except as authorized under regulations prescribed by the Secretary of the Interior (Secretary).[3] On September 11, 2009, after preparing an Environmental Assessment (EA) and issuing a Finding of No Significant Impact under NEPA, USFWS published a final rule authorizing take of eagle nests and the non-purposeful take of bald and golden eagles associated with an otherwise lawful activity (Permit Rule).[4]

The Permit Rule established two non-purposeful take permit regimes; one for standard permits authorizing individual instances of take that cannot be practicably avoided, and a second for programmatic permits authorizing recurring take that is unavoidable even after implementation of “advanced conservation practices”.[5]

The Permit Rule authorized programmatic permits for a term of up to five years.[6]In February 2011, USFWS published a draft Eagle Conservation Plan guidance document intended to show how to prepare an Eagle Conservation Plan in furtherance of a BGEPA permit request (Eagle Guidance).[7] USFWS received extensive comment. Renewable energy developers – wind energy developers in particular – used this opportunity to request extension of the programmatic take permit term from five to 30 years to better correspond to the operational life of renewable energy projects and thereby provide greater certainty for potential project financiers and investors.[8]

However, members of the environmental community strongly recommended retaining the five year rule, asserting persistent uncertainty regarding the effects of wind projects on eagles and the need for continued public involvement.On April 13, 2012, USFWS initiated two additional rulemakings, a proposed rule to extend the maximum term of programmatic permits from five to 30 years (Duration Rule), and, separately, an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) requesting input on all other aspects of the 2009 non-purposeful take regulations except for permit duration.[9]

USFWS issued a substantially revised, final version of the Eagle Guidance in May 2013 and, on December 9, 2013, issued the final Duration Rule pursuant to a categorical exclusion under NEPA.[10] The final Duration Rule included an additional provision for the streamlined review of “low-risk” programmatic permits where an applicant could demonstrate a risk of less than 0.3 eagle mortalities per year.[11]During this time, USFWS initiated a series of eagle research initiatives with the United States Geological Survey and other agencies, in large part to provide baseline information for future BGEPA permitting decisions.[12] Some of those studies are now complete.On June 19, 2014, the American Bird Conservancy made good on a long-standing threat by filing a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief against adoption of the final Duration Rule.[13]

The complaint alleges that USFWS and the Secretary violated NEPA by issuing the final Duration Rule pursuant to a categorical exclusion instead of an EA or Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).[14]

The complaint also alleges that the Duration Rule violates BGEPA in contravention of its preservation goals and violates the Administrative Procedure Act as an arbitrary and capricious “reversal of position”.[15]

2. USFWS’s Proposed BGEPA Rule Revision

On June 23, 2014, USFWS issued a Notice of Intent (NOI) for the preparation an EA or EIS to support a full-scale reassessment of the agency’s eagle permitting program.[16]

The NOI says that agency staff who have been implementing the permit regulations have identified “a number of priority issues for evaluation,” including:

  • Eagle population management objectives;
  • Programmatic permit conditions;Compensatory mitigation;
  • and Evaluation of the individual and cumulative effects of low-risk (or low-effect) permits.[17]

The NOI started a 90-day comment period during which USFWS will host public scoping meetings in Sacramento, Minneapolis, Albuquerque, Denver, and Washington D.C.[18]

The public comment period ends on September 22, 2014.[19] USFWS aims for a draft NEPA document in early 2015, followed by a final NEPA document and promulgation of revised regulations in late 2015.[20]

The following summarizes key aspects of the permitting program that USFWS intends to reassess over the course of the NEPA review.

a. Management Objectives

The eagle management objective under the existing Permit Rule is to “manage populations consistent with the goal of maintaining and increasing breeding populations over 100 years.”[21]

Under this standard, take of bald eagles is limited at five percent of estimated annual productivity.[22] Due to a lack of data demonstrating the extent to which golden eagle populations could absorb take, the Permit Rule set a zero take threshold for the species, meaning that any take of a golden eagle must be equally offset by compensatory mitigation, resulting in “no net loss”.[23]

USFWS intends to consider a range of alternatives to the eagle management objective through the NEPA process, ranging from a qualitative standard, such as “to not meaningfully impair the bald or golden eagle’s continued existence,” to a specific, quantitative take limit for each Eagle Management Unit as informed by newer, improved survey information developed since 2009.[24]

b. Programmatic Permits: Duration, “Unavoidable Take”, and “Low-Risk”The NEPA process initiated by the NOI appears intended to further the broad rulemaking effort started with the ANPR in 2012. While the ANPR expressly excluded permit duration because that issue was the focus of the separate Duration Rule, USFWS has since decided to use this most recent NEPA process to “[f]urther analyze the effects of longer term non-purposeful take permits,” apparently to address opposition to the Duration Rule.[25]

Given that USFWS also has indicated in its scoping materials that “30 years is the appropriate maximum term for programmatic permits,” this latest round of NEPA review may serve as a vehicle for reinforcing the Duration Rule’s rationale.[26]USFWS also intends to revise the definition of “low-risk” to include projects with higher take probabilities than the current 0.3 eagles per year standard, which, in the words of USFWS, is so low that “it covers only those projects where take is basically negligible”.[27]

The extent of the increase will largely depend on the results of the cumulative effects analysis of the NEPA review.[28]Finally, and most significantly, USFWS will consider eliminating the “unavoidable take” standard for issuing programmatic permits and replacing it with a less stringent requirement “that all permittees take all practicable measures to avoid and minimize take of eagles”.[29]

c. Compensatory Mitigation: To date, power pole retrofits to reduce eagle mortalities by electrocution have been the most common form of compensatory mitigation contemplated by USFWS in exchange for eagle take authorization.[30] Other potential approaches include habitat preservation, construction of nest platforms, lead abatement, carcass removal, in lieu fees, and funding of conservation programs.[31]

USFWS intends to use the NEPA process to identify and evaluate a suite of uniform, scalable compensatory mitigation measures for codification in the revised rule.[32] USFWS seeks input on when and how much compensatory mitigation should be required (e.g., for any authorized take versus only if take thresholds are exceeded), as well as the kinds of mitigation that should be used.[33]

USFWS will also explore the establishment of mitigation funds.[34]In parallel with this effort, USFWS is actively promoting a new, coordinated public-private eagle research program in which the USGS and USFWS will support research on eagle population dynamics and basic biology while the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) funds eagle take mitigation research and the development of Advanced Conservation Practices.[35]To that end, NFWF hopes to obtain research financing through a recently established National Bald and Golden Eagle Research Fund and a Mojave and Sonoran Desert Fund.[36] NFWF also proposes to create advisory committees (staffed in part by industry scientists) for the selection of research projects.[37] USFWS plans to seek financial support for the NFWF funds through industry contributions, settlement agreement community service, and federal and state agency support.[38] It is likely that the NEPA document for the proposed permitting rule revision will include payment of in-lieu fees to NFWF as a form of standardized compensatory mitigation.

3. Implications

The issues that USFWS intends to evaluate through the NEPA process (and the rulemaking that may follow) go to the core of the eagle permitting program. Changing the program elements referenced by USFWS in the NOI could eventually result in a more flexible programmatic permitting regime. For example, applying a more realistic metric for identifying “low risk” projects and replacing the rigid “no net loss” and “unavoidable take” concepts with standards that give USFWS more discretion in its permitting decisions could improve implementation of the program. Likewise, a standardized, front-loaded compensatory mitigation framework with in-lieu fees could also create greater certainty and perhaps a faster permitting process as well.

But while prospective permittees are likely to support rule changes that would provide greater flexibility and wider agency discretion, wildlife advocates are just as likely to press USFWS to narrow the regulations in the same respects. Because the alternatives considered in the NEPA document are likely to cover both sides of the spectrum on each of the major issues identified in Section 2 above, it is also possible (but perhaps unlikely) that USFWS may adopt permitting requirements at the end of the process that are more stringent than those in effect today.The inherent uncertainty of the NEPA process, and the lack of consensus over how to change the permitting program, ushers in a new period of uncertainty that will continue until the NEPA process is concluded and any revised regulations are adopted – a process that the agency acknowledges could take 18 months (and presumably longer, should the Agency decide to prepare an EIS).

This may delay the availability of eagle permits, or may open any permits that are issued in the interim to collateral attack, depending on how such permits are structured and how the NEPA and rulemaking processes proceed. Meanwhile, USFWS has begun to actively enforce BGEPA and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA).[39]

If enforcement is intended to encourage projects to seek permits, then that objective is undercut by the uncertainty fostered by the NOI and planned rulemaking process.USFWS could minimize some of this uncertainty by proposing clear “grandfathering” rules in the draft NEPA document and subsequent regulations, much like those of the Bureau of Land Management’s Solar Energy Program and more recent iterations of California’s proposed Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan.

For example, projects might have the option of remaining subject to the existing permitting regime as long as their applications are submitted before proposal or adoption of the new regulations, even if the permits issue after the new rules take effect. Providing the option – but not the requirement – to conform to the new permit rules would at least give those projects in the permitting pipeline a measure of certainty in an otherwise unstable setting.

The agency’s intent to develop a uniform approach to mitigation also could undercut flexibility created by other changes to the program. Much like squeezing a balloon, imposing more flexible permitting rules on one end of a large-scale regulatory process can sometimes result in overly stringent and inflexible mitigation requirements at the other end. However, the NOI suggests the USFWS recognizes that risk, as it suggests that mitigation be scalable as well as standardized.

To be workable, any standardized mitigation proposals will need to be sufficiently scaled, tiered and qualified to avoid a one-size-fits-all approach.The apparent plan of USFWS to use settlement agreements as a tool to provide NFWF with research funds also is highly unlikely to encourage industry participation. The only settlement announced to date was reached under the MBTA’s criminal provisions.

Companies are likely to resist admission to criminal violations of the MBTA or BGEPA. The aggressive pursuit of settlements by USFWS may not foster the kind of collaborative relationships envisioned by the Eagle Guidance that are more likely to contribute to sound eagle conservation decisions.The NOI also indicates that USFWS will consider replacing the current “no net loss” golden eagle management objective with either a qualitative standard or discrete numeric take limits for each Eagle Management Unit.

While unit-specific limits are likely to better reflect the most recent population data and would present a marginal improvement over the current “no net loss” standard for golden eagles, unit-specific limits also would likely be rendered obsolete by new data in the future. Adopting a rule that allows the Agency to adjust to changes in baseline data over time and across geographies makes sense, but not if that responsiveness can only be achieved through constant rule revisions. This suggests that a qualitative standard would be a better approach.

4. Conclusion

USFWS has opened a pathway for material improvements to its eagle permitting program through the June 23 NOI and the process that will follow. It also has introduced substantial uncertainty for pending permit applications, which is complicated by the Agency’s stepped-up effort to enforce BGEPA and the MBTA. Prospective BGEPA permittees would be well-advised to actively participate throughout the NEPA process (and any rulemaking that follows).

For more information, please contact Andrew Bell in Marten Law’s San Francisco office or Svend Brandt-Erichsen in Marten Law’s Seattle office.

See more at: http://www.martenlaw.com/newsletter/20140701-incidental-take-rule-overhaul#sthash.cHyCnysf.dpuf

Andrew C. Bell and Svend A. Brandt-Erichsen|July 1, 2014

Victory! California Becomes the First State to Ban Wildlife Killing Contests

In a historic victory for wildlife, this week California became the first state in the nation to officially ban barbaric wildlife killing contests for good in a move that wildlife advocates are hopeful will set a precedent for other states to follow.

According to Project Coyote, more contests than we care to know about continue to take place under the radar because state wildlife agencies don’t monitor them, but they’ve been making headlines recently and a growing number of people have been speaking out against them. Thankfully wildlife officials and land managers are listening to the calls from wildlife advocates and are taking the problems with these unjustified events seriously.

Project Coyote petitioned the Commission earlier this year after news that a three-day Coyote Drive was taking place in Modoc County sparked outrage. Not only would the contest result in the cruel and senseless deaths of coyotes, but concerns also were raised that it threatened gray wolves who were protected earlier this year under the state’s endangered species act. California doesn’t have an established population, but the area was part of where OR-7, the first wolf to venture into California in 87 years, was known to visit.

In a 4-1 vote on Wednesday, the California Fish and Game Commission approved a proposal that closes loopholes that allow so-called hunters, including children, to participate in contests, tournaments or derbies that offer prizes or other rewards for killing the most, or biggest, predators.

“Awarding prizes for wildlife killing contests is both unethical and inconsistent with our current understanding of natural systems,” said Michael Sutton, President of the California Fish and Game Commission. “Such contests are an anachronism and have no place in modern wildlife management.”

While these competitions are held under the guise of wildlife management, or predator control, wildlife advocates and scientists argue that they’re not only cruel but counter to the goal of reducing conflicts with “nuisance” animals and that the indiscriminate killing of predators also ignores the valuable role they play in maintaining healthy ecosystems.

Sadly many of the wild animals who are targeted in these events are left without legal protection and can be killed year round in unlimited numbers. Now, thanks in part to the public’s reaction and those who spoke up on behalf of species targeted in these disgraceful events, things are starting to change.

“Wildlife prevailed at this historic meeting and the public made it clear through thousands of letters and thoughtful testimonies that they want to see predators protected in California,” said Camilla Fox, founder and executive director Project Coyote. “We hope that this is a first step in reforming the state’s predator management regulations, policies, and codes.”

“We commend the commission for this enlightened decision and for setting a precedent for the nation,” she added. “We should not be killing wildlife for fun and prizes in the 21st century.”

The move also comes just a week after the Bureau of Land Management pulled a permit that would have allowed a hunters’ rights group to hold a predator derby targeting wolves, coyotes and other wild animals annually for the next five years on more than three million acres of public land in Idaho.

Alicia Graef|December 5, 2014

Europeans Suspend Horsemeat Imports From Mexico – Huge Blow to North American Slaughter Operations

The horse slaughter industry has been dealt the biggest blow since The HSUS led the fight in Congress, the states, and federal courts to shut down the three operating horse slaughter plants in the United States in 2007. Today’s game-changing news: the European Commission has suspended the import of horsemeat from Mexico to the European Union (EU) due to food safety concerns.

Mexico not only kills thousands of its horses for export to the EU, but accepts tens of thousands of American horses for slaughter and shipment to Europe. This announcement could prove to be an earthquake for the North American horse slaughter industry, since Belgium, France, Italy, and other EU nations are major consumers.

HSI EU executive director Jo Swabe and I have personally appealed to senior EU regulatory leaders multiple times on this issue. I have long wondered how the Europeans could tolerate the rampant abuse and drugging of horses endemic to the North American trade, given their rigorous adherence to humane food safety standards for other species. The regulatory correction to the situation in Mexico has now finally occurred.

The suspension follows a series of audits by the Commission’s Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) — the most recent one was published last week. The audit is a shocking account of significant animal welfare concerns that riddle the entire horse slaughter pipeline, from the United States to Mexico. The audit also details serious concerns about the traceability of horses slaughtered in EU-certified equine slaughterhouses in Mexico; 87 percent of these animals originate from the United States.

The Commission’s decision reflects exactly what The HSUS and HSI have been saying for years — there are serious food safety issues regarding horsemeat that originates from U.S. horses because they are not raised as food animals. Horses are our companions and partners in work and sport. As a result, horses are commonly treated with drugs such as phenylbutazone and other substances long deemed unfit for human consumption. And, as the audit shows, American horses lack lifetime medical records and do not meet EU food safety regulations.

While the audit focused on food safety, it also documented appalling suffering in the United States and Mexico. It details downed, sick horses slaughtered for human consumption despite being ill, horses suffering in export facilities on U.S. soil, and horrific welfare problems during transport. The audit confirms the cruelty of the horse slaughter pipeline that The HSUS has repeatedly exposed through undercover footage. The FVO even acknowledges that the information received from groups such as The HSUS and HSI accurately depicts the extremely poor conditions in which horses are transported. Special thanks to Animals Angels for its tireless work to document this trade.

The predatory horse slaughter industry is singularly concerned with making a buck, by snatching up young and healthy horses at auction, often outbidding legitimate horse owners and rescues. For these interests, it’s never been about euthanizing old, sick horses — that’s been a fiction since the start of this debate. This lust for profit is precisely why the industry and its legions of lobbyists have fought so hard to block federal legislation that would end horse slaughter.

We’ve long argued that Congress should enact the SAFE Act (Safeguard American Food Exports Act), to halt the transport of horses for slaughter within the United States and also to our North American neighbors. With Congress last year defunding slaughter in the United States, and the EU’s action to shut down imports from Mexico, there really is no rationale for not banning this trade.

The people of the United States do not see horses as a source of food, and despite all the scrutiny and pressure coming to bear on the horse slaughter industry, it has shown itself to be consistently reckless, unsafe and inhumane. There’s no redeeming it, and the details documented in the European Commission announcement make that plain.

Wayne Pacelle|President and CEO|The Humane Society of the United States|12/08/2014


 

In Memoriam

Martin Litton, a passionate environmental crusader and former Sierra Club board member who was known as the “father of commercial river guiding” in the Grand Canyon, died at his home in Portola Valley, California, this past Sunday. He was 97.

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 1114 D

“The weight of our civilization has become so great, it now ranks as a global force and a significant wild card in the human future along with the Ice Ages and other vicissitudes of a volatile and changeable planetary system” Dianne Dumanoski

Announcements

 SAVE THE DATE

Feathers & Friends Gala

Feb. 12th, 2014

Mac Stone, Author/Photographer, speaker

Audubon of the Western Everglades

To reserve a seat, call 239-643-7822

Naples Beach Hotel

Tickets $125.00pp

Museum exhibition focuses on climate change, sea level rise

The Coral Gables Museum is hosting “Miami 2100: Envisioning a Resilient Second Century,”

an exhibit about planning for climate change and sea level rise in Greater Miami,

presented by Florida International University’s School of Architecture.

The exhibit, which opened Nov. 7 will continue through Mar. 1, 2015.

285 Aragon Avenue, Coral Gables, FL 33134  •  (305) 603-8067

For more information about educational programs or volunteering

at the Coral Gables Museum, visit online at www.coralgablesmuseum.org.

Festival in the Woods at Picayune Strand

Date: January 25, 2014

Time: 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.

Location:

Picayune Strand State Forest

Sabal Palm Hiking Trail Trailhead,

3.3 Miles East of Collier Blvd. on Sabal Palm Rd.

Naples, Florida 34117

Contact:

Heather L. Ferrand

Email:

Heather.Ferrand@FreshFromFlorida.com

Phone:

(239) 690-3500, Ext. 121

Activities include guided hikes, wildlife presentations, guided bicycle tours and children’s activities.

Local environmental exhibitors and vendors will also be onsite.

*Space is limited, please register in advance. Participation will be on a first come, first served basis, space permitting, on day of event.

Free admission, parking and lunch!

Event Flyer [Adobe PDF Document 491.56 KB]

Unravel the mysteries in your own back yard and become a Backyard Scientist during Winter Break Camp Wild!

Press Release from Sawgrass Nature Center & Wildlife Hospital

Led by the adventurous staff at the Sawgrass Nature Center & Wildlife Hospital, campers will discover the mysteries in their own backyards during Camp Wild’s Winter Session.

Campers will learn through hands-on science activities, animal visits, outdoor exploration and nature inspired crafts.

Winter Break Camp will be offered to children, ages 6-12 years, December 22, 23,24, 26,29, 30,31, and January 2.

Camp sessions run from 9:00am to 3:00pm. (Extended hours are available on most days)

Winter Camp Wild fees are $50/day or $200/5days ($180 SNC members; all 5 days must be booked at same time and may extend throughout Winter camp dates).

Prices include all activities, a snack, and supplies.

“Camp Wild” is offered at Sawgrass Nature Center & Wildlife Hospital located at 3000 Sportsplex Dr ( in Sportsplex Park) Coral Springs.

For more information, please call Education Director, Robin Reccasina at (954) 752-WILD (9453) or email her at robin@sawgrassnaturecenter.org.

Camp applications are also available on-line at www.sawgrassnaturecenter.org. Enrollment is limited so register today!!!

Paddle Florida 2014-15 Schedule
Florida Keys Challenge

January 15-22, 2015
Enjoy a true island paradise, paddling beside sea turtles and railroad visionary Henry Flagler’s ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’ in the azure blue waters of the Florida Keys.

We’ll journey 70 miles beside white sand beaches, from Long Key State Park to Key West. 
Register by: January 2

Wild, Wonderful Withlacoochee

February 15-20, 2015
Beginning at Lake Panasoffkee’s Marsh Bend Outlet Park, paddlers will thread their way through hardwood swamps and

clear, spring-fed streams on a 60-mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico. 
Register by: February 2

Dam to the Bay on the Ochlockonee

March 14-20, 2015
From wild Tupelo honey to fresh Gulf oysters, experience the Panhandle’s Ochlockonee River which winds through state and

national forest lands on 76 miles of Florida’s most remote wilderness river trail.
Register by: February 28

Suwannee River Paddling Festival

April 3-5, 2015
The third annual Suwannee River Paddling Festival will take place at the Suwannee River State Park near Live Oak. 

The festival will feature supported 12-20 mile trip options on the scenic Suwannee and Withlacoochee Rivers, a benefit concert featuring some of Paddle Florida’s

favorite entertainers to benefit waterways protection, and an opportunity to hear from regional water and wildlife experts.
Register by: March 20  

Of Interest to All

Florida environmental protection secretary resigns

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The head of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is stepping down.

Gov. Rick Scott’s office announced Wednesday that Secretary Herschel Vinyard is resigning Dec. 1.

Scott appointed Vinyard in January 2011. Vinyard praised Scott in his letter of resignation for improving water quality in the Everglades, investing more in springs and improving state parks.

Scott named Clifford Wilson III as interim secretary. Wilson serves as the deputy secretary for regulatory programs and previously served as assistant deputy secretary of land and recreation.

Associated Press|November 26, 2014

Man Mauled by Polar Bear: Climate Change Linked to Increased Attacks

Matt Dyer was camping with fellow hikers on a Sierra Club outing when, despite taking proper steps to protect themselves, a polar bear came to their camp in the middle of the night and pulled him out of his tent. He suffered two cracked vertebrae, a broken jaw, a collapsed lung and injuries to both of his hands.

Democracy Now! interviewed Rich Gross, a Sierra Club guide on the trip, and Sabrina Shankman, a reporter with InsideClimate News and author of the new eBook Meltdown: Terror at the Top of the World. The eBook tells the story of seven American hikers who went on a wilderness adventure into polar bear country in Canada’s Arctic tundra—and faced a harrowing attack. Scientists say that climate change is greatly impacting polar bear habitat, which may be the cause of increased polar bear attacks on humans. Attacks have increased in recent years in towns like Churchill in the Manitoba province of Canada because their “return to their winter hunting ground has been delayed by the increasingly late formation of the sea ice caused by climate change.”

Cole Mellino|November 18, 2014

Everglades National Park in the money with new coin

A shiny new quarter with an image representing Everglades National Park on the reverse side will be launched Dec. 4 by the United States Mint, just in time for the park’s 67th birthday.

The design shows an anhinga drying its wings, with a roseate spoonbill in the background. The newly-minted coin will be in national circulation, make more people aware of the park and its unique environment, and hopefully spur more visitors, said Bob Krumenaker, acting park superintendent. “It is an honor to have been selected by the State of Florida to be the one national site in the state to be included in the United States Mint’s America the Beautiful Quarters Program,” Krumenaker said in a written statement.

He thanked Gov. Rick Scott, who made the recommendation. Scott issued a statement saying, “I am excited that the Everglades National Park will be featured on a quarter to help share this wonderful place with the entire country, and my administration will continue to expedite the restoration and protection of this national treasure.”

By law, the program requires the U.S. Mint to design, mint and issue quarter-dollar coins emblematic of a national park or other national site in each state, the District of Columbia, and the five U.S. territories. Five new quarters are launched each year in the order in which the park or national site was first established. Congress set aside 1.5 million acres of land Dec. 6, 1947, to establish Everglades National Park.

It’s a long way from recommendation to fruition. The coin’s design was reviewed by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Scott, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee, and finally selected by Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin.

IF YOU GO

Coin launch and coin exchange 10 a.m. to noon Dec. 4 at Harris Field Park Pavilion, 1034 NE 8th St., Homestead. Also, coin forum held by U.S. Mint from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Dec. 3 at park visitor center, 40001 State Road 9336, Homestead.

Mary Wozniak|news-press.com|November 24, 2014

Pressured by Big Utilities, ‘Sunshine State’ Ends Solar Incentive

Florida‘s official state nickname is “The Sunshine State.” But the state is doing its best to make that title seem ironic.

With its legendary sunny climate, it’s perfectly positioned to generate much of its power from solar energy and help address climate change—something it’s particularly vulnerable to, given its exposure to rising sea levels and hurricanes. But yesterday its regulatory Public Service Commission (PSC) voted 3-2 to give in to utility industry pressure to eliminate its solar installation incentives and to weaken its clean energy standards by slashing its energy efficiency programs.

“State regulators on Tuesday approved proposals to gut Florida’s energy-efficiency goals by more than 90 percent and to terminate solar rebate programs by the end of 2015, giving the investor-owned utilities virtually everything they wanted,” wrote Tampa Bay Times reporter Ivan Penn.

“It’s not the direction I want to go in,” said commissioner Lisa Edgar, one of the two dissenters. “I am uncomfortable going to the reduced goals. It is a policy and it is a statement, as a state, of what our energy policies are.”

Apparently, the statement is that Florida doesn’t have the will to utilize its natural assets or move toward energy efficiency if someone’s profit is threatened.

“It’s a very sad day for the state of Florida,” Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), told the Tampa Bay Times. “It’s completely inconsistent with what the other states are doing. We believe there may have been laws broken today by not setting goals. We as an organization are going to try to find every outlet possible to continue to fight.”

And Kelly Martin, senior Florida representative for the Sierra Club, said, “Today, the PSC failed Florida families by caving to big polluters. Florida already ranks in the bottom half of the nation for energy efficiency, and now will only fall farther behind, costing families and businesses in the process.”

According to SACE, the rollbacks will result in an 87-99 percent reduction in customer energy savings, while enhancing utility company profits.

SACE and Earthjustice, which is representing it, issued a joint statement, saying, “The historic rollbacks in conservation goals approved today by the Florida PSC are bad news for customers—especially those on lower incomes. During the proceeding, SACE showed that higher levels of energy efficiency cost less than building new, more costly power plants. Instead of siding with customers, the PSC sided with monopoly utility shareholders, once again, by setting meager goals that promote the construction of new power plants—which earn the companies a hefty profit, while leaving fewer opportunities for customers to lower energy use and save money on bills.”

The commissioners did agree to hold workshops on ways to encourage solar energy adoption following the ending of the rebate program. Meanwhile, they green-lighted a Duke Energy proposal for a $1.5 billion natural gas plant to replace a closed nuclear plant that broke during an upgrade/maintenance project and a pair of coal plants the company is phasing out.

“The moves by Florida utilities come as the ground beneath them continues to shift, threatening their business model,” said the Tampa Bay Times. “Increasingly, they are in need of ways to thwart the growing impact of rooftop solar and battery storage technology that could give more consumers energy independence. And the utilities know it all too well. What the rest of the world admiringly calls renewable energy and conservation, the utilities call ‘disruptive’ technologies. The financial risks created by disruptive challenges include declining utility revenues, increasing costs and lower profitability, particularly over the long-term, according to a report written for the Edison Electric Institute, which represents all U.S. investor-owned utilities.”

Florida joins states like Ohio, which froze its clean energy standards in June and is on track to repeal them, and Arizona, which imposed a fee on those installing rooftop solar, in moving backward in its energy policies.

Anastasia Pantsios|November 26, 2014

Solar Technology Could Make Underground Parks In Cramped Cities Possible

It’s not easy to keep growing cities green when there is such a high demand for building space. But nobody wants to live in a concrete jungle, which is why a company in the US has proposed a rather unusual solution: underground parks.

Inspired by New York City’s High Line, an abandoned elevated freight railway turned urban park, “Lowline” hopes to use pioneering solar technology to repurpose a former trolley terminal into a public space.

The one-acre former trolley terminal, which was abandoned in 1948, is located in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, an area which is considered “one of the least green areas of New York City,” according to Lowline’s website. Despite long-term neglect, the site has maintained some interesting features, such as old cobblestones and rail tracks, some of which Lowline plan to keep as a way of showcasing the history of the site.

The idea behind Lowline is to not only provide more green space, but to demonstrate how innovative solar technology can be used to transform cities. Alongside providing residents with a pleasant area to relax in and escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, the park will host a variety of cultural events, art exhibitions and youth activities.

To illuminate the underground area and feed all of those plants and trees, street-level reflective parabolas will be used to collect sunlight and direct it underground via fiber-optic cables. The light will then be dispersed through the park by aiming it towards reflective dishes. The solar collectors will be positioned in areas that receive lots of sunlight, and will be adjustable so that they can follow the sun as it moves, maximizing the amount of light that can be collected. When insufficient sunlight is available, electricity would be used to light up the park instead.

The project comes with a $60 million price tag, which will mostly come from private investors, although the government has agreed to fork out some cash, too. So far, over $1 million has been raised for research and design.

Construction is anticipated to commence in around five years’ time, but first Lowline needs to overcome some technical hurdles, such as working out the best way to channel the collected sunlight underground. 

Justine Alford|November 28, 2014

Pope Francis: We Are ‘Stewards, Not Masters’ of the Earth

Since his election in March 2013, Pope Francis has established a reputation as an outspoken advocate for the environment, warning about the dangers of human actions that drive climate change. He enhanced that reputation this week, speaking to the European Parliament in Strasbourg. There he called for the responsible stewardship of the Earth and its resources, reformed agricultural policies to feed the hungry and more green jobs to address Europe’s youth unemployment problem.

“Our Earth needs constant concern and attention. Each of us has a personal responsibility to care for creation, this precious gift which God has entrusted to us.” Photo credit: Shutterstock

The Pope told members of the European Union (EU) that it was essential to protect human dignity and human rights. He singled out treatment of the old, the young and immigrations as in need of revision and urged EU members to consider policies that created employment with humane working conditions.

“We encounter certain rather selfish lifestyles, marked by an opulence which is no longer sustainable and frequently indifferent to the world around us, and especially to the poorest of the poor,” he said. “To our dismay we see technical and economic questions dominating political debate, to the detriment of genuine concern for human beings. Men and women risk being reduced to mere cogs in a machine that treats them as items of consumption to be exploited.”

That tendency toward “consumption,” he said, extended to the planet and its resources.

“Our Earth needs constant concern and attention,” said the Pope. “Each of us has a personal responsibility to care for creation, this precious gift which God has entrusted to us. This means, on the one hand, that nature is at our disposal, to enjoy and use properly. Yet it also means that we are not its masters. Stewards, but not masters. We need to love and respect nature, but instead we are often guided by the pride of dominating, possessing, manipulating, exploiting; we do not ‘preserve’ the Earth, we do not respect it, we do not consider it as a freely given gift to look after. Respect for the environment, however, means more than not destroying it; it also means using it for good purposes.”

He contrasted poverty and opulence, need and waste, saying that agriculture “provides sustenance and nourishment to our human family. It is intolerable that millions of people around the world are dying of hunger while tons of food are discarded each day from our tables. Respect for nature also calls for recognizing that man himself is a fundamental part of it. Along with an environmental ecology, there is also need of that human ecology which consists in respect for the person, which I have wanted to emphasize in addressing you today.”

And he asked that the EU look at how green, renewable energy technologies could provide an economic future for youth in addition to a future for the planet.

“Young people today are asking for a suitable and complete education which can enable them to look to the future with hope instead of disenchantment,” he said. “There is so much creative potential in Europe in the various fields of scientific research, some of which have yet to be fully explored. We need only think, for example, of alternative sources of energy, the development of which will assist in the protection of the environment.”

Anastasia Pantsios|November 28, 2014

Gulf Oil Spill Left Rhode Island-Sized Oily ‘Bathtub Ring’ On Seafloor, Study Finds

WASHINGTON (AP) — The BP oil spill left an oily “bathtub ring” on the sea floor that’s about the size of Rhode Island, new research shows.

The study by David Valentine, the chief scientist on the federal damage assessment research ships, estimates that about 10 million gallons of oil coagulated on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico around the damaged Deepwater Horizons oil rig.

Valentine, a geochemistry professor at the University of California Santa Barbara, said the spill from the Macondo well left other splotches containing even more oil. He said it is obvious where the oil is from, even though there were no chemical signature tests because over time the oil has degraded.

“There’s this sort of ring where you see around the Macondo well where the concentrations are elevated,” Valentine said. The study, published in Monday’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, calls it a “bathtub ring.”

Oil levels inside the ring were as much as 10,000 times higher than outside the 1,200-square-mile ring, Valentine said. A chemical component of the oil was found on the sea floor, anywhere from two-thirds of a mile to a mile below the surface.

The rig blew on April 20, 2010, and spewed 172 million gallons of oil into the Gulf through the summer. Scientists are still trying to figure where all the oil went and what effects it had.

BP questions the conclusions of the study. In an email, spokesman Jason Ryan said, “the authors failed to identify the source of the oil, leading them to grossly overstate the amount of residual Macondo oil on the sea floor and the geographic area in which it is found.”

It’s impossible at this point to do such chemical analysis, said Valentine and study co-author Christopher Reddy, a marine chemist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, but all other evidence, including the depth of the oil, the way it laid out, the distance from the well, directly point to the BP rig.

Outside marine scientists, Ed Overton at Louisiana State University and Ian MacDonald at Florida State University, both praised the study and its conclusions.

The study does validate earlier research that long-lived deep water coral was coated and likely damaged by the spill, Reddy said. But Reddy and Valentine said there are still questions about other ecological issues that deep.

SETH BORENSTEIN| AP  |10/27/2014

Calls to Action

  1. Help save the Amazon pink river dolphin – here
  2. Tell President Obama to rein in Monsanto’s reckless herbicide use – here
  3. Tell the Peruvian government to put an end to Amazon deforestation – here
  4. Save the Araripe Manakinhere
  5.  

Birds and Butterflies

Cirl Bunting numbers on the rise in Cornwall

Cornwall’s re-introduced population of Cirl Buntings has had its best year yet with 39 pairs producing more than 100 fledglings at the Roseland site. Cirl Bunting numbers have been steadily increasing in Cornwall, since 2006 when the first hand-reared birds were released.

“These are encouraging signs that the population is on its way to becoming self-sustaining, and as the first passerine reintroduction to take place in Europe, the project can be considered a huge success,” said Cath Jeffs, RSPB Cirl Bunting Project Manager

Next year, it is predicted that the population will exceed the milestone of 50 pairs, which would be a great achievement. The key to the future of this project is ensuring that the right habitat is provided through the delivery of agri-environment schemes. If the habitat is there, the birds will continue to flourish.

“The success of this reintroduction represents a fantastic example of collaborative working. A partnership project, the RSPB works with local farmers along with the National Trust to increase the amount of suitable habitat for the birds, and a farmland advisor works with landowners to secure further habitat for the wider, natural spread of birds through Natural England’s agri-environment schemes,” said Cath Jeffs

The project has been jointly funded by the RSPB and Natural England, as well as receiving £173,670 from SITA Trust and £5,000 from BBC Wildlife Fund.

Whooping Cranes Need Bird-Smart Wind Energy

Endangered Whooping Cranes may be casualties of a plan to install 75 wind turbines in the species’ migration corridor in North Dakota. While supportive of well-planned and properly sited wind energy, American Bird Conservancy and the International Crane Foundation have sent a letter to federal officials raising concerns about the impacts of this facility on cranes and other birds.

See press release on “Major Bird Conservation

 Florida Panthers

Help Save Florida Panthers

We have another amazing opportunity to help save Florida’s beloved panther, and you can help!

It’s no secret that the Florida panther is one of the most endangered mammals on the planet. Less than 200 cats remain in the wild.

Simply put, they need more land to extend the boundaries of their current habitats, establish new home ranges, and breed.

Watch this video to see how The Nature Conservancy continues to establish links to connect existing green spaces so the panther can roam.

With your continued support we’ve protected thousands of acres of prime panther habitat already within the Greater Everglades and each acre protected makes the outlook even brighter.

By protecting these open spaces we maintain critical habitat for a wide variety of wildlife and preserve Florida’s ranching culture for future generations. Your help is needed for this critical work.

Would you consider making a generous donation to help further our work to save the Florida panther from certain extinction?

Jim McDuffie|Acting State Director|The Nature Conservancy in Florida

Florida hunters, ranchers challenge state’s method of counting panthers as more wildlife killed

NAPLES, Fla. – A growing movement among cattle ranchers and hunters is challenging the way Florida counts panthers, the state’s official mammal and one of its most iconic endangered species.

More than 50 hunters and ranchers from all over South Florida flocked this week to a rare public meeting in Naples of the federal and state team guiding Florida panther recovery efforts. The hunters and ranchers pushed back against recovery goals they say are causing panthers to run amok.

They told stories about fearless panthers getting too close for comfort. They said a burgeoning panther population is causing native wildlife declines. They worried that panthers killing calves will ruin their livelihoods.

“I just wonder if we’re trying to put a square peg in a round hole,” said Collier County ranch owner Liesa Priddy, who Gov. Scott appointed to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

She questioned as unwise the goal of creating two distinct populations of 240 panthers each, which would move them from the endangered status to threatened. Creating three distinct populations would take the panthers off the endangered list altogether.

“Not every single species can be recovered,” she said. “I think that’s something we need to hold out there and consider.”

Collier County is ground zero for panther recovery because it covers the best of what’s left of their habitat on public lands, like the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, Big Cypress National Preserve and Fakahatchee Strand, and on private ranches around Immokalee.

In the mid-1980s, Florida panther trackers counted as few as 30 left in the wild. A controversial plan to introduce eight female Texas cougars into the South Florida population is credited with restoring panther’s genetic diversity and boosting the population.

A 2013 count put the minimum population at 104 panthers, and scientists say a steady increase has leveled off, indicating that panthers may have no more room to grow. Male panthers have ventured north of the Caloosahatchee River, but there is no proof that females are there.

Panther tracker Roy McBride, a Texas-based predator control expert who does Florida’s annual counts, made the case for basing population estimates on facts.

McBride uses hounds and his team’s own expertise to find panther signs — scat, urine markers, tracks, panther prey kills. He then is careful to distinguish between males and females and time and distance between signs to avoid double-counting.

“If we’re going to count panthers, let’s at least use verifiable evidence or nobody’s going to believe us,” he said.

For years, Florida reported only a minimum population size, but amid questions about the real size of the population, the Conservation Commission reported its first population range estimate in 2011. Scientists estimated the population at between 100 and 160 panthers. The top number was increased to 180 earlier this year.

The range estimate uses minimum count data to figure out many panthers roam per square mile in areas where they are most plentiful and then multiplies that figure over the panther’s entire reproductive range.

But minimum counts and population range estimates are not the same as statistically valid population size estimates that can hold up to scientific scrutiny. Scientists are still looking for ways to do that.

“Not one of them has popped up and said, ‘Hey, this is the one you want to use,’” said Darrell Land, Florida’s panther recovery team leader based in Naples.

One count method from a 2012 study suggests the Florida panther population grew to 272, but the margin of error in the count methodology is so large and the calculation method is considered biased toward panthers around public lands.

Most hunters and ranchers attending this week’s meeting weren’t buying any of the numbers being tossed around.

“Perhaps these animals aren’t reading our books,“ said Mike Elfenbein, 37, of Port Charlotte, a Florida native and outdoorsman who says he’s been stalked by a panther four times.

Increasing conflicts between panthers and people is “on the radar” of state and federal wildlife agencies, said Larry Williams, regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“They’re showing up on porches, they’re showing up on ranches and we need to do something differently,“ Williams told the at-times belligerent crowd at the extension office.

He hinted at a loosening of endangered species rules that prohibit harassing and hazing and suggested it might be time to relax the measures used to determine whether the panther should be downlisted to threatened and eventually taken off the endangered list.

Florida Wildlife Federation field representative Nancy Payton said resolving the issues surrounding a growing panther population is key to the panthers’ future, and that includes converting hunters and ranchers into “missionaries” for panther conservation rather than critics.

“They’re not there yet,” she said.

Eric Staats|Oct 31, 2014

  Invasive species

 

Endangered Species

Victory for Idaho’s Wolves and Coyotes

BLM Revokes Permit for Cruel Idaho Killing Contest

Today we learned that the BLM is revoking a permit it issued to a group of anti-wildlife extremists bent on hosting a cruel killing contest on our public lands. BLM’s action kicks the event, which wants to pile up as many bodies as possible as fast as possible, off of some of the wildest and most scenic federally managed public lands in the country. We are overjoyed the BLM recognized its mistake, and by withdrawing its permission is restricting participants’ potential to kill ecologically vital apex carnivores like wolves and coyotes.

The BLM’s change of heart follows thousands of emails sent by advocates like you and two lawsuits filed by conservationists in federal court. WildEarth Guardians’ and our partners’ lawsuit is the only one that also targets the U.S. Forest Service for failing to consider the impacts of barbaric killing contests. We will continue fighting to stop this event altogether, and ensure federal resource managers responsible for safeguarding our shared natural legacy keep these horrific competitive killing sprees off our public lands.

Today’s success is an important step toward bringing about a compassionate and scientific approach to coexisting with native wildlife in the West.

With your support, our efforts to end the war on wildlife are advancing. Let’s continue that progress together for wildlife.

Bethany Cotton|Wildlife Program Director|WildEarth Guardians

Ontario leads North America in protecting pollinators.

Yesterday, thanks to a growing movement of concerned citizens, Ontario announced a bold plan for regulations to restrict neonicotinoid pesticides (AKA “neonics”). It’s the first of its kind in North America.

The provincial government considered the growing body of evidence that neonics are harmful and is proposing tough action to protect pollinators — setting a target to reduce use of these chemicals by 80 per cent!

The plan is to move millions of acres of Ontario corn and soy fields off of neonics. New regulations will be in place in time for the 2016 planting season.

This is big news, but there’s a still a lot of work to do. Please tell other provinces and the federal government to take immediate action to ban neonics.

But for now… let’s celebrate the news! Together, we’re helping turn the tide on neonics.

Lisa Gue|Researcher and Analyst|David Suzuki Foundation 

A record 1,020 rhinos poached in South Africa this year

More than 1,000 rhinos have been poached in South Africa since January, beating last year’s total of 1004 with still six weeks of the year to go.
The Kruger National Park lost the largest number of rhinos at 672, while a total of 110 rhino have been poached in Limpopo, 84 in KwaZulu-Natal, 70 in Mpumalanga, 58 in North West and 15 in the Eastern Cape.

“Unfortunately the threat of poaching has continued to escalate while various multi-faceted interventions are being implemented by South Africa,”  South Africa’s Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa said at a Rhino Conservation Side Event at the 6th World Parks Congress in Australia.

“We are concerned that poaching is part of a multi-billion dollar worldwide illicit wildlife trade. Addressing the scourge is not simple.”
In a bid to combat and reduce the levels  South Africa has launched a number of initiatives, including the creation of an intensive protection zone within the Kruger National Park, translocating rhino to safe areas within South Africa, increasing surveillance and improving national, regional and international collaboration.

Japan plans to restart whaling despite ICJ ruling

Japan has announced plans to kill 333 minke whales as part of a new ‘scientific’ whaling program in the Antarctic.

The news comes just eight months after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled its whaling activities in the Southern Ocean was illegal and must stop.

The Japanese government has revealed details of a new proposal, called NEWREP-A, which targets just one species of whale, the Minke Whale.

Although Japan initially vowed to respect the ruling of the ICJ, it soon pledged to pursue a new program for scientific whaling in the Southern Ocean.

“This proposal is an audacious step in the wrong direction and actually increases whaling the ICJ ruled illegal, said Patrick Ramage, Global Whale Program Director for International Fund for Animal Welfare.

“The World Court judgment said Japan cannot go it alone and decide itself what represents legitimate ‘scientific’ whaling. This plan should be dead on arrival when it arrives at the IWC Scientific Committee next year.

“We are carefully reviewing this 100-page document, but it’s immediately clear this plan will mean more blood in the water, an expanded Antarctic killing zone, and a sharp increase over the actual number of whales taken in recent years. It is time for Japan to finally end its outdated, cruel and unscientific killing of whales.”

Right Whales tagged for first time to help solve mystery

For the first time satellite tags are being used to remotely track Southern Right Whales from their breeding/calving grounds in the sheltered bays of Península Valdés, Argentina, to unknown feeding grounds somewhere in the western South Atlantic.

It is hoped the results from the study will help solve why more than 400 Southern Right Whale calves have died between 2003-2011.

Different hypotheses put forward for this mortality include disease, certain types of contaminant, and harassment and wounding by kelp gulls, a frequent occurrence in Península Valdés. 

Over the past month, a team of top scientists from a range of organizations, including the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the Aqualie Institute of Brazil and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)  have succeeded in affixing satellite transmitters to five Southern Right Whales in Golfo Nuevo.

This area is one of the two protected gulfs of Península Valdés and an important breeding ground for southern right whales. The team selected calving females and solitary juveniles so they can glean insights into habitat use and migratory movements for different sex and age groups.

“Over the last several centuries, and as recent as the 1960s, southern right whales were hunted, at times close to the verge of extinction. But they have now managed to rebound in numbers thanks to protected refuges such as Península Valdés,” said Dr. Martín Mendez, Assistant Director of WCS’s Latin America and the Caribbean Program.

“The recent increase in mortality is being caused by something that remains unsolved. Determining where the whales go to feed may offer clues to solving this complex question.” 

So far the data received shows that two of the five whales have remained in the waters of Golfo Nuevo, while the other three have already left the bay. One of the animals is currently in deep waters of the South Atlantic, one has been spending its time over the continental shelf, and another has moved into deep offshore waters, but has returned to the continental shelf break.

“As the tags continue to transmit, we hope our whales lead us to new insights about their lives in the vastness of the South Atlantic and provide possible clues related to the die-off,” said Dr. Howard Rosenbaum of WCS’s Ocean Giants Program.

Spain has most endangered species in Europe

SPAIN is home to more endangered species than any other European country.

According to latest Red List of Threatened Species, a total of 552 endangered species –  including the Iberian lynx and the Mediterranean monk seal – live in Spain.

This is nearly double that of the second-worst country on the European list, Greece, which has 286 ‘at risk’ species, according to the 50th annual list released by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Southern European countries are particularly bad, with Italy home to 276 endangered species and Portugal home to 254.

This follows a worrying global trend with an extra 1,125 species joining the list worldwide in the last 12 months, up to 22,413 species.

The announcement comes as green groups – including Ecologistas en Accion and the World Wildlife Fund – have slammed the PP government for continuing to allow hunting in Spain’s national parks.

4 Fascinating Facts About Manatees and How You Can Help Them

Manatees are one of my favorite animals. They have been since I was little. I’m not sure what about them appeals to me, exactly. Maybe it’s because they’re so chill. Maybe it’s because they look like a big, hugable potato. Whatever it is, I’m entranced. As we near the end of Manatee Awareness Month, I thought it might be a good time to wave my magic want and put you under their spell, as well.

1. There are three different types of manatees, and they are all in trouble.

Manatees can be divided up into three distinct species that roughly correlate to where they live. The West Indian manatee lives in the Caribbean and is divided into two subspecies: the Florida manatee and the Antillean or Caribbean manatee. Manatees also live in the Amazon and off the West African coast, called the Amazonian manatee and West African manatee, respectively. (A possible new species of dwarf manatee has been seen in freshwater habitats in the Amazon, but the veracity of that claim in in question.)

According to the IUCN, all three extant species of manatee are considered vulnerable, which means that they are at a heightened risk of extinction. The manatee’s Pacific cousin, the dugong, is also vulnerable. Hopefully, we’ll be able to learn a lesson from our experiences with another manatee relative, the Steller’s sea cow, which humans hunted to extinction less than 30 years after its discovery.

2. Despite the nickname “sea cow,” manatees are most closely related to elephants.

On the surface, there are a lot of similarities between manatees and cows. Both are slow-moving herbivores and neither can see very well. However, when you scratch the surface, things get more interesting. Sirenians, the order to which manatees belong, came on the scene about 50 million years ago. Like whales, manatees evolved from land animals that returned to the sea. One of its closest relatives, in fact, is the elephant. In fact, the West Indian and West African manatee have fingernails on their flippers that look suspiciously like the fingernails on elephants. (Although the Amazonian manatee and dugong have lost their fingernails, they are just as closely related to elephants.)

3. Manatees are smarter than you think.

When it comes to animal smarts, everyone thinks about dolphins or great apes. Manatees, with their slow, lumbering bodies, don’t exactly evoke brilliance. For a long time scientists thought that manatees weren’t very intelligent at all because their brain lacks the wrinkles that generally indicate intelligence.

That assumption is changing, however. There is evidence that manatees are just as good at experimental tasks as dolphins, but because manatees are herbivores, they are harder to motivate. In addition, manatees have evolved a complex and highly sensitive sense of touch and hearing that other animals just don’t have. While a lot is still unknown about manatee brain development, this indicates that they aren’t just big, dumb beasts.

4. The manatee’s biggest threat is humans.

Manatees are herbivores. They don’t eat other animals and, due in large part to their habitat, no other animals eats them. Unfortunately for them, manatees have to share a planet with us. Despite being on the Endangered Species list and receiving protection under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act, last year a record 829 Florida manatees died last year. This was due in large part to a toxic algae called red tide.

The high number of manatee fatalities last year may not have been directly attributable to humans, but that doesn’t mean we get out of jail free, so to speak. Because manatees live in shallow water and graze on sea grass close to the surface, they are particularly vulnerable to injury by speed boat. Last year in Florida there were 72 confirmed manatee deaths by watercraft, the most of the human-caused fatalities. The African manatee is poached for meat, oil and bones. They are also accidentally killed when caught in fishing nets. In South America, oil spills are a significant threat to the Amazonian manatee, as well as the destruction of habitat.

All is not lost. There is something you can do.

If we stay vigilant, manatees can make a comeback. You can adopt a manatee from the World Wildlife Fund or the manatee conservation group Save the Manatee. Also, there are precautions you can take if you happen to be sharing the water with our manatee friends. If you find yourself swimming with manatees, try to avoid excessive noise and splashing. Also, use snorkels instead of scuba gear. Manatees don’t like the noise. Also, Save the Manatee provides information for boaters so they can avoid hurting a manatee as well as information on what to do if you see an injured manatee. There’s even an app that will tell you when you’re approaching a manatee speed zone.

If we all band together, maybe things will turn out OK for the friendly sea cow.

Mindy Townsend|November 28, 2014

Rhino Poachers in South Africa Set Grave New Record

South Africa just set a new record, and unfortunately it means more devastating news for rhinos. If we don’t act quickly, then we can start picturing a world without rhinos in the near future because we’re senselessly killing them off.

1,020 Rhinos Have Been Poached in South Africa

As reported in BBC, South Africa’s rhinos are suffering. Just this year, 1,020 rhinos have been killed by poachers. This number alarms conservationists because it’s an undeniable reminder of how current conservation efforts are failing rhinos. Last year, 1,004 rhinos had been poached in South Africa.

South Africa, the country with the largest number of rhinos, has taken hits year after year, and the rhino death toll continues to rise year after year. Conservationists fear that the number of rhino deaths could beat the number of rhino births in the next four years, an occurrence that this critically endangered species can’t afford. Most of the rhino deaths have occurred in Kruger National Park. The park stretches over 7,500 sq miles, and sits in Skukuza, South Africa.

Conservationists don’t want 2015 to set a new record, so the rush is on to protect rhinos. The country has started to move the animals to nearby countries with “safety zones.” The designated zones are equipped with guards with guns, helicopters and dogs. The national army has also been sent to poaching hotspots, like Mozambique.

Rhino Horns Hold the Golden Cure

Sadly, all of these efforts are probably not enough. Like poaching elephants for their tusks, poaching rhinos for their horns is part of a multi-billion dollar business run by a web of hardcore criminals. Illegal rhino horns are more valuable than gold to many around the globe, and they’ll go to great lengths for rhino horns, which are mostly protein keratin common in hair, fingernails and hooves.

PBS explains that in Yemen, boys are gifted daggers with rhino horn handles adorned in jewels as symbols of their manhood, their devotion to Islam and to protect themselves. In China, rhino horns have a long history of being used in ceremonies and adorning everyday items, including buttons, belt buckles, paperweights and other items.

The demand for rhino horn is highest for things that money and gold can’t buy: health. Horns are stars in Asian traditional medicine, particularly China and Vietnam. The Atlantic reports that the Vietnamese are willing to shell out $300,000 for a piece of rhino to cure hangovers, fevers, liver issues and, most recently, cancers. Around the mid-2000s a Vietnamese politician was rumored to have cured his cancer with ground-up rhino horn. Vietnam has seen a surge of unprecedented wealth, but cancer care and treatment hasn’t advanced at the same rate. Rhino horns’ rumored cancer curing ability mean that the elite are willing to spend.

While believers cite studies — like one from Chinese University in Hong Kong where large doses of rhino horn extract slightly reduced fevers in rats — the global scientific community has yet to prove that rhino horns have any healing properties. Many experts agree that chewing fingernails or taking an aspirin would have the same effects.

What Rhino Horns Are Really Good For

Meanwhile, we are wiping rhinos off the face of the earth. If the poaching continues at its current rate, rhinos could be extinct in the next 20 years and all for faux medicine and trinkets.

Here’s what rhino horns are really good for: rhinos need their horns to help them dig for food, to protect their young, to defend their territory and to charge when threatened. Some callous poachers won’t even kill them. Instead, they’ll tranquillize them and cut the horns off with a chainsaw, so the poor rhino has to wake up and experience the trauma of missing its horn before bleeding to death.

This needs to end. To get involved and learn what you can do to save the rhinos, Save the Rhinos has excellent resources.

Jessica Ramos|November 28, 2014

Leopards live closer to people than previously thought

In a bid to understand how leopards relate to humans and adapt to their presence five leopards (two males and three females) that have been residing in human-dominated areas in India and perceived as ‘problem animals’, have been radio-collared. Two were released more than 50 km (31 miles) away from the site of capture, while the remaining three were released near the site of capture.

The scientists monitored the animals’ activities, for up to a year post-release, recording their behaviour and the strategies they adopt to avoid direct contact with people.

They found immediately after release, the two translocated animals moved 89 km (55 miles) and 45 km respectively (28 miles) away from the release sites and applied tactics to avoid encountering people, despite dependence on their resources the scientists found.

This included mostly moving at night, when they also would often venture within 25 metres of people’s homes.

“This gave them an access to people’s livestock, and yet kept them safe from people,” Said co-author Vidya Athreya of WCS India.

The two translocated animals occupied bigger home ranges (42 km [26 miles]and 65 km [40 miles] respectively), including one in the outskirts of Mumbai. The other three lived in areas with highest human densities, but occupied smallest home ranges (8-15 sq km) (3-5.7 square miles) ever recorded for leopards anywhere.

“The home ranges of the three animals are comparable to those in highly-productive protected areas with a very good prey density,” said Athreya. “This indicated that food sources associated with humans [domestic animals] supported these leopards.”

The scientists believe from the evidence that leopards in human areas are not always stray or victims of conflict like previously thought bat rather resident animals, potentially requiring policy makers to rethink India’s leopard-management strategies. Moreover, two of the females even gave birth to cubs during the course of the study, confirming their residence.

Despite living in close proximity to humans and even being dependent on their resources, none of the leopards were involved in human deaths during capture or following release.

Wild & Weird

Queensland’s bum-breathing turtles ‘need help’

A critically-endangered species of turtle is facing further trouble by the construction of dams and weirs in Queensland, researchers say.

The survival of a species of turtle that breathes out of its bottom is threatened by the construction of dams and weirs in Queensland, scientists say.

The white-throated snapping turtle (Elseya albagula) is known for its large size and ability to extract oxygen from water via a process called cloacal respiration or bottom breathing.

James Cook University researcher Jason Schaffer says populations of the already critically-endangered turtle are diminishing in many of its known habitats such as the Fitzroy, Burnett and Mary rivers.

He says there there is nearly a 100 per cent loss of eggs and young turtles.

“Hatchling and juvenile turtles have a higher mortality in the river, coupled with a higher reliance on aquatic respiration, and so are more vulnerable to the degradation of water quality,” Mr Schaffer said.

“They are simply not surviving.”

Mr Schaffer, who has studied the turtles for the past eight years, says a major contributor is the construction of dams and weirs in Queensland.

This restricts the movement of the turtles which thrive in cool, clear flowing water.

Sedimentation and erosion from large-scale land use such as agriculture and mining and extreme nest destruction by introduced and native predators are also contributors.

Mr Schaffer says he’s concerned about the renewed interest in developing a new dam northwest of Rockhampton at Connors River, an important habitat for the turtles, and wants to see more nests and habitats protected to ensure the turtles survival.

“There are very few places left in the Fitzroy as amazing as (Connors River) in terms of being intact and clear,” he said.

The turtles live for up to 100 years and don’t start breeding until they are about 20 years old.

AAP|28 Nov 2014

Everglades

Water Storage Capacity in Northern Everglades to Grow with Latest DEP Grant

~Department awards $3 million to store excess water on public and private lands~

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced today a $3 million grant award to the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) to support its thriving Dispersed Water Management Program. The program, which creates additional water storage on private and public lands, provides another tool to reduce the amount of water flowing into Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries during high-water conditions. The funds will cover service payments and operations and maintenance costs for the program.

“Additional water storage throughout south Florida is critical to successfully protecting the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries during the region’s annual rainy season,” said DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. “This unique program, supported by Governor Scott and the Florida Legislature, is a win-win for area residents because it puts south Florida’s landscape to work providing much-needed storage at limited cost.”

Every summer, the south Florida region is at risk of experiencing high-water conditions due to seasonal spikes in rainfall. Initiated nearly 10 years ago, the Dispersed Water Management Program aims to mitigate some of that risk by identifying, acquiring and using public and private lands to store excess surface water. The program encompasses a coalition of public agencies, environmental organizations, ranchers and researchers united in growing the region’s storage capacity. The program encourages private property owners to retain water on their land rather than drain it, accept and detain regional runoff for storage, or do some combination of both.

“This summer, the District’s improved flood control operations plus water storage on public and private lands made a significant difference in protecting South Florida’s fragile coastal estuaries,” said SFWMD Executive Director Blake Guillory. “Critical funding from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection will allow this important Dispersed Water Management Program to further expand storage capacity.”

The program has stored an average annual volume of 86,257 acre-feet of water, or approximately 43,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools, which is in addition to the regional storage and treatment capacity provided by stormwater treatment areas, reservoirs and other regional facilities. Of the 43 identified Dispersed Water Management project sites, 29 are operational with the remaining sites being planned or under construction by the South Florida Water Management District. At the close of the 2014 rainy season, 28 of the 29 sites were full. The total possible retention capacity for all 43 sites is 93,372 acre-feet or approximately 29 billion gallons of water.

“As we saw during the 2014 rainy season, additional water storage throughout south Florida is extremely beneficial during high-water conditions,” said Senator Joe Negron. “The more water storage options we have, the better we can respond to rainfall fluctuations throughout the season, protecting our estuaries in the process.”

“South Florida’s rivers and estuaries are treasures that deserve our attention and protection,” said Representative Ray Rodrigues. “While we can’t stop the rains from coming every season, we can minimize their impact through successful efforts like the Dispersed Water Management Program.”

For more information about the Dispersed Water Management Program, click here.

latashawalters|November 25, 2014

Everglades restoration project reaches milestone

Friday marked a major milestone for a federally funded Everglades restoration project as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and conservationists celebrated along with representatives from the local, state and federal level.

A ceremonial ribbon-cutting marked the opening of the Merritt Pump Station, one of three pump stations that will help restore water to what was once wetlands decades ago.

Eric Draper, executive director of conservation organization Audubon Florida explained what caused the problem in the first place.

“This was going to be a subdivision, this was going to be a 55,000-acre subdivision,” he said.

In the 1970’s the area was abandoned by developers who had hoped to expand the residential part of the Golden Gate Estates. Even though the houses weren’t built, the roads had been paved and the canals dug. The canals drained the wetlands and they’re now being plugged, along with several other measures, like the opening of the Merritt Pump Station.

“I’m so excited this has been underway for 30 years,” Draper said.

Bob Progulsky from U.S. Fish and Wildlife works on Everglades management and said the opening of the pump station is a major step in the Picayune Strand Restoration Project.

“It’s important for panthers, it’s important for manatees, it’s important for wetland restoration all the way down to the 10,000 Islands area,” he said.

On a tour, resident engineer, Mike Miller explained how several pumps would help get water from one side of the building out into levees on the other side, which would guide the water to spread out into its natural course.

“If you look out there in that open area over there, that was all trees at one time, it’ll probably more than likely look like that,” Miller said.

Experts say the soggy land will even help prevent brush fires. The nearly $70-million pump station was paid for with federal money and there will be two more like it, slated to open in 2015 and 2017. The project is geared to weave an entire ecosystem back together.

“It starts with the very tiny fish, which are the fish that the birds eat and the snook and the tarpon and the redfish eat, so the whole system is coming back together,” Draper said.

Sophie Nielsen-Kolding|Collier County reporter|November 27 2014

Completion of major Everglades restoration construction contract celebrated at Picayune Strand

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District celebrated the completion of a major construction effort for the Picayune Strand Restoration Project today alongside federal, state and local representatives and Everglades restoration supporters.  The project is being conducted in partnership with the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), as part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), a joint endeavor to restore, preserve and protect water resources in central and southern Florida.

Restoring Picayune Strand includes the plugging of 48 miles of canals, removing 260 miles of crumbling roads and constructing three major pump stations, all of which will restore more than 55,000 acres of natural habitat in an area once partially developed for an intended sprawling residential area.  The Corps completed construction of the Merritt Pump Station last month as part of a contract which marks a significant step forward in Everglades restoration.

“When the Corps of Engineers awarded the Merritt Pump Station construction contract in 2009, it not only marked the start of a massive restoration project here in Collier County, but it signaled the value of the important partnership we have with the South Florida Water Management District and the State of Florida,” said Col. Alan Dodd, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District Commander. “The completion of the Merritt Pump Station is a clear demonstration of this partnership at work, and it’s precisely this type of partnership that will further the goals and objectives envisioned in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan [CERP] over the coming years.”

The Merritt Pump Station is a key piece of infrastructure for the Picayune Strand Restoration Project that will maintain current levels of flood protection while directing fresh water to drained wetlands located downstream. In addition to the pump station, the contract includes 95 miles of roadway that were removed and degraded and about 10 miles of canals that will be plugged to restore the natural flow of water in the area.

Federal appropriations provided more than $66 million in order to complete the Merritt Pump Station. This included approximately $40 million funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, which accelerated the construction schedule and helped create local jobs. 

“Florida remains committed to Everglades restoration and to the shared investment needed to achieve this goal,” said Blake Guillory, Executive Director of the South Florida Water Management District. “Today’s event here in the western Everglades underscores the fact that we are making tangible restoration progress.”

Ecological benefits are already being seen at Picayune Strand as a result of the restoration work done to date. Native plants and animals are returning to the area, including the wood stork and endangered Florida panther.

By restoring the hydrology in the area, the completed Picayune Strand Restoration project will also directly benefit the southern Gulf Coast estuaries, improving juvenile fish habitats and increasing fish and bird populations, as well as recreational opportunities in the area.
“Picayune Strand is a great conservation success story and provides early proof that Everglades restoration works to improve wetlands and freshwater flows.  What could have been a sprawling development is on its way to being great habitat for wading birds, panthers and other wildlife,” said Eric Draper, Audubon Florida’s Executive Director.  “As great flocks of wading birds return to the Everglades we will witness nature’s resilience.”

Today’s ceremony not only provided attendees with the opportunity to see the completed Merritt Pump Station first-hand, it provided them with an opportunity to see restoration progress in action.  It also brought together a diverse group of individuals, representing numerous agencies and organizations whose collective support continues to provide momentum to move restoration efforts forward.

“Let today serve as a clear demonstration of what our continued partnerships and collaborations will bring and set the tone for how we move forward in our restoration efforts,” said Dodd.

The construction contract for the Merritt Pump Station was awarded to Harry Pepper and Associates of Jacksonville, Fla., in October 2009.  Now that the pump station is fully-constructed, it will undergo one year of operational testing and monitoring.

The Merritt Pump Station was the first CERP construction contract to begin. Progress also continues on the construction of the project’s other two pump stations, the Faka Union and Miller pump stations, with scheduled completion in 2015 and 2018, respectively.

Water Storage Capacity in Northern Everglades to Grow 

~Department awards $3 million to store excess water on public and private lands~

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced today a $3 million grant award to the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) to support its thriving Dispersed Water Management Program. The program, which creates additional water storage on private and public lands, provides another tool to reduce the amount of water flowing into Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries during high-water conditions. The funds will cover service payments and operations and maintenance costs for the program.

“Additional water storage throughout south Florida is critical to successfully protecting the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries during the region’s annual rainy season,” said DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. “This unique program, supported by Governor Scott and the Florida Legislature, is a win-win for area residents because it puts south Florida’s landscape to work providing much-needed storage at limited cost.”

Every summer, the south Florida region is at risk of experiencing high-water conditions due to seasonal spikes in rainfall. Initiated nearly 10 years ago, the Dispersed Water Management Program aims to mitigate some of that risk by identifying, acquiring and using public and private lands to store excess surface water. The program encompasses a coalition of public agencies, environmental organizations, ranchers and researchers united in growing the region’s storage capacity. The program encourages private property owners to retain water on their land rather than drain it, accept and detain regional runoff for storage, or do some combination of both.

“This summer, the District’s improved flood control operations plus water storage on public and private lands made a significant difference in protecting South Florida’s fragile coastal estuaries,” said SFWMD Executive Director Blake Guillory. “Critical funding from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection will allow this important Dispersed Water Management Program to further expand storage capacity.”

The program has stored an average annual volume of 86,257 acre-feet of water, or approximately 43,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools, which is in addition to the regional storage and treatment capacity provided by stormwater treatment areas, reservoirs and other regional facilities. Of the 43 identified Dispersed Water Management project sites, 29 are operational with the remaining sites being planned or under construction by the South Florida Water Management District. At the close of the 2014 rainy season, 28 of the 29 sites were full. The total possible retention capacity for all 43 sites is 93,372 acre-feet or approximately 29 billion gallons of water.

“As we saw during the 2014 rainy season, additional water storage throughout south Florida is extremely beneficial during high-water conditions,” said Senator Joe Negron. “The more water storage options we have, the better we can respond to rainfall fluctuations throughout the season, protecting our estuaries in the process.”

“South Florida’s rivers and estuaries are treasures that deserve our attention and protection,” said Representative Ray Rodrigues. “While we can’t stop the rains from coming every season, we can minimize their impact through successful efforts like the Dispersed Water Management Program.”

For more information about the Dispersed Water Management Program, click here.

Everglades restoration project has had modest impact, report shows

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A $13.5 billion project to restore the Florida Everglades has had limited impact even as the embattled ecosystem faces threats from climate change and invasive species, a progress report said on Friday.

The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), started in 1999 to restore Florida’s “river of grass” over 30 to 40 years, has been hindered by intermittent federal funding, the biennial report on the project by the National Research Council said.

Since the council’s last update two years ago, CERP has had “modest restoration progress focused on the edges of the Everglades (and) considerable state effort to improve water quality,” the report said.

The Everglades, an ecosystem of marshes, lakes, wetlands and tree islands stretching 200 miles (320 km) from Orlando to Florida Bay, is about half its original size. Water now moves through a maze of levees, canals and pump stations.

Much of the water is diverted for industry and for millions of people in South Florida. The water that remains is heavily polluted.

The CERP has seen modest improvements at Picayune Strand in southwest Florida, coastal wetlands at Biscayne Bay and at the C-111 Spreader Canal in southern Miami-Dade County, the report said.

The CERP is not adequately considering the threat from climate change, with the Everglades facing rising sea levels caused by higher temperatures, it said.

Climate change is expected to increase demands for water from agriculture, straining supplies as population increases.

CERP lacks overall coordination to deal with non-native species, with a shortage of research on them and their impact.

Such invasive plant species as melaleuca and Australian pine are infesting hundreds of thousands of acres (hectares) and fuel brushfires that destroy native plants.

Burmese pythons have become the Everglades’ top carnivore, eating alligators and virtually wiping out vertebrates, the report said.

The CERP involves 68 component projects overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District. The goal is to reinstate the original water flow as much as possible, mainly by restoring undeveloped wetlands.

In a statement, the Corps of Engineers said: “We recognize that as much progress as we’ve made in our restoration efforts to date, there’s still more work to be done.” A spokesman for the South Florida water district had no immediate response.

The National Research Council is part of the National Academies, which advise the U.S. government on scientific and technical issues.

Ian Simpson|Reuters|June 27, 2014| Editing by Bill Trott

Water Quality Issues

40 Years of the Safe Drinking Water Act: The Small Systems Challenge

When I meet operators and managers of water systems from small cities and towns, I’m always impressed by the tremendous pride they take in their local water services.

Today, more than 94% of the country’s 156,000 drinking water systems are small, serving fewer than 3,300 people. But maintaining those systems can be a real challenge. Having such a small customer base can make it tough to pay for needed repairs, hire and retain qualified operators or plan for future needs. Also, a large number of small water systems are actually schools, campgrounds or restaurants, so water service is not their primary function.

In 1996, the Safe Drinking Water Act was amended to create new programs with small systems in mind. Now we partner with states to help these small systems reliably provide safe drinking water to their customers.

One of the ways the Safe Drinking Water Act helps small systems is through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund. Each year, we allocate funding to states, and then states use the money to finance drinking water infrastructure projects at low interest rates. States can also use some of these funds to provide training for operators and managers of small systems, help them with energy conservation and water efficiency, and implement source water protection programs.

We administer a national Training and Technical Assistance Grant for small drinking water systems. This year, we awarded over $12 million to technical assistance providers to help small systems with training and on-site technical assistance.

We also produce guides and tools for small drinking water systems. Projects include a software tool to track scheduled maintenance activities and develop a plan to manage their physical infrastructure (or assets); a series of fact sheets highlighting water and wastewater internships, community college programs and mentoring for new operators; and several fact sheets to help small systems with energy and water efficiency.

As we mark the 40th Anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act, we’re as committed as ever to helping small drinking water systems to deliver safe and reliable drinking water to their communities. Their operators and managers should be proud. Against some tough odds, they do a commendable job.

Mindy Eisenberg|Protection Branch Chief|2014 November 25

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Florida Chamber calls for smart, sustainable water solutions for state’s growing population

As more people flock to the Sunshine State, the Florida Chamber of Commerce is calling for business and policy leaders to find innovative ways for addressing long-term water needs.

Florida Chamber President and CEO Mark Wilson, speaking Friday morning at the Central Florida Partnership Regional Leadership Forum, stated 28 percent more water is required by 2030 to serve the state’s growing population. The goal of the forum, titled “Working Together to Advance a Regional Water Strategy,” was to secure Florida’s future by sustainable solutions to meet increasing needs for clean water.

“Water is Florida’s most precious resource,” Wilson told the crowd. “As Florida becomes the third most populous state in the nation, investing in Florida’s water infrastructure needs is necessary to keep pace with our growth and maintain our world-class environmental assets.”

Florida currently uses 7 billion gallons of water each day, according to Chamber estimates. The state’s population expects to grow by an additional 5 million people by 2030, requiring up to 9 billion gallons of water daily.

“Smart and sustainable solutions will help answer questions like where extra water will come from, how water rates will be affected and how we will minimize any negative impacts to our environment,” Wilson said. “These are the questions we must answer in order to secure Florida’s future.”

As part of its 2015 Florida Business Agenda, Chamber intends to work closely with Gov. Rick Scott, the Cabinet and Legislature for sustainable, high quality and affordable water solutions to support both environmental and economic development.

The Central Florida Regional Leadership Forum was hosted by the Central Florida Partnership and sponsored by the Orlando Regional REALTOR Association;  held in partnership with the South Florida, St. Johns River and Southwest Florida Water Management Districts.

Peter Schorsch|November 21, 2014

Clean drinking water should be a human right in Canada

Canada is among the world’s wealthiest nations, but our wealth is not equitably distributed. Many communities, particularly northern and Aboriginal, suffer from poor access to healthy and affordable food, clean water, proper housing and other necessary infrastructure. An ironic example of this disparity is at Shoal Lake, about two hours east of Winnipeg. There, two First Nations, Shoal Lake 39 and 40, are next to the City of Winnipeg’s main drinking-water supply, but Shoal Lake 40 has been on a boil-water advisory for decades.

Shoal Lake’s story is complicated. To begin, the Ontario-Manitoba border runs through the middle of the lake. Winnipeg has drawn its drinking water from the Manitoba side through a 153-kilometer aqueduct since 1914.

I visited Shoal Lake during the national Blue Dot Tour in support of environmental rights. Driving east along the Trans-Canada Highway toward Kenora, we crossed the aqueduct before arriving in Kejick, home of Shoal Lake 39. Chief Fawn Wapioke from Shoal Lake 39 and Chief Erwin Redsky from Shoal Lake 40 greeted us. We then participated in a traditional water ceremony organized by Shoal Lake 39 elders. Chief Wapioke explained that lake water taken for Winnipeg requires the community to maintain artificial water levels, which affects fishing and wild rice harvesting.

I also visited neighbouring Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, reached from the mainland by a short barge ride. Originally on a thin point jutting out from the lake’s west side, the community was cut off from its neighbours in 1914 by a dike and canal built to channel swampy water from the drinking-water intake pipe, converting the peninsula into an island.

The canal blocks access to the west, and Shoal Lake blocks access to the east. In summer, when the barge is running, there’s no problem leaving Shoal Lake 40 via Shoal Lake 39 and Highway 673. In winter, it’s possible to cross Shoal Lake by snowmobile or on foot, and a makeshift winter road has provided access to the west for the past few years. But twice a year, during freeze-up and spring thaw, it’s unsafe to cross the lake by road, barge or foot, isolating the community from the outside world, often for weeks at a time.

The situation is so serious people have died waiting for medical attention to arrive from Kenora, only an hour away on the Trans-Canada Highway. Stories abound about women miscarrying, houses burning down and other personal and public safety issues. “We were told that the City of Winnipeg’s removal of a secure land connection to First Nation No. 40 has directly led to the deaths of nine First Nation members,” says a letter from the International Joint Commission to the U.S. and Canadian governments. The commission also said First Nations weren’t adequately compensated.

Less than 20 years ago, commercial fishing made Shoal Lake 40 economically self-sufficient, but Ontario’s government ended that in the early 1980s over concerns about overfishing. Eighteen years ago, a boil-water advisory was issued and never lifted because the community of 250 was deemed too small to justify a water-treatment plant. Today, an open garbage dump and overflowing septic tanks mar the island.

The human body is about 60 per cent water. In a sense, this means the people of Winnipeg have a very real connection to the First Nations territories at Shoal Lake, source of the water they use for drinking, cooking, cleaning and bathing. But while Winnipeg residents enjoy clean water, the people of Shoal Lake 40 suffer from substandard water, which puts their health at risk every time they turn on the tap. This is more than just unfair, and more than just an environmental problem. It’s an abrogation of the basic right of all Canadians to have access to clean, safe drinking water.

Canada may be a wealthy, developed country, but the fact that such deplorable conditions persist in places like Shoal Lake, and in hundreds of other First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities across Canada, is a national shame and must be resolved immediately. It’s yet another reason why the right to a healthy environment needs to be recognized by all levels of government in Canada — and ultimately, in our Constitution.

By David Suzuki with contributions from Michael Dan, a neurosurgeon, philanthropist and First Nations advocate who accompanied David Suzuki to Shoal Lake.

Great Lakes & Inland Waters

Tea Party-Controlled Legislature Pushes ‘Industry-Driven’ Great Lakes Water Withdrawal Bill

The Ohio legislature, dominated by a Tea Party-controlled Republican supermajority, often seems to be creating more problems than it solves. And it could be creating a problem with international ramifications. In its lame duck session, the chamber passed HB 490 last week, a water quality bill which alters standards for withdrawing water from Lake Erie and its tributaries, and sent it to the state Senate, where it’s expected to pass.

The omnibus bill contains some good things, such as new restrictions on use of fertilizers on farmland, one of the causes of last summer’s algae bloom in Lake Erie that shut off the water supply to nearly 400,000 people in the Toledo area. But there’s a lot of dissent about its new rules for the withdrawal of Lake Erie water by industrial and other heavy users. And when there’s disagreement about the impact of something this legislature is doing, it’s wise to be wary especially when the fairly conservative Cleveland Plain Dealer calls it “a last-minute, larded-up mid-biennium agricultural bill” with “an industry-driven, water-withdrawal amendment that could condemn Lake Erie to death by a thousand straws.”

Among other things, the new language would consider only the impact of withdrawals on water level and not on wildlife or pollutant levels, potentially violating the 2008 Great Lakes Compact between the eight Great Lakes states and the international Great Lakes St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact with Ontario and Quebec. Joel Brammeier, president and CEO of the nonprofit environmental group Alliance for the Great Lakes, told the Plain Dealer that if Ohio starts picking and choosing which parts of the compact it wants to follow other states might do the same.

“The risk to the Great Lakes is that we go back and start rehashing more than a decade of work that started in 1998 because Ohio has chosen to renege (on) part of the compact,” he told the paper. “That’s not a good use of anybody’s time.”

The Ohio Environmental Council (OEC) says,”OEC strongly opposes the new amendment to the Great Lakes St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact. We believe the amendment violates the letter and spirit of the Great Lakes Compact and leaves Ohio vulnerable to litigation, poses risks to water quantity and the wildlife of Lake Erie, and will harm the public’s and sportsmen’s enjoyment of Lake Erie and wildlife.”

OEC pointed out that Governor John Kasich vetoed a similar provision in 2011, saying “Ohio’s legislation lacks clear standards for conservation and withdrawals and does not allow for sufficient evaluation and monitoring of withdrawals or usage.”

As the Akron Beacon Journal put it in an editorial, Don’t Break the Compact, the “misguided language has resurfaced.”

The paper expressed the hope that the governor will remove that language when the rushed bill lands on his desk, although it’s hard to guess what Kasich, reelected in a landslide to his second and final term and rumored to be harboring presidential aspirations, will do. State representative Teresa Fedor, a Democrat from Toledo, attempted to remove language in the House but that was voted down. Republican Lynn Wachtmann from nearly Napoleon, Ohio, who runs a bottled water company, pooh-poohed objections, telling the Toledo Blade, “Since we passed the original Great Lakes bill, I don’t believe there’s been a single permit issued by (the Department of Natural Resources) to withdraw additional water from any watershed that I’m aware of. So any reference that this bill or something else previous is any cause of algae bloom is nothing less that ridiculous. The water issue in Toledo has zero to do with this issue.”

Anastasia Pantsios|November 25, 2014

Offshore & Ocean

Coral And Iron, A Plan To Save The Sinking Maldives

KAAFU ATOLL — The Maldives are slowly sinking, as coral reefs off the coasts of the islands have been destroyed and washed ashore because of warming water temperatures, all of which means sand isn’t propagating as it should.

That’s why Thomas Le Berre is dragging an iron frame along the beach of Kuda Huraa. With cable, he has tied pieces of coral tightly to the iron construction, which looks like a miniature pyramid. “You can’t leave as much as a millimeter of space for them to move,” Le Berre says of the coral. “Otherwise water pressure injures them, and they won’t grow on the frame.”

Le Berre got the idea for a forced marriage between coral and iron caging in 2003. That’s when Armando Kraenzlin, who was charged with developing two new resorts for the Canadian hotel group Four Seasons, asked him for help. The beaches of the islands of Kuda Huraa and Landaa Giraavaru were eroding fast because there was no more coral to shore them up. It’s a result of the major coral die-out in 1998 following weather phenomenon El Niño, a warm ocean current, and the resulting coral bleaching.

Le Berre, a coastal engineer, affixes a good 40 of the two-centimeter-long coral branches to the pyramid, adding a white name plate with the donor’s name on it. The day before, on Landaa Giraavaru, Chris and Thomas from London had “Zibu” inscribed on the plate of another frame after donning gloves and affixing sharp coral fragments to it. They paid $150 (120 euros) for the small iron pyramid with corals. The large ones cost $500. For their sponsorship, they’ll get an e-mail from the reef twice a year, each containing four photographs of their coral colony seen from all sides. The hotel promises to keep this service up for at least five years, after which the cage is mostly totally overgrown and no longer visible beneath the coral.

The two guests don’t overrate the importance of their action, saying “we’re divers and wanted to give something back to nature for the wonderful experiences here. Of course it’s only a drop in the ocean, but it’s still a drop.”

By now Le Berre has finished covering the frames with different coral species: long-armed ones because those attract the most fish and grow flat, breaking the waves. They’re also blue coral because that’s what snorkelers and divers like best.

Until 1998 the eco-system here worked fine without human intervention. But then El Niño‘s warm ocean currents raised the water temperature in the Maldives to over 33 °C (91 °F), well above normal. The coral was able to withstand this exceptional situation for a month. But during that time, the algae that give them their color gradually disappeared. After that, the corals starved, broke and washed ashore. There was some coral bleaching in 2010 as well, but the coral survived because the water only warmed for a short time.

Armando Kraenzlin, the 53-year-old Swiss man who hired Le Berre, doesn’t fit the profile of the typical developer who wants to squeeze maximum gains from his destinations. His vocational training program for Maldives workers is renowned, and he was instrumental in getting the Baa Atoll area declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 2011. The proceeds from the reef build-up action go the to the Four Seasons’ Green Fund. The company has been using fund money for years to support environmental projects in the Maldives.

Le Berre has set up residence in Malé, the capital of the Maldives. His firm Seamarc develops strategies for the tropical islands to counter the consequences of coral bleaching and other natural phenomena. There are already two branches of his small company, one of them on the island of Fulhadhoo, where 25 Maldivian staffers build the frames for the Reefscapers program, as the coral propagation project is officially known. On the uninhabited island of Innafushi, Le Berre is experimenting with 65 different coral species that he places in varying water situations to find out which constellations could help the islands best.

Is what the hotel chain is doing greenwashing? Marine biologist Frederic Ducarme has conducted research on the islands, and has been involved with marine eco-tourism for years, most recently on the island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean and in Kenya. The Frenchman, who is in the process of earning his doctorate at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Lyon, has been weighing and measuring the iron frames to see how fast the coral is growing. The results point to the success of Reefscapers at both Four Seasons resorts. He says that 30,000 kilograms (66,000 pounds) of living coral has been planted, which “means 30 tons of sand down the road.” The coral branches on both the islands of Kuda Huraa and Landaa Giraavaru are growing at a rate of six to 30 centimeters per year.

That the concept caught on seems to surprise Ducarme. “They’re throwing iron into water, the worst thing you can do, but it’s helping,” he says. He’s not without further criticism of the project, saying that “for the environment here, what would certainly be best is if there was no tourism at all.” But he adds, “The fact is, though, that the Maldives are going to sink if there are no reefs — before the much-feared rise in sea level. The coral reefs protect the islands and produce a billion tons of sand. In this respect Reefscapers makes sense.”

Ducarme mentions American ecologist Michael Rosenzweig of the University of Arizona, whose book Win-Win Ecology presents the idea that humans and nature can live together without mutual destruction. Kraenzlin sees the irony in the charge that the project is nothing more than greenwashing on the part of the Four Seasons. “That would be an expensive coat of paint,” he says. “We currently employ 15 marine biologists full-time in a total of four projects.”

Meanwhile, some 3,600 coral-covered frames have been set up on the ocean floor near both islands, and new reefs are forming. Reefscapers is one of the largest reef projects in the world and Four Seasons has put up three times more coral frames than the other seven resorts in the Maldives that Le Berre convinced to participate in the project.

Next summer may well tell if the coral banks can withstand the next rise in water temperature. Warm currents have already formed off the coast of Chile in the Pacific, and by the time they reach the Maldives they could have taken on the dimensions of El Niño.

Le Berre is confident. “Since the 2010 bleaching, we’ve increased the number of various coral species in the interests of biodiversity.” He hopes that that will make the coral reefs more resistant in the future.

Erwin Pelkofer|2014-11-24

‘Acutely toxic’ mine waste threatens the death of Norway’s fjords

The acutely toxic tailings will be dumped in a spawning area for wild salmon, blue ling and the endangered coastal cod.

Two huge open pit mines in northern Norway are on the verge of approval, writes Tina Andersen Vågenes – even though they would dump hundreds of millions of tons of tailings in fjords where wild salmon spawn. Scientists are voicing serious concerns, and protests are growing, but government and mining companies appear determined to push the projects forward regardless.

In Scandinavia, the mining industry is looking for ways to expand business further north. Higher mineral prices have led to a surge in planned projects, many causing concern among environmentalists and locals.

Currently two large projects are under way in Norway, both using the controversial waste disposal method called submarine tailings disposal (STD).

The method is simple – mining tailings are finely ground, chemicals added, and the whole dumped under water. In most cases, this means at the bottom of a fjord or a lake.

STD is not commonly used in most countries. In fact, Norway is one of only five countries in the world that deploy it. The others are Turkey, Papua New-Guinea, Chile and Indonesia, nations with mostly poor environmental standards.

Many are now wondering why Norway is planning new projects using STD, when the country prides itself on its environmental standards and nature preservation.

The two projects currently under consideration are a rutile ore mine in the Førdefjorden in Sogn og Fjordane, and a copper ore mine in the Repparfjord in Finnmark. Both are on the verge of being granted government approval.

In Førdefjorden, on the west coast, Nordic Mining is planning to open a rutile ore mine from the Engebø Mountain, and dump the tailings in the fjord. The sheer scale of waste is staggering – over 250 million tons of waste will be deposited at the bottom of the fjord, right in the middle of a spawning area for several fish species in what is called ‘the cleanest fjord on the west coast’.

In Repparfjord, situated far north in Finnmark, Nussir ASA is planning a copper ore mine, where the tailings will be dumped, as in Førdefjorden, in a spawning area for wild salmon, blue ling and the endangered coastal cod, and a site where whales and porpoises gather.

The volume of the tailings is smaller than in Førdefjorden, but the tailings here will contain dangerous levels of heavy metals. Several marine researchers classify the waste as “acutely toxic” for organisms living in the fjord.

These plans have both met with massive resistance, from locals, environmentalists and marine researchers.

Several acclaimed research institutions, such as the Marine Research Institute, have been strongly critical. They have called the disposal plans in Førdefjorden, “the biggest planned pollution in Norway’s modern history”.

They point out how the tailings will traverse the fjord, spreading the impacts. These finely ground particles and chemicals will not only spread widely, but will also be taken up into the ecosystem, poisoning the fish.

Nordic Mining themselves claim that the tailings will stay in the designated area, despite strong underwater currents. They seem to forget that if you dump 250 million tons into a fjord, it will both suffocate all life on the bottom and wreck the eco system. Dumping toxic waste of that size will not happen without consequences.

The project in Repparfjord is particularly sensitive, given its location. In the late 1970s, a mining company ran an open pit mine, where the tailings were dumped in the fjord. Decades later, local anglers still report deformed fish and poor water quality.

But it looks as if the government is set to overlook the consequences, which were so clear just 20 years ago, and make the same mistake all over again.

The area around the fjord is also important for the indigenous people, the Sami, who have a protected order which entitles them to use the land for rearing reindeer.

The mining area is planned in the reindeer district, Fietter-22, provoking a strong reaction in the Sami parliament where they fear for the reindeers grazing area, and feel it as a direct attack on their traditional culture.

Opposition against both projects is growing stronger by the day, causing international consternation. STD is rarely used, with many countries considering a ban. Norway is the only country out of the five using it that is planning to open new disposal sites.

Being the worst offender in such a lousy club should be embarrassing enough for the government, but many fear they will approve the projects nevertheless. The debate has come down to a total stand-off – where the mining companies deny any research that proves them wrong.

The CEO of Nordic Mining was recently quoted in the Guardian as saying, “I’m not a marine biologist, but based on the studies we have done, the marine biologists are wrong.” Such arrogance is both comic and frightening.

The company also insisted in recent letter to the environment ministry that the environment agency’s conclusions regarding deterioration of the fjord’s ecosystems were “based on undocumented estimates and uncertain information”, and that only 6% of the total seafloor area would be buried in tailings.

But the final question is whether Norway is willing to risk fisheries and a clean environment in the pursuit of extracted mineral resources. For most people it is clear that dumping a hundred million tons of toxic waste in a fjord is a bad idea.

A decision is scheduled sometime during the spring, and the hope is that the government will listen to what we already know to be the case: dumping toxic waste in fjords will only create new problems, and is not a sustainable solution for the future.

Tina Andersen Vågenes|28th November 2014

Indian River Lagoon seagrass showing signs of recovery

Despite entering its dormant season, seagrass is showing signs of recovery in the Indian River Lagoon.

The bottom plant that provides a key barometer of the lagoon’s overall health is stable in the south-central Indian River Lagoon, data released this month shows.

St. Johns River Water Management District surveys near Wabasso and Vero Beach found that seagrass coverage has remained stable since October.

The news comes on the heels of district reports last month that lagoon seagrass had increased by 4,700 acres, or 12 percent, between 2011 and 2013.

Seagrass is the lagoon’s prime nursery for fish and other marine life that helps drive $3.7 billion in annual economic activity.

Despite recent improvements, seagrass remains well below what it was just two years before a 2011 algae “superbloom.” That event and subsequent algae blooms killed some 47,000 acres of lagoon seagrass, about 60 percent of the lagoon’s total coverage.

Hundreds of manatees, pelicans and dolphins died in the fallout from the seagrass loss.

In October and early November, fish deaths were reported in the Merritt Island-Sykes Creek area of the lagoon. No algae blooms have been identified, district officials said.

But in late October, state wildlife officials found a bloom of a type of algae that can trigger fish kills and turn some pufferfish and other marine life toxic to humans. When stirred at night, the algae causes the water to glow brightly, a phenomenon called bioluminescence.

Seagrass the district transplanted last year throughout the lagoon has shown mixed results, with natural seagrass growth outpacing the transplants. The district plans to spend about $85,000 on the three-year transplant project.

The Sebastian Inlet District — which pioneered seagrass transplant methods in the lagoon — chipped in about another $25,000 for similar efforts near the inlet, with positive results so far.

“We have had great success on the shoals with the acreage of seagrasses going from nine acres in 2012 to currently having 84 acres on the shoals,” said Don Deis, a senior scientist with Atkins North America, a consultant to the inlet district.

Recent data from the St. Johns district shows seagrass coverage in Volusia, Brevard and Indian River counties is still almost 40 percent less than what it was before the 2011 superbloom.

Seagrass grew from just over 38,300 acres in that region in 2011 to more than 43,000 acres last year.

But the increase may only reflect normal year-to-year variations, district officials said.

Just two years before the 2011 superbloom, lagoon seagrass thrived at levels not seen since the 1940s. Restoration efforts finally seemed to be paying off, with some help from drought, which meant less polluting runoff into the waterway.

But drought, coupled with record cold winter temperatures, also was among the major driving factors that fueled the superbloom and subsequent brown algae blooms, according to scientists at the University of Florida and the district.

Extreme cold in December 2010 and January 2011 killed tiny marine organisms that graze on algae, allowing the superbloom to thrive, the researchers concluded in a recent research paper published in the journal Estuaries and Coasts. Drought also drove lagoon salt levels into the ideal range for the algae species that bloomed in recent years, the researchers concluded.

Officials expect seagrass to rebound more quickly near inlets. But grass beds near cities could take much longer.

“It is showing good signs that it has the ability to recover,” said Martin Smithson, director of Sebastian Inlet District.

“In the urban areas, it will probably take six to 10 years.”

Jim Waymer|FLORIDA TODAY|November 26, 2014

Queensland Government jeopardizes future of Barrier Reef

Australia’s Queensland state government is jeopardizing The Great Barrier Reef with its decision to push ahead with damaging legislation  WWF-Australia warns.

This new legislation includes the removal of the need for the ecological sustainable allocation of water across all Reef catchments from the Water Reform and Other Legislation Amendment Bill. This removed the need for the ecological sustainable allocation of water across all Reef catchments.
“Why remove such a safeguard?” said WWF-Australia CEO Dermot O’Gorman.  “Ecological sustainability means ensuring environmental, social and economic goals are met and is part of good governance.”

“Put together with the opportunity for large-scale land clearing which the government also legalized last year, we run the risk of a huge spike in farm chemical pollution washing into reef waters – a result the Government does not dispute as one of the major causes of coral loss.” 
The Queensland Government also introduced its Ports Bill which prioritizes development in four key port areas beside the Reef.

“Major new port developments in the environmentally sensitive Keppel Bay and Fitzroy Delta in Central Queensland, a home for Australia’s rare snubfin dolphin, can still proceed under this strategy.

“The Queensland Government has missed a huge opportunity to protect this wonderful region – an area that the World Heritage Committee has repeatedly said should be fully protected from further development.

“Despite everything the Queensland Government had promised to UNESCO about Reef protection, these decisions are sending the Reef on a dangerous road towards further decline and an “In Danger” listing.” 

Wildlife and Habitat

Watch Incredible Migration of Thousands of Giant Spider Crabs

Watch this new video released by Museum Victoria with senior curator of marine invertebrates Julian Finn using a fish-eye lens to show the astounding migration of thousands of giant spider crabs.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of giant spider crabs congregate in Port Phillip Bay, Australia to migrate to shallower waters to molt. They march in such large numbers to better protect themselves from hungry predators like seals and rays.

Check out this super cool video providing a glimpse into Australia’s magical ocean world:

Stefanie Spear|EcoWatch|November 29, 2014

Forestry

Oil and gas exploration plans puts unique Kenyan forest at risk

Plans by oil company CAMAC and its sub-contractor BGP to look for oil and gas reserves in one of Kenya’s most bio-diverse rich forests has been greeted with outrage by conservationists.

Kenya’s East African Coastal forest, the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest, is considered the second most important forest on the African mainland for bird species in terms of diversity and uniqueness, and is globally recognised as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area, Endemic Bird Area and Global Biodiversity Hotspot.
It is home to four globally endangered mammals, six globally threatened birds and the world-famous Kipepeo Butterfly Project. The forest has been placed on Kenya’s candidate list for UNESCO World Heritage status because of its exceptional features.
“The seismic surveys will do outright damage to the forest,” said Dr Paul Matiku, Chief Executive of Nature Kenya (BirdLife Partner). “The transect lines cut through the forest.”
“The dynamiting as proposed by the oil company will affect everything from the bees to the elephants. Elephants are known to run away from seismic testing, and in Arabuko-Sokoke they can’t run far, as the forest is fenced.

“In addition, opening up the forest will make it more accessible to poachers and tree-loggers as it has in the Selous when transects where cleared in Tanzania’s largest national park three decades ago.”

Chinese logging company takes over Guyana’s forests

Foreign companies investing in Guyana’s substantial forests are supposed to adhere to national laws and international agreements. But civil society leaders and activists inside and outside the South American country are crying foul, saying foreign corporations and government officials are paying lip service to the accords while quietly building a timber-harvesting empire in the country with few benefits for the average Guyanese.

In 2009 Guyana and Norway signed a landmark pact promising Guyana $250 million over a five-year period to preserve the country’s intact tropical forests and the 1.6 million tons of carbon contained within, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Globally, this was seen as a major stepping stone for REDD, which stands for “reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation,” and it helped Guyana’s leaders flesh out a bold Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS).

“The LCDS really is one of a kind, and it really has been established to set a global model for the world to follow,” said David Singh, vice president of Conservation International Guyana. “It was path finding, and it was meant to contribute significantly to the whole global debate in respect to how can developing countries with intact ecosystems, with intact forests, participate more effectively in the global fight against climate change, while at the same time, ensuring that it develops sustainably.”

He said the move toward carbon-limited development is reflective of Guyanese attitudes: “People do feel quite strongly about environmental protection.”

In size, Guyana is roughly comparable to Ghana, but at 735,000 inhabitants has less than three percent of that country’s population. What Guyana does have a lot of is forest. Trees covered 91 percent of the country in 2000, according to data from Global Forest Watch.

Half of its citizens live abroad, where they’ve sought better opportunities in employment and education outside the small country. That trend has meant little population growth for decades, leaving much of the country undeveloped, including a swath of forest in southern Guyana that is largely contiguous with the Brazilian Amazon. Further protecting the forest is its dearth of marketable tree species – until now.

Rising incomes in India and China have precipitated a spike in the price of rosewood, a type of timber prized for its beauty that is used to make expensive furniture in Asia. As rosewood supplies in Malaysia and Indonesia have become depleted, suppliers have looked elsewhere – increasingly, the tropical forests of Africa and South America, said Janette Bulkan, a Guyanese-born professor in the forestry department at the University of British Columbia.

The Chinese company Bai Shan Lin now controls about 1.4 million hectares in Guyana, said Bulkan’s collaborator, John Palmer, a senior associate at the Forest Management Trust based in Gainesville, Florida, who has worked in forestry for more than 50 years. (Guyana’s Commissioner of Forests disputed that figure, saying in a letter to a Guyanese newspaper that the figure is closer to 627,000 hectares.) Palmer and Bulkan said that Bai Shan Lin doesn’t seem to be concerned with following Guyanese laws, nor do Guyanese officials appear eager to enforce them.

“If you implemented these policies, if you implemented the mining law, the state land law, the [Guyanese] Environmental Protection Act, the country would be in enormously better shape,” Palmer said. In reality, however, he said, “It doesn’t happen.” Rather, he suggests that companies like Bai Shan Lin likely pay bribes to key members of the country’s government to turn a blind eye to violations.

For example, Palmer said that Bai Shan Lin has “dubiously” acquired permits or rights to harvest timber in Guyana on more than a million hectares of forest. In some cases, it appears as though Bai Shan Lin has harvested timber by leasing land from other parties through what the forestry commission calls “ venture agreements” – incongruous with Guyana’s anti-“land lording” law. And native title stemming from their centuries-long relationship with the customary lands of native Amerindians should protect where they farm, hunt and fish. When it comes to logging those areas, the law “should prevent issuance of permits without consultation,” said Palmer, “but consultation does not happen.”

In defense of Bai Shan Lin’s activity in Guyana, the Guyana Forestry Commission published statements and placed editorials in the Guyanese press arguing that the company provides people who live in the forest with the tools to harvest the timber themselves and then sell it to Bai Shan Lin, thereby providing a source of income for forest communities.

For some in Guyana, just the ministry’s defense of a foreign-owned company has been disconcerting. The Transparency Institute of Guyana Inc (TIGI) published a statement, saying that it “finds it particularly troubling that both the Ministry of National Resources and the Guyana Forestry Commission have chosen to defend the operations of these companies with information that appears incomplete and misleading rather than to seek to protect the patrimony of the country.” TIGI has called for more transparency with the issuance of forest concessions in Guyana.

And the benefits to forest communities as a result of a market for timber, especially Guyanese rosewood known as wamara, are marginal at best, Palmer said. “They make very little money,” he said, adding that sellers are paid “just about break-even price.” He said suppliers like Bai Shan Lin stand to make substantially more by getting the unprocessed logs to mills in Asia. In fact, many are concerned that Bai Shan Lin is exporting the whole, round logs directly to China, instead of following through on a promise to build a job-creating processing mill in Guyana.

The Kwakwani Natural Resources Organization, an NGO that works in the region where Bai Shan Lin is operating in Guyana, published a statement that struck a hopeful tone about the economic benefits that foreign investment could bring. But they also acknowledged in the same statement that, “Like most other foreign investors, very little (if anything) is given back to the community from which all their wealth is derived.”

Bai Shan Lin rebutted attacks that the company was hiring only Chinese labor to harvest the timber in a press release, showing that the majority of its workers in Guyana are Guyanese. Anecdotal reports indicate the opposite. Most of the workers seen along a 130-kilometer, Bai Shan Lin-constructed road – itself a point of contention as sources say the company did not carry out a proper environmental and social impact survey – were Chinese. Mongabay.com made repeated requests to speak with a representative of Bai Shan Lin that were not answered.

The road also threatens to open up large areas of intact forest in Guyana to destructive activities in areas that, by most accounts, are bastions of biodiversity and unspoiled wilderness. Hunting is a big concern, and easier access may tempt miners to alter forest and river ecosystems.

Already, deforestation along river ways has been linked to gold and bauxite mining in northern Guyana. Permits for mining are readily available from the government, seen as a route to rapid economic development, Palmer and Bulkan confirmed.

Guyana has seen a steady increase in the amount of forest loss between 2001 and 2012, according to data from Global Forest Watch. Sources said that deforestation often follows the global price for gold: as gold prices rise, mining becomes more profitable and miners cut down more trees to get at a share of Guyana’s cache of alluvial gold tucked in the loose soils around waterways. FORMA alerts, which show areas of likely forest loss in near-real time, have also tracked upward.

Global gold price annual averages compared to deforestation in Guyana.

Sources told mongabay.com that recent spikes in deforestation in the country have followed rises in the price of gold, as more miners cut down trees in search of gold.

Bulkan argues that the deal with Norway in 2009 actually enables transgressions of foreign companies in Guyana, because, in search of expediency, Norway’s Ministry of the Environment has found it easier to deal with a few key figures in Guyana rather than the representative group of citizenry.
“The parliament of Guyana, however flawed, represents the key constituency groups in the country, and to have this parliament marginalized by Norway is simply really bad,” Bulkan said. “If you can’t do good, you should at least do no harm.”

John C. Cannon|mongabay.com correspondent|November 26, 2014

Global Warming and Climate Change

Corps of Engineers releases Climate Change Adaptation, Strategic Sustainability plans

WASHINGTON (Oct. 31, 2014) — The United States Army Corps of Engineers today released its Climate Change Adaptation Plan and annual Strategic Sustainability Plan in response to Executive Orders 13514 and 13653.

“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been factoring climate change and its impacts in to all its missions and operations for decades,” said Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for civil works and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers senior sustainability officer. “The Corps of Engineers is working with the Obama Administration to identify and address the existing and future risks and vulnerabilities of climate change and ensure that communities and ecosystems are protected and flourish.”

“We are making sustainability a part of all the decisions we make in designing, constructing, and managing water infrastructure,” she explained. “In the coming years we will reduce greenhouse gas emission, reduce non-tactical vehicle petroleum consumption, and increase renewable electricity consumption.”

The sustainability plan provides an overview of how the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is saving taxpayer dollars, reducing carbon emissions, cutting waste and saving energy. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is concentrating on several focus areas, to include implementing energy and water conservation measures; implementing a non-tactical vehicle fleet management plan; implementing not less than $10 million in energy performance contracts in support of the President’s Performance Contracting Challenge; and influencing visitors’ behavior at U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recreation facilities to reduce energy and water consumption.

The GreenGov Presidential Awards ceremony is taking place at the White House today to honor exceptional Federal personnel, teams, projects and facilities, and programs that exemplify President Obama’s charge to lead by example in sustainability. Former Corps of Engineers employee, William D. Goran, who served as the director of the Center for the Advancement of Sustainability Innovations for the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, is being recognized as the Climate Champion.

The Climate Change Adaptation Plan assesses key vulnerabilities to the impacts of climate change — such as severe weather, sea level rise, or flooding — and outlines how the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to address those impacts to protect its missions. It describes activities that evaluate the most significant climate change related risks to agency operations and missions both in the short and long term. It outlines actions the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is taking to manage these risks and vulnerabilities.

“The release of these two plans demonstrates the focus the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is placing on sustainability and on mainstreaming climate change adaptation for our constructed and natural water-resources infrastructure,” said Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick, chief of engineers and commanding general, U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. “Addressing sustainability and climate change are critical for us as an organization and the important work we do for the nation now and into the future.”

Members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are engaging in external collaboration, improving their understanding of climate change impacts and vulnerabilities, and developing new policy and guidance to support adaptation implementation based on the best available and actionable science.

Dave Foster|October 31, 2014

Extreme Weather

Is Extreme Weather a Sign of the Apocalypse?

While 62 percent of Americans say that they believe climate change is a factor driving recent natural disasters and extreme weather—probably a higher percentage than in Congress—49 percent also believe they are caused by “Biblical end times,” with an especially high number of white evangelicals holding that belief. That’s according to a new survey released by the Public Religion Research Institute, which queried people on the intersection of their religious faith and their beliefs about climate change. And it found dramatic differences between people expressing different faith beliefs.

Overall, it found that while a majority of respondents were sympathetic to the cause of fighting climate change, it wasn’t at the top of their minds. Only 5 percent said it was “the most important issue” facing the U.S., well behind issues like lack of jobs (22 percent), income inequality (18 percent) and health care (17 percent). And it seemed as if most people treated it as an “out of sight, out of mind” issue, looking only at the direct impact on their own lives. More people identified the symptoms of climate change such as air and water pollution, water shortages, drought and diminishing wilderness areas as the most pressing environmental problem, rather than climate change itself. And far more people believed it would have a greater impact in poorer, far-away countries than in the U.S or on themselves.

The survey sorted its respondents into three groups: “believers,” “sympathizers” and “skeptics”—46 percent, 25 percent and 26 percent respectively, with a handful failing to provide information. The believers think that climate change is happening and is human-drive; sympathizers believe it is happening as a result of natural forces and skeptics don’t think it is happening at all.

The self-centeredness continued when skeptics were asked why they thought climate change wasn’t happening. “Answers varied considerably, but the most frequently cited reason (33 percent of all open-ended answers) was that they have not noticed a change in the weather around them,” the study said.

Responses among religious groups vary, bookended by Hispanic Catholics and white Catholics at the far ends of the scale. With minorities, both black and Hispanic, registering a far higher concern about climate change than white respondents, Hispanic Catholics had by far the highest level of concern, with 43 percent saying they are “very concerned” and another 30 percent saying they are “somewhat concerned.” Among the religiously unaffiliated, black Protestants, non-Christian religious and Jews, those vert concerned and somewhat concerned combine top 50 percent. But among white mainline Protestants, it drops to 43 percent, and only 35 percent of white evangelical Protestants expressing any level of concern. Forty-one percent of white Catholics express some concern, although the number saying they are “very concerned” is the lowest of all groups, at 17 percent.

While 54 percent of Americans feel that science and religion are often in conflict, 59 percent say it doesn’t conflict with their own religious beliefs. Nearly 6-in-10 (59 percent) Americans say that science does not conflict with their religious beliefs, and 38 percent say that it does. And that raises the question of which do you adjust: your religious belief or your trust in science? More people are saying that science needs to be tossed out before their religious beliefs. That 49 percent who believe that recent climate change-driven natural disasters are the result of the approaching Biblical “end times” has risen from 44 percent in 2011 to the current 49 percent.

Most likely to hold that opinion? No surprise—it’s white evangelical protestants who say that Biblical “end times” rather than climate change is driving the severity of recent natural disasters severity of recent natural disasters to the biblical “end times” 77 percent to 49 percent (The overlap is presumably those who think both are responsible).

ClimateChangeConcernHispanic Catholics and white Catholic differ wildly in their concern about climate change. Image credit: Public Religion Research Institute

There’s some sort-of good news though:

“Americans generally reject the idea that God intended humans to use the earth strictly for their own benefit. Nearly 6 in 10 (57 percent) Americans say God gave humans the task of living responsibly with animals, plants and other resources, which are not just for human benefit. By contrast, about one-third (35 percent) of Americans believe that God gave human beings the right to use animals, plants and all other resources of the planet solely for their own benefit.”

Anastasia Pantsios|November 24, 2014

Hurricane intensity era coming to an end?

We examine whether the current era of hurricane intensity is drawing to a close.

Such eras generally last between one and three decades, and we’re in year 19. They tend to produce an abnormal number of hurricanes and major hurricanes each season, increasing the odds of a U.S. landfall.

Yet last year only two Category 1 hurricanes emerged, and this year has been relatively slow with four hurricanes so far, and only one of those had sustained winds greater than 110 mph. The average season sees six hurricanes, three major.

Gerry Bell, lead hurricane forecaster for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said an era is over only when there is “some convincing evidence that conditions have reversed.”

While he cautions it’s too early to say that’s happened, he said there are some hints the Atlantic basin might be calming down.

Two primary atmospheric conditions that fuel periods of intensity — abnormally warm waters in the tropical Atlantic and a strong west African monsoon — have eased this year. As a result, several tropical waves that have rolled off the coast of Africa have fizzled out, starved of heat and moisture energy, Bell said.

However, he noted it’s not unusual to have calm years during periods of intensity. “It’s not clear if those changes are part of a long time-scale change or just happened in one year,” he said.

The atmospheric patterns that cause warm water to flow into the tropical Atlantic — and leave the northern stretches of that ocean cold — would have to be reversed, Bell said.

That would cool down the tropics and create strong wind shear over the entire basin, disrupting storm formation for decades. “There will be a whole set of oceanic conditions that indicate the pattern has changed,” he said.

Bell added such a reversal can happen in a matter of one or two years.

Sometimes lasting up to four decades, intensity eras are characterized by abnormally warm waters in the tropical Atlantic and other conditions that nourish storm development, all caused by a natural cycle.

Experts determine an intensity era has started when sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic remain consistently above normal and vertical wind shear remains consistently weak, producing an abnormal number of powerful systems per year.

That doesn’t mean that strong hurricanes can’t form outside of an intensity era; Category 5 Hurricane Andrew struck South Florida in 1992, during an otherwise calm period.

The current era started in 1995 and has since produced 149 hurricanes, including 66 major ones, through this season. By comparison, the previous 20-year period, from 1975 to 1994, spawned 102 hurricanes, including 32 major hurricanes.

Among the most active seasons: in 1995 there were 11 hurricanes, five major; in 2004, there were nine hurricanes, six major; and in 2005, the most active season on record, there were 15 hurricanes, seven major.

The last season where the intensity era roared was in 2010, with 12 hurricanes, five major.

El Niño, the large-scale atmospheric pattern that suppresses storm formation, played a big role. For instance, it tempered both the 1997 and 2009 seasons, both of which saw only three hurricanes.

Although El Niño was expected to keep this year in check, so far it has been a no-show. Yet this season still has been relatively quiet because of an abundance of dry, sinking air and Saharan dust, Bell said.

The same held true last year.

Another possible indicator is the decline over the past few years in the number of major hurricanes.

In 2011, there were three such systems — an average number. In 2012, there was only one major system and none in 2013. So far this year, only one major hurricane has formed, Edouard, and it held that status for six hours on Sept. 16.

However, Bell said if the calm of the past two years is a fluke, the number of major hurricanes could swell in upcoming seasons.

Phil Klotzbach, the Colorado State University climatologist who develops seasonal predictions, said it would take three quiet seasons to convince him the intensity era is starting to subside. That means next year would have to be calm, too.

“When I look at the historical record, at least since 1950, there have not been three quiet years in a row during an active era,” he said.

Jim Lushine, a retired forecaster who used to work at the National Hurricane Center, said he wouldn’t be surprised if the era is drawing to a close.

If no more hurricanes form this year, the combined 2013-2014 seasons will have the fewest number of hurricanes — six — of any two-year period since the intensity era started in 1995, he said.

“The previous low number was 11 hurricanes in 2008-2009,” Lushine said.

On average, eight named storms emerge by Sept. 24. This year, only five named storms had formed. “The most recent year in which we had only five storms by this date was 1994, the year before the current upswing in hurricanes,” Lushine said.

Two of the four hurricanes, Bertha and Cristobal, were Category 1 systems that curved out to sea. Edouard also remained over the open ocean. Hurricane Arthur struck North Carolina in early July as a Category 2 system but caused no serious damage.

Not by a long shot. Powerful storms still could form in the Atlantic through early October and after that, systems could easily emerge in the Gulf of Mexico or Caribbean. Officially, the season ends on Nov. 30.

Lushine noted: “Although we can feel good about the quiet hurricane season so far, it’s not a good idea to become too smug about the rest of the season.”

Ken Kaye|Sun Sentinel|September 27, 2014

Genetically Modified Organisms

Why Maui can defeat Monsanto

To recap: on Election Day, the voters of Maui passed a ballot measure that blocked Monsanto and Dow from developing and using new GMOs.

In the wake of this historic victory to ban GMOs, Monsanto sued Maui.

The forces now aligned against the citizens of Maui include: Monsanto and Dow, the US federal government, and even the Maui County government, which has caved in, opposes the will of its own voters, and is colluding with Monsanto to strike down the ballot measure—after it won.

However, there are smoking legal guns in this case, and they provide an opening for the citizens of Maui.

1. An opening big enough to drive a fleet of trucks through—if their legal team makes the right moves.

2. And if—this is a big if—massive international pressure is brought on behalf of the people of Maui and against the people’s opponents.

Who would bring that pressure?

I’m talking about anti-GMO groups all over the planet, as well as indigenous peoples everywhere who share common urgencies to survive.

Here is the first legal opening:

On November 23, 1993, the US Congress passed a Joint Resolution on Hawaii, and President Bill Clinton signed it the same day. It became US federal law 103-150. It’s known as the Apology Resolution.

It concerns the overthrow of the land of Hawaii by the US government:

“[The United States]…apologizes to Native Hawaiians on behalf of the people of the United States for the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii on January 17, 1893 with the participation of agents and citizens of the United States, and the deprivation of the rights of Native Hawaiians to self-determination;

“…[and] expresses its commitment to acknowledge the ramifications of the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii, in order to provide a proper foundation for reconciliation between the United States and the Native Hawaiian people…”

Below are key sections of the Resolution. Three years before the introduction of GMO crops in America and the overwhelming spraying of the toxic Monsanto herbicide Roundup, it is as if these sections were written to stop Monsanto and Dow:

“…the health and well-being of the Native Hawaiian people is intrinsically tied to their deep feelings and attachment to the land…

“…the long-range economic and social changes in Hawaii over the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries have been devastating to the population and to the health and well-being of the Hawaiian people…

“…the Native Hawaiian people are determined to preserve, develop and transmit to future generations their ancestral territory, and their cultural identity in accordance with their own spiritual and traditional beliefs, customs, practices, language, and social institutions…”

—Deep attachment to the land. Health and well-being of the people. Transmitting the deep belief in the health of the land and the people to future generations. What more do you need?

The Maui ballot measure is most definitely in line with the 1993 Resolution which, as I stated, is also federal law.

The huge GMO/pesticide incursion of Dow and Monsanto on Maui is a direct violation of the US Federal Resolution and Law of 1993.

The next smoking gun is the Hawaii State Constitution.

Article 11, Section 9, “Conservation, Control and Development of Resources”:

“Each person has the right to a clean and healthful environment, as defined by laws relating to environmental quality, including control of pollution and conservation, protection and enhancement of natural resources. Any person may enforce this right against any party, public or private, through appropriate legal proceedings, subject to reasonable limitations and regulation as provided by law.”

Subsequent regulation and law, however, cannot sabotage the basic enumerated right to a “clean and healthful environment.”

Monsanto and Dow can’t legally run facilities on Maui and carry out more than a thousand experiments with GMO seeds and pesticides and avoid independent scientific review.

Finally, there is the US Constitution itself. The smoking gun here can be found in its opening assertion:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Federal law, state law, federal regulations, state regulations—they are all accountable to the Constitution, and the Constitution itself is accountable to its own opening statement, above.

What do “general welfare,” “blessings of liberty,” and “posterity” mean, if the state of Hawaii and the US government can legitimize poison (Roundup) and inserted experimental Monsanto genes, whose negative health impacts on the people of Maui are Monsanto “trade secrets?”

Monsanto’s mindless justification? State and federal laws trump county ballot initiatives.

No they don’t. They don’t trump regulations based on fraudulent science. They don’t trump the US Constitution, either.

The so-called Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution (Article 6, Clause 2) assumes a superior “trumping” law or regulation is, in fact, in line with the Constitution—but a law/regulation permitting the use of toxic GMO technology and Roundup, passed in Congress on the basis of fake and deceptive science, thereby undermining liberty, posterity, and the general welfare, is not in line with the Constitution. It’s a fraud and a crime.

The people of Maui are demanding a fair, honest, independent, and comprehensive investigation of the practices of Monsanto and Dow on their land.

That was explicitly stated in their ballot measure that won on Election Day. A stop to all new GMO operations until the investigation is done.

Monsanto and Dow desperately want to avoid such an investigation, because they know what it will bring: exposure of massive crimes. Their lawsuit is about avoidance and nothing else.

Right now, Maui is the center of the GMO universe, and it has spoken against GMOs.

That voice and that vote is the spark. It must not go out.

The whole world needs to know what is happening on Maui. Now.

Massive pressure needs to be exerted to prevent an illegal, unconstitutional, and blatantly evil Monsanto court victory.

Finally, I am making this an open communication to the men who have been bankrolling the GMO-labeling initiatives in the US:

Fund something quite different—bring to Maui the native people from the jungles of Brazil and the Indian reservations of America and the small farms of India and Africa, where Monsanto and other mega-corporations have been destroying and poisoning the land.

Bring these indigenous peoples together on Maui. Let them stand together and expose the combined truth.

Attract the international press, as the Maui court proceedings move forward, under a withering glare of attention.

Make this a story the world has been waiting for.

Jon Rappoport|NoMoreFakeNews.com|November 23, 2014

GM Crops: Science Is About Questions, not “Consensus”

Brussels – Food & Water Europe’s damning critique of the so-called scientific “consensus” surrounding GM food and crops, published today, exposes the biotech industry’s role in massaging facts to support its products. The report is published while the EU Parliament and Council are locked in negotiations trying to overcome deep disagreement on so-called “opt-outs” (national or regional bans) for GM crops.

Food & Water Europe Executive Director Wenonah Hauter said, “The fact that such a vigorous debate continues over the so-called ‘consensus’ on GMO safety is evidence enough that no consensus exists. Rather than chasing ‘consensus’, the real conversation that scientists and the public should be having — in academic journals, in the media and in Parliaments — is whether or not GMOs are safe.”

The So-Called Scientific “Consensus”: Why the debate on GMOs is not over (available at the link below), shows how pro-GM vested interests cherry pick information and manipulate quotes from scientific bodies like the World Health Organisation and the Royal Society of London to promote their alleged consensus. The briefing also points out that neither scientific institutions, the scientific literature nor independent scientists support the “consensus” claim.

Food & Water Europe’s EU Food Policy Advisor Eve Mitchell said, “GMO boosters are working so hard to distract the public from the real questions hanging over GM food and crops – that’s par for the course. The biotech industry has long used its financial might and political power to distort the public discourse — and even the science — surrounding GMOs.

“We want to ensure the public has access to all the facts so we can make the best decisions. For starters there are zero peer-reviewed studies of the epidemiology of GMO consumption, so any claims GMOs are safe to eat in the long-term are based in hope, not science. People need to know that.”

The organisation also points to the hundreds of scientists who called the “consensus” bogus, citing:

  • Limited animal feeding trials have been conducted on GMOs; several show or suggest toxic effects.
  • The biotechnology industry is  responsible for most of the available feeding trials showing that genetically engineered crops are safe and nutritious; an equal number of research groups working on feeding trials have expressed “serious concerns” over safety.
  • There is evidence of environmental safety issues, including adverse, unintended impacts on non-target organisms and the promotion of resistant weeds.
  • There is evidence of possible adverse human and animal health effects from exposure to Roundup, the herbicide used on the majority of GMO crops.
  • Several international agreements acknowledge safety issues with GMOs.

Mitchell added, “There are many grave risks here, but there is no liability regime to hold the biotech industry responsible if anything goes wrong with their GMOs. At the very least we need to heed what the evidence is telling us and take more care. Given what we know already, there has never been a better case for saying ‘better safe than sorry’.”

Eve Mitchell|EU Food Policy Advisor|Food & Water Europe

Energy

‘Monster’ Fracking Wells Guzzle Water in Drought-Stricken Regions

The fracking industry likes to minimize the sector’s bottomless thirst for often-scarce water resources, saying it takes about 2-4 million gallons of water to frack the average well, an amount the American Petroleum Institute describes as “the equivalent of three to six Olympic swimming pools.” That’s close to the figure cited by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as well.

It takes a lot of water to drill a fracking well, and 261 “monster” wells sucked up 3.3 billion gallons, competing with agriculture and drinking water needs. Photo credit: Shutterstock

But a new report released by Environmental Working Group (EWG) located 261 “monster” wells that consumed between 10 and 25 million gallons of water to drill each well. Among the conclusions EWG teased out of data reported by the industry itself and posted at fracfocus.org is that between April 2010 and December 2013, these 261 wells consumed 3.3 billions of water between them, a average of 12.7 million gallons each. And 14 of the wells topped 20 million gallons each.

“It’s far more relevant to compare those figures to basic human needs for water, rather than to swimming pools or golf courses,” said EWG’s report. “The 3.3 billion gallons consumed by the monster wells was almost twice as much water as is needed each year by the people of Atascosa County, Texas, in the heart of the Eagle Ford shale formation, one of the most intensively drilled gas and oil fields in the country.”

And proving that everything really is bigger in Texas, that’s where most of these monster wells were located, hosting 149 of them. Between them they consumed 1.8 billion gallons of water. The largest was located in Harrison County on the east Texas border, where in March 2013, Sabine Oil & Gas LLC drilled a well using more than 24.8 million gallons of water. Irion County in west central Texas had the most monster wells with 19 averaging water use of 12.9 each. And Texas also had what EWG described as the “dubious distinction” of using more fresh water in fracking, consuming 21 million gallons in 2011 alone.

Pennsylvania had the second largest number of these monster wells with 39 located in that fracking-boom state atop the Marcellus shale formation. It was followed by Colorado (30, including 8 of the 15 biggest water consumers), Oklahoma (24), North Dakota (11), Louisiana and Mississippi (3 each) and Michigan (2).

EWG also found that 2/3rds of the monster wells were in areas suffering from extreme drought, including 137 of the ones in Texas.

“Like almost all of the Lone Star State, Atascosa County, south of San Antonio, is in a severe and prolonged drought,” said EWG. “Last year, the state water agency cited oil and gas exploration and production as a factor in the dramatic drop of groundwater levels in the aquifer underlying the Eagle Ford formation.”

That’s a huge problem for a state with a growing population and a big agriculture industry, including a large, water-intensive cattle-raising sector, resulting in conflicts over water use likely to intensify in the future.

The EWG report cautions that their estimates of fracking water use may be low.

“There is no way of knowing just how much water is being used for fracking, however, because while the controversial well stimulation technique is known to be used in 36 states, only 15 require reporting to FracFocus, and none of the numbers that do get reported are vetted by any kind of regulatory agency or independent authority,” it said. “Even the data that does get reported is incomplete. EWG says that for 38 of the 261 monster wells, FracFocus did not even identify such basic information as whether the wells were drilled for oil or natural gas, or what kind of water they used.”

Anastasia Pantsios|November 24, 2014

Petition: Shorten, Lighten Trains Carrying Explosive Crude

Have you seen them? These massively long trains with the black cars carrying oil all over the country?

In the past few years, there’s been a drastic rise in trains carrying explosive crude oil — and in the number of fiery derailments. This week the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the Obama administration to protect the public and environment by limiting the length and weight of trains hauling oil and other hazardous materials.

Here’s why: Federal regulators admit the length and weight of oil trains has contributed to derailments and spills in recent years, but they have yet to do anything about it. Our petition would limit oil trains to 30 cars. Most oil trains today carry about 100 cars — well beyond what the industry has determined to be truly safe.

“The government has acknowledged the dangers of these massive trains — now it needs to take action to protect people and wildlife from spills and derailments,” said the Center’s Jared Margolis.

Two draft proposals hope to keep Florida from becoming fracking’s new frontier

Could Florida become the next frontier for hydraulic fracturing (aka “fracking”)? Environmentalists, who are already concerned about the state’s fragile water supply, fear that it could, and this week they’re trying to get out ahead of the situation before the 2015 Legislative session begins in Tallahassee.

Last week, two independent efforts to draft legislation to regulate fracking in Florida were unveiled in Orlando. One, drafted by state Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, would ban the practice outright, declaring that “a person may not engage in hydraulic fracturing in this state.” The other, drafted by students at the Barry University School of Law and the League of Women Voters of Orange County, is a comprehensive proposal that would limit where, when and how fracking could take place in the state. Though it would not call for an outright ban on fracking, the measure includes a provision that would allow municipalities to prohibit it within their jurisdictions.

“We took a look at what other states have done, and we took components from those states and put them together,” says Chuck O’Neal, chair of the natural resources committee of the League of Women Voters of Orange County. Right now, he says, Florida does not have any rules or safeguards in place to regulate fracking, a controversial practice that uses chemicals injected deep into the earth to fracture shale and other rock formations to release natural gas or oil. O’Neal says that Florida has long had regulations in place to oversee traditional drilling for gas and oil – but they’re so old that they don’t address fracking, which wasn’t common until the ’90s. Though oil drilling comes with its own share of problems (see the Gulf oil spill of 2010, for instance), fracking comes with a whole slew of new concerns because it not only extracts things from the earth, it also sends chemicals into it. Among the hazards: air emissions, increase in release of greenhouse gases, high water consumption, increase in likelihood of minor earthquakes and, perhaps most concerning to Floridians, potential for chemicals used in fracking to seep into the water supply.

“When you have a flow of oil coming up from the ground and there’s a crack in the pipe, all you’re going to have happen is have water get into that pipe, and that’s not such a big deal,” he says. “But when you reverse the procedure and you put chemicals in there under very high pressure and send them down into the ground to break open deposits to extract oil and gas, and you have a crack in the pipe, it can send those chemicals shooting into the water supply. And we have no regulations on that practice.”

Residents of southwest Florida discovered that the hard way in late 2013, when it was discovered that the Dan A. Hughes Co. was drilling for oil in Collier County using a new process to get at deposits deep beneath the earth. The Texas company had applied for a “workover” permit to use chemicals to dissolve through rock so it could get at oil that lay beneath. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection asked the company to hold off while it reviewed the process, but the company went ahead and began the work anyway. The state had to issue a cease and desist order to get the Hughes Co. to stop, and it did (it was also slapped with a $25,000 fine for doing the work without waiting for approval). Things are quiet for now, O’Neal says, but that doesn’t mean they’ll stay that way. There are other permits for fracking in Florida coming down the pipeline, he says, because Florida has “ample amounts” of oil and gas buried deep beneath its soil.

 Erin Sullivan|November 26, 2014

Fracking Risks Compared to Asbestos and Other Environmental and Health Dangers

While the title of the new British government report “Innovation: Managing Risk, Not Avoiding It” sounds cheery, the news it contained about fracking, among other environmentally dubious technologies, was anything but.

FrackingWith many of the risks of fracking understudied, a health or environmental disaster could be lurking. Image credit: UK Government Office for Science

The annual report of the government chief scientific advisor featured a lot of “better living through science”-type happy talk about scientific and technological advances, but warned, “Competition is becoming ever more fierce, vital global resources are dwindling and environmental problems are mounting, making innovation an ever-present challenge.”

It’s a case that University of Sussex professor Andy Stirling makes strongly in a chapter entitled “Making Choices in the Face of Uncertainty: Strengthening Innovation Democracy,” using fracking and the fossil fuel industry in general as an example.

“History presents plenty of examples of innovation trajectories that later proved to be problematic—for instance, involving asbestos, benzene, thalidomide, dioxins, lead in petrol, tobacco, many pesticides, mercury, chlorine and endocrine-disrupting compounds, as well as CFCs, high-sulphur fuels and fossil fuels in general,” he writes. “In all these and many other cases, delayed recognition of adverse effects incurred not only serious environmental or health impacts, but massive expense and reductions in competitiveness for firms and economies persisting in the wrong path. Innovations reinforcing fossil fuel energy strategies—such as hydraulic fracturing—arguably offer a contemporary prospective example.”

Saying that “a rich array of renewable energy technologies is available for addressing climate change in a diversity of radically different distributed or centralized ways,” he points out that “One of the main obstacles lies in high-profile self-fulfilling assertions to the contrary, including by authoritative policy figures. Amongst the most potent of these political obstructions are claims from partisan interests—such as incumbent nuclear or fossil fuel industries—that there is no alternative to their favoured innovations and policies.”

He says, “It is remarkable how many major global industries are building around once marginal technologies like wind turbines, ecological farming, super energy-efficient buildings or green chemistry. All of these owe key elements in their pioneering origins to early development by grassroots social movements.”

Yet earlier this year, one of those “authoritative policy figures,” British prime minister David Cameron, said that the country was “going all out for shale,” and he has proved it with aggressive actions strongly opposed by environmental groups.

A section in the report “High Level Case Study: Hydraulic Fracking” featured contrasting views—the “industry perspective,” the “NGO perspective” and the “science and engineering perspective”—that present a mixed and cautionary picture.

Not surprisingly, the industry perspective is as enthusiastic as Cameron’s.

“Provided it is exploited in an environmentally safe way, we believe that the country’s indigenous shale gas resources offer a secure and potentially competitive source of feedstock and fuel,” wrote Steve Elliott of the Chemical Industries Association. “Estimates suggest that UK shale gas development will require supply chain spending of £3.3 billion per annum and generate 64,500 jobs. Communities will also receive direct benefits from local shale gas development. It is now time for government and industry to redouble their efforts to address environmental concerns and explain the economic benefits.”

The NGO perspective, provided Harry Huyton of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, was a little less rosy. He said risks include “water demand in areas under water stress, causing low river flows; water contamination as a result of well-casing failures and surface spillages; pollution incidents as a result of waste handling and disposal; and the loss, fragmentation and disturbance of wildlife habitats.” He adds that environmental impacts in the U.S. have been “poorly studied” and that “we do not currently have an effective and sufficiently precautionary framework.”

Writing from the science and engineering perspective, Robert Muir of the University of Cambridge pointed to a 2012 scientific report to assert that fracking is unlikely to cause water contamination but there is danger from poorly constructed well casings and that potential seismic activity is no big deal—similar to that created by coal mining.

While the overall conclusion of the report was that fracking could be safe if properly regulated, that’s a big “if” and there is disagreement on what “properly regulated” means.

Greenpeace UK’s energy campaigner Louise Hutchins said it’s far from clear that fracking is adequately regulated.

“This is a naked-emperor moment for the government’s dash to frack,” she told The Guardian of London. “Ministers are being warned by their own chief scientist that we don’t know anywhere near enough about the potential side effects of shale drilling to trust this industry. The report is right to raise concerns about not just the potential environmental and health impact but also the economic costs of betting huge resources on an unproven industry. Ministers should listen to this appeal to reason and subject their shale push to a sobering reality check.”

Anastasia Pantsios|November 24, 2014

OPEC Decision Likely to Crash U.S. Fracking Industry

At its meeting today in Vienna, Austria, the 12 member countries of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) voted to keep their output target unchanged despite a 30 percent slump in the oil price since June, due primarily to the explosive growth in fracking in the U.S. as well as decreasing global demand. While Venezuela made a case for an output reduction, Saudi Arabia, the world’s leading oil producer and exporter, pressured to keep it the same.

Despite a slump in worldwide oil prices due mainly to fracking in the U.S., oil-producing nations left their output targets unchanged.

The price immediately declined in response, dropping below $72 a barrel, a price last seen in August 2010.

“There’s a price decline. That does not mean that we should really rush and do something,” OPEC secretary general Abdallah Salem el-Badri told the BBC. “We don’t want to panic. We want to see the market, how the market behaves, because the decline of the price does not reflect a fundamental change.”

Russian oil baron Leonid Fedun of OAO Lukoil, the second largest oil producer in Russia, pointed out that the low price of oil will probably lead to a crash in the fracking sector by making drilling for new, constantly less accessible shale oil sources more unprofitable, as the most easily fracked shale formations get tapped out first. And as oil prices drop, fracked oil from shale becomes unprofitable to produce.

“In 2016, when OPEC completes this objective of cleaning up the American marginal market, the oil price will start growing again,” Fedun told Bloomberg News. “The shale boom is on a par with the dot-com boom. The strong players will remain, the weak ones will vanish.”

The Russian oil sector is less vulnerable than the U.S. sector, due to lower costs and the slide in the ruble that lessens the impact of falling prices in local currency terms, Fedun said, even though output there is likely to fall next year as well.

“The major strike is against the American market,” Fedun said.

Anastasia Pantsios|November 27, 2014

Sun, Sand And Offshore Drilling In Spain’s Famed Canary Islands

 An oil rig now floats offshore in one of Europe’s top winter beach destinations — Spain’s Canary Islands. For the first time, Spain has authorized offshore oil drilling there. It’s hoping to reduce its dependence on foreign oil. But the project has prompted massive protests by local residents and environmental groups like Greenpeace.

Julie Genicot is a French trekking guide who’s lived in Lanzarote, one of Spain’s Canary Islands, ever since her grandparents opened an ecolodge there when she was a child.

“We have all the elements. It’s very windy, we have tides, the sun. It’s a very energetic place,” she says, looking out her windows across sand dunes in a protected natural park, backed by the Atlantic Ocean. “You have earth, the fire — we’re surrounded by volcanoes. And the wind, the sea — it’s very powerful.”

Every year, millions of tourists come to hike these volcanoes, ride the waves, scuba dive, or just bask in 360-plus days of sunshine. Genicot makes a living from taking tourists on hiking trips around the island’s natural treasures. The whole island is a UNESCO biosphere reserve.

“You have deepwater corals which can live more than hundreds of years,” says Helena Alvarez, a marine biologist with the environmental group Oceana, which works to protect the world’s oceans. “And on the other hand you have a third of the known species of whales and dolphins … which live at least part of their lifetime in the Canaries, or pass by while they are migrating.”

But there’s believed to be another natural treasure hidden deep under Lanzarote’s seabed — oil. And while strict environmental laws protect the pristine shoreline around Genicot’s grandparents’ hotel, there’s little such regulation offshore — where oil drilling began in mid-November.

Town councilwoman Traude Gfoeller, who came to Lanzarote from Austria 24 years ago, is a vocal opponent of that drilling.

“There’s too much at risk,” she says. “It’s as simple as that.”

Gfoeller takes NPR to a quaint fishing village on Lanzarote’s south coast, and describes how desalination plants convert the salty Atlantic Ocean into drinking water, supplying all of Lanzarote’s potable water needs. But 30 miles offshore, an oil rig is floating atop that same water.

“If something happens, and it gets into our water, we will be without water. What are we going to do?” Gfoeller asks. “And let’s face it, we have many more people working in the tourism industry, in the hotels, in the rental cars, in the restaurants — than we could ever have on an oil platform.”

Angry protests have erupted on the island at gas stations that belong to Repsol, the Spanish oil company. A recent poll shows 84 percent of Lanzarote residents are opposed to oil drilling. The Canary Islands have plentiful sun and wind, and many locals say they’d prefer to see investment in renewable energy, rather than in hydrocarbons. The smallest of the Canary Islands, El Hierro, has done just that.

The Canary Islands’ regional government is also opposed to oil drilling, but it has been overruled by the Spanish central government in Madrid, which has jurisdiction over all Spanish waters.

Ezequiel Navio is a civil servant who’s been lobbying international environmental groups and tour operators to put pressure on Madrid, in hopes of reversing Repsol’s work.

“The Spanish government is working to protect the exclusive and private interests of this oil company called Repsol, against the interest of Canarian society, the Canarian parliament, the Canarian government — and the international tourist industry,” says Navio, head of the local government’s Office of Global Action.

But despite such a backlash, Madrid allowed Repsol to begin drilling on Nov. 18.

“Spain depends 99 percent on oil imports, and our estimations are that you could produce 10 percent of Spain’s demand in a day,” says Repsol spokesman Kristian Rix.

Spain has one of the highest dependencies on foreign oil, of any Western nation. It wants to reduce that, and use oil drilling to help jumpstart its fledgling economic recovery.

Rix points out an irony: Many of the Canary Islands’ 2.2 million residents make their living off tourism. Most tourists come from the Spanish mainland or the rest of Europe, and reach the Canary Islands on relatively cheap flights — via EasyJet, RyanAir and the like. In other words, from fossil fuel.

“We want all the benefits of oil, but we don’t want to be part of the activity that will give us oil,” Rix says, during an interview at Repsol’s Madrid headquarters. “It’s unfortunate.”

Repsol completed several environmental surveys of the waters off Lanzarote, before drilling began, Rix says. He puts the risk of a spill at one in 30,000 chances. Out of 275 offshore wells drilled elsewhere in Spain over the past three decades, he says, there hasn’t been a single leak.

But even a small risk is not worth taking, according to Greenpeace — which has sent boatloads of protesters into waters around Repsol’s offshore operation in recent weeks.

Video recorded by Greenpeace activists shows Spanish navy boats ramming their dinghies.

In one incident, four Greenpeace activists were injured. A 23-year-old Italian woman had to be airlifted to a hospital, with a broken leg. Spanish authorities later impounded a Greenpeace boat, the Arctic Sunrise, at a port in Lanzarote. The boat was released late Wednesday, after Greenpeace paid a $63,000 bond — a sum the group said it expected to be refunded. Meanwhile, Spain has opened a legal case against Greenpeace for alleged breach of maritime traffic rules.

Despite all this unrest, the dispute might just be solved by Mother Nature. Geologists put the chance of actually discovering oil in the waters off the Canaries at less than 20 percent. Repsol is currently drilling to see whether oil is there — and then will decide whether it’s commercially viable to extract.

Meanwhile, World Wildlife Fund is collecting signatures for an alternative: Once drilling is done — which could take months or years, depending on whether oil is extractable — it wants to turn these waters into a sanctuary for whales and dolphins.

Lauren Frayer|November 27, 2014

New Mexico nuclear waste accident a ‘horrific comedy of errors’ that exposes deeper problems

Last February’s explosion at the WIPP dump for long-lived intermediate-level nuclear waste from the US’s nuclear weapons program remains unexplained, writes Jim Green. But with the site’s history of ignored warnings, ‘missing’ safety culture, lack of supervision and dubious contractor appointments, it surely came as no surprise – and further accidents appear inevitable.

Immediate action is necessary to ensure that these matters are addressed and fully resolved before TRU [transuranic] waste operations are resumed, or, for that matter, before future mixed radioactive hazardous waste operations are initiated.

The precise cause of the February 14 accident involving a radioactive waste barrel at the world’s only deep geological radioactive waste repository has yet to be determined, but information about the accident continues to come to light.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico, USA, is a dump site for long-lived intermediate-level waste from the US nuclear weapons program. More than 171,000 waste containers are stored in salt caverns 2,100 feet (640 meters) underground.

On February 14, a heat-generating chemical reaction – the Department of Energy (DOE) calls it a ‘deflagration’ rather than an explosion – compromised the integrity of a barrel and spread contaminants through more than 3,000 feet of tunnels, up the exhaust shaft, into the environment, and to an air monitoring approximately 3,000 feet north-west of the exhaust shaft.

The accident resulted in 22 workers receiving low-level internal radiation exposure.

Investigators believe a chemical reaction between nitrate salts and organic ‘kitty litter’ used as an absorbent generated sufficient heat to melt seals on at least one barrel.

But experiments have failed to reproduce the chemical reaction, and hundreds of drums of similarly packaged nuclear waste are still intact, said DOE spokesperson Lindsey Geisler. “There’s still a lot we don’t know”, she said.

Terry Wallace from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) said: “LANL did not consider the chemical reactions that unique combinations of radionuclides, acids, salts, liquids and organics might create.”

Determining the cause of the accident has been made all the more difficult because the precise composition of the waste in the damaged barrel is unknown. A former WIPP official said:

“The DOE sites that sent in the waste got careless in documenting what was being shipped in … The contractors at the sites packing the waste were not exactly meticulous. When we complained to DOE, it was made clear we were just to keep taking the waste and to shut up.”

Operations to enable WIPP to reopen will cost approximately US$242 million (€193m) according to preliminary estimates by the DOE. In addition, a new ventilation system is required which will cost US$65-261 million (€52-208m).

Taking into account indirect costs such as delays with the national nuclear weapons clean-up program, the total cost could approach US$1 billion (€800m). Further costs could be incurred if the State of New Mexico fines DOE for its safety lapses at WIPP.

The DOE hopes WIPP will reopen in 2016 but the shut-down could extend to 2017 or beyond.

British academic Rebecca Lunn, a professor of engineering geosciences, describes how waste repositories would work in a perfect world. “Geological disposal of nuclear waste involves the construction of a precision-engineered facility deep below the ground into which waste canisters are carefully maneuvered.

“Before construction of a geological repository can even be considered, an environmental safety case must be developed that proves the facility will be safe over millions of years.”

Prof. Lunn’s description is far removed from the situation that prevails at WIPP. Robert Alvarez, a former assistant to the energy secretary, said that a safety analysis conducted before WIPP opened predicted accidents such as the February 14 deflagration once every 200,000 years.

Yet WIPP has been open for merely 15 years. WIPP is on track for not one but over 13,000 radiation release accidents over a 200,000 year period.

The WIPP accident resulted from a “horrific comedy of errors” according to James Conca, a scientific adviser and WIPP expert: “This was the flagship of the Energy Department, the most successful program it had. The ramifications of this are going to be huge.”

The problems began long before February 14, and they extend beyond WIPP. Serious problems have been evident across the US nuclear weapons program. Systemic problems have been evident with DOE oversight.

The problematic role of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) – a semi-autonomous agency within the DOE – is emphasized in a detailed analysis by investigative journalist Joseph Trento.

A DOE official quoted by Trento said a root problem is “the fact that DOE has no real operational control over the NNSA. Under the guise of national security, NNSA runs the contractors, covers up accidents and massive cost overruns and can fire any DOE employee who tries to point out a problem.

“Because they control so many jobs and contractors, every administration refuses to take them on.”

Trento explains the realpolitik: “The contractor game at NNSA is played this way: Major corporations form LLC’s [limited liability companies] and bid for NNSA and DOE contracts. For example, at SRS [Savannah River Site] they bid to clean up waste and get some of the billions of dollars from Obama’s first term stimulus money.

“Things go wrong, little gets cleaned up, workers get injured or exposed to radiation and outraged NNSA management cancels the contract. A new LLC is formed by the same NNSA list of corporate partners and they are asked to bid on a new management contract.

“The new LLC hires the same workers as the old management company and the process gets repeated again and again. The same mistakes are made and the process keeps repeating itself.

“These politically connected DOE contractors, responsible for tens of billions of dollars in failed projects and mishandling of the most deadly materials science has created, have been protected by the biggest names in both the Republican and Democratic parties at an enormous cost to the US taxpayers, public health and the environment.”

Of immediate relevance to the February 14 WIPP accident are problems at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). The waste barrel involved in the accident was sent from LANL to WIPP. LANL staff approved the switch from an inorganic clay absorbent to an organic material in September 2013.

That switch is believed to be one of the causes of the February 14 accident. LANL also approved the use of a neutraliser that manufacturers warned shouldn’t be mixed with certain chemicals.

A September 30 report by the DOE’s Office of Inspector General identifies “several major deficiencies in LANL’s procedures for the development and approval of waste packaging and remediation techniques that may have contributed” to the February 14 WIPP accident. [11] The report states:

“Of particular concern, not all waste management procedures at LANL were properly vetted through the established procedure revision process nor did they conform to established environmental requirements.

“In our view, immediate action is necessary to ensure that these matters are addressed and fully resolved before TRU [transuranic] waste operations are resumed, or, for that matter, before future mixed radioactive hazardous waste operations are initiated.

“In particular, we noted that:

  • Despite specific direction to the contrary, LANL made a procedural change to its existing waste procedures that did not conform to technical guidance provided by the Department for the processing of nitrate salt waste; and
  • Contractor officials failed to ensure that changes to waste treatment procedures were properly documented, reviewed and approved, and that they incorporated all environmental requirements for TRU waste processing. These weaknesses led to an environment that permitted the introduction of potentially incompatible materials to TRU storage drums. Although yet to be finally confirmed, this action may have led to an adverse chemical reaction within the drums resulting in serious safety implications.”

The February 14 accident has shone a light on multiple problems at WIPP (discussed in greater detail in Nuclear Monitor #787).

A DOE-appointed Accident Investigation Board released a report into the accident in April. The report identified the “root cause” of the accident to be the many failings of Nuclear Waste Partnership, the contractor that operates the WIPP site, and DOE’s Carlsbad Field Office. The report criticized their

“failure to fully understand, characterize, and control the radiological hazard. The cumulative effect of inadequacies in ventilation system design and operability compounded by degradation of key safety management programs and safety culture resulted in the release of radioactive material from the underground to the environment, and the delayed / ineffective recognition and response to the release.”

The Accident Investigation Board report states that personnel did not adequately recognize, categorize, or classify the emergency and did not implement adequate protective actions in a timely manner.

It further noted that there is a lack of a questioning attitude at WIPP; a reluctance to bring up and document issues; an acceptance and normalization of degraded equipment and conditions; and a reluctance to report issues to management, indicating a chilled work environment.

Trento said: “The report has a familiar litany and tone: Ignored warnings from the Defense Facilities Board, lack of DOE contractor supervision, and a missing safety culture. There are hundreds of similar reports about the Savannah River Site, LANL, Oak Ridge, Hanford and other DOE national laboratories and sensitive national security sites. The Department of Energy is in serious trouble.”

A US Environmental Protection Agency review of air testing at WIPP in February and March found discrepancies in recorded times and dates of sample collections, flawed calculation methods, conflicting data and missing documents.

It also found that WIPP managers sometimes said air samples contained no detectable levels of radiation when measurable levels were present.

A degraded safety culture was responsible for the accident, and the same failings inevitably compromised the response to the accident. Among other problems:

  • The DOE contractor could not easily locate plutonium waste canisters because the DOE did not install an upgraded computer system to track the waste inside WIPP.
  • The lack of an underground video surveillance system made it impossible to determine if a waste container had been breached until long after the accident. A worker inspection team did not enter the underground caverns until April 4 – seven weeks after the accident.
  • The WIPP computerized Central Monitoring System has not been updated to reflect the current underground configuration of underground vaults with waste containers.
  • 12 out of 40 phones did not work so emergency communications could not reach all parts of WIPP in the immediate aftermath of the accident.
  • WIPP’s ventilation and filtration system did not prevent radiation reaching the surface, due to neglect.
  • The emergency response moved in slow motion. The first radiation alarm sounded at 11.14pm. Not until 9.34am did managers order workers on the surface of the site to move to a safe location.

Everything that was supposed to happen, didn’t. Everything that wasn’t supposed to happen, did.

Jim Green |Nuclear Monitor|27th November 2014

Air Quality

Obama sets stricter smog standard – EPA considers lower threshold

WASHINGTON The Obama administration took steps Wednesday to cut levels of smog-forming pollution linked to asthma, lung damage and other health problems, making good on one of President Barack Obama’s original campaign promises while setting up a fresh confrontation with Republicans and the energy industry.

In a long-awaited announcement, the Environmental Protection Agency said it prefers a new, lower threshold for ozone pollution of 65 to 70 parts per billion but said it would take public comments on an even lower standard of 60 parts per billion sought by environmental groups. The current standard is 75 parts per billion, put in place by President George W. Bush in 2008. Meeting the stricter rules will cost industry about $3.9 billion in 2025 if the government goes with a standard of 70 parts per billion, the EPA estimated. At a level of 65 parts per billion, the EPA said, the cost grows to $15billion. But industry groups said that the cost would actually be far higher and that it would be nearly impossible for refineries and other businesses to comply.

Pushing back on criticism that new regulations will damage the economy, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said lower ozone standards would actually spur more businesses, investment and jobs by making communities healthier. She said states would be given time to carefully design plans to meet the new standard in the coming decades.

“Critics play a dangerous game when they denounce the science and law EPA has used to defend clean air for more than 40 years,” McCarthy wrote in an op-ed for CNN’s website. “The American people know better.” But business groups like the National Association of Manufacturers painted the government’s move as a roadblock that threatens to jeopardize manufacturing’s comeback in the U.S. They accused the administration of moving the goalposts, as states are still working to implement the previous standard put in place in 2008.

“Tightening these standards could be the most expensive regulation ever imposed on the American public, with potentially enormous costs to the economy, jobs, and consumers,” said Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute.

Sen. James Inhofe, who is to take over the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in January, vowed “vigorous oversight” of the proposal in his new position. Under the Obama administration, the EPA has issued or proposed the first regulations to control heat-trapping carbon dioxide, mercury and air toxins from power plants. The administration also has doubled fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks and clamped down on industrial pollution that blows downwind and contaminates other states. The initial range of 60 to 70 parts per billion proposed by the EPA in January 2010 would have made it one of the most expensive regulations ever issued, with an estimated $19billion to $90billion price tag, and would have doubled the number of counties in violation. The agency will seek comment on 60 parts per billion, as well as the current standard of 75 parts per billion.

Dina Cappiello and Josh Lederman|Associated Press

Polluting Industries Say Sky Is Falling as EPA Proposes Stronger Ozone Standards

These days we hear a lot about greenhouse gases—carbon and methane—and not so much about ozone. But that doesn’t mean that the smog-causing pollutant is no longer a problem. And this morning U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Gina McCarthy announced new standards for reducing ozone in the atmosphere.

In an editorial We need tougher ozone standards, published in CNN Money, McCarthy said that the EPA will propose lowering the current air concentration of 75 parts per billion, set by the Bush administration but never enforced, to 65-70 parts per billion, and will take public comments on setting a standard as low as 60. She said that states will have until 2020-2037 to meet the new standards, depending on the level of each state’s ozone issues. She said, “The federal government will back up state actions with programs in place or in development, such as the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards and our proposed Clean Power Plan. For a state like California with its unique geology and meteorology, even meeting the standard by 2037 could be a daunting task, so we have to work together to bring new technologies and solutions to the table.”

Thanks to government regulations, ozone, produced by vehicles, industry and fossil fuel-burning power plants, has been steeply reduced already. According to McCarthy, ozone pollution has decreased 33 per cent nationwide since 1980. But the health impacts of smog are still there, especially in respiratory diseases and the dramatic increases in the number of asthma cases. China, battling a much worse smog problem, has 74 cities with worse smog than Los Angeles, the U.S.’s smoggiest city, and has become notorious for the health problems it’s caused. It’s been estimated that two million people around the world die each year as a result of air pollution from ozone and particulates. McCarthy said that for each dollar invested in meeting the new standards, $3 would be saved in health-care costs.

“We applaud the EPA proposal to lower the existing standard, and strongly encourage the agency to limit this pollution to 60 ppb when they finalize the exact standard in October of 2015. A 60 ppb standard will be a breath of fresh air for thousands of Americans who suffer needlessly with asthma attacks, nervous system disorders and heart ailments when exposed to smog pollution,” said Mary Anne Hitt, Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign director.

Lisa Garcia, Earthjustice vice president of  healthy communities, agrees. “Thousands of people are dying every year, according to the EPA’s own analysis, because of smog,” said Garcia. “As a nation we must do all we can to save lives and reduce the incidence of respiratory illnesses, particularly for the most vulnerable, including children, the elderly, people who work outdoors and people with asthma, especially African American and Latino children, all of which are disproportionately affected by smog.”

McCarthy pointed out that we will hear the usual chorus of voices claiming the new standards are job-killing and will hurt the economy—the sort of people whose case against the Obama administration’s 2012 limits on mercury and other pollutants from coal-fired plants that U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear. Republican legislators and industry groups such as the American Petroleum Institute have already said they will fight the new standards. The National Association of Manufacturers melodramatically called it “the most expensive regulation ever imposed on the American public.”

But McCarthy anticipated the chorus of nay-sayers, pointing out, “Special-interest critics will try to convince you that pollution standards chase away local jobs and businesses, but, in fact, healthy communities attract new businesses, new investment and new jobs. Critics often attempt to deny and discredit the science and exaggerate the costs of dealing with pollution. When EPA revised ozone standards in 1997, critics claimed ‘new air quality regulations… will destroy jobs, hike business costs, and exact painful lifestyle changes while doing little to improve health…’ None of that ever came true.”

In the ’70s, McCarthy said, critics said removing lead from gas would destroy the auto industry. It didn’t. In the ’90s, they said fighting acid rain would make electricity prices go up and cause blackouts. It didn’t. She doesn’t expect the sky to fall this time either.

“Time after time, when science pointed to health risks, special interests cried the sky was falling,” she said. “And time after time, EPA obeyed the law, followed the science, protected public health, and fortified a strong American economy. Over four decades, we’ve cut air pollution by nearly 70%, while our economy has tripled in size. The sky never fell. Today’s action follows that proven path.”

And Clean Air Watch’s Frank O’Donnell said, “I would urge you to read not only EPA’s proposal but the summary of projected economic impacts. It gives a lie to the flatulent industry claims that this would be the most expensive rule ever. We do not need to choose between public health protection and a sound economy. History has demonstrated that we can—and must—have both.”

“Obviously, this action is long overdue,” he said. “Like the agency’s science advisers, EPA recognizes that keeping the current outdated standard would be irresponsible.”

Anastasia Pantsios|November 26, 2014

Recycling

Plastics….a Serious Threat to our Oceans, Seas and Waterways

Plastics were invented in the 1800’s but its mass production began in the 1950’s and has since taken off around the globe.  While it is possible to recycle most types of plastic, it is estimated that only about 25% of plastics are recycled worldwide.  A great deal of the plastic ends up in our oceans, seas, and waterways.  Research has shown severe impacts on our environment and our economy from this type of pollution.  Marine life such as sea turtles, whales, seabirds and other marine life are eating the plastic and dying. Scientists are looking at long term impacts of pollutants consumed by fish and their potential effects on human health.  It has become such an environmental concern that a little over a decade ago a science of marine debris began the study of garbage in our waters.  A recent study showed the global magnitude of this problem.

The Malaspina expedition of 2010 was a nine month research project to study the effects of global warming on the oceans and the biodiversity of the deep ocean ecosystem. Andres Cozar and his team were to study the small fauna living on the ocean surface. He was reassigned when plastic fragments kept turning up in water samples to assess the level of plastic pollution.  Using that data and the data gathered by four other ships he and his team of researchers completed the first ever global map of ocean trash.

Recently, Cozar’s work was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The research team found a worldwide distribution of plastic on the surface of the ocean mostly accumulating in the convergence zones of the five subtropical gyres (an area of anticyclonic ocean circulation that sits beneath a region of subtropical high pressure).  Researchers estimated the total amount of floating plastic used in the manufacture of products like bags, food and beverage containers, kitchen utensils and toys, in open ocean between 7,000 and 35,000 tons, a lot less than the 1 million ton figure they had expected.  This included only floating debris and not plastic that may reside beneath the surface or on the ocean floor.  Cozar said,” the plastic is somewhere in the ocean life, in the depths, or broken down into fine particles undetectable by nets.”

There are some ways that individuals can make sure that plastics never reach our oceans.  Among them are recycling and picking up plastic litter, asking for a reusable water bottle, bringing your own reusable bags to the store and pressuring plastic producers to design packaging so that it is fully recyclable.

100,000 Animals Drowning Every Year in The Plastic We Throw Away

With an estimated 46,000 pieces of plastic floating in every square mile of our oceans, our addiction to plastic is killing countless animals in some of the most horrific ways imaginable.

Considered by many as a threat worse than climate change, in a disturbing new report, leading expert Charles J. Moore, says that plastic is ‘choking our future in ways that most of us are barely aware.’

From take-outs and coffee cups, to toothbrushes and tires, plastic has become an integral part of human existence, but the real problem is where all the plastic that we throw out every day ends up.

Animals are the Victims of Our Throwaway Society

Plastic production has increased by more than 500% in the last 30 years, and with most people not giving a second thought as to what happens after they toss it out, plastic is taking over the ocean and threatening the animals that call it their home.

Huge garbage patches the size of Wales are forming in the world’s oceans, comprised of cigarette lighters, shampoo bottles, yogurt pots, plastic rings from six packs and much more. For hundreds of miles without end, Moore’s research vessel passed plastics of every description. During his trip Moore came across one of the most upsetting scenes he has ever encountered.

“I’ve seen many scenes in my work studying whales, dolphins and marine mammals, both uplifting and disheartening. But one of the saddest was the sight of a young grey seal pup in a colony on the idyllic shores of Cape Cod.

It was an otherwise healthy animal — but with a plastic strap looped round its neck — the kind you get around a parcel. Slowly but surely, as the animal grew, its noose would tighten.

As I looked at the animal, I could foretell its painful death, probably from starvation, as the seal became unable to feed.”

Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, whales and other marine mammals are dying each year as a result of eating plastic, just like the sperm whale that was recently discovered dead in Spain with 100 plastic bags inside its stomach. As if these figures aren’t shocking enough, experts also believe that more than 1 million seabirds are also being killed from ocean pollution, ingestion or entanglement.

We are the ones creating all this rubbish, and as such we share a collective responsibility for the deaths it is causing. We cannot shake it from our conscience by ignoring the situation or turning a blind eye; it is time to take responsibility and make changes.

What You Can Do To Help

The best way to stop plastic pollution in our oceans is to make sure it never reaches the water in the first place. Reducing, reusing and recycling is the way forward.

Take action today by following these steps to help cut down on your plastic use and protect our oceans:

  • Bring your own fabric bags to the store
  • Always choose reusable items whenever possible
  • If you need to use plastic, make sure you recycle after you’ve used it
  • Let businesses know that you want packaging that is fully recyclable
  • Host a clean up day where you get together with a group of volunteers to pick up trash at your local beach
  • Support and spread the message of organizations fighting plastic pollution

Abigail Geer|November 29, 2014

Miscellaneous

Florida’s Award-Winning State Parks and Trails Continue Record-Breaking Success

More than 27.1 million people visited Florida’s state parks and trails between July 1, 2013, and June 30, 2014, generating nearly $2.1 billion in direct economic impact. In the year following the state parks system winning a third National Gold Medal in Excellence, record-breaking numbers of visitors were enjoying Florida’s natural treasures and outdoor areas. In fact, more than 1.5 million more people visited in 2013-2014 than 2012-2013. To support this increase in attendance, Governor Scott has directed almost $70 million over the last four years to improve and maintain Florida’s award winning state parks and trails.

Governor Scott said, “More than 27.1 million people visited Florida’s award-winning parks and state trails last year. We are fortunate to live in a state with so many wonderful natural treasures and great weather, and I encourage all Floridians to get out and enjoy Florida’s parks with their families. They will have a great experience and support our economy.”

“People come from around the world to visit Florida’s award-winning state parks and state trails,” said DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. “Our parks offer the best in natural and cultural resources and contribute to the economy of Florida – supporting jobs and local businesses.”

The top 10 visited state parks and trails are:

1.    Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail – $113.7 million direct economic impact and 1,490,078 visitors

2.    Honeymoon Island State Park, Dunedin – $85.9 million in direct economic impact and 1,152,115 visitors

3.    Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway – $74.3 million direct economic impact and 927,008 visitors

4.    Lovers Key State Park, Fort Myers Beach – $72.6 million in direct economic impact and 974,431 visitors

5.    Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, Key Biscayne – $66.4 million in direct economic impact and 882,500 visitors

6.    John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Key Largo – $65.5 million in direct economic impact and 874,179 visitors

7.    St. Andrews State Park, Panama City – $65.8 million in direct economic impact and 870,995 visitors

8.    Gasparilla Island State Park, Boca Grande – $64.1 million in direct economic impact and 857,884 visitors

9.    Bahia Honda State Park, Big Pine Key – $51.2 million in direct economic impact and 675,997 visitors

10. Sebastian Inlet State Park, Melbourne Beach – $48.7 million in direct economic impact and 638,966 visitors.

“For nearly 80 years, Florida’s state parks and trails have inspired residents and visitors,” said Florida Park Service Director Donald Forgione. “From hiking and picnicking to swimming and fishing, visitors seek family friendly, outdoor recreation. We have a tradition of providing just that.”

Direct economic impact is measured by multiplying attendance by a non-local percentage of expenditures and considering each park or trail’s operating expenditures and fixed capital outlay. This method is based on the National Park Service Money Generation Model.

In 2013-2014, the Florida Park Service collected $58,190,363 in revenue from daily entrance fees, overnight accommodations and concessions. This revenue is used for park maintenance, resource protection, visitor services and staff salaries. The Florida Park Service earns 71.3 percent of its $81.6 million operating budget. These efforts support 29,396 jobs for Floridians.

Florida rancher seeks to sell ‘free-range’ feral pigs

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. (AP) – Florida’s feral pigs have long been considered a nuisance by residents and farmers, but now a rancher is hoping to… make use of their abundance, marketing them as a new sustainable food source.
The Tampa Bay Times reported Sunday that Charlotte county rancher Keith Mann is working with trappers, U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors and the restaurant community to bring these “free-range” pigs to market.
He says it’s a win-win plan for homeowners and restaurants. The majority of the pigs are coming from Hillsborough and Manatee counties, but also from Sarasota, Lee and Charlotte.
Anna Maria restaurateur Ed Chiles wants to sell the meat at his three restaurants. The son of two-time Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles seeks to promote Florida cuisine and says there’s a future in the feral pork.
http://www.trivalleycentral.com/trivalley_dispatch/farm_and_ranch/florida-rancher-seeks-to-sell-free-range-feral-pigs/article_3265f6c6-5eed-11e4-a585-2f73a516802f.html

Why Vertical Farming Might Be Our Planet’s Future

Explosive growth that will take place in the world’s urban centers as we reach 2050. To keep these people from starvation, architects and farmers have combined their talents to create Vertical Farming. Although not entirely new, these farms are becoming more efficient and may appear as skyscraper greenhouses throughout many urban cities. Vertical farming can take many architectural shapes and offers a number of key solutions to the problems of efficient food growth.

Food supplies are more secure with vertical farming. Production can continue year around, even during long draughts, which seem to be more frequent as the world undergoes climate change. In Nature Climate Change: The Global Groundwater Crisis, James Famiglietti, a leading hydrologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory warns that groundwater depletion poses a far greater threat to global water security than is
 currently acknowledged.His research team employs satellites and computer modeling to track changing freshwater availability and groundwater depletion around the world. Joe Romm’s Climate Progress article notes that the groundwater in the U.S. High Plains, California’s Central Valley, China, India, and other aquifers is being pumped out faster than can be naturally replenished. Vertical farming allows fruits and vegetables that may be in high demand to be grown all year without concerns over seasonal rainfalls or droughts.

Vertical farms utilize more efficient, soil-free hydroponic systems, so they need less water. Some use advanced new systems like Aeroponics, which grow plants in mists that efficiently provide roots with nutrients, hydration and oxygen. This results in faster growing cycles and more biomass than other farming systems. These closed-looped systems recirculate nutrient rich solutions and use 95 percent less water than field farming.

Instead of “consuming” rainforest land and harming untouched parts of the earth, vertical farming helps preserve the environment by growing our food in cities. As noted in Crop Farming Review, one indoor acre is equivalent to 4-6 outdoor acres or more, depending on the crop. For strawberries, a single indoor acre may produce a yield equivalent to 30 acres. Existing farms could be reverted to their natural state to promote the regrowth of trees for CO2 sequestration.

Because of their design, indoor vertical “fields” can more easily be protected from pests, so fewer herbicides or insecticides are needed. Result: more fresh, toxin-free produce.

Food can be grown in high-rise urban buildings and sold directly to consumers without the need for carbon-emitting transport. Produce sold closer to where it’s grown also means fresher fruits and vegetables with less spoilage.

Lit by LEDs that mimic sunlight, vertical farms use software that regulates the amount of light energy plants need to grow. Crop Farming Review also notes that vertical farms can even generate power. While a 30-story vertical farm may use million kwh of electricity, it could generate up to 56 million kwh through the use of biogas digesters and by capturing solar energy.

Alex A. Kecskes|November 28, 2014

Environmental Links

SFAS International Wildlife News Audubon Advocate Audubon Restore Eco-Voice South Florida Wildlife Care Center Sawgrass Nature Center & Wildlife Hospital The Turtle Hospital The Marathon Wild Bird Center Climate change info Audubon’s Coastal Strand Audubon of Florida News Blog Bioenergy News Climate Progress – climate science, politics and solutions Collins Center for Public Policy Comprehensive Everglades Restoration News EcoWatch – feeds from the WaterKeeper Alliance Everglades Foundation – press releases Everglades Hub Fort Myers News – Press Green Front Pages from Florida Newspapers Herald Tribune Newspapers –  Environmental News KeysNews.com Naples Daily News  – Environmental News National Public Radio Eco-News Riverwatch News about the Caloosahatchee Sierra Club Sierra Club Florida South Florida Watershed  Journal South Florida Water Management District Union of Concerned Scientists – news Yahoo News Search: Everglades NASA Climate Information American Littorial Society log NASA Climate Information Sun Newspapers – Lake Okeechobee News Everglades City News  – Mullet Wrapper IFAW’s World of Animals Magazine

Posted in Of special interest | Leave a comment

ConsRep 1114 C

And Man created the plastic bag and the tin and aluminum can and the cellophane wrapper and the paper plate, and this was good because Man could then take his automobile and buy all his food in one place and He could save that which was good to eat in the refrigerator and throw away that which had no further use. And soon the earth was covered with plastic bags and aluminum cans and paper plates and disposable bottles and there was nowhere to sit down or walk, and Man shook his head and cried: “Look at this God-awful mess.” Art Buchwald, 1970

 

Announcements

BOEM Florida Renewable Energy Task Force-Save the date

Date: December 11, 2014:   9:00-4:15

Location: Port St. Lucie, FL

Sponsor: Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM)

BOEM will hold the first Intergovernmental Florida Renewable Energy Task Force to discuss the development of offshore renewable energy projects,

including marine hydrokinetic, off the Atlantic coast of Florida.  

The intergovernmental Task Force’s primary goals are to identify and prioritize opportunities for future offshore renewable energy development.

The DRAFT Agenda is attached for your review.
Please reserve this date on your calendar and RSVP via email to jeffrey.browning@boem.gov
and/or respond to the forthcoming calendar invitation.

As a reminder, the BOEM Florida Renewable Energy Task Force is an intergovernmental group. 

Task force members include Federal officials and elected state, local, and tribal officials, or designated member representatives.

Thanks in advance for your time and participation and I look forward to working with you in the future.

Thank you,

Jeff Browning

Project Coordinator, Office of Renewable Energy Programs

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

U.S. Department of the Interior

381 Elden Street, HM 1328, Herndon, Virginia 20170

Office 703-787-1577

Fax 703-787-1708

jeffrey.browning@boem.gov 

www.boem.gov

Draft agenda here

EVERGLADES BIRDING FESTIVAL With PADDY CUNNINGHAM’s BIRDING ADVENTURES
Journey through south Florida searching for an array of beautiful and rare birds in ancient moss-covered cypress
swamps, everglades prairies that join the sky, and brilliant marshes that sparkle with ashes of roseate wings.

Scan across the tips of sawgrass searching for hovering Snail kites and hear the squeal of the Limpkin

FIELD WORKSHOPS
Advanced Birding Skills
Habitat, Bird by Ear
Bird Behavior
Field Techniques

NEW!! FIELD PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOP
Techniques
Composition

REGISTRATION $30.
Includes:
Mini Workshops
Snacks and Water
Handouts

DAY TOURS $80.- $95.
PHOTO WORKSHOPS $40.

TARGET BIRDS
Snail Kite * Limpkin * Wood Stork * Painted Bunting * Parrots * Roseate Spoonbill * Short-tailed Hawk
* Purple Gallinule * Peregrine Falcon * Common Myna * Crested Caracara * Burrowing Owl *
Red-whiskered Bulbul * Prairie Warbler * Smooth-billed Ani * Purple Swamphen * Brown-headed
Nuthatch * Reddish Egret * Cuban Yellow Warbler

TO REGISTER:
CONTACT PADDY CUNNINGHAM AT:
birdpaddy@yahoo.com
phone (754) 201 1141 or visit
www.evergladesbirdingfestival.com

FIELD WORKSHOPS:
Advanced Birding Skills, Habitat, Birding by Ear, Behavior, Field Techniques, Silhouette,
Outdoor Photography with Workshop &Trips.
EXPERTS: Paddy Cunningham-BIRDING ADVENTURES,* David Simpson-Birding with David Simpson,
Jim Eager, Ernest Leupin- Colombia Wild Ecotours
SPONSORS:
www.birdadventure.com
 
www.evergladesbirdingfestival.com www.colombiawild.com www.southfloridawildecotours.com
FESTIVAL SITE-La Quinta Hotel 8101 Peters Rd. Plantation, Fl. 33324, (954) 476-6047
ALL FIELD TRIPS & ACTIVITIES START AT LA QUINTA, 8101 Peters Rd. Plantation, Fl.

TARGET SPECIES
 SNAIL KITE  PEREGRINE FALCON
 LIMPKIN  COMMON MYNA
 WOOD STORK  CRESTED CARACARA
 EXOTIC PARROTS  BURROWING OWL
 PAINTED BUNTING  RED-WHISKERED BULBUL
 ROSEATE SPOONBILL  PRAIRIE WARBLER
 SHORT-TAILED HAWK  PURPLE SWAMP HEN
 PURPLE GALLINULE  WHITE-CROWNED PIGEON

For more information on this and other opportunities, click here

Start Planning Your GBBC Events

Don’t forget to save the dates for the next Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC): February 13-16, 2015.

The GBBC is a great way to engage your community in appreciating birds and citizen science and is perfect for beginner birders and experts alike.

Stay tuned for more information on promotional materials and informational webinars and be sure to explore the GBBC website

Audubon Adventures Launches “Wild about Birds” Online

Have you checked out AudubonAdventures.org, the ever-growing, ever-improving website for all things Audubon Adventures? 

The site now features “Wild about Birds.”

The first of three new topics for the 2014-15 school year, “Wild about Birds” is focused on the science of birds,

including their characteristics and adaptations, habitat needs, migration, and life cycles. This is the first full season of our all-digital format.

Let us know what you think. For more information contact Bonnie Godfrey.

Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserves Hosts “Become a Junior Bayologist” Winter Camp

~Winter camp teaches younger generations about Biscayne Bay with hands-on activities~

The Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserves announces its winter camp held at Pelican Harbor Marina on Dec. 22-24, 2014, for children between the ages of 5-12.

This winter camp offers a diverse range of hands-on activities, such as wading, walking the shoreline and using a seine net to study and identify different species of wildlife.

Campers will learn about the connection between the Everglades, Biscayne Bay and our nearshore coral reefs, as well as important lessons in water and boating safety.

“Children enjoy the activities we offer throughout the year, and we are excited to feature some of our most popular activities at the winter camp,” said Michelle Metcalf, ecotourism coordinator for the Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserves.

“I look forward to the campers experiencing Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserves first hand and watching them gain a new appreciation for this unique ecosystem.”

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserves. In commemoration, campers will paint a flag, theirs to keep, inspired by their personal commitment to Biscayne Bay.

Registration for the winter camp is $130, with an additional fee of $20 per day for 5 p.m. pick-up. The deadline to register is Dec. 17, 2014, and there are only 30 spots available.

To register, call 305-795-1256 or emailBiscayne.Bay@dep.state.fl.us.

WHAT:     “Become a Junior Bayologist” Winter Camp

WHEN:     Dec. 22-23, 2014
                 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.

                 Dec. 24, 2014 
                 9 a.m. – noon

WHERE:  Pelican Harbor Marina Dockmaster Building
1275 N.E. 79th Street
Miami, FL 33138

Join us for the Everglades Coalition’s 30th Annual Conference! Send it South: Water for America’s Everglades

The Coalition’s Annual Conference seeks to raise critical, timely issues for in-depth debates in an open, accessible forum. Community leaders and political figures come to discuss their positions, pledge their support and offer challenges to the community.

The conference is attended by decision-makers from federal, state, local and tribal governments, agency representatives, stakeholders and a vast array of public and private interests including scientists, educators, contractors, conservationists, the media, students and the general public.

The conference is the largest annual forum to advance Everglades conservation and restoration.

2015 Conference Program

The 30th Annual Conference – Key Largo, FL
January 8th, 9th,& 10th, 2015

- See more at: http://www.evergladescoalition.org/conference.html#sthash.dargrs5X.dpuf

Of Interest to All

Economics no longer make Keystone pipeline viable

 What if they voted for a pipeline but nobody came?

As Congress rushes to approve the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline, it is questionable whether or not the project will make as much of a difference as proponents expect. Since June, crude oil has declined by 28 percent, pushing the price that oil from new wells in Canada may command below what the expected cost will be to produce it.

The so-called “heavy oil” extracted from sand in Alberta, which the proposed pipeline would carry to Nebraska, en route to refineries on the Gulf Coast, will cost between $85 and $110 to produce, depending on which drilling technology is used, according to a report in July by the Canadian Energy Research Institute, a nonprofit whose work is often cited by Keystone proponents.

West Texas Intermediate crude oil traded today at $76.67. “Anything not under construction [is] at risk of being delayed or canceled altogether,” said Dinara Millington, vice president for research at Calgary-based CERI. Her cost estimates include the price of drilling new wells, meaning that existing wells that have already been paid for can continue to pump oil profitably, she said. CERI’ s analysis squares with the views of other experts, who have pointed to low prices as a sign that economic facts, at least for now, don’t match political rhetoric coming from Washington, where Keystone has been a goal for both Republicans and for Senate Democrats from oil-producing states. One of the latter, Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, is in a tough reelection fight, which went to a runoff set for Dec. 6 after no candidate won a majority of the initial vote last week.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid yesterday set a vote on Keystone for next week after Landrieu called for a vote in the Senate, which has refused to take up House of Representatives-approved legislation authorizing the pipeline.

Oil sands are among the most expensive sources of oil, costing an average of $75 to $80 a barrel to produce, Norwegian energy-consulting firm Rystad Energy said in June. “I would think that in order for new drilling projects to be capitalized and economical, the price of oil would need to be around $85 to $90,” Moody’s Analytics energy economist Chris Lafakis said.

The situation is broadly similar to that faced by an earlier proposal to build a natural-gas pipeline from Alaska to the Midwest, Lafakis said. After being approved by then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in 2007, the pipeline was never built, because newly discovered supplies of gas in the Lower 48 states pushed gas prices down by about two-thirds. “If oil were to stay as cheap as it is right now, you might very well get that Palin pipeline scenario,” Lafakis said.

One major oil producer in Alberta said its reserves can be brought to market for between $35 and $65 per barrel, a level Millington confirmed that some existing wells can achieve. And futures markets for oil are still pointing to a longer-term price of $85 to $90 a barrel, said Reg Curren, a spokesman for Cenovus Energy (CVE (Toronto Stock Exchange: CVE-CA)). “For the intermediate term, you would need that price to keep encouraging production,” Curren said.

Shawn Howard, a spokesman for Keystone XL owner TransCanada, referred questions about future drilling plans to oil producers such as Cenovus. TransCanada’s revenue from the pipeline will come from tolls charged to carry the oil, which have not been publicly disclosed, rather than from the oil itself, he said. How long oil prices will stay low is the big question mark in the pipeline’s viability. West Texas Intermediate prices will fall to $70 a barrel by the second quarter of 2015, Goldman Sachs forecast last month.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicted Wednesday that the benchmark price of U.S. crude oil will average $77.75 a barrel next year. That’s down from a previous forecast of close to $95. Demand has been running slightly lower than expected in 2014, which will persist into early next year, the International Energy Agency said, blaming reduced expectations for global economic growth.

Supply has risen by more than 900,000 barrels a day in September alone and nearly 3 million barrels a day in the last year, about three times as much as the expected improvement in demand.

Sen. Hoeven In addition to surging production in the U.S., which has boosted oil output by more than 60 percent since 2008, the IEA said OPEC crude oil output is rising as production in Libya and Iraq recovers from political disruption. The global oil market is about 92.4 million barrels of oil per day, the agency said. Saudi Arabia has helped push prices lower by declining to reduce production in the wake of the price declines. The near-term outlook for oil and for Keystone may depend on the OPEC summit set for Nov. 27, Millington said. “After Nov. 27, we’ll have a better idea of what prices will be,” she said.

CNBC|November 13, 2014

No Keystone XL For Now

Good news! The bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline died in the Senate!

Last week, Senator Mary Landrieu — who is fighting for her seat in a runoff election early next month —  introduced irresponsible legislation to approve the pipeline, which would carry dirty, dangerous tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Thanks to thousands of people like you who wrote to your Senators telling them to vote no on KXL, we stopped it.  

Luísa Abbott Galvão|Climate & energy associate|Friends of the Earth

Collier commissioners approve report calling for tougher rules on oil drilling

NAPLES, Fla. – Collier commissioners agreed unanimously Tuesday to approve an independent consultant’s recommendations regarding oil exploration and production in the county, and send it to state regulators who are mulling tougher rules on drilling.

But with one proviso — they’re reserving the right to enact more restrictive local regulations in the future if they see fit.

“I think it’s an excellent start,” said Commissioner Tim Nance, who made the motion to send the report by Los Angeles-based consulting firm AECOM to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

The report included 18 recommendations for better construction of oil wells and more state oversight.

But the commission’s actions didn’t please either Collier Resources, which owns the mineral rights to more than 800,000 acres in the county and leases them to drillers, or the environmentalists who packed the hearing room.

Representing Collier Resources, attorney Bruce Anderson had asked the commissioners not to approve the report until the county’s staff had a meeting with the company on unspecified “technical data” in the report.

Meanwhile, representatives of environmental groups said AECOM’s report didn’t go far enough to protect the region’s water, wildlife or people, and asked for additional recommendations to be sent to the DEP.

Commissioners did not heed either request.

“This is lip service to the public interest,” said Jennifer Hecker, the director of natural resources for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. “We need proactive, not reactive solutions.”

Hecker hoped the commissioners would add her recommendations when they sent them to the department of environmental protection. They included mandating a buffer zone between houses and oil wells, as well as higher bonds for drillers and higher fines for violations.

Representatives from other environmental groups urged the commissioners to look at other issues the report overlooked, such as the massive amounts of water that fracking and other well stimulation techniques use.

“It doesn’t adequately address the wastewater produced,” said Patty Whitehead, board member of the Responsible Growth Management Coalition of Southwest Florida. “This water is unusable.”

She asked the commissioners to call for an “outright ban of fracking in Florida.”

But the commissioners agreed that it would be better if all stakeholders sent their concerns separately to the DEP and let the agency decide.

“We don’t have the staff to develop new state regulations,” said Commissioner Tom Henning.

The commissioners were reacting to a storm of public protest over the activities of the Dan A. Hughes Company, a Texas-based driller who performed an acidization procedure at the Collier Hogan well, south of Lake Trafford, which the DEP said was unauthorized.

Increasing tensions between the DEP and the regulator company resulted in Hughes’ eventual exit from Florida, and as well as ongoing litigation.

So on Sept. 9, the commission asked AECOM to do an assessment of the well’s environmental impact, and to offer suggestions for new regulations.

AECOM’s report outlined seven suggestions for tightening construction standards for drilling, such as increasing surface casing depth to at least 100 feet below the deepest underground source of drinking water and constructing impermeable pads for storage tanks that will contain spills and protect groundwater.

It also proposed more stringent regulations for Class II injection wells, which hold the brines and other fluids associated with oil production.

AECOM’s suggestions for regulatory oversight include better communication between the state and county, a call for more inspections and authority for inspectors to stop work; more groundwater monitoring wells; higher bonds for drillers to cover the cost of possible contamination; and safer disposal of drilling fluids and solid waste.

Michael Bennett, the geologist who prepared the report, generally characterized modern drilling techniques, including horizontal drilling, as safe.

But he did pinpoint one trouble spot that had long been flagged by the Conservancy and other environmentalists.

He told the commissioners that older, abandoned wells in the region needed to be brought up to current plugging standards.

“Groundwater may be affected by legacy oil and gas wells,” he said.

June Fletcher|11/18/14

Fracking Approved in Largest National Forest in Eastern U.S.

 Despite strong opposition from both elected officials in the affected areas and environmental groups, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) has approved fracking in George Washington Forest. Objections to the plan came from members of Congress from Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and Washington D.C. city council, which passed a resolution opposing it in March. McAuliffe reiterated his opposition before a meeting of the state’s Climate Change and Resilience Commission in September.

The forest, located in Virginia and West Virginia, is the largest national forest on the east coast. It contains the headwaters of the Potomac River, which feed into the Chesapeake Bay and provide drinking water for millions of people in the Washington, DC/Chesapeake region.

The USFS had initially proposed  to ban fracking in the 1.1 million acre forest, the first outright ban of the practice in a national forest. But when the plan was released in 2011, energy companies complained and exerted pressure on the USFS. About 10,000 acres of the forest are already been leased to oil and gas companies, with private mineral rights existing under another 167,000 acres. The newly released plan will only allow fracking on that land, which is located in sparsely populated rural Highland County, Virginia. The plan also puts off limits another 800,000 acres that were available for drilling.

“We think we’ve ended up in a much better place, which is we are allowing oil and gas drilling,” Robert Bonnie, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s undersecretary for natural resources and environment, told the Associated Press. “From a policy perspective, the Forest Service allows fracking on forest lands throughout the country. We didn’t want to make a policy decision or change policy related to fracking. This decision is about where it’s appropriate to do oil and gas leasing.”

“Allowing the use of fracking within a part of the George Washington National Forest is part of the Obama Administration’s embrace of oil and gas drilling, despite the water, air and climate pollution that is proven to come along with it,” said Earthworks energy program director Bruce Baizel. “In the face of dire warnings from the world’s foremost climate scientists about the need to phase out fossil fuels by 2100 and an authoritative body of science demonstrating the health impacts faced by communities living near oil and gas development, this administration continues to promote an ‘all of the above’ energy policy rather than a swift transition to renewable energy. Nearby communities, local governments, the governor of Virginia, every major water utility in the DC area and the Forest Service’s original recommendation had it right when they opposed the use of hydraulic fracturing in the George Washington National Forest. The President can protect the climate and public health, or he can continue to promote fracking. He cannot do both.”

The leased land lies on the southeastern tip of the lucrative Marcellus shale formation, which has created a fracking boom in Pennsylvania. But the USFS says that the value of this particular land is low and that there has been no interest in drilling  there so far. “The economic value of these reserves is very low,” said Bonnie. “We’ve had very little interest on oil and gas on the forest.”

The USFS says before any drilling takes place, there will be a public comment period, and the decision is subject to appeal.

Anastasia Pantsios|November 18, 2014

[cerp projects program] Picayune Strand Restoration Project Environmental Assessment available for public review (UNCLASSIFIED) ‏

*** Environmental Assessment for design refinements to the Picayune Strand Restoration Project available for 30-day public and agency review ***

The Environmental Assessment for design refinements to the Picayune Strand Restoration Project, an Everglades restoration project in Collier County, Florida, is now available for public and agency review. Comments will be accepted through December 22, 2014.

During the detailed project design for the Picayune Strand Restoration Project, it was determined that refinements needed to be made to the original plan in order to achieve the project’s full restoration benefits. These design refinements are minor, but will result in the project infrastructure encompassing a larger area than originally planned, so an Environmental Assessment was performed to ensure these refinements will not have any adverse impacts on the environment.

The Environmental Assessment has been completed and has determined that no significant impacts are anticipated as a result of these design refinements. These refinements are necessary to achieve project goals and additional Congressional authorization of the updated project design is not necessary.

The design refinements include: 

- The replacement of individual berms for the Merritt, Faka Union and Miller Pump Stations with a single full width tieback levee for each pump station. This project component was authorized as part of the project and is needed to achieve full restoration benefits. 

- A manatee mitigation feature located south of the project near the Port of the Islands Basin. This feature has been negotiated through informal Endangered Species Act consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to mitigate for potential adverse effects due to project implementation on the existing thermal refugium in the Port of the Islands Basin.

The Environmental Assessment is available at:  http://bit.ly/EAPSR

Comments will be accepted through December 22, 2014, and can be sent electronically to: bradley.a.tarr@usace.army.mil, or mailed to:

Brad Tarr
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District
P.O. Box 4970
Jacksonville, FL 32232‐0019
Additional information on the Picayune Strand Restoration Project available at:
http://bit.ly/CERP_PSRP.

See the Conservation International film series here

We can all be 21st-century scientists

This winter, you can volunteer for NatureWatch’s IceWatch and join others in contributing to the scientific understanding of global warming.

Our ancestors may not have called themselves “citizen scientists” or organized to collect data for scientific inquiry, but they were keen observers of the natural world. Their survival often depended on being able to tease apart nature’s complexity — where to find game and when to sow seeds, collect berries and prepare for winter or bad weather.

But our modern, technology-obsessed lives increasingly divorce us from nature, with consequences for our health and well-being. Numerous studies now remind us of what we know intuitively: Spending time in nature makes us feel better — helping with depression, attention deficit disorder, recall and memory, problem-solving and creativity. People who spend more time outside are also physically healthier.

Enter citizen science — using the same technologies that separate us from nature to help us understand and enjoy it. Smartphones, the Internet and accessible research technologies deinstitutionalize science and get the inner scientist in all of us outside to contribute to a broader understanding of a variety of topics, from backyard birds to flower-blooming times.

Science relies on observation. As more people examine natural phenomena and record and share information, we gain better understanding of the world. An increasing number of scientific inquiries now depend on contributions from ordinary people to help them answer important questions.

The National Audubon Society has been enlisting volunteers to monitor birds during its annual Christmas bird count for more than 100 years, but it’s not the oldest citizen science program. It was predated by a couple started in the 1880s: a survey asking lighthouse keepers to identify and count birds that struck their lighthouses and another that looked at bird migration.

Citizens now have many opportunities to partake in a wide range of scientific discovery.

Take roadkill. The Humane Society estimates that more than a million animals are killed every year on U.S. highways. Collisions with large animals are tragic for all involved and cost insurance companies millions of dollars a year. The insurance industry is working on an innovative partnership with the University of California’s Roadkill Observation System to enlist citizens in efforts to identify and protect wildlife corridors in particular hot spots, saving both human and wildlife.

The David Suzuki Foundation started engaging citizens in research following the 2011 meltdown of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear reactor, partnering with various organizations and universities, including the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, to set up a volunteer network to sample seawater from sites along B.C.’s Pacific coast. This will help scientists understand the ongoing spread of radiation across the Pacific and its evolving impacts on the ocean. Volunteers from 14 communities are collecting seawater samples over three years. The radioactive plume has not yet reached North America, but we’ll know when it does, thanks to ordinary people providing extraordinary coverage across the region.

NatureWatch, another uniquely Canadian citizen science project, was also recently launched. It has four programs. Frog Watch participants collect data on amphibians, valuable indicators of changes in our air, land and water. PlantWatch records flowering times for select species, helping track the effects of climate change. And WormWatch monitors earthworms and soil health.

This winter, you can volunteer for the organization’s IceWatch and contribute to the scientific understanding of global warming. By analyzing citizen records, scientists have found that the freeze-thaw cycles of northern water bodies are changing. However, since climate change is not consistent across the country and large gaps exist in the current monitoring network, scientists require critical data from many more regions.

By recording yearly ice events — the freeze and thaw dates of lakes and rivers — you’ll help monitor the effects of climate change on Canadian ecosystems. You can also join RinkWatch, an initiative by geographers at Wilfrid Laurier University asking citizens to track skateable days on local outdoor rinks.

Canada has hundreds of citizen science programs. Although never a substitute for or rationale to cut science spending, these programs amplify and fill gaps in government- and university-led science. There’s something for every individual, every interest and every region of the country.

We all have mighty powers of observation. Citizen science is a way to encourage us all to get outside, hone our senses, and undertake meaningful activity to monitor and maintain our environment, improve scientific literacy and, best of all, be happier and healthier.

By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Science and Policy Director Mara Kerry.

Calls to Action

  1. Tell Fish and Wildlife to Protect At-Risk Turtles! – here
  2. Tell your Senators to pass wilderness bills now – here
  3. Tell the Pollinator Health Task Force to Take Swift Action to Protect Bees – here
  4. Tell the EPA and Congress that you support strong carbon pollution standards – here
  5. SUPPORT A STRONG CLEAN POWER PLAN – here

 Florida Panthers

Success: Panthers Saved from Destructive Oil Drilling

Target: Joe D. Mulé, President of Preserve Our Paradise

Goal: Applaud the efforts of Preserve Our Paradise for saving the Florida panther from oil drilling and exploration

The endangered Florida panther has been saved from the oil and gas exploration and drilling that was conducted less than a mile from its wildlife refuge. Thanks to grassroots organization Preserve Our Paradise and a previous Force Change petition, the oil and gas company is ending all activity near this precious panther’s home. This petition is to thank Preserve Our Paradise for fighting against the oil and gas company that threatened this area’s wildlife and natural resources.

Dan A. Hughes Company, a Texas oil and gas exploration and production corporation, was drilling for oil in southwest Florida. Although the company had legally obtained the mineral rights, their operation threatened the protected habitat of the Florida panther, a species with approximately 100 individuals left in the wild. The state had allowed this company to drill without an environmental impact assessment.

A group of concerned citizens banded together to create Preserve Our Paradise. This organization initiated multiple court actions against the Texas oil giant. Finally, Dan A. Hughes Co. decided to retreat from the area. This precious space of Florida Everglades has escaped the grasp of the destructive oil and gas industry. Not only was the Florida panther at risk but also community water supplies. Preserve Our Paradise is proof that community members can fight against oil and gas bullies. By signing this petition, you are thanking Preserve Our Paradise for its relentless efforts to save the habitat of the Florida panther.

  Invasive species

Air Potato Beetle Release Forms for Florida

  Downloads:  Please select the appropriate application based on your location. 

  • Area 1: Air potato leaf beetle release decisions  will be based on program priorities and conducted on a first come, first served basis while supplies last until the end of November and will resume in April or May 2015.  Fill out the form for Broward, Charlotte, Collier, Dade, Glades, Hendry, Lee, Monroe and Palm Beach Counties and email to Min.Rayamajhi@ARS.USDA.GOV
    Area 1 Request Form:      
    Word  PDF
  • Area 2: Air potato leaf beetle release decisions will be based on program priorities and conducted on a first come, first served basis while supplies last until the end of October and will resume in April or May 2015. Fill out the form below for Other Remaining Counties in Florida and email to Eric.rohrig@freshfromflorida.com
    Area 2 Request Form:    Word PDF
  • Air Potato Beetle Release Record
    Select Form:  
    Word  |  PDF

    See or catch a lionfish? Report it.

    That’s what many lionfish hunters have been doing, thanks to the new Report Florida Lionfish app. Released to the public May 28, the app has been downloaded by more than 2,500 people. The first 250 to successfully report their lionfish catch or sighting received an interactive Lionfish Control Team T-shirt. The logo on these shirts is designed to come to life on your smartphone.

    In addition to the app, data can also be submitted online at www.com/Lionfish by clicking on “Report Lionfish.”

    Lionfish are an invasive species that negatively impact Florida’s reefs and wildlife.

    The Report Florida Lionfish app includes educational information on lionfish and safe handling guidelines, as well as an easy-to-use data-reporting form so divers and anglers can share with the FWC information about their sighting or harvest. App users also can take and share a photo of their catch. These photos may be used in future publications or social media efforts. (Samples shown here: Kyle Huber with his lionfish, and Glen Hoffman’s big catch.)

    The FWC will use the data to help identify sites where targeted lionfish removal might be most beneficial. All data will be available to the public and shared with other groups and agencies collecting this kind of information.

    Several users have submitted ideas on how to improve the app, and the FWC is looking into implementing those changes, including allowing users to submit using a photograph that is already on their smart device and adding fields for smallest and largest catch.

    Learn more about the new app, T-shirt and interactive logo by watching a video online. Missed your opportunity to receive a Lionfish T-shirt? These shirts will also be given out at various lionfish-related events, such as derbies, across the state.

    Learn more about lionfish at www.MyFWC.com/Nonnatives; click on “Marine Life.”

Endangered Species

UF/IFAS Research Findings Shed Light on Seagrass Needs

Seagrass beds represent critical and threatened coastal habitats around the world, and a new University of Florida study shows how much sunlight seagrass needs to stay healthy.

Loss of seagrass means fish, crabs and other animals lose their homes and manatees and sea turtles lose a source of food. Nutrients, such as phosphorous, may prevent seagrass from getting the sunlight it needs to thrive. Nutrients may come from many sources, among them fertilizers used in agriculture, golf courses and suburban lawns, pet waste and septic tank waste.

Scientists often use seagrass to judge coastal ecosystems’ vitality, said Chuck Jacoby, a courtesy associate professor in the Department of Soil and Water Science and co-author of a new UF study that examines light and seagrass health.

“By protecting seagrass, we protect organisms that use seagrass and other photosynthetic organisms that need less light,” said Jacoby, a faculty member in UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

When nutrient levels are too high, microorganisms in the water, called phytoplankton, use these nutrients and light to grow and reproduce until they become so abundant that they block sunlight seagrass needs to survive, said Zanethia Choice, a former UF graduate student who led the investigation.

“Seagrass can cope with short-term light reductions, but if those conditions last too long or occur too frequently, seagrass will deteriorate and ultimately die,” Choice said. “Good water clarity is vital for healthy coastal systems.”

Choice studied seagrass beds in a 700,000-acre swath off the coast of Florida’s Big Bend.

Choice, now a natural resource specialist with the U.S. Forest Service in Mississippi, conducted the study as part of her master’s thesis, under the supervision of Jacoby and Tom Frazer, a professor of aquatic ecology and director of the UF School of Natural Resources and Environment.

Choice combined 13 years of light and water quality data and two years of seagrass samples from habitats near the mouths of eight rivers that empty into the Gulf of Mexico.

Seagrass off the Steinhatchee, Suwannee, Waccasassa, Withlacoochee, Crystal, Homosassa, Chassahowitzka and Weeki Wachee rivers constitutes part of the second largest seagrass bed in Florida. The largest bed is in Florida Bay, between the Everglades and the Florida Keys, Jacoby said.

Choice wanted to see how much light was needed to keep the seagrass in this region healthy. She found different seagrass species needed varying amounts of light, ranging from 8 to 27 percent of the sunlight at the water’s surface.

The UF/IFAS study will give water resource managers, such as the state Department of Environmental Protection, water-clarity targets they can use to set proper nutrient levels for water bodies, Jacoby said.

Reducing nutrient levels can promote the health of seagrass and coastal waters. For example, concerted efforts to reduce nutrients flowing into Tampa Bay over the past 20-plus years resulted in a 50 percent reduction in nitrogen, a 50 percent increase in water clarity and a return of lost seagrass, according to a study conducted by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program.

Unlike Tampa Bay, there is no evidence that elevated nutrient levels in Choice’s study area have led to loss of seagrass. UF researchers are trying to make sure nutrients do not pollute the seagrass beds off the coast of the Big Bend, and they hope their results will guide managers as they strive to prevent any damage.

The study of seagrass light requirements is published in this month’s issue of the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin.

Brad Buck|UF/IFAS Communications|April 18th, 2014

Warming Drives 40 Percent Drop in Alaska Polar Bear Population

Deeply troubling news for polar bears: A new study finds that global warming has driven a 40 percent decline in the number of these bears in eastern Alaska and western Canada. The Southern Beaufort Sea population was estimated to be 1,500 in 2006. Today, according to the study, it’s dwindled to just 900.

“Global warming has put Alaska’s polar bears in a deadly downward spiral,” said the Center for Biological Diversity’s Sarah Uhlemann. “It’s happening now, it’s killing polar bears now, and if we don’t act now, we will lose polar bears in Alaska.”

The Center secured Endangered Species Act protection for polar bears in 2008, but if we’re going to make sure these great bears of the north survive, we’ve got to cut the greenhouse gas pollution that’s melting their Arctic homes. Without help, scientists predict, two-thirds of the world’s polar bears could be gone by 2050.

Read more in the Los Angeles Times and sign our petition to save polar bears.

Endangered Rockfish Win 1,000 Square Miles of Puget Sound

Following pressure from conservation groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, the National Marine Fisheries Service just protected more than 1,000 square miles of “critical habitat” for endangered yelloweye, canary and bocaccio rockfish in Washington’s Puget Sound. Four years after these fish were federally protected, it’s about time some of their most precious habitats received safeguards.

Rockfish, often brightly colored and capable of living longer than 100 years, have been plunging in numbers due to decades of overfishing and habitat degradation. In order to save these fish in the Puget Sound — a 2,000-plus square-mile estuary home to many other endangered species — these waters must be kept clean and free of debris (like abandoned fishing nets, which kill more than 16,000 fish every year). The new designation will help by identifying activities that might harm the habitat, including near-shore development and in-water construction, dredging and material disposal, pollution and runoff, cable laying and hydrokinetic projects, kelp harvest, fisheries, and activities that lead to global climate change and acidification.

Read more in our press release.

[Could there still be hope for a critical habitat designation for the Florida Panther?]

Polar Bear Population Decline a Wake Up Call for Climate Change Action

Southern Beaufort Sea polar bears show forty percent drop in number

“We need to change course if we want to stop further habitat loss and ensure resilient wildlife populations, both in the Arctic and around the world.”

Forty percent. That’s the stunning population loss for polar bears in the southern Beaufort Sea. The news comes from a new study linking the dramatic decline in this polar bear subpopulation in northeast Alaska and Canada to a loss of sea ice due to climate change.

How does climate change affect polar bears so dramatically? Polar bears rely on sea ice to access the seals that are their primary source of food as well as to rest and breed. With less sea ice every year, polar bears and many other ice-dependent creatures are at risk.

Today’s study, published in Ecological Applications, analyzed data on polar bears in northeast Alaska and the Northwest Territories and documented a 40 percent population loss between 2001-2010 from 1,500 to 900 bears.

Climate change is the main threat facing polar bears. But we also know the effects are being seen around the world. Now is the time we must speak up and demand global action.

“This is a clear warning sign of the impact a warming Arctic has on ice-dependent species like the polar bear,” said Dr. Pete Ewins, WWF’s Senior Species Officer in Canada. “Given this subpopulation is at the edge of the range, it’s no surprise to see this happening so soon.”

Added Margaret Williams,  Managing Director of WWF’s Arctic Program, “Here are concrete numbers to show us that the impacts of climate change are happening now. We need to change course if we want to stop further habitat loss and ensure resilient wildlife populations, both in the Arctic and around the world.”

Margaret Williams|Managing Director|WWF’s Arctic Program

Rescuers Work to Save Hundreds of Baby Bats After Deadly Heatwave

A scorching heat wave in New South Wales, Australia, this past weekend has killed thousands of flying foxes and left rescuers working tirelessly to provide care for hundreds of pups who managed to survive.

The Daily Telegraph reported temperatures reached a record 111 degrees Fahrenheit in the town of Casino on Saturday, which sparked the deaths of an estimated 5,000 flying foxes who began dropping to the ground. Making the problem worse is that many females have pups this time of year who are still nursing and many were left clinging to their mothers.

While the local fire department came in to spray the area with water in an attempt to provide relief to survivors and authorities began clean up efforts, volunteers rallied and began a massive rescue of orphaned pups.

According to the NSW Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service, Inc. (WIRES), which helped coordinate rescue efforts, ‘the extreme heat, low humidity and lack of shade’ too early in the season is what caused the deaths, but volunteers from every available wildlife care group have been working around-the-clock to keep about 400 surviving pups alive. The group wrote on Facebook:

Each of these orphans had to be assessed, hydrated and taken care of individually; you can imagine the enormous task of literally hundreds coming in at the same time.

The task is ongoing; carers are working round the clock and emotions are tested as carers do what they can to ensure each and every little flying fox is taken care of whilst dealing with the sight of thousands of adults and juveniles dead and dying.

While some people are reportedly not bothered by the loss, conservationists counter that flying foxes are a protected species and are vital to keeping forests healthy by spreading seeds and pollinating flowering trees.

Scientists also believe flying foxes are good bio-indicators of die-offs because they live in colonies – as opposed to solitary animals — that are easier to count and show just how bad the consequences of extreme weather can be for wildlife.

Sadly, this isn’t the first die-off. Earlier this year an estimated 45,500 flying foxes died in Queensland during an extreme heatwave, making it the largest on record, but it was followed by more. This one probably won’t be the last.

Worse for flying foxes, and other wildlife who can’t tolerate extreme weather, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2012 report predicted the frequency and magnitude of extreme heat events will continue to grow through this century, yet Australia seems to be behind on dealing with climate change.

Just last week, hundreds of protesters gathered and literally stuck their heads in the sand at Bondi Beach to protest Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s stance on climate change and his refusal to include it in the G20 summit held in Brisbane. Australia also now stands as the only country to have reversed action on climate change by repealing a tax on greenhouse gas emissions this past summer. Hopefully it won’t take more tragic events like this for serious action to be taken.

Alicia Graef|November 21, 2014

Wild & Weird

Alligators in the Everglades Are Losing Massive Amounts of Weight

A research crew from the University of Florida, led by a wildlife ecologist who has studied alligators for decades, has discovered that the alligators living in the Everglades are getting more and more emaciated.

“They’re skinnier, they’re fewer, they grow slower,” U of F ecologist Frank Mazzotti told CBS News. “Most other places, if an alligator is 10 years old, it’s easily six feet long — not so in the Everglades. At 10 years [old], it’s only four or five feet.”

When observing the gators, Mazzotti notes, “Essentially it looks like a skeleton with skin hanging on it.”

So what the hell is happening to the alligators?

Not surprisingly, it turns out that people may be the reason the gators are getting skinnier every year. Scientists believe that building and expanding a city on top of a swamp might be contributing to the animals’ poor health. A massive draining project built back in the 1950s in order to develop metropolitan South Florida has drained huge swaths of the Everglades into the ocean.

As a result, pollutants and fertilizers have streamed through the swampland and shrunken the habitat. Moreover, the drainage might also be limiting the gators’ diet, since the farther north you go, the fatter the gators get.

Pumps that were constructed on the Everglades to drain them also polluted the habitat. Now, according to Mazzotti, only 50 percent of the original Everglades remains. And what remains is damaged.

So, even with billions being poured into restoring the Everglades, the consequences of infrastructure might be slowly killing the alligators.

Back in 2013, the Central Everglades Planning Project called the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan “the most expensive and comprehensive environmental repair attempt in history.”

“No one set out in the beginning of the 20th Century to destroy a world-class ecosystem,” Shannon Estenoz, director of Everglades Restoration Initiatives, told CBS News. “There was just a lack of appreciation and understanding of the damage that was being done.

“Cities like Miami and Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach and other cities could not have grown in the way that they grew without this drainage project,” Estenoz added. “It’s the unintended consequences that it took us a few decades to figure out.”

Meanwhile, Mazzotti says the gator population in the Everglades is less than half of what you’d expect in a thriving habitat.

“The best of them are skinny,” he says in the report. “They weigh maybe 80 percent of what an alligator should weigh. But what is of much greater concern to us is the proportion of alligators that are emaciated.”

“When they’re not doing well, something is going wrong in the ecosystem,” Estenoz says. “They are the canary in the coal mine.”

Chris Joseph|Nov. 19 2014

Everglades

C43/Caloosahatchee Reservoir – Chief’s Report – DEP Awards $3 Million for Southwest Florida Water Storage

~Early Start construction will provide critical interim storage capacity~

As South Florida’s ‘rainy season’ comes to a close, state and regional entities are getting a jump on critical projects designed to bolster water storage and treatment options throughout the region to better protect our water resources. Today, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) awarded $3 million to the South Florida Water Management District to fund the Early Start phase of the Caloosahatchee River West Basin Storage Reservoir, which will create up to 11,000 additional acre-feet of water storage in southwest Florida, or the equivalent of 5,500 Olympic-sized swimming pools.  …

“The district and the state put a priority on increasing water storage to protect south Florida’s coastal estuaries,” said South Florida Water Management District Executive Director Blake Guillory. “This funding support from DEP allows us to do just that by beginning early construction work on the C-43 Reservoir that provides increased storage onsite to protect the Caloosahatchee Estuary.”

The Early Start phase of the C-43 Reservoir project focuses on specific elements that can be put in place in order to provide interim water storage until the full C-43 Reservoir can be completed. These elements include a temporary storage facility in the southwest corner of the reservoir as well as demolition of necessary structures within the site’s footprint and the construction of a small pump station and perimeter canal. When completed, the Early Start project will provide interim water storage to a depth of about 4 feet on approximately 3,500 acres of the full C-43 Reservoir project site.

“We must continue to be proactive in the protection of our environment and better prepare for the inevitability of rain in Southwest Florida,” said Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto. “It’s extremely important that we take every opportunity to provide adequate water storage here in Southwest Florida, and the Early Start project helps do just that.”

“We can wait no longer to protect our river and estuary,” said Representative Matthew Caldwell. “Our quality of life, our beautiful coastline and our local economy depends on the health and viability of the Caloosahatchee. Projects like Early Start help us ensure these ecological treasures are protected.”

When completed, the C-43 Reservoir will help ensure a more natural, consistent flow of freshwater to the estuary. To restore and maintain the estuary during the dry season, the project will capture and store basin stormwater runoff, along with a portion of water discharged from Lake Okeechobee, and water will be slowly released into the Caloosahatchee, as needed. The release of water during the right time of year may also assist in maintaining optimal water flows and levels for the year-round health of the estuary and provide recreational benefits.

Water Quality Issues

Groups Take Legal Action Against Coal Company for Falsifying Water Pollution Reports

Just last month, a technician at a West Virginia lab which performed water pollution tests for coal companies required under the Clean Water Act pleaded guilty to charges of falsifying those reports. Now four citizen and environmental groups in Kentucky are charging that a major coal company is falsifying its Clean Water Act reports and state regulators responsible for reviewing the reports systematically ignored them.

Frasure_Graph_for_Press_sWhen Frasure Creek mining illegally submitted old reports, changing only the dates, self-reported pollution violations decreased. Image credit: Appalachian Voices

Appalachian Voices, Kentucky Riverkeeper, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and Waterkeeper Alliance, represented by Mary Cromer of Appalachian Citizens Law Center, attorney Lauren Waterworth and Pace Law School Environmental Litigation Clinic, sent a notice of intent to sue to Frasure Creek Mining, one of eastern Kentucky’s largest mountaintop removal mining companies. Under the Clean Water Act, citizens must give a company 60-day notice to correct violations prior to suing.

The groups charge that the false pollution reports sent to the state by Frasure Creek comprised nearly 28,000 violations of federal law. Each charge carries a potential fine of $37,500, so a maximum penalty could theoretically be more than $1 billion. They also say that Kentucky Energy and the Environment Cabinet failed to detect such falsifications as duplicating results from one report to another, changing only the dates, as well as changing values that would have exceeded pollution limits.

“The Clean Water Act absolutely depends on accurate reporting of pollution discharges,” said Waterkeeper Alliance attorney Pete Harrison. “False reporting like this undermines the entire regulatory framework that safeguards the people and waters of Kentucky from dangerous pollution. By all indications, this case looks like the biggest criminal conspiracy to violate the federal Clean Water Act in the history of that law. The refusal of the U.S. attorney in Lexington and the Environmental Protection Agency to bring criminal cases against Frasure Creek is just as inexcusable as the state’s failure to bring this company into compliance.”

It’s not the first time the groups have had Frasure Creek in their sights.

As the notice states, “Three years ago the citizen groups discovered that Frasure Creek had repeatedly copied the exact same pollution data from one report to the next and submitted the falsified reports to the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet. Now, after an apparent pause in its false reporting, Frasure Creek has resumed this illegal practice. As before, the Cabinet has utterly failed to even notice these flagrant violations of the laws that it is bound to uphold. Frasure Creek’s actions—and the cabinet’s failures to act—undermine the regulatory framework that safeguards the people and the waters of Kentucky from dangerous pollution. Because the Cabinet seems incapable of meaningful oversight, the Citizen Groups must once again step in, both to expose rampant violations of the Clean Water Act and to enforce the law.”

At that time of the prior violations coming to light, the company attributed them to “transcription errors” and the cabinet levied a token fine, saying that the agency would do a better job of identifying misreporting in the future. As a result of the 2010 investigation, Frasure Creek hired new, more reliable labs for a short period of time and the pollution levels it reported spiked. The groups tried to sue for these violations, but the state reached a slap-on-the-wrist agreement with the company, precluding such action.

The notice of intent to sue says the violations are even more extensive this time and that the agency continues to be lax. It charges that the first quarter of 2014, 48 percent of the reports filed by Frasure Creek contained data that the company had already submitted for previous monitoring periods and that this time, they changed not only the dates but in some cases the pollution figures themselves, lowering them to within acceptable limits.

“Copy and paste is not compliance,” said Eric Chance, a water quality specialist with Appalachian Voices. “The fact that Frasure Creek continued to flout the law to this extent, even after being caught before, shows it has no regard for the people and communities they are impacting. Equally disturbing is the failure of state officials to act to stop the obvious violations. We’re not sure state officials even look at the quarterly reports.”

“They aren’t afraid of getting caught because the consequences are extremely low,” said Chance. “The cabinet’s settlements with Frasure Creek are so weak that they don’t discourage this type of false reporting.”

“The Environmental Cabinet says they do not have the personnel to enforce the Clean Water Act,” said Ted Withrow of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth. “I would add they do not have the will to do so.”

Anastasia Pantsios|November 17, 2014

U.S. Clean Water Act Settlement in Lima, Ohio, to Reduce Sewage Overflows

CHICAGO (Nov. 20, 2014) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the State of Ohio today announced a Clean Water Act settlement with the City of Lima, Ohio, to resolve claims that untreated sewer discharges were released into the Ottawa River during wet weather. The proposed consent decree, lodged yesterday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, requires Lima to make major structural improvements to control combined sewer overflows and to eliminate overflows from the sanitary sewer system.  

“The consent decree prevents sewer overflows into the Ottawa River,” said EPA Region 5 Administrator Susan Hedman. “Lima will make critical upgrades to the City’s wastewater treatment infrastructure on a schedule that ensures affordability.”

The proposed consent decree requires the City to more than double wastewater treatment capacity – from 30 million gallons a day to 70 million gallons a day. The City will reduce sewer overflows by fully or partially separating storm water and sewer lines, constructing a new 13-million gallon storage tank and installing a pump system. These actions are expected to significantly reduce Lima’s combined sewer overflows over the next ten years, while sanitary sewer overflows will be eliminated in stages throughout the life of the consent decree. These and other improvements will cost an estimated $147 million. The City will also pay a civil penalty of $49,000, to be split evenly between the United States and State of Ohio.

In addition, the City agreed to remove and replace dead or compromised trees along the banks of the Ottawa River. This estimated $218,000 revitalization project is expected to improve water quality and benefit the aquatic ecosystem in the Ottawa River.

Keeping raw sewage and contaminated storm water out of the waters of the United States is one of EPA’s National Enforcement Initiatives. Raw sewage and contaminated storm water contain pathogens that threaten public health and the environment. EPA is focused on reducing discharges from sewer overflows by obtaining commitments from cities to implement timely, affordable solutions.

The proposed settlement is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.  It can be viewed at www.justice.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html

Water will become a top issue in 2015 with the help of Amendment 1

OK, 2015 actually could be the “year of water” in the Florida Legislature.

Certain Capitol pundits earlier this year predicted that water would be a top issue during the 2014 session. But they were wrong because there wasn’t support in both chambers for dealing with the issue.

The Senate passed a springs bill that would have provided limited funding for projects to reduce groundwater pollution. But House leaders always had expressed reluctance because the Senate bill was still evolving and they instead wanted a broader approach to water.

The difference this year, according to House and Senate leaders, is that voter approval of Amendment 1 will drive a focus on water issues. Approved by 75 percent of voters, Amendment 1 is expected to provide more than $10 billion over the next 20 years for land and water conservation.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli said soon after taking the gavel during Tuesday’s organizational session that water will be a policy and funding priority as the Legislature implements Amendment 1.

“A clean, abundant water source