ConsRep 1502 C

“Life in us is like the water in a river.” Henry David Thoreau

Announcements

New Hog Island Audubon Camp Sessions – Summer 2015

Be the first to explore these new Hog Island Audubon Camp sessions.
Spaces are selling out fast! Use the discount code (SNOWBIRD) to save $25 at registration before February 15th.

Breaking Into Birding: May31-June 5th, 2015

Join us this coming June, meet others with similar interests and see and understand birds in a more meaningful way.

This is the perfect opportunity for those new to birdwatching that want to see Maine’s coast like they never have before!

Hands-on Bird Science: June 21-26th, 2015

Dig deeply into fascinating aspects of avian science, working side-by-side with experts from across the country.

Whether you’re interested in learning how to band birds, track migrants using the latest technology, prepare museum-quality specimens,

record bird song and other natural sounds, or census breeding birds, this session will give you hands-on experience with many facets of bird science. 

Learn More

GEER 2015 – Greater Everglades Ecosystem Restoration (GEER) Science Conference

April 21-23

Coral Springs, FL

GEER Speaker Agenda & Poster Directory 

Program Details

Building on the conference theme “Science in Support of Everglades Restoration,”

we are pleased to announce an impressive slate of more than 240 talks and 100 posters were selected for presentation at GEER 2015.  

GEER features a diverse group of restoration topics, including but not limited to: 

  • Adaptive Management
  • Agriculture in the Context of Restoration
  • Biogeochemistry and Contaminants
  • Carbon Sequestration
  • Carbon, Peat, and Soil Dynamics
  • Climate Change and Sea Level Rise
  • Coastal and Estuarine Science
  • Ecosystem Services and Sustainability
  • Hydrology (Flow, Depth and Duration)
  • Mangrove Systems
  • Mercury Cycling, Transport and Effects
  • Paleoecology and Historical Hydrology
  • Restoration and Coastal Water Quality
  • Sampling Tools and Technologies
  • Stormwater Treatment Areas
  • System-Wide Science
  • Tracking Restoration Performance
  • Tree Islands
  • Wildlife and Biodiversity

Visit the web site to view the detailed speaker schedule and poster directory

www.conference.ifas.ufl.edu/GEER2015/

Last Call for Photos ‏

Submit your photos to the Audubon Photography Awards before it’s too late–February 23rd to be exact.

There’s only one more week to enter for the chance to win a trip to Latin America,

high-end photo gear, and other prizes from our sponsors.

Don’t miss out.

Submit your photos

Evenings at the Conservancy – Kemps ridley sea turtles ‏

The Evenings at the Conservancy Speaker Series continues with a presentation on Kemp’s ridley sea turtles by Dr. Jeffrey Schmid, Conservancy biologist and senior environmental research manager.

On February 24, he’ll show you images and video that detail his extensive work with what is considered to be the most endangered sea turtle species in the world.

Dr. Schmid has 28 years of experience conducting research in the coastal areas of western Florida, particularly with in-water aggregations of marine turtles.

He has conducted long-term tagging studies of marine turtles in the Cedar Keys, Charlotte Harbor and the Ten Thousand Islands.
He has used telemetric monitoring and benthic habitat mapping to determine that critically endangered Kemp’s ridleys were using live bottom habitat in near shore waters.

Dr. Schmid also studied the seasonal migrations of Kemp’s ridleys and analyzed movements relative to sea surface temperature, depth, and harmful algae blooms (red tide) using satellite telemetry.

The presentation will be on Tuesday, February 24 in the Jeannie Meg Smith Theater, located inside Eaton Conservation Hall, from 6:30-7:30 p.m. with an opportunity for questions and answers. 

The event is open to the public and all Conservancy members are encouraged to attend. We will also be serving free wine, beer and food throughout the evening.

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

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

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

Members: FREE
General Admission: $10

 
Don’t miss these future Evenings lectures:

March 10
Elam Stoltzfus – “Filmmaking in Florida”

April 14
Charles Sobczak – “The Human Footprint”

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

Of Interest to All

5 Ways Obama’s Budget Fights Climate Change and Expedites Renewable Energy

President Obama’s FY2016 budget proposal prominently demonstrates his commitment to fighting climate change while investing in America’s future.

In the last few years this administration has cut carbon pollution from cars and trucks, proposed the first-ever federal standards limiting carbon pollution from existing power plants (the Clean Power Plan), set a raft of new energy-efficiency standards, proposed replacing the biggest uses of the HFC “super pollutants,” and set a schedule for first steps on methane pollution.

This budget proposal continues these efforts while expanding efforts in resilience, investing in clean energy and taking a leadership role in global climate initiatives.

The president’s commitment stands out in his Message to Congress:

No challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change. Fourteen of our planet’s 15 warmest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century. The world’s best scientists are telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe. The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. And as discussed in the Budget, the significant costs to inaction on climate change hit the Federal Government’s bottom-line directly, as worsening climate impacts create Government liabilities. That’s why this Budget takes action on climate by supporting the Climate Action Plan that I released in 2013 with investments to accelerate carbon pollution reductions, to build on-the-ground partnerships with local communities and help them put in place strategies for greater resilience to climate change impacts, and to support America’s leadership abroad on this important moral and fiscal issue.

Here’s a quick tour of key climate budgetary highlights.

The president’s budget includes $25 million in state grants to help states develop their own implementation strategies to clean up power plants, the nation’s number one source of the pollution driving dangerous climate change.

The budget also proposes a $4 billion fund to encourage and reward states that go beyond the Clean Power Plan’s minimum goals, or meet those goals ahead of schedule. For example, this fund could support job-creating wind and solar energy and energy efficiency investments, transmission and other infrastructure that reduces carbon pollution, or help clean up pollution that disproportionately affects low-income communities.

The budget includes funding for American leadership in clean energy technology development. It invests $7.4 billion, primarily through the Energy, Defense, and Agriculture Departments, in research, development, and deployment of technologies ranging from wind, solar, and energy efficiency to carbon capture and storage. The president proposes extending the production tax credits for new wind and solar energy installations.

To underscore the president’s climate diplomacy and promote a global climate agreement in Paris this December, the budget requests $1.29 billion towards the Global Climate Change Initiative. This includes a $500 million installment towards the President’s $3 billion pledge to contribute to the Green Climate Fund (GCF), an outgrowth of the international climate fund launched by President Bush and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson in 2008.

The GCF is an important investment in maintaining the stability of the world’s most vulnerable nations as they cope with disastrous storms, droughts, and other manifestations of a changing climate. It contributes to U.S. national security by preventing climate impacts from undermining the stability of vulnerable nations by aggravating civil conflicts or creating humanitarian and refugee crises.

The budget documents call attention to the enormous financial cost the federal government has incurred from climate change—more than $300 billion in direct costs over the last decade due to extreme weather and fire alone. To reduce future costs and danger across the United States, the budget proposes climate resilience investments across the departments to improve our understanding of projected climate change impacts while building resilience-enhancing infrastructure and activities.

The budget proposes $400 million in funding for National Flood Insurance risk mapping, which will help communities and businesses understand local flood risks. A new $50 million program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will help coastal regions plan and implement resilience plans. $20 million will go to the Climate Resilience Toolkit, a public resource that provides scientific tools and information to help Tribes, businesses, communities and citizens understand both the risks from climate change and the opportunities for action.

The president’s climate budget proposals are a direct challenge to Congress’s know-nothing/do-nothing leadership. Today, we heard only more of the same from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who announced that he’s joining an appropriations subcommittee overseeing the Environmental Protection Agency. As reported by The Hill, McConnell said: “You can guarantee that I will continue to fight back against this Administration’s anti-coal jobs regulations on behalf of the Kentuckians I represent in the U.S. Senate.”

Votes taken last month on the Keystone XL pipeline bill call into question whether McConnell has the votes to block EPA from carrying out its climate responsibilities under the Clean Air Act. Five members of the Republican caucus broke ranks to recognize that human activity “significantly” contributes to climate change. Ten other Republicans backed another affirmation of climate science. Two Republican Senators voted against efforts to condemn the president’s climate agreement with China and interfere with his diplomacy with other nations.

McConnell is short of 60 votes, and far short of the 67 he’d need to override presidential vetoes.

Just this weekend, the New York Times released the latest poll demonstrating that the American people overwhelmingly favor action on climate change. That includes a near-majority—47 percent—of Republicans. The Senate and House leadership’s climate denialism is increasingly out of step.

If McConnell cannot block the Clean Power Plan entirely, will he seek to cut the funds that the president has proposed to help Kentucky businesses and consumers? Where will that kind of intransigence lead his party?

David Doniger|Natural Resources Defense Council|February 3, 2015

NFWF Announces $34.3 Million for Gulf Restoration Projects in Florida Second Round of Grants from the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund

WASHINGTON, D.C. –  Governor Rick Scott and The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) announced the funding of $34.3 million for nine Florida projects that address high priority conservation needs. The projects, developed in consultation with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and federal resource agencies, are designed to remedy harm or reduce the risk of future harm to natural resources that were affected by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Governor Scott said, “This $34.3 million in funding is great news for families in the Panhandle. Florida’s natural treasures must be protected so that future generations will be able to experience all that our great state has to offer.”

The money is the second obligation from NFWF’s Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund, created 18 months ago as part of the settlement between the U.S. Department of Justice and BP and Transocean to resolve certain criminal charges against both companies in relation to the spill. Under the allocation formula and other provisions contained in the plea agreements, a total of $356 million will be paid into the Gulf Fund over a five year period for conservation projects in the state of Florida.

“The model for the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund is one of partnership,” said Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO of NFWF. “In order to succeed, NFWF must bring together state resource agencies, federal agencies, and other public and private partners, all working in harmony to fund the best projects that will do the most good for the Gulf of Mexico and the communities that depend on it each and every day. The projects we announce today demonstrate the value of our efforts to work in a collaborative fashion to select projects that will provide significant benefits to wildlife and people for many years to come.”

In early 2013, a U.S. District Court approved two plea agreements resolving certain criminal charges against BP and Transocean related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Provisions within the plea agreements direct a total of $2.544 billion to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation over a five-year period. The funds are to be used to support projects that remedy harm or reduce the risk of future harm to natural resources that were affected by the oil spill.

To learn more about Gulf Coast restoration in the state of Florida, please visit: www.deepwaterhorizonflorida.com

To learn more about NFWF’s Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund in Florida, visit http://www.nfwf.org/gulf/Pages/GEBF-Florida.aspx

Wind Power Coming to Sunshine State?

You’ve heard of “Inherit the Wind,” but what about importing wind?

Gulf Power of Pensacola is hoping to harness the power of wind for Florida by importing it from Oklahoma. The utility company is seeking permission from the Florida Public Service Commission to purchase the wind energy produced on a turbine farm in the Sooner State and brought directly to the Sunshine State.

Supplying power in this manner has never been done before in Florida, and environmental activists are applauding the move. Sierra Club spokesperson Kelly Martin says the timing is right. “It’s cost-effective. The cost of clean energy has plummeted to the point where it is cheaper to bring in wind from out of state to benefit Florida consumers,” she says.

The electricity will be brought in via transmission lines from the Kingfisher Wind Farm in Piedmont, Oklahoma. If approved by state energy regulators at the Public Service Commission, it could be used to power more than 50,000 homes in northwest Florida. The agreement would also make Gulf Power the leading utility purchaser of wind energy in the state. Florida, of course, is known more from its sunshine than its wind. But Martin believes that could soon change too.

“As wind technology has caught up, there are ways to build wind turbines that are in places where there are less of a wind resource,” she says. As for harnessing Florida’s sunshine, Gulf Power is also seeking permission to partner with the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy to build solar energy plants to power three military bases in northwest Florida. Martin says both moves are long overdue. “There’s no doubt that Florida utilities have been lacking in their adoption of clean energy technologies like solar power and wind power,” says Martin. Wind farms are indeed rare in Florida, and the Sunshine State ranks only 13th in solar energy production.

Phil Latzman/Stephanie Carson|Public News Service – FL|February 2015 

[SFAS is not opposed to wind power as long as the source does not put wildlife in jeopardy. The entire Florida peninsula is within the Atlantic Migratory Flyway and is not suitable for wind power, but as the power will be coming from a source outside these limits, SFAS welcomes the idea. It is, after all, renewable, clean energy. ]

Urge EPA to ban this widely-used toxic pesticide 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has extensive scientific evidence showing that chlorpyrifos, a widely used pesticide, is linked to serious harm to people’s brains, including reduced IQ and autism. But rather than ban this dangerous pesticide, the agency is—inexcusably—proposing to allow use to continue, putting people at risk… especially kids.

EPA’s recently released human health risk assessment shows that farmworkers who apply the pesticide or work in the field may be sickened by exposure to unsafe levels of chlorpyrifos. EPA also found that chlorpyrifos, even when applied exactly following the label directions, contaminates drinking water at levels that might harm infants.

That’s why a petition filed in 2007 and multiple lawsuits have repeatedly asked EPA to take action and protect children and families by banning chlorpyrifos.

Chlorpyrifos is too dangerous to be used around children—that’s what EPA decided in 2001 when it banned the pesticide from household use. Rural and agricultural communities deserve the same protections.

Urge EPA to ban chlorpyrifos now.

Kari Birdseye|Campaign Manager|Healthy Communities

Corps to host public information session on Herbert Hoover Dike rehabilitation

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District will host a virtual information session for people interested in rehabilitation efforts at the Herbert Hoover Dike surrounding Lake Okeechobee in south Florida.

The information session will be conducted at 3 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 26. Interested individuals can listen to audio of the presentation via teleconference, while visual aids will be available at a website.  The goal of the session is to provide updated information on continuing rehabilitation work at the dike and information on a proposal to extend embankment repairs to the west of Belle Glade in Palm Beach County during fiscal year 2017.

Those interested in listening to the presentation can access audio through
the following means:
Dial Toll-free 877-873-8018
When prompted, enter access code 2813203#
When prompted, enter security code 3456#

Those interested in viewing graphics can access the webinar through the
following means:
Website: https://www.webmeeting.att.com
Meeting number: 8778738018
Access code: 2813203

Please note the first time the web meeting service is used that client software will be downloaded.

For more information on Herbert Hoover Dike rehabilitation, visit the Corps’ website at:
http://www.saj.usace.army.mil/Missions/CivilWorks/LakeOkeechobee/HerbertHooverDike.aspx

 

Calls to Action

  1. Tell Congress – Hands off our wolves – here
  2. ‏Help Protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from Harm – here
  3. Remove Livestock Not Wild Horses from Colorado Herd Area – here
  4. Tell Congress: Reject the “No More National Parks” bill – here
  5. Support The Bills To Ban Fracking In Florida – here
  6. Stop Big Oil’s offshore drilling expansion – here
  7. Tell Congress: Stop Attacking the EPA -‏ here
  8. Urge EPA to ban chlorpyrifos now. – here
  9. Keep Politics Out Of The Endangered Species Act – here

Birds and Butterflies

Wading Bird Nesting In Key U.S. Area Plummets 28 Percent

One of the nation’s largest and most important wading bird breeding areas—south Florida, which includes Everglades National Park—has seen wading bird nesting plummet 28 percent below 2013 levels and about 18 percent below the nine-year average for the area.

According to the South Florida Wading Bird Report from the South Florida Water Management District, an estimated 34,714 wading bird nests were initiated in south Florida during the 2014 nesting season (December 2013–July 2014), a significant drop from last year’s estimate of 48,291 nests and well below the average of the last nine years—42,782 nests.

This is the 20th edition of the wading bird report which provides a long-term, continuous record of annual nesting dynamics for south Florida and has proven essential for assessing and guiding restoration and management activities in the Everglades region.

Most wading bird species reduced nesting effort in 2014, but the extent of the decline varied. Of particular note are the small herons, which have shown consistent declines in nest numbers in recent years. Nesting effort by Little Blue Herons, Tricolored Herons, and Snowy Egrets continued to decline, with nest numbers down 83 percent, 42 percent, and 47 percent, respectively, relative to last year, and down 91 percent, 53 percent, and 57 percent relative to the nine-year average.

These declines have been especially acute in the Everglades where numbers have steadily dropped from greater than a thousand nests per species for a typical year in the mid-2000s to only four Little Blue Heron, seven Tricolored Heron, and 122 Snowy Egret nests in 2014. Roseate Spoonbills also exhibited reduced nesting effort in 2014. In Florida Bay, Roseate Spoonbills nesting effort (126 nests) was less than half that of recent years (e.g., 367 nests in 2013) and a third of the 30-year average (479 nests). In the central Everglades, Roseate Spoonbills nesting fell from over 200 nests per year during the last three years to only 50 nests in 2014. Great Egret and White Ibis nesting effort was also reduced, but to a lesser extent than other species, down only six percent and 10 percent, respectively, from the nine-year average.

“An environmentally healthy Everglades Region is vitally important to many thousands of wading birds. Clearly, the significant declines in nesting of many of the typical species of the region tells us that much remains to be done to make it a properly functioning ecosystem,” said Kacy Ray, who directs American Bird Conservancy’s Beach Nesting Birds Program.

The only species that did not experience reduced nesting in 2014 was the Wood Stork, which produced 2,799 nests, a 26 percent improvement over the nine-year average. The report suggests that wetter than normal conditions in 2013 led to higher water levels in large areas and was conducive to greater fish production which are a key source of food for storks.

Most wading bird nesting in south Florida occurs in the Greater Everglades. During 2014, those wading birds initiated an estimated 25,529 nests (74 percent of all nests in south Florida) in the water conservation areas and Everglades National Park. This nesting effort is 28 percent lower than last year (35,580 nests) and the decadal average (35,483 nests). Lake Okeechobee, another important nesting area, produced an estimated 3,457 nests (about 10 percent of all nests in south Florida). This is fewer than half the 8,461 nests that were initiated on the lake last year and is down 32 percent relative to the nine-year average. In contrast to these declines, nesting Wood Stork returned to Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and produced 270 nests. Wood Stork have historically nested there in relatively large numbers, yet had not done so in six of the last seven years.

The data reveal that several nesting responses used as indicators of area restoration success have improved over the past 20 years, while others have not changed or are getting worse. For example, nest numbers of ibises, storks, and Great Egrets have increased over the past 15 years and are regularly meeting restoration targets.

The report says that the improvement in some nesting responses suggests that conditions in the Everglades have become more favorable to birds, possibly as a result of a combination of altered water management regimes, decadal shifts in climate and annual patterns of inundation within wetlands, and a reduction in mercury levels. On the other hand, the decline and stasis of other responses show that current conditions are not comparable with those prior to drainage, and in many respects are getting worse.

Ecological deterioration is occurring across all parts of the ecosystem, the report concludes, and this increases the probability of irreversible ecosystem changes that limit the possibility of recovering the essential defining characteristics of the historical Everglades. Nesting targets might become unattainable, the authors say, if ecological conditions continue to degrade and the status quo is not improved upon soon.

Audubon Bird Stewards Were Key to the Success of Florida’s Coastal Waterbirds in 2014

Thanks to Audubon’s volunteer and staff bird stewards, 2014 will be remembered as an extraordinary year for Florida’s coastal waterbirds. There are many reasons to celebrate the incredible effort put forth by the dedicated individuals who work to make sure that nests are protected, chicks have the opportunity to fledge, and the public is educated about Florida’s remarkable coastal habitat. Here are a few highlights from around the state:

  • Audubon partners, staff, and more than 110 bird stewards protected nesting birds on 200 miles of coastal beaches from Bald Point State Park in Franklin County westward to Pensacola Beach. Our new-in-2014 Panhandle rooftop nesting program monitored 109 historically active buildings and protected 29 active colonies of Least Terns, Black Skimmers, and Gull-billed Terns through the season. 
  • The Northeast Florida region saw the state’s top nesting success for two shorebird species: 22 American Oystercatcher chicks and more than 40 Wilson’s Plover chicks fledged on shell rakes and beaches.
  • In a season uninterrupted by tropical storm surge, Audubon stewards helped carry a big win across the finish line – spectacular nesting success for Black Skimmers in both the Southwest and Suncoast regions. Over 1,200 young took flight by season’s end. Survival of these young birds will mean an increase in the state’s estimated population of 4,000 Black Skimmers by a whopping 30%.
  • Indian Key, one of the islands in Pinellas National Wildlife Refuge, supported successful nesting supported successful nesting by seven bird species for the first time since the 1880s, thanks to predator control by Refuge staff. It was once such a large colony that it took Lechevalier’s plume hunters over two years to shoot the thousands of birds nesting on the island.

Click on the regions below to read more on 2014 nesting season highlights for your special area of the Florida – or scroll down to read them all.

A special thanks: this year’s success could not have been achieved without the dedication of more than 500 bird stewards and Colony Watchers working at more than 45 beaches and 32 wading bird rookeries with our many partner organizations and site managers. Thank you for all that you do.

Are you interested in becoming a Bird Steward? We are now looking for volunteers for the 2015 nesting season. If you would like more information about opportunities in your area, please send an email with your contact information and location to www.flconservation@audubon.org.

American Bird Conservancy petitions US government to regulate the wind industry

American Bird Conservancy (ABC) has filed a formal petition with the US Department of the Interior (DOI) calling for new regulations governing the impacts of wind energy projects on migratory birds to be established.

The US wind industry is now operating under “voluntary” instead of mandatory regulatory guidelines.

The ABC petition supports “Bird-Smart” wind energy, which requires independent, science-based risk assessment leading to careful siting; effective mitigation; independent, transparent post-construction monitoring of bird kills; and compensation if public trust resources are being taken.

Bird-Smart wind energy is designed to reduce and redress any unavoidable bird mortality and habitat loss.

“This petition includes new information that further makes the case for wind industry regulation,” says Dr Michael Hutchins, the National Coordinator of ABC’s Bird Smart Wind Energy Campaign.

“We have examples of new science and prototype mechanisms that would make it possible to finally enforce the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA).”

The MBTA, Endangered Species Act (ESA), and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA), prohibit “take” of migratory birds, endangered and threatened species, and Bald and Golden Eagles.

Federal regulations define the term “take” to include wounding or killing, or attempting to wound or kill.

Bald and Golden Eagles are protected under both MBTA and BGEPA, and many species listed under the ESA are also protected under the MBTA, such as Whooping Cranes, California Condors, Least Terns, Kirtland’s Warblers, Northern Aplomado Falcons, Roseate Terns, and Piping Plovers.

While the ESA and BGEPA provide mechanisms for FWS to regulate, and in some instances authorize, take of endangered and threatened species and Bald and Golden Eagles respectively, at present no such comparable mechanism exists under the MBTA to limit or authorise incidental take by wind power projects.

“In effect, the MBTA is not being enforced, except perhaps under very special circumstances,” says Hutchins. “This reality is particularly significant for the wind industry because wind energy projects will inevitably take birds protected under the MBTA. 

“In fact, because it is virtually impossible to operate a wind energy facility without killing or injuring at least some migratory birds, most operational wind energy projects are in ongoing violation of the MBTA, and are effectively breaking the law with impunity.” 

A key provision of the ABC petition would have the Department of Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) establish a permitting process that would significantly improve the protection of birds covered by the MBTA and would afford the wind industry a degree of regulatory and legal certainty.

“This is the second time we have petitioned for improvements on the permitting issue – this time with new and even stronger arguments – and it appears that FWS is now starting a process that could lead to that becoming a reality,” says Hutchins.

“We recognise that properly sited and operated wind energy projects may be an important part of the solution to climate change, a contemporary challenge that indisputably poses a rapidly growing threat to species and ecosystems.”

Given that, ABC maintains that if it is not done right, the partial solution to climate change, wind energy, will itself pose a serious threat to various species of birds.

The threatened species include birds of prey such as the Bald Eagle, Golden Eagle, Ferruginous Hawk, Swainson’s Hawk, Short-eared Owl, and Flammulated Owl; endangered species such as the California Condor, Kirtland’s Warbler, Whooping Crane, Snail Kite, Marbled Murrelet, Hawaiian Goose, and Hawaiian Petrel; and other species of special conservation concern such as the Bicknell’s Thrush, Sprague’s Pipit, Cerulean Warbler, Oak Titmouse, Lewis’s Woodpecker, Brewer’s Sparrow, Long-billed Curlew, Bay-breasted Warbler, and Blue-winged Warbler. 

“These species are impacted by existing wind energy projects and threatened by potential projects, primarily through collisions with wind turbines and associated power lines and towers, and through loss or modification of essential habitat,” says Hutchins.

Based on the operation of 22,000 turbines, FWS estimates that at least 440,000 birds – including threatened and endangered species – were killed by wind turbines in the US in 2009.

Since then, another peer-reviewed study expanded that estimate to 573,000 in 2012.

By 2030, or even earlier, a 10-fold increase in the number of wind turbines in the United States is expected, which together are projected to kill between 1.4 to 2 million birds each year.

ABC believes this number will be exceeded significantly, especially because these estimates do not include mortality at associated power lines and towers, which are also undergoing massive expansion and currently kill over 6.8 million birds annually. 

Further, wind energy projects are expected to impact almost 20,000 square miles of terrestrial habitat and another 4,000 square miles of marine habitat.

Gannet colony on Bass Rock is world’s largest

The colony of Northern Gannets at the Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth in Scotland has recently been declared as the world’s largest colony with around 75,000 occupied nesting sites.

This is an increase of 24 per cent on the last count, which was held in 2009.

Stuart Murray, who carried out the time-consuming count in conjunction with the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology says: “The colony was photographed from the air on 23 June 2014.

“Conditions were excellent, with no wind and a high cover of thick cloud which obscured the sun, reducing the glare from all these startlingly white birds.

“The images were later viewed on computer screens for counting, and each occupied site was blocked-out as it was counted.

“Interestingly, the most dramatic increase is between the old lighthouse keepers’ garden and the summit of the Rock. We counted around 10,000 sites in this area compared to 6,500 five years ago.” 

Sarah Wanless, from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, says: “It is particularly heartening to see them doing so well when so many other seabirds in Scotland appear to be in trouble.

“However, the Bass Rock is a small island and the gannets have now filled most of the available nesting habitat. The colony now has only very limited capacity for further increase.”

US Government plans to cull 11,000 Double-crested Cormorants

It could soon be open season on Double-crested Cormorants in the Columbia River

In order to protect young salmon and steelhead trout in the Columbia River, US federal officials have come up with a proposal to cull around 11,000 Double-crested Cormorants that feed off them, reports the online National Monitor.

The fish are listed under the Endangered Species Act as either threatened or endangered.

If the proposal wins a final approval, state agriculture workers will also need to spray cormorant eggs with vegetable oil to prevent young chicks from hatching.

The drastic move was suggested as a result of an Environmental Impact Statement, which is currently being reviewed. Originally an even greater number of birds, 18,000, were destined to be shot over a period of four years. 

The US Army Corps of Engineers, which revealed the plan, also studied alternative solutions. One of these included “hazing” the birds to drive them off the island they inhabit in the river, but it was decided this would simply displace them to other locations.

Diana Fredlund, speaking for the US Army Corps, acknowledges the difficulty of the situation. “We are trying to balance the salmon and steelhead versus the birds. It’s very difficult to find the right answer and so it’s taken us a long time. We’ve had a lot of experts working on it.”

The Audubon Society of Portland challenges the plan, and lays the blame in the decline of salmon populations on habitat loss. The Society will fight the decision of the Corps, in court if necessary, if it announces that it is going ahead with the cull.

Video

How Our Couches Are Hurting Bald Eagles

Flame retardants that once were infused into couches and clothing are now contaminating the livers of bald eagles and other birds in the Great Lakes region.

The flame retardants, known as PBDEs or polybrominated diphenyl ethers, became popular forty years ago as a chemical treatment intended to slow the spread of flames on furniture cushions, kids’ pajamas, and electronics. Once it was discovered that the chemicals can leach out into the environment and be absorbed by wildlife and people both, a phase-out began. However, PBDEs are among the most persistent pollutants in the environment. According to a study published in the Journal of Great Lakes Research and reported in Scientific American, they can last a very, very long time. “PBDEs have been found in air, dirt and people in virtually every corner of the globe,” notes Scientific American.

To conduct the study, researchers tested liver tissue samples of 33 dead bald eagles collected by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources between 2009 and 2011. Concentrations of PBDEs were “among the highest found in liver tissues of any wildlife,” noted the authors.

Where would the eagles have encountered these toxic chemicals?  Imagine that a couch loaded with PBDEs got tossed in a landfill. The PBDEs might then have leached into the groundwater, where they would have ended up in fish or small animals the eagles eat. The more contaminated their prey are, the more of the chemicals the eagles would consume.

The impact of PBDEs on birds can be severe. Canadian researchers have documented that male kestrels exposed to PBDEs as embryos ultimately had problems developing and reproducing. Other problems include birds that put off laying eggs or lay smaller eggs with thinner shells. Some birds exposed to PBDEs actually eat less and issue fewer mating calls.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is concerned that PBDEs are “toxic to both humans and the environment.” As the Washington Post enumerated, studies in laboratory animals and humans have linked PBDES to thyroid disruption, memory and learning problems, delayed mental and physical development, lower IQ, advanced puberty and reduced fertility, as well as cancer. EPA encourages companies to embrace a voluntary phase-out of the manufacture and import of PBDEs and is encouraging development of safer alternatives.

If you’re buying a new couch or new baby products, choose products that are made without fire retardant. To reduce your exposure to PBDEs at home use a vacuum cleaner fitted with a HEPA filter.

Diane MacEachern|February 15, 2015

Are Florida Eagles Eating Euthanized Pets and Dying Because of It?

More than 10 bald eagles have been found dead or desperately ill at Florida’s Marion County landfill since about 2012. The cause may shock you — rehabilitators believe the birds were poisoned by eating the improperly landfilled carcasses of euthanized house pets.

Where would such carcasses come from? The Animis Foundation is a nonprofit animal sanctuary in Ocala, Fla. that rescues, rehabilitates and cares for animals both domestic and wild. Foundation representatives believe Marion County has been improperly disposing of euthanized dogs and cats at the landfill, which is located right next door.

The two eagles found in February are just the latest in a string of pentobarbital eagle poisonings occurring at the landfill, according to Animis representative Danielle Ball.

“We’ve been called out there multiple times in the past six years,” she told WKMG Local 6 News.

The sick eagles “showed symptoms of pentobarbital poisoning which we have seen previously with other eagles we have picked up from the same place,” Ball told MyNews 13.

On its Facebook page, the Animis Foundation says:

The birds are tested and confirmed for pentobarbital poisoning. This is what vets use to euthanize cats and dogs at the Marion County Shelter which is located right next to the landfill. We believe for at least the past 5 years the shelter had been improperly disposing of bodies. The birds and many other animals that wander to the dump then eat the bodies and are poisoned.

You’d imagine that shelters and veterinarians typically incinerate euthanized carcasses, but that’s expensive. Landfilling dead animals is not unusual. The Marion County landfill says it accepts such carcasses, subject to strict requirements.

Dead animal bodies must immediately be buried in a hole at least two feet deep, according to Florida requirements. The landfill says it imposes a stricter three foot depth requirement. The burial must then be covered with the dug-up soil and additional trash to discourage scavenging birds like eagles. The landfill operators “continue to push and pack materials over the surface until end of work day,” to ensure carcasses are well buried.

So how are eagles getting to those dead bodies? No other source of pentobarbital poisoning is readily apparent in this area, and eagles and other birds reportedly keep sickening and dying around the landfill. Something doesn’t add up.

“We’re as much concerned about this and we want to get to the bottom of this if it is our facility,” Marion County Landfill Solid Waste Director Mike Sims told MyNews 13. “So we are going to cooperate with any agency that is going to come and investigate.”

Although Animis alleges there’s been a problem at the Marion County landfill for many months, it took a flurry of social media anger over the latest two poisonings to trigger a coordinated investigation of what’s going on. Animis says it thought state wildlife officials had been tracking these poisonings, but oddly it seems that’s not the case.

“Animis contacted authorities two years ago when we made the discovery,” Animis wildlife department head Michelle Whitfield told the Ocala Post. “We were under the impression that Audubon would be testing all eagles and reporting the findings to the Florida Wildlife Service. Yesterday, I found out that nobody has been testing the birds. All of the proper authorities were notified, but nothing has been done.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is primarily working this investigation, according to the Ocala Post. USFWS acknowledges that exposure of these carcasses is almost always the result of improper disposal at landfills.”

If eagles are indeed scavenging euthanized dogs and cats, this is not an isolated situation. The USFWS investigates many such incidents around the country. For example, in April 2011 USFWS looked into the accidental poisoning of seven eagles at a landfill in Wisconsin. The birds had eaten euthanized house cats. Rescuers found them lying on the ground in their own vomit, nearly comatose. Miraculously, wildlife rehabilitators managed to save all seven birds. That’s not always what happens.

The USFWS says:

Eagle and other animal deaths have been reported in 16 different states throughout the U.S. as well as in Canada. In recent years at least 50 eagle poisoning incidents have been documented, accounting for the poisoning of 139 eagles in these cases alone. These birds had scavenged carcasses of euthanized farm animals or pet horses left out in the field, or small animal carcasses that were left unburied or otherwise exposed at landfills.

One of the two poisoned Florida eagles died, sadly, but the other is on the road to recovery. Others may not be so lucky. Marion County, get your act together and figure this out. The bald eagle is a protected species. More to the point, no bird or animal deserves to die an agonizing death because animal disposal practices are not sufficiently protective.

Susan Bird|February 16, 2015

Defending the Tiny Coastal California Gnatcatcher

Responding to yet another attempt from Southern California developers to remove Endangered Species Act protections for the Coastal California Gnatcatcher, Audubon California is leading efforts to rally Audubon’s advocacy network, researchers, chapters, and other conservation organizations to defend this struggling species. To date, more than 30,000 Audubon activists like you have submitted comments to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) in defense of the listing for this small blue-gray bird.

The attacks on the bird’s Threatened status haven’t stopped coming since it was added to the Endangered Species list in 1993, an action that extended protection to roughly 200,000 acres of coastal sage scrub habitat in Southern California, right where some of this country’s most aggressive developers want to build. There have been lawsuits, petitions to overturn the listing, economic impact studies, extended debate over critical habitat designations—but nothing has been as brazen as the developers’ latest gambit. They now claim that the bird doesn’t exist.

The latest delisting petition is based on a single controversial paper, funded by developers, that argues that the Coastal California Gnatcatcher is not a distinct subspecies. Ornithologists and biologists fault this latest study, pointing out that it fails to take a comprehensive look at DNA evidence that might explain the obvious physical differences between the Coastal California Gnatcatcher and other gnatcatchers in Mexico. These differences in plumage color, size, and tail shape are part of a hundred-year-old body of research establishing the Coastal California Gnatcatcher subspecies.

Not only is the California Gnatcatcher a magnificent bird worthy of protection, it is inextricably linked to the rich coastal sage scrub of southern California, an enduring remnant of the state’s wild coast that is now one of the most endangered habitat types in North America.

Audubon Advisory|February 2015

Hold Monsanto Responsible for Killing Monarch Butterflies

Economics 101 taught us about “negative externalities” — a negative output that affects others who did not participate in creating the outcome. A textbook example of a negative externality? Monsanto killing off monarch butterflies with their agricultural herbicide, Roundup.

Monsanto makes Roundup and benefits handsomely from global sales, but Roundup also destroys milkweeds, a plant critical to the survival of the monarch butterfly. Communities that depend on the monarch for tourism are one of the parties that are paying the cost of Roundup, when the monarch migrations dwindles and with it the tourism dollars. You and me, the U.S. taxpayer, are also about to foot part of Monsanto’s bill. I am happy to do this for the butterflies, but I really resent helping Monsanto, already a multi-billion dollar business, increase their bottom line.

In 1996, about one billion monarch butterflies were counted making the 3,000-mile journey from Mexico to the US. For decades, people have flocked to locations in the United States and Mexico to witness this glorious black and orange winged extravaganza. But, in 2014, the number of migrating monarchs fell to fewer than 35 million – a 90 percent decline. Tierra Curry, an entomologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, laments that this reduction would be equivalent to “losing every living person in the US, except those in Florida and Ohio.”

A friend of mine, Dr. Richard Kanner, was in Mexico in 2013 and explained what a 90% population decline looks like on the ground: he was shocked to learn that the butterflies now cover less than 2 1/2 acres versus the 12 acres typical of the recent past.

Environmental accountability is usually hard to assign, but in the case of the magnificent monarch, the evidence is strong: Monsanto – a company that raked in $15 billion in 2013 – is killing the monarch by poisoning milkweed.

When monarchs are in their northern home, the United States, they feed, mate and spin their cocoons only on milkweed plants.  If there are no milkweed plants, the monarch cannot reproduce and lineages that have stretched back for millions of years come to an abrupt and quiet end.

Over the past twenty years, 80% of the Midwest’s milkweed has been decimated by farmers using Monsanto’s glyphosate weed-killer, Roundup. Ironically, this weed-killer is used by the farmers to protect the corn and soybean crops genetically modified by Monsanto to survive spraying by their own herbicides.

At a news conference in Washington D.C. earlier this month, the U.S. National Fish and Wildlife Service (NFWS) Director Dan Ashe, said it is clear that aggressive weed control is eradicating the milkweed plant and thus the monarch butterfly. Acutely aware of the sudden decline in monarch populations, the NFWS also announced that it will direct $23 million in tax-payer dollars to help save the monarch butterfly from extinction by replanting milkweed.

Approximately $2 million will go to the habitat restoration of more than 200,000 acres from California to the Corn Belt, including more than 750 schoolyard habitats and pollinator gardens. The remaining amount will be dedicated to a monarch conservation fund — the first dedicated solely to the butterflies — that will provide grants to farmers and other landowners to conserve habitat. “The magic of the monarch butterfly is that little patches matter.,” Ashe said. “Piece by piece, we can make a difference on a continental scale.”

While I applaud the U.S. Government for taking action, it should not be the U.S. tax-payers who are footing this bill. Monsanto is ultimately responsible for the problem, so in a truly moral universe, they should be paying the bill. The monarch’s 2015 spring migration is about to commence. Not only should Monsanto be picking up the habitat restoration tab, they should double it and get started immediately with planting milkweed.

This, however, is unlikely to happen unless people like you and me, demand that Monsanto pay the true cost of doing their business, and that includes ensuring the protection of the monarch butterfly. Farmers who choose to use Roundup have a responsibility as well, but ultimately, the maker of the product is responsible for the damage that product does.

Cherise Udell|February 20, 2015

 Florida Panthers

Panther depredation update ‏

The FWC has updated the “Panther Pulse” page with depredation information  through Feb. 9, 2015. Panthers are a top predator and prey on a variety of wildlife such as deer, hogs, raccoons, armadillos and rabbits. Unfortunately, they sometimes prey on domesticated animals such as goats, sheep, calves and even pets. When a panther or other wild animal preys upon or injures a pet or domestic livestock it is called a depredation. Depredation information can be viewed at: http://www.floridapanthernet.org/index.php/pulse/

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

How Florida panther 191 helped save the species

Florida lost a genetic legacy over the weekend after a 16-year-old female panther with mostly Texas genes was found dead in Big Cypress National Preserve.

Seven panthers deaths have been recorded so far this year, and 2014 was a record year for overall deaths (34) and road kills (25). This older female, however, was special, more than a number.

Called Florida Panther 191 by biologists, she was part of a generation that took panthers from the brink of extinction to upwards of 180 big cats in the wild today. Her mother was one eight female Texas cougars released in South Florida in the late 1990s as part of a population recovery plan, and her father was half Texas cougar, half Florida panther.

“I think it saved Florida panthers from extinction,” said long-time Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation panther biologist Mark Lotz of the cougar introductions. “Panthers were so inbred they were spiraling down quickly. We started seeing males with no descended testicles, and if all the males become sterile, that would have been the end of the panther.”

The panther population has grown exponentially over the lifespan of FP191, a successful mother that last birthed a kitten (female) in July of 2012.

According to US Fish and Wildlife Service records, FP191 was captured and collared on Feb. 26, 2011 at the age of 12. Lotz said females are likely barren by the time they reach 10 years old or so, but FP191 was older than 13 when she had her last documented kittens.

“Females are especially critical to the population,” Lotz said. “They have kittens and then go on to have more kittens.”

FP191 was recovered inside the boundaries of Big Cypress National Preserve and is being sent to Gainesville for a necropsy, the animal version of an autopsy. Biologists at Big Cypress could not be reached for comment.

Scientists don’t know how many kittens she birthed over the course of her 14 years of adulthood; but with FP191 having kitten well past breeding age, she could have produced a lot. Females give birth every two years or so and typically have a litter of one to four kittens. Using that basic formula, FP191 could have given birth to 20 or more kittens during her life.

FP191’s mother (Texas cougar 107) died in 2001, and the surviving female cougars were eventually removed from South Florida. The cats may be gone, but their genetics still roam the wilds of South Florida.

Ricky Pires, director of the Florida Panther Posse (based at Florida Gulf Coast University), monitors panthers at south Lee County preserves like the 60,000-acre Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed, or CREW, said she was glad to know females can live that long in Southwest Florida.

“I was really amazed that she was still alive at 16,” Pires said. “The main thing is to keep the kittens coming and keep the gene pool going.”

Nancy Payton, with the Florida Wildlife Federation Naples office, said she considers FP191 a success story that shows how well panther conservation initiatives can work.

“I think she’s a credit to the efforts that brought the Texas cougars to Florida, and I think she shows that the experiment was a success,” Payton said. “Think of the number of kittens she’s had over the years. Obviously, the Texas cougar genetics made her healthy.”

FWC records show one female living to the age of 19 in the wild. Males have a shorter lifespan, on average, because they’re territorial and will fight to the death over hunting and breeding grounds.

In the long run, Lotz said the inbreeding issues are still a concern as isolated populations can die off completely.

Chad Gillis|news-press.com|February 18, 2015

  Invasive species

Cuba is Being Invaded by Giant Land Snails!

Kennedy couldn’t manage it in 1961, but someone else has. According to the BBC, Giant African Land Snails have been spotted on Cuban soil, which is bad news for native mollusks in the island nation as well as numerous plants. As if that weren’t bad enough, they also pose a health risk to people. This is one invasion Cubans definitely want to stop in its tracks, and for once the CIA has absolutely nothing to do with it.

These snails have a number of characteristics that make them a formidable problem in regions where they’ve been introduced, which includes parts of Asia, Central America, and the US. For starters, they’re big. Really big. Giant African Snails typically grow up to eight inches long, and they’ve been known to get even bigger. They lay hundreds of eggs every month, with a very high hatch rate, ensuring that once a few snails make land, they can quickly spread across a region and they’re extremely difficult to stop — in part because applying molluskicide would kill other species. Also introducing predators is also problematic because all of the snail’s natural predators would be more likely to pick on smaller, vulnerable native species.

The snails are also indiscriminate eaters, comfortable mowing through hundreds of plant species, including fragile varieties indigenous to relatively small regions. They tend to out-compete native snails and other small animals for fodder, which then leads to a drop in biodiversity. In countries like Cuba, that’s an especially acute problem. Islands typically have extremely unique flora and fauna, the result of divergent evolution reflecting thousands of years of separation from the mainland. When an invasive species like the Giant African Snail arrives, it can wreak havoc on the environment.

Some of the snails appear to have traveled to Cuba and other regions of the world via mysterious means, though hitchhiking on cargo ships is the likely cause. Others, unfortunately, have been deliberately introduced, usually by people who want to keep them as pets. Once their owners tire of them, they may release them into the wild, mistakenly believing that they’ll fit in with indigenous species, and the problem snowballs from there. Moreover, some carry a parasitic nematode linked to meningitis in humans, and they can make their handlers potentially fatally ill. Not quite the kind of pet you want to bring home, but some dealers continue to sell them and others smuggle them in.

The result is Cuba is facing a long and arduous removal mission. A large-scale surveillance program will keep track of where and when snails are seen, harnessing civilian snail spotters — much like in the US, where members of the public are encouraged to call agricultural authorities when they see giant snails.

In addition, snails will have to be manually removed and destroyed so they can’t continue spreading across the island, where they could threaten not just the survival of native species but also critical crops. However the African Giant Snail got there in the first place, it could prove devastating for Cuba unless there is adequate intervention. Fortunately, officials don’t have to go it alone; thanks to similar introductions in other regions, researchers and scientists have some tips and tricks for helping Cuban environmental authorities slowly but steadily win this particular race.

s.e. smith|February 19, 2015

Endangered Species

Global Ban on Bee-Killing Neonics Needed Now

No matter how you feel about Ontario’s proposal to restrict use of neonicotinoid insecticides on corn and soybean crops, we can all agree: bees matter. But as important as bees are, there’s more at stake. Neonics are poisoning our soil and water. This problematic class of pesticides needs to be phased out globally to protect Earth’s ecosystems. By implementing restrictions now (the first in North America), Ontario will have a head start in the transition to safer alternatives.

Not surprisingly, Ontario’s proposal has drawn the ire of the pesticide industry.

Neonics have only been around for a couple of decades, but annual global sales now top $2.6 billion. They were initially embraced because they are less directly toxic to humans than older pesticides and are effective at low levels, reducing the volume used. They can be applied to seeds and are absorbed into the plant, which then becomes toxic to insect pests, reducing the need to spray.

We now know these characteristics are the problem. These chemicals are nerve poisons that are toxic even at very low doses and persist in plants and the environment. They affect the information-processing abilities of invertebrates, including some of our most important pollinators.

Bees have borne the brunt of our unfortunate, uncontrolled experiment with neonics. Beekeepers report unusually high bee death rates in recent years, particularly in corn-growing areas of Ontario and Quebec. Virtually all corn and about 60 percent of soybean seeds planted in Ontario are treated with neonics. A federal Pest Management Regulatory Agency investigation concluded that planting neonic-treated seeds contributed to the bee die-offs.

Europe reached a similar conclusion and placed a moratorium on the use of neonics on bee-attractive crops, which took effect last year.

Critics emphasize that other factors—including climate change, habitat loss and disease—affect pollinator health. But these factors are not entirely independent; for example, chronic exposure to neonics may increase vulnerability to disease. A comprehensive pollinator health action plan should address all these factors, and scaling back the use of neonics is a good place to start.

Apart from the immediate and lethal effects on bees, neonics represent a more subtle threat to a wide range of species. The 2014 Worldwide Integrated Assessment of the Impacts of Systemic Pesticides, the most comprehensive review of the scientific literature on neonics, pointed to effects on smell and memory, reproduction, feeding behaviour, flight and ability to fight disease. Jean‐Marc Bonmatin, one of the lead authors, summarized the conclusions:

“The evidence is very clear. We are witnessing a threat to the productivity of our natural and farmed environment equivalent to that posed by organophosphates or DDT. Far from protecting food production the use of neonics is threatening the very infrastructure which enables it, imperilling the pollinators, habitat engineers and natural pest controllers at the heart of a functioning ecosystem.”

Is there some uncertainty involved in calculating these risks? Absolutely. Uncertainty is at the heart of scientific inquiry. The precautionary principle requires that where there is threat of serious or irreversible harm to human health or the environment, the absence of complete scientific certainty or consensus must not be used as an excuse to delay action. In the case of neonics, the weight of evidence clearly supports precautionary action to reduce — or even eliminate — them.

Ontario’s proposal to restrict the use of neonic-treated corn and soybean seed, starting next year, is far from radical. The idea is to move away from routinely planting neonic-treated seeds and use neonics only in situations where crops are highly vulnerable to targeted pests. The government expects this will reduce the uses of neonic-treated corn and soybean seed by 80 percent by 2017.

It’s no surprise that the pesticide industry and its associates oppose even this modest proposal and are running expensive PR campaigns to obscure the evidence of harm. The industry’s objection to restrictions on neonics is eerily similar to big-budget advertising campaigns to create a smokescreen thick enough to delay regulatory responses to the obvious harm caused by cigarettes.

Let’s hope today’s decision-makers have a better grasp of the precautionary principle and a stronger commitment to protecting the public good, because bees really do matter.

Dr. David Suzuki|February 10, 2015

Government Pledges $3.2 Million to Help Save Monarchs

While a decision looms over whether or not to protect monarchs under the Endangered Species Act, this week the government stepped up to help them by pledging a total of $3.2 million to save these iconic butterflies from disappearing.

As recently as the 1990s, an estimated one billion monarchs made their way from as far north as Canada to the oyamel fir forests in Mexico where they spend their winters sheltered by the trees, while another million were believed to spend the winter at sites in California.

According to the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), monarchs have declined by more than 90 percent in recent years. This year’s count showed a slight rebound from last year’s lowest ever of 34 million, but their advocates believe they’re still in danger of going extinct.

Citing their dramatic decline, this week the FWS announced the launch of a new campaign to protect monarchs and restore habitat across the country that brings new partnerships with the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), in addition to increased funding for conservation projects.

“We can save the monarch butterfly in North America, but only if we act quickly and together,” FWS Director Dan Ashe said in a statement. “And that is why we are excited to be working with the National Wildlife Federation and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to engage Americans everywhere, from schools and community groups to corporations and governments, in protecting and restoring habitat. Together we can create oases for monarchs in communities across the country.”

The FWS will be providing $1.2 million to the NFWF, which will be matched by public and private funds, to establish a Monarch Butterfly Conservation Fund. The fund will be used increase awareness and get the public involved, in addition to funding habitat restoration projects and increasing the availability of milkweed seeds.

The agency also committed $2 million for conservation protects aimed at restoring and enhancing more than 200,000 acres of public and private lands for monarchs, including 750 schoolyard habitats and pollinator gardens. According to a statement, many of these projects will be focused on land between Texas and Minnesota that provide both critical breeding habitat and a migration route.

While monarchs face the usual threats for insects ranging from predators and parasites to extreme weather, their biggest threat now is a result of our activity. Scientists believe illegal logging in Mexico and the widespread use of herbicides and pesticides, particularly those with glyphosphate that are killing milkweed, have played big roles in their decline.

Even though a variety of flowers can provide food for monarchs, milkweed is the only food source for monarch caterpillars. A report released last week by the Center for Food Safety highlighted just how bad the use of herbicide-resistant genetically engineered (GE) crops – which have increased the use of glyphosate – is for monarchs, particularly in their Midwest breeding grounds.

How to Help

Conservation organizations and monarch advocates have called on the public to plant milkweed to help save these butterflies, but as Care2′s Kevin Mathews recently reported, some of these efforts have been more harmful than helpful because the wrong kind of milkweed is being unwittingly planted.

A recent study found that non-native tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica), which is readily available at garden centers, is causing big problems for monarchs. It grows year round in mild climates, which stops monarchs from migrating, along with increasing their risk of contracting a debilitating parasite. The good news is that if people are growing it, they can simply cut it back in the fall, or remove it and replace it with native plants.

For more info about ways to get involved in efforts to save monarchs that include creating habitat or participating in citizen science projects, visit the FWS’ new website Save the Monarch and the Monarch Joint Venture.

If you’re looking for milkweed plants, check out the Xerces Society’s Milkweed Seed Finder and Monarch Watch’s Milkweed Market, which both offer native seeds and seed guides by region for planting.

Alicia Graef|February 10, 2015

Rare black jaguar spotted in Brazil Video

A rare black jaguar was spotted swimming in the Tapajos River bordering Juruena National Park in January. The area was created under Brazil’s massive Amazon Region Protected Areas (ARPA) program.

According to the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) programs like ARPA are necessary for protecting large animal species like the jaguar.

These animals require large expanses of protected land to survive and the ARPA area encompasses 150 million square acres.

A black jaguar in itself is quite rare, representing a melanistic color morph of a regular jaguar — and seeing one in the wild is even rarer.

Most cats don’t like the water but the jaguar, which excels at swimming, is an exception.

Though not endangered the jaguar is a near-threatened species whose numbers are declining largely due to a loss of habitat from human development.

International trade in jaguars is illegal but the animal continues to be killed by humans.

Cheryl Santa Maria|Digital Reporter|February 13, 2015,

3 Things You Didn’t Know About the Dugong

The dugong is not the most popular animal out there. People who encounter this ocean mammal often believe that it is a manatee due to its keen resemblance. However, it is actually a cousin to the manatee and shares similarities with dolphins and porpoises.

The dugong is on the endangered species list classified as vulnerable. Commercial fishing, oil rigging, polluted waters and various other environmental changes to the dugong’s habitat are causing obstacles and hazards for this marine mammal group.

Since not many people know about this marine mammal, proper awareness and conservation efforts are incredibly important in order for this animal species to remain. Here are three things you probably didn’t know about the dugong:

1. The cute and mellow cows of the sea.

Dugong are commonly referred to as the “sea cow” because they graze peacefully on sea grasses in the shallow coastal waters of the Indian and western Pacific Oceans. The dugong are just like any other land grazers, like cows; however, their main food source is at the bottom of the ocean. The green sea turtle is another ocean animal that forages on sea grass.

2. People love to make them their swimming pals.

Dugongs are so docile and friendly that they have become a tourist attraction. Tourists can swim with them, interact with them, or observe them from boats, and they actually seem to enjoy the company of humans. Due to their graceful nature, it is said that the dugong caused the mermaid myth, when people would spot them elegantly swimming along.

3. They face threats just as other marine life does, except if they lose their food source, they lose everything.

Dugongs are mostly threatened by sea grass habitat loss or degradation due to coastal development or industrial activities that cause water pollution, such as fisheries. Consequently, when there is a shortage of sea grass to eat, the dugong do not breed normally. Conservation of their shallow water marine habitat is critical. The dugong are also frequent victims of bycatch entanglement in fishing nets.

There are some things that can be done to help preserve the dugong’s natural surroundings in order to keep their species safe from extinction’s harm and combat their main threats. Consumers can avoid supporting the commercial fishing industry that often catch the dugong in their driftnets by way of bycatch, pollute the waters, and endanger the marine mammals’ habitat and food source. Conservation groups that study, create awareness, and work on behalf of these animals can also be aided. With everyone’s help, the enthralling dugong can survive, flourish and procreate for many years to come – perhaps one day no longer being classified as vulnerable, or even listed on the endangered species list at all.

Catherine Gill|February 16, 2015

Wild & Weird

Watch a Crow figure out a problem

Everglades

Water storage project expected to help Caloosahatchee

State water managers are putting the final touches on a storage project that should help the Caloosahatchee River and its estuary during heavy rain events and flooding conditions.

Called Nicodemus Slough, the $28 million project sits on 16,000 acres northwest of Moore Haven, just west of Lake Okeechobee. Water, upward of 11 billion gallons, will be stored on this land, mostly during late summer and fall. The idea is to pull billions of gallons from Lake Okeechobee so that coastal estuaries such as the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie (on the east coast) won’t be hit so hard during large releases from the lake.

Large releases can kill sea grasses and oyster beds, feed algal blooms and cause fish kills.

The Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers were artificially connected to Lake Okeechobee as a way to drain the lake and open the Everglades to development. Water laden with nutrients flows into the lake each year from the north. The water contains so much nutrients that it can’t be legally discharged onto another property — so water that would be going to Everglades National Park is instead going west and east to the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean.

“We raise the water, and as the water works its way west, we’re basically pushing water uphill and letting gravity do the rest,” said Jeff Needle, an engineer and project manager for the South Florida Water Management District. “We’re restoring a slough and providing more habitat for birds.”

Construction started in November 2013 and is in the final stages. District engineers, along with help from the property managers (most of the land is leased from the Lykes Brothers Inc. at $2 million a year) started pumping water to Nicodemus earlier this year. The project is now fully functional and is taking Lake Okeechobee water while the Army Corps continues releases to prepare for the coming rainy season.

“This is a temporary step in the right direction,” Needle said. “But this is the best we have right now.”

These types of projects are designed to mimic historic conditions by keeping water on the landscape for as long as possible. An elaborate drainage system has been built over the past century to send fresh water to coastal areas as fast as possible. Turns out that strategy is good for farmers and some landowners but terrible for the environment, so taxpayers are spending billions of dollars to re-plumb the Everglades.

Water quality scientists and advocacy groups are hoping the project will help ease the freshwater load on the Caloosahatchee estuary during large rain events.

“We’re interested in (Nicodemus) and any storage to prevent excess amounts of water flowing down the Caloosahatchee,” said Rick Bartleson, a water quality scientist at the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation. “It’s sort of a drop in the bucket for how much storage we need, so we’re trying to help them find more projects like that.”

Bartleson said the Nicodemus project will remove about 50 cubic feet per second of water flows at the Franklin Lock and Dam in Olga. During extremely heavy flows in 2013, flows at Franklin Lock were over 10,000 cubic feet per second.

Looking ahead, some environmental groups lauded Nicodemus Slough, saying these types of projects are needed to ensure the health of coastal estuaries such as the Caloosahatchee.

“We’ve been very impressed with the design and we certainly hope it works,” said Eric Draper, director of Florida Audubon. “It’s a big chunk of water, and that will help because every bit of water we can take off the lake and store is good for the estuaries.”

Conditions in the Caloosahatchee are rarely right — there’s either too much water blasting down the river (enough to send freshwater plumes 15 miles off Sanibel) or so little flow that salt water works its way inshore.

The reconstructed Nicodemus Slough is also connected to a canal that feeds into Lake Hicpochee, the former headwaters of the Caloosahatchee and another water management district water project for this region.

The project is also a public-private partnership, where the state pays Lykes Brothers for the use of the land and to operate the pumps. Draper said this style of water management is good for taxpayers because it lowers the cost and speeds up the process.

“The public is getting the benefit of this storage faster and cheaper than if the government built the project,” he said.

 Chad Gillis|

Audubon Scientists: “Everglades Restoration Cannot Wait”

New South Florida Water Management District Report Highlights Steep Decline in Wading Bird Nesting

Each year the South Florida Water Management District releases its annual South Florida Wading Bird Report. Now in its 20th year, this report provides information on the status of wading bird nesting around the Greater Everglades Ecosystem. Wading birds are valuable ecological indicators that provide insights into the health of this unique ecosystem.

Twenty years of data show that while state and federal restoration managers are making progress, much work remains to save the River of Grass and its avian inhabitants.

The 2014 report shows that wading bird nesting was 28% lower than last year.

Contributors to the report (including Audubon Florida) recorded a total of 34,714 nests. Little Blue Herons, Tricolored Herons, and Snowy Egrets showed the most dramatic reductions in nesting, dropping by 83%, 42%, and 47% respectively.

Click here to download report

news-press.com|February 10, 2015

Eric Draper: Lake Okeechobee to Everglades Flowway ‘Will Never Happen’

Sending water south from Lake Okeechobee to meander naturally through the Everglades — the “flowway” endorsed by the Everglades Foundation as the only way —  “will never happen, it’s pie in the sky,” admitted one of Florida’s leading voices on environmental policy.
But Eric Draper, executive director of Florida Audubon, cautioned Sunshine State News Wednesday not to think that just because Plan 6 (the flowway) isn’t where the Legislature should focus, doesn’t mean Big Sugar should be allowed to escape its obligation to help solve water problems.

Participating with about 400 other Florida residents in a “clean water” rally at the base of the Old Capitol steps in Tallahassee, Draper said, “The sugar industry should see there’s an additional need for land for reservoirs and they should agree to some of the land proposal,” he said.
The land proposal comes from U.S. Sugar Corp. — to buy a 46,800-acre parcel of its property. The Everglades Coalition, which includes more than 50 environmental groups and other advocacy organizations, claims buying that land is the only way to fix rainy-season problems created by water discharged from the lake.
According to U.S. Sugar’s offer, state officials have until October to make the purchase; after October, the state would also have to buy another 106,200-acre parcel at top dollar.
In addition, there are three significant obstacles to lawmakers choosing that option before or after the October deadline: 
  1. The state already has a plan in place to fix and pay for Everglades restoration and save the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries.
  2. Only 26,000 acres of the 46,800-acre U.S. Sugar parcel are south of the lake. The remaining acreage wouldn’t help. And the deal doesn’t come on an a la carte menu. The state can’t buy just some property and leave the rest.
  3. The per-acre price of U.S. Sugar property is significantly higher today than it was in 2010. Bang for the buck isn’t there.

Judy Sanchez, senior director of corporate communications and public affairs at U.S. Sugar, said Draper’s statement is a first — a public admission from a respected environmentalist who deals in realities that a flowway is a pipe dream.
“James Moran, one of the (South Florida) Water Management District’s trustees explained it at the last meeting to a group of citizens who showed up demanding the flowway,” she said.
Quoted in The Palm Beach Post, Moran said, “It’s not as simple as buying the land and moving the water south. To come in here and lecture us — just buy the land and move the water south — if it was that simple, it would have been done already.”
Sanchez said, “With only 26,000 acres south of the lake, that land isn’t going to solve anything. A few days’ worth of releases in 2013 would have gobbled that up. It’s a drop in the bucket for what’s needed. So, I’m saying, if it’s not going to solve your problem, you’re wasting your money.”
She said Everglades restoration is working. The state already has 100,000 acres south of the lake — a repurposed A-1 reservoir and an A-2 reservoir on the drawing board. And on top of that, it’s all right next to established stormwater treatment areas.
“The way you fix the Everglades and the estuary problems is, fix the mess from Orlando south to the lake,” said Sanchez. “That’s the real source of the pollution going into the canals and into the rivers, and that’s what the governor understands and what he’s trying to do.”
The U.S. Sugar Corp. land buy is looking more and more like a sinking option. The governor is unlikely to give it his blessing — in 2010, while he was running for office, he signed a taxpayers-protest petition advocating against it. (See video reminder.) But the Water Management District trustees at the time bottomed out the district’s bank account buying a small parcel anyway. They paid $197 million for 26,800 acres. Some of that land was never put to restoration use.
And House Speaker Steve Crisafulli revealed his feelings in an email to the Post Wednesday: “At this time, I do not support spending limited state resources to purchase more land south of the lake. My priority is to utilize and care for the land we own now.”
At the SFWMD trustees’ Feb. 12 meeting, Jeff Kivett, chief engineer for the district, outlined other obstacles to moving water south, with or without the U.S. Sugar land:

  • Pumps, canals and other structures that water leaving the lake must pass through are not capable of moving large volumes of water from the lake to the Everglades.
  • The Endangered Species Act and other federal environmental regulations limit how much water can be moved south to protect migratory birds and prevent nests from being inundated.
  • Strict water regulation schedules set maximum limits on water depth in conservation areas.
  • The East Coast Protective Levee, which protects western neighborhoods in Palm Beach and Martin counties from flooding from the Everglades, could be compromised by higher water levels.
  • An agreement in a federal lawsuit prohibits the district from moving water with high levels of phosphorous south. Doing so would put the district in violation of the agreement.

Nancy Smith|February 18, 2015

Water Quality Issues

Rising seas threaten South Florida’s drinking water

Greater Miami is a place where the idea of not having enough water seems completely bananas. South Florida receives about 60 inches of rainfall a year, and groundwater is more than plentiful. Keeping streets and homes from getting flooded with freshwater is still a huge job here.

But rising sea levels change things in unexpected ways, and seawater threatens to turn the drinking water salty. In some places, the ocean has already made good on that threat. And the problem is going to get worse.

To illustrate, Harold Wanless takes me out behind a car-rental place by the Miami airport. He’s a University of Miami geology professor who has spent decades studying how sea levels change, from the ice ages to today.

There’s a lot to see and hear in this little spot: two highways converging, planes flying overhead, Miami Jai-Alai, the Pink Pussycat Strip Club. (“Everything you want near an airport,” says Wanless. “I guess.”)

He’s chosen this location for two reasons. First, this entire area used to be part of the Everglades. “When they drained the Everglades here, water levels dropped about 7 feet,” he says. “And voila! You have an airport.”

Second, in this particular spot, a canal comes under those highways and hits a little barrier. This structure, several miles inland, is the boundary between the salty ocean water, and South Florida’s freshwater supply.

That water supply isn’t contained underground. “It goes right up to the surface,” says Wanless. “So, yeah – this is our aquifer. This is our water.”

And this is where the goal of managing freshwater flooding meets the threat of rising seas.

One of this little barrier’s main jobs is actually to get rid of freshwater after heavy rains, to prevent flooding. The gate opens and rainwater building up behind the dam spills out to sea.

There are dams like this all over the region. But for them to work – for the freshwater to spill – the seawater has to be lower than the gate.

Which it won’t be for much longer. “By the middle of the century, or before, 82 percent of these structures will no longer function,” Wanless says.

Meaning, if those gates got opened, seawater would flow in. And salt would contaminate the drinking-water supply.

Keeping the gate closed would mean flooding out areas on the freshwater side.

The first part of this video shows how barriers like the one near Miami’s airport work. When floodwaters rise, the gate opens, and freshwater spills out to the sea. In the second part, sea levels rise past the point where the gate opens. When floodwaters rise, the gate stays closed, to keep saltwater out.

Miami Beach is spending up to $400 million on pumps to send floodwater out to sea.

But there’s another threat to drinking water, underground. And it’s already resulted in contaminated drinking-water wells in some cities here.

To see that threat, I went to West Palm Beach – the offices of the South Florida Water Management District – to meet Jayantha Obeysekera, a scientist there with the title chief modeler of hydrologic and environmental systems.

Essentially, he looks at the big picture, and he showed me what’s under South Florida. “This is a little prop that I use,” he says, pulling a piece of rock out of wrapping paper.

It’s called porous limestone. Before I got here, I was thinking, porous like a membrane – maybe a really thick, hard coffee filter? But no.

“This is like Swiss cheese,” says Obeysekera. “There are a lot of openings for water to move through.”

He’s understating things. Swiss cheese doesn’t have this many holes. This is all openings. It’s porous like a volleyball net.

And this is what makes South Florida’s problem with rising seas, well, special.

“People suggest, why don’t we do what the Dutch do,” says Obeysekera. “Build a levee and stop the seawater coming,”

With rock like this, that won’t work. A levee, says Obeysekera, “may stop the seawater storm surge on the surface, but the water will come underground.”

That’s what’s happening right now. And before seawater floods the land, it’s flowing into the water supply.

To describe that process, it will probably help if we first clear up a question: If there’s really no barrier between saltwater and fresh underground water, why isn’t all the drinking water salty already?

The reason is gravity. Saltwater is heavier than freshwater. Some seawater has always moved into the limestone, but it sits under the freshwater, which floats on top.

Then sea levels rise. Saltwater pushes up to where that freshwater was floating. It doesn’t have to push all the way to the surface to cause problems – just to the depth where the local well got sunk a few decades ago.

When that happens, “those well fields will be impacted,” says Obeysekera. “They will go salty.”

That’s already happened in parts of Broward County, north of Miami. Some municipalities there now get some of their water from a county facility farther inland.

The more sea levels rise, the farther inland the saltwater comes, and the more places get affected.

Jennifer Jurado directs Broward’s environmental planning division, which means she oversees the county’s long-term water planning. She shows me maps of where the saltwater has already come – and where it’s heading: Hollywood, Hallandale, Dania Beach, Fort Lauderdale … the list goes on.

“It’s quite significant,” says Jurado. And it’s not just Broward.

That’s why Wanless has spent almost 20 years trying to warn his neighbors across South Florida: They’d better start planning.

“If we get blindsided,” he says, “we’re a bunch of Okies.” As in: Dust Bowl refugees. No water, no viable anything. “It’s going to be ugly,” he says.

For years, his warnings got a less-than-warm reception. Then, gradually, things changed.

“It was maybe 2005 when I would give a talk to a Rotary or business group,” he says. “They stopped yelling obscenities, at the end or during the talk, and they started listening.”

A couple of years later, he says, there was another shift. “People were starting to hang around after talks,” he says. They wanted to know what they could do, what the community could do.

Now, he says, he hears from people who have helped themselves.

“It’s truly unbelievable,” he says, “the number of people that call me or send a note saying: ‘We had three or four properties. We just sold them and made a killing, and thank you so much.'”

Meaning, they’ve gotten out while property values are still high. “We’re truly entering a time of what will become real-estate roulette.”

Looking at projections on a 30-year horizon, he says – that’s as long as a mortgage.

Wanless is not alone in his thinking. I meet Rene Machado as he prepares for a round of golf in Coral Gables. He’s 75, moved here 10 years ago from New York — and he thinks Coral Gables is the best place on earth: lush, peaceful and close to downtown.

“It’s like being in New York City and living in Central Park,” he says. “How cool is that?” And, bonus: It’s never winter.

I ask if he thinks about the rising sea levels, the threat. He says, sure. All the time.

And yes, he thinks about how long he should keep owning a home here. “I would evaluate every five years,” he says. “I think after 10 years, I have to take it seriously.”

From the windows of his 24th-floor office in downtown Miami, land-use attorney Wayne Pathman has a panoramic view of Miami Beach and the central city. There are cranes everywhere, putting up new skyscrapers. Pathman has played a role in some of these projects.

However, he doesn’t think everything we see will survive the next few decades, as rising seas encroach.

“There are solutions,” he says. “Man has been very good at finding solutions. But I don’t think we’re saving everything.”

He’s been pushing for local officials to rethink building codes, to account for where sea-levels will be in a few decades.

“This is a very developed area – high-density population – and it’s coming,” he says. “And we keep building as if it’s not, and we keep living here as if it’s not.”

These new skyscrapers are just a small fraction of what he’s talking about. South Florida’s population was about 5 million in the year 2000. Now it’s almost 6 million and growing.

Defending structures against flooding, whether from storms or higher seas, seems like the most-immediate issue, but threats to the water supply can’t be ignored.

“Obviously, nobody lives here if we don’t have potable water,” Pathman says.

Not even behind a seawall.

video

Dan Weissmann|February 10, 2015

Gov. Scott highlights $1.6 billion to restore Florida springs

ORLANDO – On Feb. 9, Governor Rick Scott highlighted a dedicated source of revenue that will provide $1.6 billion for Florida springs restoration over the next 20 years as part of his proposed 2015-2016 “KEEP FLORIDA WORKING” budget. If passed by the Legislature, $50 million will go toward springs restoration next year.

Governor Scott said, “Florida’s springs are one of the many natural treasures that bring families, visitors and job creators to our state. Over the last two years, we have championed record funding for Florida’s springs, and we are committed to building on that success going forward. By making these important investments now, we will be protecting and restoring our great springs for generations to come.”

In addition to funds to restore Florida springs, Governor Scott’s “KEEP FLORIDA WORKING” budget also proposes a dedicated source of revenue that will provide more than $5 billion for Everglades restoration over the next 20 years, including $150 million toward Everglades restoration next year. The proposed budget also includes more than $150 million for land acquisition and management which will focus in part on protecting land for the Florida panther.

Jon Steverson, Secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, said, “I’m a firm believer that how you spend your money is drives your policy, and Governor Scott’s budget clearly demonstrates his continued commitment to the protection of our state’s natural resources. This budget focuses on projects that will directly benefit the environment and communities of Florida.”

Charles Lee, Director of Advocacy for Audubon Florida said, “This $1.6 billion commitment will assure families and businesses that Florida is committed to restoring our great springs. I applaud Governor Scott for his continued commitment to protecting Florida’s natural treasures.”
Don Quincey, Jr. District Board Chairman of the Suwannee River Water Management, said, “Through partnerships with local governments and through optimizing private-public partnerships, Governor Scott is utilizing significant resources to ensure that our springs and water supplies are protected. We must be good stewards of the land and waters of our great state, and this funding proposal highlights the importance of Florida’s natural resources.”

Amber Vann|SuwanneeDemocrat

Drought-Hit California Has Been Letting Oil Companies Dump Waste into Drinkable Water

Oil companies in California, the country’s third-largest oil-producing state, have reportedly been injecting wastewater and other industry-related fluids into federally protected aquifers that could be used for drinking water or irrigation, say news reports.

This has been happening for years, despite the fact that California is in the midst of an epic drought. The San Francisco Chronicle reveals, “They did it with explicit permission from state regulators, who were supposed to protect the increasingly strained groundwater supplies from contamination. Instead, the state allowed companies to drill more than 170 waste-disposal wells into aquifers suitable for drinking or irrigation.”

According to reports, oil companies were authorized to perform this potentially polluting process more than 2,500 times.

Wastewater is a bi-product of the oil drilling process. As the Washington Post explains, the injections are convenient to oil companies because drilling brings up 13 gallons of wastewater for every gallon of petroleum. And one of the easiest disposal methods is simply to send that waste back underground. Wastewater from oil and gas drilling can contain chemicals like arsenic and benzene, heavy metals, and radioactive material, according to the blog ThinkProgress.

While the permits allowing this practice go back decades, an Associated Press analysis found that nearly half of those injection wells appear to have been approved or began injections in the last four years under Gov. Jerry Brown, who has pushed state oil and gas regulators to speed up the permitting process.

A large portion of the waste injections happened in Kern County–ThinkProgress points out the county’s population is disproportionately low-income and non-white compared to other parts of the state. This is the same county, in fact, where in November environmental groups and local residents sued California oil regulators for approving a massive number of new oil drilling permits without analyzing the risks to air, water and public health, something that is required by law.

Sadly, this latest news is hardly shocking. ThinkProgress points out, “Environmental advocates have long-known that oil companies were dumping wastewater into California aquifers. But the Chronicle’s discovery showed that the practice was more widespread than advocates had thought.”

Jared Blumenfeld, Administrator for EPA’s Pacific Southwest Region, thinks it “isn’t as surprising as it should be.” He believes, “Ultimately the checks and balances have not been in place to ensure the integrity of the system.”

While it may be disturbing to read about the possible contamination of drinking water, state officials told the Chronicle that so far, tests of nearby drinking-water wells show no contamination. Whether you choose to believe that or not is up to you.

Regardless of whether or not there’s evidence that people have actually consumed water contaminated by oil industry waste, the fact remains that California regulators have repeatedly permitted oil companies to inject wastewater into underground reserves that could be used for drinking, and that water is supposed to be federally protected.

It goes without saying, with the drought now into its fourth year, California water is more precious than ever. It begs the question, how has this been allowed to happen for so long? The San Francisco Chronicle explains:

The problem developed over decades, starting with a bureaucratic snafu between state and federal regulators. It was made worse by shoddy record keeping and, critics say, plain negligence. The issue erupted into public view last summer when state officials abruptly shut down 11 waste-injection wells in Kern County, fearing they could taint groundwater supplies already feeding homes and farms.

Blumenfeld says that in California, “we need a big course correction. We need to get the system back in compliance,” adding, “Californians expect their water is not being polluted by oil producers …This poses that very real danger.”

Kassie Siegel, director of the Climate Law Institute at the Center for Biological Diversity environmental group, describes the situation as, “an unfolding catastrophe”, adding that “it’s essential that all oil and gas wastewater injection into underground drinking water stop immediately.”

But industry representatives claim that any threat to underground water sources is minimal. Tupper Hull of the Western States Petroleum Association industry group assures, “It’s not a crisis, not a wide-scale problem. I think the fact the (state) identified the issue, took action and is now seeking to remedy, suggests the system works pretty well.”

Some believe that this situation is just another example of what happens in a broken system where the rights of corporations trump the rights of nature.

Shannon Biggs, Director of Movement Rights – which assists communities to write new laws that place the rights of communities and ecosystems over corporate profit — shares, “Our environmental laws place commerce above nature, and in so doing they actually legalize certain amounts of harm to ecosystems. This situation makes it so very clear.”

“It’s not said enough—but it is often the industry to be regulated that helps write the regulations in the first place,” Biggs says.

Now that the widespread practice is out in the open and public knowledge, what’s being done to stop it? Well for one, the federal government has demanded that California officials take immediate steps to find and deal with any contamination, plus end oil-industry operations in all aquifers set aside for families and farms. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the EPA is threatening to seize control of regulating the waste-injection wells, a job it has left to California officials for the past 30-plus years. California was given until Feb. 6 to tell the EPA how it plans to deal with the current injection crisis and prevent it from happening again.

Tex Dworkin|February 17, 2015

 Environmentalists Rally For Clean Water in Florida

Florida environmentalists and legislators came from all over the state to support the Floridians For Clean Water & Amendment 1 Rally at the old Capitol building.

The clean water supporters came together to let state legislators know that the money for Amendment 1 should go solely toward the conservation and preservation of Florida water and wetlands.

The Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative, Amendment 1, was passed in Nov. 2014.

There were close to 400 people who attended the rally, including Chris Costello who is the coordinator of the Floridian Clean Water Declaration Campaign. Costello also serves as the Senior Regional Organizing Representative for the Sierra Club.

Costello stated, “Our job is to send a resounding message to all of the decision-makers whether they be the Governor the legislature or the high level water managers of the state. That Florida can’t live without clean we can’t prosper without clean water. 

Costello went on to say that “they” should do whatever it takes to ensure water is protected in the state of Florida.

“They [legislature] need to do what they need to do to make sure that water is protected, that pollution is stopped at the source that pollution is regulated, and that the public lands that are necessary to clean and store clean water for Florida are preserved and protected. Through Amendment 1 funds or whatever funds. But if we don’t have clean water we don’t have anything in this state – we are lost,” Costello said.

Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, who played a key role in getting the rally site, greeted the supporters with a call to action.

Vasilinda said, “Each Floridian has to take personal responsibility for their water usage, conservation, efficiency, and to move forward making sure we do other things to protect aquifers and springs in Florida.”

Rep. Vasilinda also made a resounding reference to fracking in Florida. The practice of fracking is a leading cause to ground water pollution in the state.

Estus Whitfield coordinator of the Florida Conservation Coalition shared his thoughts on the usage of the states wetlands and water.

“Long before statehood, Florida land and water was being exploited. Unrelentingly [Florida land and water] treated as a commodity, polluted, drained, bridged, abused in every kind of way. Only for the benefit of development,” Whitfield said.

Whitfield also gave a brief history on the state’s history in regards to environmental responsibility and integrity.

Whitfield stated, “the first state legislature declared the Everglades totally valueless, and petitioned congress to get an engineer to develop a reclamation plan.”

Whitfield said in 1972 Congress passed the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, which is commonly referred to as the Clean Water Act. In that year Florida was best known for its growth management, water management, and environmental land acquisition program in the nation – “unqualified.”

During the programs success in the 80s and 90s, Florida’s population rate had grown more than ever. Whitfield said, “The year 1972 was the year of the environment.”

Whitfield said in 2011, 80 percent of the rivers and streams in Florida were “impaired [polluted].” 90 percent of the lakes, ponds and reservoirs were impaired. 97 percent of the bays and estuaries were impaired as well. 

For more information visit http://wewantcleanwater.com

Great Lakes & Inland Waters

Asian carp not advancing toward Lake Michigan, testifies Army Corps general

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The commanding general of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told Congress this week that Asian carp from the Mississippi River are not advancing strongly toward Lake Michigan and the federal agency isn’t sure why.

Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick told the U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development that the invasive carp’s advance has stalled south of an electronic barrier built in 2002 to keep them from the Great Lakes.

“The point is, the leading edge of the Asian carp has not changed movement since 2006,” Bostick said in response to a question from Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Toledo).

“We don’t know why they haven’t moved” further upstream, he said.

The brief carp discussion came near the end of a two-hour Feb. 11 hearing on Capitol Hill regarding the Army Corps 2016 fiscal year budget. (Click here to watch, carp discussion starts at 1 hour, 59 minute, 20 second mark).

Bostick said the presence of adult fish remain about 55 miles away from Lake Michigan, south of the electronic barrier built in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, the only navigable aquatic link between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins.

The carp’s spawning area is 62 miles from Lake Michigan and established populations of the invasive fish are 143 miles from the lake, Bostick said.

“That kind of gives you a feel for where we’re seeing them,” he said.

Testifying alongside Bostick were Assistant Army Secretary for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy and Major General John Peabody.

Darcy told legislators the agency plans to study additional carp control measures at the Brandon Road lock on the Des Plaines River near Joliet, Ill. — an 82-year-old strategic “choke point” dam in Chicago’s metropolitan water system that’s become the latest front line in the invasive species battle.

Peabody said the agency has about $2.5 million to get the study “kick-started.”

Redesign of the Brandon Road lock system was suggested as part of the multi-year Great Lakes-Mississippi River Interbasin Study released in early 2014.

The invasive carp, considered an ecological threat to native ecosystems and an economic threat to boating and sport fishing industries, has been knocking on the door to Lake Michigan and other sites within the Great Lakes Basin for years.

Environmental groups and other states around the Great Lakes have pushed for hydrological separation of the two drainage basins as a permanent solution to keeping Asian carp out of the lakes.

Nonprofits like Alliance for the Great Lakes say Asian carp DNA hits in the Chicago River downtown show the need for greater carp control measures.

The Great Lakes Commission, an interstate agency created under the Great Lakes Compact, supports modifying the Brandon Road lock with electric barriers at both ends and using “fish deterrents, modifications to the gates on the dam, and other technologies” to keep carp from moving upstream.

The existing barrier uses electric shocks to keep fish from swimming through, but engineers worry fish eggs could float through and hatch on the other side.

A new Brandon Road barrier has been estimated to cost $25 million.

Garret Ellison|MLive.com|February 13, 2015

Big farms face pollution concerns

Lawsuits claim waste is tainting rivers and lakes

DES MOINES, Iowa —From Washington state to North Carolina, federal lawsuits are challenging the livestock industry to change its ways. The arguments are based on studies that increasingly show the effect phosphorous, nitrate and bacteria from fertilizer and accumulated manure have on lakes and rivers as well as air pollution.

Large-scale livestock farmers insist they’re using techniques to keep manure and fertilizer from draining into waterways, though Iowa farmer Bill Couser says, “We realize this is not going to happen overnight or in two years.”

Those who rely on rivers and lakes for drinking water or live near such farms, especially in the top two hog-producing states of Iowa and North Carolina, are growing impatient.

Earlier this year, a federal judge in Washington state ruled that an industrial dairy farm’s manure management practices posed an “imminent and substantial endangerment” to the environment and to thousands relying on well water. And Des Moines’ water utility recently filed a notice of intent to sue farmers in three counties populated by 1.2 million pigs and a million turkeys, as the water it sources from two Iowa rivers must be run through a costly system to strip out nitrates.

Ag vs. outdoors

About 68 percent of the nation’s lakes, reservoirs and ponds and more than half of its rivers and streams are impaired, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, whose reports show the main culprit is agriculture.

The hog industry’s national shift from small family farms to large scale farms is dramatic. A driving force behind some of the farms is Murphy- Brown LLC, which is part of China-based WH Group. WH Group aims to feed China’s appetite for meat with cheaper hogs from the U.S., according to lawsuits.

Advocates of locally grown food and animal rights and environmental activists are behind many of the suits, but in some cases, farmers are going after farmers.

Waste put on fields

Barb Kalbach has fought the construction of huge hog operations in Iowa, where pork is a $7billion industry and there are seven times more hogs than humans. “I have in the back of my mind this idea that we have thousands of miles of clean water, which is a gift in this state and we just throw manure in it,” the crop farmer said.

In North Carolina, 10 million hogs produce as much fecal waste in a day as 100 million people, and Duplin County is the nation’s top county for hog production, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department.

Treated, liquefied manure and urine is pumped to large sprinkler systems and flung on fields for fertilizer. The resulting odor is a daily irritant for Richard Brown. Brown is among the roughly 500 people in who’ve joined the lawsuits against Murphy-Brown.

The choice, says Iowa State University economist Catherine Kling, will come down to consumers: “We don’t know how to produce food and fuel from this incredibly rich land without having nitrogen and nutrient pollution, so society has to figure out what balance it wants.”

David Pitt|Associated Press

Ontario proposes stronger protection for Great Lakes

4 Reasons we’re happy Ontario reintroduced the Great Lakes Protection Act

Today, Ontario re-introduced the Great Lakes Protection Act, which is good news. The lakes are one of Ontario’s defining features. They are vital to our environment and our economy. And, with the Act, the province is committing to work to ensure that the Great Lakes are drinkable, fishable, and swimmable for current and future generations.

Here are some of the key reasons we need this legislation.

1.  Great Lakes water quality is under threat

Did you know that 80 per cent of Ontarians get their drinking water from the Great Lakes? Yet, the tools currently in place to protect our water are not up to the task. Three out of four of Ontario’s Great Lakes are currently in a state of decline. Satellite imagery shows us that algal blooms are increasing in size and frequency and are poisoning drinking water, especially in Lake Erie. Studies have shown that persistent pollutants, toxic substances, and chemicals of concern continue to build up in the Great Lakes. This is a problem for human health, fish, and wildlife. And the Act will help address this problem.  

2. The Great Lakes are vital to our communities and our economy

Aside from issues of drinking water, the lakes are key focal points for Ontario communities. Hundreds of thousands flock to beaches in the summer; many more use the waters for sailing, kayaking, and fishing. In addition, they are the backbone of a thriving tourism industry, and a commercial fishery as well. The Great Lakes are critical to the health of the basin’s annual $4.4 trillion economy.

3. We need new opportunities for stronger community involvement in Great Lakes issues

The bill creates a new tool, called Geographically-Focused Initiatives, which will allow communities to come together and define how the provincial government can help them address water pollution. This means that the people who live and work near the lakes–the people who rely upon them most directly–will be key players in identifying the best ways to protect the water in their backyard.

4. There is a growing movement of people who want to see strong Great Lakes legislation:

  • Municipal support: more than 26 per cent of Ontario’s population lives in communities that have officially and publicly stated their support for a Great Lakes Protection Act through council-approved municipal motions
  • A diverse bandwagon: official letters of support have come from representatives of retail, unions, tourism, farmers, nurses and cottage groups
  • Grassroots momentum: more than 2,100 individuals have signed letters of support and sent petitions to the Ontario government

If you’re reading this and think that this sounds familiar, you’re correct. We’ve been here before. After four years, two failed bills, and three provincial governments later, the proposed act is back. And it’s stronger than ever. This time, political and community support for the bill means that nothing now stands in the way of it being passed.

Nancy Goucher|February 18, 2015

Great Lakes freezing fast
Lake Huron 92.8 percent covered; minimal traffic on river

It’s as if Queen Elsa from the movie “Frozen” touched the Great Lakes. “The official ice concentration is on par with where we were at last year,” said Anne Clites, physical scientist for the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory. “However, the situation has changed quite a bit this past week. If you were looking at the current ice two weeks ago it was significant, but not nearly what we have today.”

The Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory is reporting that 85.4 percent of the Great Lakes are covered in ice and coverage will continue to increase if current weather conditions persist.

The maximum basin coverage for the Great Lakes last year was 92.5 percent in March, while the highest amount recorded was 94.4 percent in 1979.

As of Wednesday, 92.8 percent of Lake Huron was in ice, compared to 94.5 percent last year. The record ice coverage for Lake Huron was 98.3 percent in 1994.

National Weather Service meteorologist Dave Cook warned not to look out for Queen Elsa’s sister Anna.

Michigan is stuck in the middle of the coldest air mass of 2015, he said, and it’s not going away.

“The computer models have us in a cold pattern through the next 10 days,” Cook said. “We should remain in the cold side of the jet stream for at least the next two weeks.”

Relentless below-zero temperatures will only thicken the ice, Cook said. He did promise a mid-March warm-up, though.

Friday’s frigid temperatures will be driven by 10to 20-mph gusts, Cook said, which could temporarily break up some of the ice.

“High winds help to break up the ice covering,” he said. “The wind has been helping keep the open water a little warmer. Plus, the more that Lake Huron is frozen, the less lake effect snow you’ll see.”

The heavy ice has slowed freighter traffic and kept Coast Guard ships busy.

Rob Zamora, chief warrant officer for the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Detroit, said it has been harder on the icebreakers to clear boat traffic.

“It pushes our icebreakers to their maximum capabilities,” Zamora said. “The north winds that create northern ridges have been difficult to deal with.”

While the St. Clair River is iced over, Zamora said he cannot determine the thickness of the ice or whether it is safe to walk on.

“With the current conditions it is possible (to walk the St. Clair River), but we don’t recommend it,” Zamora said.

Frank Frisk, of Boatnerd.com, said heavy ice on the St. Clair River is not unusual, but it started earlier this season.

“I’ve seen it this bad in late February,” he said. “It’s just the cold weather. This is the heaviest ice they have seen in years.”

He said the lake freighter Peter Creswell was stuck in the ice near Harsens Island.

“She’s in the lower end of the St. Clair River not moving,” he said. “She’s hardly moved at all in two days.”

The Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Samuel Risley was trying to assist the freighter.

Donna Krispin, a volunteer at the Readers Cove on Harsens Island, said she’s seen plenty of ice in the St. Clair River before.

She noted there was lots of ice last year, but it caused few problems.

“Last year we didn’t have any trouble with the ice in the spring,” she said. “You just can’t second guess.”

Champion’s Auto Ferry was still running between the mainland and the island, she said.

“The ferry’s running,” she said. “The only trouble we had was when the Coast Guard decided to come down and cut our path.”

The Blue Water Ferry between Marine City and Sombra, Ontario is not running because of the ice in the St. Clair River.

Mick Broughton, of Kimball Township, is the local representative for Okuma fishing rods and reels. He had stopped at Anderson’s Pro Bait in Port Huron.

I’m not a big ice fisherman, so I don’t like it,” he said. “Four or five years ago this time of the year I was fishing open water in Lake Erie. We’re going to surpass last year’s ice record, that’s for sure.”

TONY WITTKOWSKI AND BOB GROSS|TIMES HERALD|February 20, 2015

Offshore & Ocean

Beach Renourishment to begin as Cold Front brings in erosion

FORT PIERCE (CBS12) — The sand here disappears during these strong windy and high surf days.. since as the current and sand drifts flow south.. All of it is disrupted by the Fort Pierce Inlet right here.

That is what creates a sideways surf here.. Smashing into the coast..and pulling sand away bit by bit in swirls of surf.

Now the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will begin putting all the lost  sand back. More than 300,000 cubic yards of sand on close to one and a half miles of this eroded beach in St. Lucie County.  Sand placement will begin at the Jetty and move south. The sand is dredged 4 miles offshore at a permitted site and then pumped onto the beach.

Starting early next week, dredging operations will run 24-7 until the beach re-nourishment is complete. 

So how much do these cold fronts and high surf advisories cost us on our coastlines? This project alone is $6.4 million. Sand placement will start immediately adjacent to the Fort Pierce Inlet South Jetty and move southward as part of the federally-authorized Fort Pierce Shore
Protection Project. The project will restore areas of eroded beach and provide hurricane storm damage reduction.  The project will also help to create shorebird and marine turtle habitat, as well as enhance recreational opportunities and improve the health of the beaches further south.

“As always, we are thankful for our long-term relationship with the Army Corps and their support and oversight in implementing the Fort Pierce Shore Protection Project,” said St. Lucie County Sr. Coastal Engineer Richard Bouchard.  “Residents may not realize that recurring beach nourishment on the Fort Pierce beachfront is critical to offset the continual erosive impacts caused by the Fort Pierce Inlet due to the interruption of the predominant southerly sand movement along our coastline. 

A nourished shoreline at the beach south of the jetty temporarily mitigates the sand deficit caused by the inlet while acting as a feeder beach, naturally restoring sand migration to the southerly beaches.

The project is scheduled to be completed no later than the end of May.

During the project., the re-nourishment team will use heavy equipment on the beach to move the sand. 

The Corps of Engineers is asking the public to use caution in the construction.  Residents living close to the beach and near the active construction will likely hear pumps  and heavy equipment throughout the span of the project.

The Fort Pierce nourishment project is funded in partnership between the Army Corps of Engineers, the State of Florida and St. Lucie County.  St. Lucie County and the State each contributed $700,000 and the federal government contributed $4.85 million to the project.

For more information go to www.saj.usace.army.mil

Jana Eschbach|CBS12|February 15th, 2015

Louisiana coastal authority recommends spending $32 million of oil spill fine money on Houma lock, Calcasieu River salinity control projects

The Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority board voted unanimously Wednesday (Feb. 11) to spend $32 million in oil spill fine money to pay for a portion of the design and engineering costs of the Houma Navigation Canal Lock project and Calcasieu River Salinity Control measures.

Another $2.4 million would be reserved for “adaptive management,” including monitoring and potential adjustments needed for those and future projects to be paid for with a share of fines funneled to the state from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill through the federal Restore Act. The state also will reserve $3.9 million to use as matching funds for projects that 20 coastal parishes will finance with their own share of Restore Act money.

The Restore Act directs 80 percent of Clean Water Act fine money resulting from the BP spill to Gulf Coast states and federal agencies for projects aimed at restoring natural resources and economic problems caused by the spill.

The CPRA board was voting on what projects it would recommend to be funded with a “direct component bucket” share of $1 billion in fine money paid by Transocean, owner of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, as part of a plea agreement with the Justice Department. Their recommendation must still be approved by the joint federal-state authority that oversees Restore Act money.

The Restore Act Trust Fund is receiving $800 million of the company’s fine money, which is being divided into five separate funds, called “buckets.” The direct component receives 35 percent of the fine money, which is being divided equally among Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Texas. Louisiana’s 20 coastal parishes get 30 percent, or $16.8 million, of the state’s share of the money.

CPRA Executive Director Kyle Graham said the federal-state Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, which oversees the Restore Act Trust Fund, still hasn’t decided the rules governing an “impact based bucket,” which will be distributed based on area oiled, distance from the BP Macondo well and population of the affected portion of the coast. But he estimated the state could receive another $120.8 to $156.8 million from that bucket from Transocean fine money.

The state expects to receive a much larger amount of money from fines that will be paid by BP and Anadarko, BP’s minority partner in the Macondo well, once a U.S. District Court judge in New Orleans determines how much each will pay, and that decision goes through expected court challenges.

Graham said state officials now estimate the state’s direct impact bucket share of the BP fines will be between $143.4 million and $560.5 million, and the parish share will be between $61.4 million and $240.2 million.

He said the state’s impact based bucket share of the BP fines could be between $298.5 million and $1.68 billion.

A third major bucket of money is aimed at coast-wide damages and will be controlled largely by federal agencies. State officials have not predicted how much of that money might go to restoration or economic projects in Louisiana.

The Houma lock project is designed to both reduce saltwater intrusion from the Gulf of Mexico into interior wetlands through the canal, and to use the canal to distribute fresh water within the Terrebonne Basin. It will be built as part of the Morganza to the Gulf storm surge levee system, and will provide storm surge protection, while still allowing the canal to be used by commercial and recreational vessels.

The structure will include a lock for everyday traffic and a wider flood gate that larger vessels can move through. The gate also can be opened and closed to maximize freshwater distribution. The project is aimed at restoring historic salinity levels in the basin and will be designed to save more than 3,400 acres of marsh from degradation over 50 years.

The state has estimated engineering and design of the structure, already under way, to cost $34.4 million, and the first share of Transocean fine money will help pay for that cost. Construction of the lock is expected to cost $323.4 million. The design process is expected to be completed spring 2018, with construction to last through the summer of 2021.

For the Calcasieu River salinity control project, the state has budgeted $32 million, with the Transocean fine money helping to pay part, for engineering and design; $261.3 million for construction, and $113.5 million for operation, maintenance and monitoring during the project’s first 50 years. 

The project would control the flow of salty water from the Gulf of Mexico through the Calcasieu Ship Channel into adjacent water bodies, with the goal of reducing wetland loss. Earthen, rock and sheetpile structures will be built along teh channel to reduce the flow of saltwater between the channel and adjacent wetlands, and the project is expected to maintain more than 21,000 acres of existing wetlands over 50 years, when compared to a future without action.

The state hopes to complete the engineering and design of the project in 36 months, and have construction completed between 24 and 48 months after that.

Mark Schleifstein|NOLA.com|The Times-Picayune The Times-Picayune|February 11, 2015

MBARA invests $2 million in reefs

In the next few months, the city of Mexico Beach and the Mexico Beach Artificial Reef Association (MBARA) will build 14 new artificial reefs off the coast of Mexico Beach and Port St. Joe with the support of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

Bob Cox, President of the MBARA, announced that the City of Mexico Beach and MBARA was successful in winning two grants from FWC for a total of $120,000.

Of that funding, $40,000 comes from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Sport-fish Restoration Program plus $80,000 from the State Legislature and FWC. In addition to the grants, MBARA will add a $45,000 cash match made possible with cash donations from its sponsors, members, and other fundraising efforts by its volunteers.

Casino Beach goes turtle-friendly

Installing sea turtle-friendly lights at Casino Beach parking lot is the first of more projects to come to darken the Pensacola Beach skyline for wildlife while maintaining public safety.

Pensacola Beach nighttime beachgoers and workers may have noticed the Casino Beach parking lot is much more illuminated.

That’s thanks to 38 new aluminum light poles each topped with four energy efficient 79-watt L.E.D. light fixtures brightening up the formerly dark parking lot.

The new lights are replacing 21 taller — 35-foot-tall — outdated concrete poles that have energy-sucking lights, which created light pollution blamed on distracting nesting and hatching sea turtle.

The upgrade, more than two years in the works, actually is sea-turtle friendly.

In fact, the Department of Interior paid the $470,000 tab on the new lights with $4.4 million it received in 2012 from an BP early restoration funds earmarked for “Restoring the Night Sky” on beaches in Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.

The Casino Beach project is a partnership between DOI, the Santa Rosa Island Authority, Escambia County and Gulf Power.

“We were looking for ways to help mitigate the impacts of the oil spill and cleanup for nesting sea turtles by looking at ways to address lighting,” said Tim Day, Escambia’s environmental programs manager. “The concept came about when we were looking to have a good way to have turtle friendly lights but very safe for people to feel comfortable in.”

Kimberly Blair|pnj.com|January 30, 2015

 

New Harbor Branch program will replace seagrass in Indian River lagoon

The Fourth Annual Love Your Lagoon Dinner on Feb. 6 will buy attendees more than just a meal. Money from that event will start a new program at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute that will replace dwindling seagrasses in the Indian River Lagoon.

“A project like that could use all the money it could ever get, but we are hoping it (the money raised) will be a start,” said Katha Kissman, president and CEO of Harbor Branch.

Kissman said that the lagoon lost 60 percent of its seagrass in 2011-2012 because of massive algae blooms.

This project aims to reverse that by creating a seagrass nursery at the Harbor Branch facility, which is a research community of marine scientists, engineers, educators and other professionals focused on ocean science. The grasses would then be transplanted into particular areas of the lagoon.

“Seagrass is a critical component in the lagoon, playing an important role in biological productivity and species diversity,” said research professor Dennis Hanisak.

That role is a big deal along the Treasure Coast.

“The economic value of the Indian River Lagoon seagrasses based on its habitat value to sport and commercial fisheries, has been estimated to be $1 billion per year,” he said.

Each year, Kissman said, they try to use money from the dinner to pay for a different program at Harbor Branch. Last year, the dinner paid for the institute to bring in seven Indian River Lagoon Research Fellows, each of whom has been there during the past year.

The seagrass replacement program grew out of the research that Jacob Berninger, one of the fellows, has been working on in the past year. Berninger has been collecting vegetative fragments, cultivating them in outdoor tanks and successfully transplanting them at a restoration site.

“This is something I had proposed a few years ago, but Jacob’s work is a nice ‘proof of concept,’ which we will further tweak in the proposed Love Your Lagoon project,” Hanisak said.

The amount raised at the Love Your Lagoon event has increased each year. It went from $34,000 the first year to slightly less than $100,000 last year with the sale of 280 tickets. This year, the goal is to reach the $100,000 mark.

The scope of the seagrass project depends on how much money is raised, said Hanisak, who isn’t sure of the length of the project. It is feasible that the project would start in spring.

“Other funding may be needed to complete what is started, but I think looking over a three-year period to determine success is reasonable,” he said.

The sites for planting the grasses also haven’t been determined.

“That will depend on input from some of our colleagues in the agencies who we work with and also our ability to obtain the necessary permits to do the transplants,” Hanisak said.

Criteria for the sites might include sites that once had seagrass but haven’t recovered from the loss or areas where the seagrass has been damaged by boaters.

Some of the money raised will help support the Indian River Lagoon Symposium that which pulls researchers, scientists, political figures and others. That symposium, which attracts about 300 people, runs Feb. 5 and 6. Kissman said that the public is welcome to the second day of the event from 9 a.m. to noon to make comment, but registration is required at https://fauf.fau.edu/irls2015.

The overall goal of both the project and the symposium is to protect the lagoon.

“If we can expedite the restoration of seagrass in the Indian River Lagoon, it will have many positive impacts on the lagoon’s health, which is ultimately linked to its economic well-being and the happiness of those of us living along the lagoon,” Hanisak said.

Michelle Piasecki|Special to The Palm Beach Post|Jan. 29, 2015

Unusual String Of Bottlenose Dolphin Deaths Linked To BP Oil Spill

An “unusual mortality event” among marine mammals — primarily bottlenose dolphins — in the northern Gulf of Mexico has been linked to BP’s historic 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

In research published Wednesday in the journal PloS One, a team of marine scientists from across the country documented a large cluster of dolphin strandings and deaths in the Gulf of Mexico between 2010 and June 2013. Of those strandings and deaths, they said, most occurred in areas impacted by the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

“[T]he location, timing, and magnitude of dolphin stranding trends observed following the [BP] oil spill, particularly statewide for Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, overlap with the location and magnitude of oil during and the year following [the] spill,” the research reads. “In comparison, the [Gulf of Mexico] coasts of Florida and Texas experienced little to no oiling, and … these areas lacked significant annual, statewide increases in stranded dolphins.”

The peer-reviewed research is just the latest linking the Deepwater Horizon spill to extreme health problems in dolphins, particularly in Louisiana’s Barataria Bay. In a previous study published in 2013, scientists have said that the 4.2 million barrels of oil sloshed into the Gulf of Mexico may be linked to deteriorating dolphin health including missing teeth, lung disease, and hormonal imbalances. That study was funded by BP.

“I’ve never seen such a high prevalence of very sick animals,” said National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researcher Lori Schwacke, the lead author of the 2013 study.

BP has vehemently denied that the oil spill was the direct cause of any adverse impacts to dolphin health. Indeed, neither of the studies imply direct causation — they merely note an overlap in the time of the spill and the discovery of sick or dead animals. BP has also noted that prior to the spill, there had been little to no studies of dolphin health, making it difficult to discern whether those problems were ongoing. Health assessments of the Gulf have shown other conditions unrelated to the oil spill that are detrimental to marine mammal health, including other types of pollution and cold temperatures. Because of that variability, the oil giant has made the case that the spill “didn’t ruin the Gulf.”

“It’s important to note that unfortunately these large die-offs of dolphins aren’t unusual,” the company said in a statement to the Times-Picayune. “The study states that there were ten [unusual mortality events] involving bottlenose dolphins documented in the Gulf prior to 2010. Over the past years there have been dolphin UMEs relating to dolphins all over the world, with no connection to oil spills.”

Wednesday’s research also acknowledges that the BP oil spill was not the initial cause of the unusual mortality event, noting that the blowout happened approximately 3 months after scientists had already declared that an unusual mortality event among bottleneck dolphins was occurring in the immediate area. But it speculates that the spill may have have worsened the situation. It says that “large increases in mortalities of birds, turtles, and mammals” were documented in the days and months following the oil release, and pointed out that the longest cluster of dolphin deaths occurred in Louisiana’s Barataria Bay between August 2010 and December 2011, where oil from the spill was present.

“Combined exposures of pregnant females to unusually cold temperatures, freshwater runoff, and DWH oil have been proposed as the cause of the higher numbers of perinate strandings during 2011,” the study reads.

The court case over how much money BP should be liable for the 2010 spill — the largest in U.S. history — is ongoing. Just last month, a Louisiana federal judge ruled that BP should only be held responsible for spilling 3.19 million barrels of oil into the Gulf, which is about a million barrels fewer than the U.S. government’s 4.2 million barrel estimate. Because of that ruling, BP’s maximum fine of $18 billion was decreased to $13.7 billion.

Emily Atkin|February 13, 2015

County to vote on coral, canal project funding

The Monroe County Commission will vote Wednesday on allocating $1.1 million to coral and canal restoration projects.

The projects were among the top choices of the local Restore Act committee, which was established by the county commission to rank and make recommendations on roughly 40 projects seeking federal funding.

The local committee ranked The Nature Conservancy’s coral restoration work in the Florida Keys and the county’s canal restoration projects as the top two projects. County staff is recommending that the two groups split the $1.1 million, with each group getting $550,000.

“We want to be mindful to minimize county resources necessary for ongoing grant management and oversight due to the program’s very low 3 percent administrative cost reimbursement limit,” Monroe County Legislative Affairs Director Lisa Tennyson said. “So, staff is recommending that the commission consider making fewer awards to the projects, in this case the top two ranked projects that show the most promise to deliver clear and measurable benefits, have timely start and finish dates, and whose sponsors have the capacity and experience to manage rigorous federal grant program requirements.”

The county commission will vote on staff’s recommendation when it meets at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Murray Nelson Government Center, 102050 Overseas Highway, Key Largo.

The Nature Conservancy initially requested $1.1 million for its coral restoration projects with Mote Marine Laboratory, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Coral Restoration Foundation in the Upper Keys.

All three groups have reared hundreds of thousands of corals in their nurseries in the past decade. Many of those corals have been replanted on the Florida Keys reef have begun to spawn and reproduce.

The $500,000 would facilitate the rearing and planting of 20,000 staghorn corals and 15,000 boulder coral fragments, said Chris Bergh, Florida Keys program manager for The Nature Conservancy coral recovery effort.

“That’s a lot of coral,” Bergh said. “Every one of those corals has the ability to grow and become habitat and to spawn.”

Monroe County’s plan for the second project is to improve the water quality in the canals in unincorporated areas through a series of restoration and dredging projects.

Restore Act funding comes from Clean Water Act fines placed on Transocean and B.P. for their roles in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.

TIMOTHY O’HARA|keysnews.com|Citizen Staff

Crews continue installation of deepwater ocean outfall pipes in Myrtle Beach

Work on the installation of two large-diameter deepwater ocean outfall pipes continues, with crews moving the project out into the Atlantic Ocean.

“The project is on schedule and moving rapidly seaward,” city spokesman Mark Kruea said.

Kruea said crews have constructed what appears to be a temporary pier while they move the ocean outfall pipes further into the ocean, but the city is not getting a new pier.

“We’ve gotten several phone calls from people who ask if we’re building a new pier,” he said. “When the project is finished in November, all of what you see will go away and the beach will be the beach again.”

The $10.4 million project, which is being done by Houston-based Orion Marine Group, will combine nine existing stormwater drainage pipes that empty at the beach into two 84-inch pipes at Fourth Avenue North that would run underneath the sea bed and out more than 1,000 feet into the Atlantic Ocean.

The project will remove pipes from Eighth Avenue North to First Avenue South.

Work on the street side of the project to install pipes from the beach and out 300 feet is expected to last through March 31, when crews will move completely into the ocean to install pipe through Oct. 1. That work will be off the sand and will not impact beach-goers, Kruea said.

Work will resume on the street side on Oct. 2, where the contractor is expected to finish work in all areas by November 2015.

Maya T. Prabhu|thesunnews.com|February 16, 2015

[I’ve got an idea – let’s dump our dirty runoff water into the ocean. Who cares if it pollutes the ocean?]

Florida – RESTORE committee faces weighty decision

A large part of Pensacola’s environmental and economic future could be decided this week, as a group of nine citizens finalize the criteria that will govern how as much as $200 million will be spent in the next decade.

The Escambia County RESTORE Advisory Committee, appointed in 2012 in the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, will meet Wednesday for what could be its final and most critical time.

On the agenda is weighting criteria by which projects will be judged for funding from the RESTORE act windfall. The goal is to ensure that projects that get RESTORE money will benefit the oil-damaged environment and some of the neediest neighborhoods in the area, committee members said.

After Wednesday, the committee could turn its recommendations over to Escambia County Commissioners, which may tweak the criteria. By this summer, the commissioners are expected to release the final requirements and begin soliciting project proposals.

Read more

The Environmental and Human Costs of Nicaragua’s Proposed Canal

Nicaragua might be the largest country in Central America, but it’s still the second poorest country in the Americas, after Haiti. Nicaragua’s government leaders believe that building a massive canal that will connect the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean can fix the country’s poverty issue. Unfortunately, if the canal projects move forward, Nicaragua could potentially lose indispensable parts of the country’s life, like water, biodiversity and peace, that cannot be replaced with wealth.

Is the Canal Worth Sacrificing Drinking Water For?

As reported in Scientific American, the proposed Nicaragua Grand Canal, or Grand Inter-Oceanic Canal, would be a massive undertaking. While the Panama Canal measures 77 kilometers long, Nicaragua’s canal would measure 278 kilometers. The endeavor is expected to cost Nicaragua $50 billion. The Nicaraguan government entrusted the project to Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development (HKND), and the canal is projected to be complete by 2020.

HKND kind of did something right: the agency paid for some environmental research on the canal’s preliminary construction (but not on the environmental impacts of the canal itself). As expected, the preliminary report issued three main environmental concerns:

1) Potential fuel spills impacting local freshwater fish
2) Potential interruption of agricultural activity
3) Potential disturbance of the soil on native reserves

The report also suggested that it’s pretty shady how the land was acquired and compensated for. That’s an understatement. Late last year, protests against the canal led to many arrests and two deaths that we know about — an unfortunate ending for many environmental activists.

Nicaragua’s own scientific community has also spoken out against the canal project. Jorge Huete-Pérez, vice president of The Nicaraguan Academy of Sciences, told Scientific American: “In the future climate change will affect us, there will be long droughts and the lake [Lake Nicaragua] is a reservoir. Is it worth sacrificing a source of drinking water, which also serves agriculture and tourism?”

Canal Could Destroy the Habitat of 22 Endangered Species

The world is also speaking out against Nicaragua’s canal project. The Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) described how the canal’s construction will impact 4,000 square kilometers of forest, coast and wetlands — also known as the habitats of 22 other species that are already on the brink of extinction, like the jaguar. Some of the world’s last “untouched surviving mangroves, coral reefs, dry forests, rainforests and lakeside habitats” could be destroyed. The canal will affect other earthlings’ habitats, and it will also limit the movements and migrations of plants and animals.

“Violence Is Going to Be the Only Solution”

Inevitably, the canal will also affect the humans living nearby. While the canal might connect the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, it’s already dividing the country. Some Nicaraguans can’t see beyond the blinding dollar signs. As reported in the Washington Post, Arturo Cruz, a former Nicaraguan ambassador to Washington, explains:

“I think the country’s poverty is a bigger problem than the environmental concerns. If we don’t achieve a more prosperous country in the next five to 10 years — with or without the canal — we will see severe damage to the environment.”

Other Nicaraguans are looking at the bigger picture. Rafael Bermudez, a farmer, said that Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega “sold us out like animals” to China — to one Chinese billionaire and the Chairman and CEO of HKND, Wang Jing. The canal proposal claims job growth in Nicaragua, but it won’t be for Nicaraguans. The 50,000 new jobs will be for imported workers from China. Thousands, mostly poor campesinos and indigenous people, will be displaced from their land and robbed of their livelihoods with limited alternatives for job prospects. In 2012, Nicaragua had illiteracy rates of 30.3 percent.

Another farmer, Roger Guido Narbaez, said that violence might be used if the lack of transparency continues:

“If this government isn’t capable of understanding the disaster that this is going to be for this country, [violence] is going to be the only solution.”

It wouldn’t be the first time civil war or revolution erupted in Nicaragua. In the not too distant past, Nicaragua went through the Sandinista Revolution (1974-1979) and the Contra War (1979-1990). Environmental conflicts were partially responsible for the sixteen years of continuous conflict that, in many ways, Nicaragua has never recovered from.

Jessica Ramos|February 18, 2015

Wildlife and Habitat

Why Are There So Many Starving and Stranded California Sea Lions?

Sea lions are beloved neighbors to countless Californians, and tourists seem quite fond of them as well. But locals, tourists and scientists are deeply concerned. The new year is still fresh, but there have already been hundreds of sea lion strandings off California coasts.

2015′s Unprecedented California Sea Lion Strandings

As reported in NBC News sea lion strandings are nothing new, but 2015 has already proven to be particularly hard on sea lions and their rescuers. Since the year began, 350 sea lions have needed help. For some context, 2013 was so bad for sea lions that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) declared an Unusual Mortality Event (UME).

In January 2013, rescuers were overwhelmed by the 19 California sea lion rescues. In January 2015, rescuers have worked tirelessly to save 87 sea lions. The year 2013 was unprecedented with sea lions being rescued at five times the national rate with 1,300 rescues from January 2013 to May 2013 — it’s scary to think how 2015 will compare if this trend continues.

On a Mission to Save Sea Lions

Sea lion pups have been the most vulnerable. On February 5, three pups rescued weighed less than 30 pounds; their healthy weight is closer to 70 pounds. Rescuers are used to seeing malnourished and dehydrated sea lions, so they’re first order of business is to get fluids into their bodies via IV drips. The animals will gradually move on to getting their nutrients from whole fish. Executive director of Pacific Marine Mammal Care, Keith Matassa explains to NBC News that in order for sea lions to return to the wild, they must 1) gain a healthy amount of weight, and 2) be able to competently compete for their own fish.

The process from rescue to release can last many months. It’s also a large community effort. Local Girl Scouts take the time to make fleece blankets for the sea lions. The Pacific Marine Mammal Care relies on 140 volunteers to assist the sea lions in all sorts of ways; yes, that even includes washing those same fleece blankets.

When volunteer Irene Gilgoff described the labor of love to NBC News, she said, “There’s a lot of times we cry. But then you see the next one that comes in that needs you.”

Why Is This Happening to Sea Lions?

Unfortunately, there are many sea lions in need, and the bad news is that we’re not entirely sure why. Like the decline of the Steller sea lions, it’s probably a combination of numerous factors, says the Marine Mammal Research Consortium, including:

  • Predation
  • Overfishing (where the amount of prey has declined)
  • Climate change (where the quality of prey has deteriorated)
  • Other (disease, pollution and human disturbance)

California in particular might have reached its carrying capacity where there just isn’t enough food for the sea lions.

Sea lion mothers might also be diving deeper to avoid warming water, and their pups can’t dive yet. Mothers might also resort to traveling greater distances to look for food, and their pups just can’t keep up. In either scenario, Matassa describes that, “The pups are going longer between feedings from their mom, getting less nutritious milk and just not gaining the weight that they need to gain.”

Releasing Them “Back Into a Sardine Starved Ocean”

Many of the factors seem out of our control, but we can control our demand for fish. And we’re selfishly starving other marine life to feed ourselves.

Referring to the 2013 sea lion UME, EcoWatch describes how NOAA focused on rehabilitating the stranded sea lions when it should have focused on the real problem: continued overfishing of Pacific sardines, also known as sea lion food. The agency opted to focus on the environmental causes of the Pacific sardine decline (the population has plummeted 74 percent since 2007, and there are no signs that the Pacific sardines will recover) without ever holding overfishing accountable. In true Band-Aid style, NOAA is “rehabilitating starving sea lions and then putting them back into a sardine starved ocean.”

Unfortunately, sea lions aren’t the only marine life that we’re stealing food from. Treehugger reports how beloved predators, including whales and dolphins, and seabirds are showing up emaciated, vulnerable to disease and lacking the energy to reproduce.

Here’s the bottom line: “we have been fishing on a deficit” for a long time. And unprecedented strandings of starving California sea lions are reminders of the damage we’ve caused.

Jessica Ramos|February 14, 2015

Wild Buffalo Roam East of the Mississippi for First Time Since 1830s

When David Crites walked out of his apartment last month, he was greeted by a line of six or so bison standing shoulder to shoulder in the front yard. He sidled over to his truck, staring at the huge animals, slipped into the front seat, then closed the door and turned on the ignition. As the pickup slowly made its way down the driveway, the bison lumbered alongside.

“It was like I was in Yellowstone,” Crites says. But he wasn’t. His temporary job (which includes housing) is to remove trees and install fences in the Nachusa Grasslands of north-central Illinois—where wild bison recently set hooves down for the first time in almost 200 years.

The herd of 30 bison is part of an effort by the Nature Conservancy to restore grasslands in the Prairie State, which, perhaps ironically, has lost more than 99 percent of its former grassland. In the late 1980s, conservationists happened to be passing by the Nachusa when they heard the call of an upland sandpiper, a bird that breeds in tallgrass prairies. The Nature Conservancy then began buying farms in the area as they became available, and now it owns a total of 3,500 acres.

The group is doing its best to re-create a lost landscape, says Jeff Walk, director of science for the Nature Conservancy’s Illinois chapter. He knows the prairie won’t be exactly the same as yesteryear’s, but he and the rest of the team are trying to get as close a match as possible.

To do that, volunteers and seasonal employees like Crites (who spends the rest of his year working in data centers) erect fences, collect and sow seeds, and replicate natural growth cycles with controlled burns. So far, their work has paid off. Even on a winter day when dry brown oak leaves cling to trees, the undulating hills are colored in red, orange, and gray, a mosaic of newly planted big bluestem, Indian grass, and switchgrass.

But until October, the landscape had been missing one thing it needs in order to really thrive: grazers.

After decades of preparation, genetically pure bison (meaning they don’t have any cattle genes) arrived this fall from a preserve in Iowa. There are a few herds just like them living in reserves across the country, but this group is now the first one east of the Mississippi.

So far the experiment is working well. Aside from a roundup every fall, when the bison will get their vaccinations, these wild oxen will roam across 500 acres enclosed by a woven wire fence. Signs hung on the wire warn visitors that the bison are wild. Anyone who hops the fence could suffer the consequences (i.e. a potential horn to the buttocks, or worse, a trampling).

Within the enclosure, the bison eat the grasses and avoid the forbs, or flowering plants. This helps promote plant diversity, because without the bison noshing them down, grasses would dominate the prairie, leaving little room for rare species like the prairie violet. The nearly one-ton beasts will also help spread seeds and sculpt the soil with their hooves, something researchers will study on site.

“The other thing is poop; they’re very productive,” says Kirk Hallowell, a volunteer steward and my guide for the day. Their pies will fertilize the soil and attract insects, which will (hopefully) bring birds. If all goes well, Nachusa project director Bill Kleiman and ecologist Cody Considine will open up more land to the bison next year.

Despite the project’s success, the land will never be what it was 200 years ago. The bison each have an identification chip embedded in them, and seven of them wear GPS collars. They’ll never be able to roam wherever they want, and people will always have to manage fires on the land, raising the question of what is truly wild.

“It’s an interesting and important concept, but the answers don’t fit on bumper stickers,” says Kleiman. He argues that the bison are semi-wild, and an important part of our natural heritage. “Everyone loves bison. They’re a national symbol of what we discovered when we came to North America—that wistful longing for wide-open spaces. And they’re a symbol of it right here.”

The bison certainly feel wild when Hallowell and I step out of the open-air truck to get a closer look, nothing but knee-high grasses swaying between us. Lying on top of a hill, their shaggy hair blows with each wintery gust. The 1,900-pound bull, fondly nicknamed “Chain Breaker” because he did just that in a corral once, fixes his big brown eye on us. He gets up, hind legs first, and shakes. Other animals stand up, too, and join the viewing party.

We get back in the truck. As we start to drive away, I look back and see Chain Breaker, his horned silhouette regal against the gray sky. Looks wild enough, for now.

Susan Cosier|onEarth|December 31, 2014

NOAA has chosen two sites in the Southeast and Caribbean Region as the next Habitat Focus Areas under NOAA’s Habitat Blueprint

Puerto RIco’s Northeast Reserves and Culebra Island; Florida’s Biscayne Bay
The Northeast Reserves and Culebra habitats are home to coastal forests, wetlands, a bioluminescent lagoon, seagrass beds, shallow and deep coral reefs, and miles of pristine beaches. Leatherback sea turtles nest on the beaches, while manatees, green and hawksbill turtles, and bottlenose dolphins are frequently sighted. A variety of coral species—including those protected under the Endangered Species Act—can be found along with diverse fish species that depend on these valuable habitats. This area is also of great economic value, thanks to thriving tourism, seven marinas, and recreational and commercial fisheries.
Threats

The Northeast Reserves and Culebra Island encompass a combination of urban and protected lands. This lush region has experienced significant decline in coastal and marine habitats, such as mangrove, coral, and seagrass. This is due largely to unsustainable coastal development and recreational and commercial uses, land-based sources of pollution, and climate change impacts such as rising sea surface temperatures.

NOAA will protect and restore coastal habitats and resources within the Northeast Reserves and Culebra Island through conservation projects, management based monitoring and research, and training and
education programs.

Partners

NOAA, partners, and local communities are already engaged in multiple projects in this new Habitat Focus Area. Our partners include:

  • Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources
  • Puerto Rico Sea Grant
  • Caribbean Fishery Management Council
  • Caribbean Coastal Ocean Observing System

Scientists and resource managers worry that
Biscayne Bay may reach a “tipping point” toward conditions where nutrients that support these dense algae growths would be abundant and the decay of the algae will deplete the shallow waters of oxygen. The possible accompanying loss of seagrass cover may be impossible to halt or reverse.

We’ve only recently learned the extent of the threats posed by algal blooms. The recent appearance of expansive algal blooms in the southern, most pristine, part of the Bay is troubling. Water quality monitoring, always somewhat limited and patchy, has declined. Further investigations into the algal blooms and the water quality conditions that promote these blooms are needed and should be accompanied by efforts to reduce nutrient inputs wherever possible.

Bay fishery and protected species’ nurseries, as well as recreational activities within the bay and on the adjacent reef, depend upon clean, clear waters. Tourism and recreational activities are major industries and sources of revenues, jobs, and income for the Biscayne Bay area, and both are directly and indirectly influenced by the ecological health of the bay.

Partners

NOAA has considerable involvement in Biscayne Bay research and conservation. We’ve partnered with other federal, state, and local agencies in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project: an effort to restore south Florida ecosystems, including coastal waters. NOAA also works with Biscayne National Park and Miami-Dade County to monitor water quality, physical, and biological parameters in Biscayne Bay.

Among our other partners:

  • Biscayne Bay Regional Restoration and Coordination Team
  • Biscayne National Park
  • Florida Department of Environmental Protection
  • Tropical Audubon Society
  • Clean Water Action
  • National Parks Conservation Association
  • University of Miami
  • Florida International University

5 keystone species crucial to balance of the ecosystem

As we travel the world watching wildlife, we often seek out the largest and most impressive creatures – lions and tigers, whales and sharks, bears and elephants, writes Stephen Moss. But these are not just the most noticeable species, but may also be the most crucial to the survival of the whole ecosystem where they live.

These animals are known as ‘keystone species’: a term that comes from architecture, and refers to the stone at the very top of an archway that, if it is taken away, will cause the whole structure to collapse. Keystone species play the same critical role in he natural world: if they disappear, this risks setting off a domino effect of local and global extinctions, as their very presence is what keeps the ecosystem where they live in balance.

Sadly, in the past century or so we have seen the decline of many of these crucial creatures. And where the keystone species has been removed, we often see an imbalance in the remaining wildlife. For example the loss of wolves in the Scottish Highlands means that deer no longer have any predators to keep their numbers in check, and are now causing all sorts of problems because of overpopulation.

Conservationists are now working hard to secure the future of keystone species, in the knowledge that money spent on saving tigers or elephants also benefits a host of other wild creatures, and indeed the entire habitat where they all live.

We can play our part too: by travelling to see these animals, we alert local people to their importance, and bring much needed tourist revenues that can then be used in conservation projects.

TIGER

The sight of this magnificent beast – the largest and heaviest of all the big cats – is always the highlight of a trip to India. And yet encounters are becoming harder and harder to achieve: tiger numbers have plummeted in the last century or so due to hunting, habitat loss and unlawful killing – with a population of more than one billion people, India simply doesn’t have the room for tigers to co-exist with human beings.

Today the world population of tigers may be as low as 3200 individuals, of which about half are in India, making this the most important population from a global point of view. This is down from about 100,000 at the turn of the twentieth century: a devastating loss.

Tigers are what are known as ‘apex predators’: at the very top of the food chain. So if they disappear this upsets the delicate balance of the forest ecosystems where they live, allowing herbivorous animals such as deer to increase in numbers, which in turn leads to habitat destruction.

You can still see tigers at special reserves in India such as Corbett and Ranthambore National Parks, and various reserves in Madyha Pradesh to the south of Agra. But be prepared to make several game drives to increase your chance of connecting with this spectacular animal.

SEA OTTER

These delightful and endearing creatures are a different species from our own European otter – larger and greyer in color – and are found along the Pacific west coast of South America from Canada in the north to California in the south, and also in eastern Russia. They feed on sea urchins, which they pick up from the ocean floor by diving, and then using a stone or rock break them open on their chest.

The reason sea otters are so important is that if they were to die out, the sea urchins would boom in numbers, and because they feed on kelp, the underwater forests of this giant seaweed, home to a wide range of marine species, would start to die back, reducing the biodiversity of the whole coastline. Other species that depend on kelp for food, such as crabs and abalones, would also suffer if sea urchin numbers were to increase.

Once very common, sea otters declined dramatically during the twentieth century until only about 1000-2000 individuals were left. Thanks to careful conservation measures, their numbers have bounced back, and they are now fairly easy to see. One hotspot is off the coast of Monterey in northern California, or in the creeks and estuaries nearby, where special boat trips often allow a very close approach.

BEAVER

Although many keystone species are top predators, others are herbivores rather than carnivores. These maintain the ecosystem not through preying on other animals but by creating new opportunities through changing the habitat.

Beavers – both the North American and European species – both play this vital role. North American beavers famously make dams by cutting down huge trees with their sharp teeth and then using the logs to hold back the water of rivers and other waterways. This can lead to problems with flooding, but also creates new habitats by changing the flow of the water.

European Beavers, although slightly larger and heavier than their American cousins, are far less destructive. They too cut down trees and saplings, but do not make the dams; instead they cordon off smaller areas of water on the edge of rivers and lakes. This has massive benefits for a wide range of creatures, including amphibians such as frogs and newts, and insects including dragonflies and damselflies, which lay their eggs in the pools created by the beavers. Many woodland species, including birds, bats and butterflies, also benefit from the thinning out of the trees, which allows sunlight to reach the forest floor.

Having declined dramatically, beavers have been reintroduced to many European countries, including Scotland, where despite opposition from farmers, landowners and anglers the species has been shown to have many beneficial effects. The River Tay holds the largest population, but beavers can be very tricky to see; so patience if vital. There are also semi-captive beavers at experimental sites at Aigas Field Centre in Scotland and in various places in England.

SOUTHERN CASSOWARY

As the third tallest and second heaviest bird in the world, after the ostrich and emu, the cassowary is a pretty formidable creature: two metres tall, and able to kill a human being with one kick of its powerful legs with their razor sharp claws. But it is also a crucial species for the coastal Queensland rainforest in its native Australia; because of the way it enables certain plants to complete their complex lifecycle.

Despite their huge size, cassowaries live mainly on fruit, though they are opportunist feeders and will take a range of other plant and animal food including rats, frogs, flowers, fungi and even carrion. But their place as a keystone species is because not only do they distribute the seeds of the fruits they eat over the forest floor, but their dietary processes also enable some seeds to germinate – without the cassowaries, the seeds might never be able to do so. The bird’s dung also acts as a convenient ready-made fertilizer, enabling the seeds it contains to grow and flourish.

Cassowaries can be seen at special reserves and lodges in northern Queensland, but with only about 2500 individuals remaining they can be surprisingly hard to find for such a huge creature. They are suffering from habitat loss but are also frequently run over by cars, putting pressure on an already small and declining population.

COMMON CRANE

Some creatures are ‘keystone species’ in another crucial sense: in that their presence in or absence from a particular location has a major cultural and economic importance, because they attract visitors to see them. One such is Europe’s tallest bird, the common crane.

Cranes are elegant waterbirds, found across a wide range of Northern and Eastern Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Like all waterbirds, they suffered major declines during the past few centuries, but have bounced back with the protection of wetlands, and the creation of new ones.

In Britain cranes went extinct as breeding birds almost 500 years ago, due to persecution and the draining of their watery homes. A small population returned to breed in Norfolk in the late 1970s, and since then the species has been reintroduced onto the Somerset Levels, where more than 100 birds have been released.

Cranes can be seen around the West Sedgemoor area south of Glastonbury; but to enjoy the true spectacle of this magnificent waterbird you need to head north to Lake Hornborga in southern Sweden, where in spring hundred of cranes perform their spectacular courtship dance; or south-east to the Hula Valley in northern Israel, where up to 20,000 cranes spend the winter. In all these places, cranes have helped conservationists flag up the importance of the wetland habitat, and so preserve it for other wildlife.

Saturiwa Conservation Area Preserves History, Wildlife

You can see it all in Saturiwa Conservation Area: crawling with wildlife, including many rare and protected species, rich in ecological diversity and artifacts illustrating Florida’s dramatic history. Mike Adams acquired this 94-acre family homestead on the St. Johns River in southwest St. Johns County in 1989 and named Saturiwa after a powerful Indian chief of the now extinct Timucua Tribe. Read about Saturiwa here.

California Sea Lion Crisis: Starving Pups Strand in Record Numbers

For the third year in a row, unusual numbers of sea lion pups are washing up on California shores. This year, they are stranding earlier than ever before.

Nearly every available pen and pool at The Marine Mammal Center is filled to the gills with California sea lions. But these are not the boisterous, playful animals you might be imagining. These young sea lions are barely more than skin and bone—some less than half the size they should be. In row after row of enclosures, they huddle together, sometimes piling atop the bright orange heating pads provided in each pen since they don’t have enough blubber to keep warm.

Most of them are 8-month-old pups that should be with their mothers right now. Instead they’ve washed ashore up and down the California coastline, completely emaciated and with little hope of survival on their own.

Their weak cries and wheezing coughs, brought on by secondary infections like pneumonia, add a sense of urgency to what is typically a quiet season at the Center. But Dr. Shawn Johnson, Director of Veterinary Science at the Center, is quick to assure people not to lose hope. Though they don’t quite look it yet, he says, these young sea lions are “the lucky ones.”

Now in the care of the experts at the Center, they’ll receive the benefit of four decades of experience caring for sick and injured marine mammals.

Pupping season starts early

These days, animal care volunteers are arriving in the wee hours of the morning—before the sun even rises—to start preparing food for the more than 140 hungry patients onsite in Sausalito, California. More animals await transport at our Monterey and San Luis Obispo satellite facilities farther south.

This grueling schedule is typical of our busy pupping season, which normally wouldn’t start until March, when newly weaned elephant seal and harbor seal pups begin to show up here in need of a helping hand. Sea lions that stay with their mothers for 10 to 11 months aren’t weaned until April or May, so that’s when we usually begin to see them stranding.  

But our first California sea lion pup of the 2015 pupping season actually arrived last year—on December 1. Rescued by the Santa Barbara Marine Mammal Center and brought to The Marine Mammal Center for rehabilitation, the pup was named “Chilly.”

Chilly was just five months old when he was rescued—unusually young for a sea lion on his own. Typically, a California sea lion his age would be with his mother on the Channel Islands, a protected area that serves as the primary rookery for these animals, where thousands of mother sea lions give birth and nurse their pups for 10-11 months.

Instead, Chilly somehow got separated from his mother and ended up in our care in desperate need of nutrition and fluids. We thought at first he was an anomaly—one of the few pups each year that get swept off a beach during heavy surf.

But then we got another starving sea lion pup, Rocky, the following day, and then the next day, Captain Howard came in. A few weeks later, Cupid, Navidad and Partridge showed up—all sea lion pups in similarly poor condition.

Throughout December and January, we continued to see more and more California sea lion pups. By the end of January, we had responded to 102 sea lions. And that’s when things really got bad.

California sea lion crisis

During the first 10 days of February, we responded to 100 more California sea lions—most of them starving pups. Since then, our 24-hour stranding hotline has been ringing off the hook, and our dedicated rescue volunteers have been sent out 10-15 times a day.

The Marine Mammal Center is truly in the middle of a California sea lion crisis right now.

Typically this time of year, we might have about a dozen patients in our care. Right now, we are responding to about a dozen animals a day.

The expert staff and volunteers at the Center are providing life-saving care to these vulnerable, young animals. Because they don’t yet know how to eat fish, these sea lion pups must be individually tube-fed a special formula of ground-up fish, water and salmon oil multiple times a day.

Although many of these pups are stranding in a near-death state, we have been able to successfully rehabilitate and release some of these animals already. Chilly, Cupid, Navidad and Partridge all returned to the wild in January.

Watch a video of five sea lions being released at Chimney Rock in Point Reyes National Seashore on February 17.

Forestry

Amazing tree Photos

The Lacey Act: Leading the fight against illegal logging

The Lacey Act is a landmark conservation law, signed by President McKinley in 1900, that prohibits the trade of plants and wildlife that have been illegally taken, transported, or possessed. The law was initially intended to prevent the poaching of game and birds taken in one state and sold in another. In 2008 the Lacey Act was amended to broaden protections for a wide range of plants, including trees and plants in countries outside the United States. Championed by Senator Wyden (D-OR), these amendments were supported by a broad, bipartisan coalition of interests, including much of the domestic wood products industry, labor unions, and environmental organizations.

Illegal logging remains a serious problem around the world. Illegal harvesting of timber drives deforestation, harms communities, deprives local governments of tax revenue, and contributes to more climate-disrupting pollution. Illegally sourced wood products undercut workers and companies that abide by the law. Thanks to the Lacey Act, a landmark conservation law passed in 1900 and amended in 2008, the United States is helping lead the world in the fight against illegal logging. The Lacey Act requires importers of wood products to take steps to ensure that their products have been sourced legally, with violators facing fines or jail time. Scroll down to read more about the threats posed by illegal logging and the benefits of the Lacey Act.

From tropical rainforests of Brazil to the boreal forests of Siberia and hardwood forests of the eastern United States, forests cover nearly one-third of the world’s land.1 These forests support not only a wide range of ecosystems but also communities across the globe that depend on them for food, clean water, and resources. Forests also serve a vital role by storing vast amounts of carbon dioxide, a major source of climate-disrupting pollution. Deforestation drives climate change both by releasing carbon into the atmosphere and by reducing a forest’s capacity to absorb carbon dioxide.

Over the last decade, roughly 50,000 square miles of forest, an area larger than the state of Mississippi, has been lost each year to deforestation.2 Deforestation has occurred most often in the tropics, in countries with significant forest cover and weak governance. Converting forests to agricultural land and cutting trees for wood for fuel and fires are all major causes of deforestation. Deforestation is also caused by illegal logging.

Driven by demand for a wide range of wood products, from paper and pencils to furniture, the global forest products market has been valued at more than $400 billion.3 Unfortunately, up to 30 percent of all wood traded globally has been harvested illegally.4 In some tropical countries, up to 90 percent of wood harvested is done so illegally.

Wood products can be sourced illegally in many ways. Trees can be cut illegally by logging without a valid permit, logging within protected areas, removing more trees than allowed by a logging permit, logging beyond the boundaries of a permit, or logging protected species.6 In many cases, illegal logging is organized by criminal enterprises and involves bribing local officials, ignoring laws, and using violence to access trees that would otherwise be off-limits.

Around the world, illegally harvested timber reaches international markets by being laundered, using an array of tactics. Often times, documents are falsified and illegally harvested timber is matched with legal logging permits. In some instances illegally harvested wood makes it to market by bribing officials and avoiding taxes and fees.

From the Amazon rainforest to the taiga of Russia, illegal logging happens around the globe. Although trends such as corruption and threats of violence spread worldwide, how illegal logging occurs can vary from country to country. Learn more about illegal logging in the four countries highlighted below.

More than half of Peru is covered by the Amazon rainforest. For decades, illegal loggers have traveled deep into the Amazon, cutting valuable hardwoods for sale on the international market. In an in-depth report, The Laundering Machine,7 the Environmental Investigation Agency detailed the well-oiled machine that takes trees from the Peruvian Amazon to markets in the United States.

Inside the country, it is widely known that illegal logging is rampant. A small number of companies and individuals use networks of contacts throughout the country to log protected areas, exploit forced labor, and pass illegal wood off as legal for export. In remote areas of forest, local bosses coordinate teams of loggers, often underpaying them or not paying them at all for the tough task of cutting and transporting massive trees. Logs are then transported to sawmills, where they are converted into planks for export. In many cases, official logging permits are then matched with illegally harvested timber, effectively laundering the wood before export.

Illegal logging in Peru threatens more than the environment, it harms people. EIA’s report chronicled unsafe working conditions, forced labor and threats of violence to workers that disobeyed orders. In other instances, female employees promised good pay to work as cooks were expected to perform sexual services in addition to cooking three meals a day.

Located in West Africa, Liberia contains some of the largest remaining swaths of the Upper Guinean rainforest. Liberia’s forests support a wide range of biodiversity; however, they have also supported war. Revenues from illegal logging fueled the dictatorship of Charles Taylor, who ruled the country through a bloody civil war that ended in 2003. By some estimates, illegal logging brought in more than $100 million annually, much of which was funneled into private bank accounts used to fund the conflict.

In the aftermath of the civil war, illegal logging continued to expand. By 2012, Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had granted logging permits covering more than half of all primary rainforests.8 The vast majority of these permits were granted illegally, allowing a few companies to snap up vast tracts of forest to log. Many of these logging concessions were used to expand palm oil plantations, threatening local communities that have long depended on forests.

Thankfully, in 2013, President Sirleaf placed a moratorium on logging under these permits and pledged to reform Liberia’s forestry sector. In 2014, Norway pledged $150 million to Liberia in an effort to strengthen forest governance and end deforestation in the country by 2020.9 While these reforms do provide hope for Liberia’s forests and communities, it is critical that they be fully implemented.

Stretching from Europe to the Pacific Ocean, Russia’s forests cover more than half of the country and account for roughly 20 percent of all forestland worldwide.10 These vast forests support communities and a wide range of flora and fauna. They also serve as one of the world’s largest carbon sinks, or storage areas.

Although Russian forestry accounts for less than 4 percent of the international wood products market, there is money to be made in illegal logging, particularly in the Russian Far East, where illegal timber is smuggled to China for export. The forests in the Russian Far East are home to the last 450 Siberian tigers in the wild, as well as stands of oak, ash, and elm. Unfortunately, rampant corruption and lax enforcement has led to widespread illegal logging. According to analysis by the World Wildlife Fund, in 2010 at least half of all oak imported from Russia to China was illegal.11

In 2013, the Environmental Investigation Agency released a report after years of undercover investigations, tracking illegally logged wood from Russia to China. 12EIA’s investigation found that Lumber Liquidators, the top hardwood flooring retailer in the United States, allegedly sourced oak flooring from timber illegally logged in the Russian Far East, some of the last remaining Siberian tiger habitat. The United States Department of Justice has since launched an investigation into Lumber Liquidators and possible violations of the Lacey Act.

Made up of nearly 18,000 islands in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, Indonesia is home to the third-largest area of tropical rainforest in the world. Home to many rare species of plants and animals, including Sumatran tigers, orangutans, and the Javan rhinoceros, much of this ecologically rich rainforest is found on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra.

Over recent decades, demand for pulp, paper, and palm oil have mixed with corruption to create one of the world’s highest rates of deforestation. A recent study found that between 2000 and 2012, Indonesia lost 6.02 million hectares of forest — an area nearly the size of West Virginia.13

In recent years, the expansion of palm oil plantations in Indonesia has been the leading driver of deforestation. From corruption in permitting new palm oil plantations to lack of enforcement of permit boundaries and logging practices, palm oil development has led to widespread illegal logging.14 The expansion of palm oil plantations must be reined in to stop illegal logging and protect Indonesian rainforests.

The Sierra Club

6 Companies Doing the Most to Stop Deforestation

In an eco-twist on the Forbes 500, the UK-based think tank Global Canopy Program has launched the Forest 500, a ranking of how effectively companies and organizations are working to stop global deforestation. Stopping deforestation has been identified as one of the cheapest and most effective means of fighting our current climate change trajectory. However, the issue is made complicated by a number of factors, such as the global demand for tropical products as well as illegal activities.

So, who’s doing the most to stop it? While well-intentioned consumers may seek to avoid products like palm oil and beef, the product chains that tie our food, paper and clothes to tropical forests are decidedly tangled.

That’s where Forest 500 steps in. The rankings look at companies, jurisdictions (countries and other economic regions like the E.U.), investors and other power brokers. To assess companies, the rankings take into account a number of factors, including reporting and transparency, operations, commodity policies, and overall forest policy (you can read more about the methodology here).

A total of 250 companies were ranked, with just six companies scoring the maximum number of points for responsibly sourced forest products. In other words, the majority of companies aren’t making the grade, but a few leaders have emerged. With the exception of Reckitt Benckiser, all of the companies listed below are signatories of the New York Declaration on Forests, which aims to eliminate deforestation from the production of agricultural products by 2020, and stop all forms of deforestation by 2030.

The top scoring companies are listed below, in alphabetical order.

1. Group Danone

Risky commodities in this company’s supply chain include soy used as animal feed, pulp for its packaging and palm oil as an ingredient. However, the company got high marks for its commodity policies and operations.

2. Kao Corp.

Headquartered in Japan, this manufacturer owns John Frieda Hair Care, Molton Brown, Merries diapers and a number of other home and personal care brands. Wood pulp and palm oil are the two commodities in Kao Corp.’s product chain most closely associated with deforestation, but Forest 500 gives them high marks for their commodity policies, reporting and transparency. They got the highest score, five out of five, for their overall forest policy.

3. Nestle S.A.

Nestlé may be best known for it chocolate, but it used 400,000 metric tons of palm oil and palm oil derivatives in its products in 2012-2013. Back in 2010, the company committed to sourcing palm oil better. Forest 500 gave Nestlé high marks for its transparency, reporting and overall forest policy.

4. Proctor & Gamble Co.

Another personal care giant, Procter & Gamble uses large amounts of palm oil and wood pulp in its products. The company has made public commitments to sourcing both sustainably, with verification from third party sources. Procter & Gamble scored four out of five on its overall forest policies, but earned the highest marks for commodity policies, operations, reporting and transparency.

5. Reckitt Benckiser Group PLX

The owner of brands like Gaviscon, Clearasil, Veet and Lysol, Reckitt Benckiser is another company that’s concerned about the sourcing of palm oil and pulp. The company got the highest marks in all four of the Forest 500 assessment categories: overall forest policy, commodity policies, operations, reporting and transparency. Although Reckitt Benckiser did not sign the New York Declaration on forests, it is a member of the Consumer Goods Forum, which has committed to achieving net zero deforestation by 2020.

6. Unilever PLC

Unilever, the owner of brands like Axe and Dove, used 1.5 million metric tons of palm oil and its derivatives in 2012-2013, but 1.2 million of that was certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. The company made commitments to a deforestation-free palm oil in 2008. Its manufacturing facilities also consume an estimated 1 percent of the world’s soy, most of which comes from North America.

A long way to go

While it’s encouraging to see the above major multinational corporations take the issue of deforestation seriously, 30 companies evaluated by Forest 500 got the lowest rankings possible. In a press statement, Mario Rautner, The Global Canopy Program’s Drivers of Deforestation Program Manager, emphasized that there is still much work to be done to meet the goal of getting deforestation off the grocery store shelves. “Putting policies in place is just the necessary first step in addressing tropical deforestation and their implementation will be critical in order to transition to deforestation free supply chains by 2020,” he said.

Margaret Badore|Treehugger|February 15, 2015

USDA Conservation Stewardship Program Targets Longleaf Pine, Deadline Approaches

Alexandria, February 17, 2015 – The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service reminds Louisiana’s farmers, ranchers and forest land owners that the application deadline for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) is quickly approaching.  Although applications are accepted continuously, the agency has established a February 27, 2015 application date to be considered for funding this year.

A new pilot effort this year aims to broaden the impact of NRCS’s landscape conservation initiatives, including the Longleaf Pine Initiative in the historic longleaf rage states, including Louisiana.  “Nationally, the agency is targeting about 50,000 acres in the historic longleaf range for CSP,” said Louisiana NRCS assistant state conservationist for programs Tim Landreneau.  “Here in Louisiana the historic range includes parts of central parishes surrounding Winn Parish, those in the west around Vernon and Beauregard Parishes and the Florida Parishes.”

Louisiana NRCS state conservationist Kevin Norton said he encourages all Louisiana farmers, ranchers and forest land owners to visit their local NRCS and soil and water conservation district offices to learn more about CSP and what’s new in the program.  “Over the past year we worked with state and local partners, agriculture and forest land owners and other conservation stakeholders to develop conservation stewardship enhancement options for the Louisiana landscape,” Norton said.  “Those new enhancements, or conservation activities, are available to enrolling participants this year, including nearly 20 new options for forest land owners.”

A CSP self-screening checklist is available to help producers determine if the program is suitable for their operation. The checklist highlights basic information about CSP eligibility requirements, stewardship threshold requirements and payment types.

Applications should be submitted to local NRCS offices.  As part of the CSP application process, applicants will work with NRCS field personnel to complete a resource inventory of their land, which will help determine the conservation performance for existing and new conservation activities. The applicant’s conservation performance will be used to determine eligibility, ranking and payments.

Today’s announcement was made possible by the 2014 Farm Bill. The 2014 Farm Bill builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past five years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers. Since enactment, USDA has made significant progress to implement each provision of this critical legislation, including providing disaster relief to farmers and ranchers; strengthening risk management tools; expanding access to rural credit; funding critical research; establishing innovative public-private conservation partnerships; developing new markets for rural-made products; and investing in infrastructure, housing and community facilities to help improve quality of life.

For more information on Conservation Stewardship Program, visit the NRCS CSP webpage or visit your local NRCS office.  To get started with NRCS, visit your local USDA Service Center or www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted. Learn more about the Farm Bill at www.nrcs.usda.gov/FarmBill.

Sarah Haymaker

Florida Forest Service to Plant More Than 2 Million New Trees on State Forests This Year

Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam and the Florida Forest Service announced Friday the planting of more than 2 million new trees on more than 3,000 acres of state forests this year. The Florida Forest Service also reminds citizens about the importance of trees in recognition of Florida’s Arbor Day, which is being celebrated tomorrow with events, tree plantings, seedling giveaways and more.

“We are fortunate that Florida has an abundance and large variety of trees across the state, but we shouldn’t take our trees for granted,” Commissioner Putnam said. “We are excited to announce that we will be planting 2 million trees this year as we continue to educate Floridians about the importance of our natural resources.” 

Florida’s Arbor Day is always celebrated on the third Friday in January, making Florida the first state celebration in the country. The Arbor Day Foundation recently donated more than $100,500 to replant more than 500,000 trees in Florida this year, bringing the statewide total to 2.1 million. Since 2009, the Arbor Day Foundation has contributed approximately $610,000 toward reforestation efforts on Florida state forests. Since 2001, the Florida Forest Service has reforested more than 52,000 acres.

“Arbor Day is all about celebrating the countless ways trees benefit our lives,” said State Forester Jim Karels. “Trees moderate temperature extremes, reduce storm water runoff, absorb air pollutants and create a more pleasant environment.”

Several citizen groups, local governments and non-profit organizations are working together to plant more trees in areas of the state where they are in decline. For example, the City of Miami has set a goal of planting 10,000 trees each year for the next 10 years. 

Florida communities can take advantage of favorable weather for tree planting during this time of year. Some communities combine their Arbor Day celebrations with other events, such as local seafood festivals or craft fairs.

Florida Forest Service foresters participate in these efforts throughout the state by helping with tree planting projects, tree seedling giveaways and forestry education events. To participate in a local event, contact your local Florida Forest Service field unit office. To learn more about how you can contribute to reforestation efforts in Florida, visit the Friends of Florida State Forests.

The Florida Forest Service manages more than 1 million acres of public forest land while protecting 26 million acres of homes, forestland and natural resources from the devastating effects of wildfire. Learn more about the Florida Forest Service.

Natural Resources Conservation Service and Forest Service partnership continues conservation work nationwide
Under Secretary Announces 15 Restoration Projects and a $37 Million Investment

BOISE, Idaho, February 19, 2015 – The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced today nearly $37 million in investments to mitigate wildfire threats to landowners and communities. This is the second year of a partnership between the U.S. Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to help improve the health and resiliency of forest ecosystems where public and private lands meet.

Joined by partners at an event in Idaho, Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Robert Bonnie unveiled the 15 Chiefs’ Joint Landscape Restoration Partnership projects for 2015.  Located across the country from Washington to Vermont and Arizona to Ohio, NRCS and Forest Service will invest $10 million in new projects to improve conditions on public and private lands. One new project is in the Upper North Fork region near Gibbonsville, Idaho designed to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire to communities along a portion of the Highway 93 corridor.

“By leveraging the technical and financial resources of both agencies, this coordinated effort is helping to restore lands across large landscapes regardless of whether they are on public or private lands,” Bonnie said. “Our successes from the 2014 projects demonstrate that these partnerships make a difference on the ground and we are grateful for the cooperation of several partners.”

Bonnie noted that in some cases these new projects build on last year’s efforts. The partnership made investments in 2014 that will result in conservation improvements to over 266,000 acres. NRCS and Forest Service will provide an additional $27 million to continue work on 2014 projects.

In addition to NRCS and Forest Service investments, partners are contributing more than $5 million in the 2015 projects over three years in financial, technical and in-kind services. These 15 new projects, coupled with the 13 announced last year, will help mitigate wildfire threats to communities and landowners, protect water quality and supply, and improve wildlife habitat for at-risk species in high priority landscapes across the US.

For example, USDA support in 2014 enabled Tim Fisher of the Oregon East Face of the Elkhorn Mountains Partnership, to open up the tree canopy on 232 acres of private land which will reduce the risk for wildfire, help with soil erosion, and allow the trees to grow taller and stronger making them more marketable.

“Our agencies are being proactive to make sure conservation work flows seamlessly from private to public lands, ensuring crucial wildfire and water concerns are addressed and allowing people, like Fisher, to preserve their family lands,” NRCS Chief Jason Weller said.

“Strategic investments across landscapes help create resilient forests, grasslands and watersheds while sustaining communities,” said Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “Treating lands to reduce wildfire threats is a smart investment that will protect vast areas of land and potentially save of millions of taxpayer dollars.”

2015 Projects include:

Idaho – Upper North Fork Project: Idaho’s Upper North Fork is a great example of a project that provides a big benefit for a small investment. Fires often spread from private property onto public lands where they are difficult to control and become wildfires. The fix is to stop fires at the point where they start, before they have a chance to spread. However, many private landowners do not have the technical knowledge or funds to treat hazardous fuels on their property. This project targets private lands where fires have a high probability of starting and adjacent National Forest lands where they will initially spread. Treating fuels in these areas is relatively inexpensive and protects a vast area of public land. Implementing this simple solution would be unlikely without coordination among the partners.

Hawaii – Koolau Forest Protection: The Koolau Mountain forests supply groundwater for the Pearl Harbor Aquifer—used by over 40% of the population of the State of Hawaii. Unfortunately, groundwater levels in the aquifer have declined by half since 1910. Protecting the aquifer from further decline is vital for Hawaii’s sustainability and economy. The Koolau Mountains also has one of the highest densities of rare and endangered species in the world including the beloved ‘elepaio bird, the Hawaiian hoary bat, tree snails, insects and plants – many of which exist nowhere else. By removing invasive species and fencing out feral pigs, this project will help protect water quality and supply for communities and agriculture and improve habitat quality for at-risk species while allowing native Hawaiians to use the forest for their traditional customs.

South Carolina – Indian Creek Woodland Savanna Restoration Initiative: In 2004, the Indian Creek Woodland Savanna Restoration Initiative restored woodland savanna habitat on 8,300 acres of the Sumter National Forest as well as 7,700 acres of private land. Funding from this year’s announcement will help accelerate woodland savanna restoration, reduce wildfire risk and enhance water quality on 21,000 acres of public land and 19,000 acres of private land. The restoration will also provide crucial habitat for important and declining grassland birds, including Northern Bobwhite, Loggerhead Shrike, Prairie Warbler and Bachman’s Sparrow.

Global Warming and Climate Change

50 years ago this month,

President Lyndon Johnson first sounded the alarm about our warming planet. In a special message to Congress, he said:

“This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through…a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.”

First of its kind thunderstorm ‘map’ assesses climate change

Tel Aviv University researcher devises method to keep tabs on thunderstorms across the globe.

New research by an Israeli researcher will likely be crucial to measuring the impact of climate change on thunderstorms. The varying frequency and intensity of thunderstorms have direct repercussions for the public, agriculture, and industry.

To draft a global thunderstorm map, Prof. Colin Price of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Geosciences and TAU graduate student Keren Mezuman used a vast global lightning network of 70 weather stations capable of detecting radio waves produced by lightning — the main feature of a thunderstorm — from thousands of miles away.

“To date, satellites have only provided snapshots of thunderstorm incidence,” said Prof. Price, whose new map of thunderstorms around the world is the first of its kind. “We want to use our algorithm to determine how climate change will affect the frequency and intensity of thunderstorms. According to climate change predictions, every one percent rise in global temperature will lead to a 10 percent increase in thunderstorm activity. This means that we could see 25 percent more lightning by the end of the century.”

Prof. Price and his team registered the exact GPS time of every detected lightning pulse every hour. The researchers then calculated the difference in arrival times of signals, using data from four to five different stations to locate individual lightning strokes anywhere on the globe. Finally, the researchers grouped the detected flashes into clusters of thunderstorm cells.

The World Wide Lightning Location Network (http://wwlln.net) is run by atmospheric scientists at universities and research institutes around the world. The TAU team harnessed this ground-based system to cluster individual lightning flashes into “thunderstorm cells.” The WWLLN station in Israel has the ability to detect lightning as far away as central Africa.

“When we clustered the lighting strikes into storm cells, we found that there were around 1,000 thunderstorms active at any time somewhere on the globe,” said Prof. Price. “How lightning will be distributed in storms, and how the number and intensity of storms will change in the future, are questions we are working on answering.”

The research was published in Environmental Research Letters.

To hear more about Prof. Price’s research, tune in to ISRAEL21c’s podcast by clicking here.

How Baking Soda Could Help Us Fight Climate Change

Scientists have discovered a new method of carbon capture technology, and it essentially involves a common household item: baking soda.

Carbon capture technology has been around for several decades and involves trapping the carbon dioxide so that it can’t become an insulating gas in our atmosphere. Indeed, carbon capture is a natural process as trees routinely take in carbon dioxide and store it as part of their photosynthesis. However, artificial carbon capture techniques are usually hard to deploy and have the added problem that they often involve the use of chemicals that can be damaging to the environment. Getting around that problem has always been considered one of the main ways we could advance carbon capture technology and make it a mass-market prospect.

Now, researchers from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, together with researchers from Harvard University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, have created a carbon capture technology that utilizes the main ingredient in household baking soda, sodium carbonate, to react with and absorb carbon dioxide. The technology houses the sodium carbonate in a microcapsule or small bead made out of permeable polymer so that the gas can pass into the core of the microcapsule where it will react with the sodium carbonate and then get trapped. The researchers think that they could then take the microcapsules and purge them, safely storing the carbon dioxide underground. After that, the microcapsules could then be reused.

The researchers have tested how this process would work, and found that their theory holds up in practice. You can read more about that in the February edition of Nature Communications.

Micropcapsules are usually used for things like controlled delivery for medicines, and this is the first time that microcapsules would be used to actually capture CO2. It offers a couple of advantages, though. The microcapsules would only pull in CO2 and wouldn’t bleed out any chemicals into their local environment, meaning that they wouldn’t affect local ecosystems as can other solutions like monoethanol amine that are currently used for carbon capture. In addition, they could be much more efficient because of the way in which baking soda is structured.

But how would the technology be deployed? Scientists aren’t exactly sure yet, and that’s the big stumbling block at the moment. Ideally, the researchers want to put the microcapsules in a framework that can be integrated where pollutants are funneled and released, for instance in the open stacks of power plants. If the researchers could refine the method enough, they could also conceivably be used in vehicle exhausts, but how to do that without impeding vehicle efficiency would be the key question.

This wouldn’t be a short term fix for dealing with our CO2 emissions, but if the technology fulfills its theoretical promise, it could be a sustainable method of making a sizable dent in our emissions in the future.

“Our method is a huge improvement in terms of environmental impacts because we are able to use simple baking soda — present in every kitchen — as the active chemical,” Roger Aines, one of the researchers in the Lawrence Livermore team, is quoted as saying in a news release. “We think the microcapsule technology provides a new way to make carbon capture efficient with fewer environmental issues. Capturing the world’s carbon emissions is a huge task. We need technology that can be applied to many kinds of carbon dioxide sources with the public’s full confidence in its safety and sustainability.”

We’ve known for a while now that our greenhouse gas problems can’t be solved with one magic pill, and there are a variety of ways that scientists are trying to find innovative solutions to our climate change problem. Whether it’s revisiting previously written-off technologies like hydrogen buses, crunching the numbers on how plant-based diets are likely more sustainable, or looking at interesting energy storage solutions like “sugar batteries,” there are dozens of possibilities. And it sort of makes you wonder what else might be hiding around your house that could be the next piece in the climate fight puzzle, doesn’t it?

Steve Williams|February 11, 2015

Congressman Upton’s New Energy Plan a Framework for ‘Climate Suicide’

When Congressman Fred Upton (R-MI), chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, introduces a “legislative framework” for energy with the Orwellian name of The Architecture of Abundance, you should probably perk up your ears and pay attention. That’s Fred Upton, as in climate denier Fred Upton, who as recently as 2009 actually supported the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

But apparently the big campaign contributions he has received from fossil fuel tycoons Charlie and David Koch started whispering sweet nothings in Upton’s ear and changed his mind. In December 2010, he co-authored a Wall Street Journal editorial with Tim Phillips, president of the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, in which he called the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulation of greenhouse gases a “move [that] represents an unconstitutional power grab that will kill millions of jobs.”

“The best solution is for Congress to overturn the EPA’s proposed greenhouse gas regulations outright,” they asserted. “Cuts in carbon emissions would mean significantly higher electricity prices. We think the American consumer would prefer not to be skinned by Obama’s EPA.”

In February 2011, he stated in an interview with National Journal Live that he did not believe global warming was manmade. So the contents of The Architect of Abundance shouldn’t come as a big surprise, and will likely elicit as little enthusiasm from environmental advocates as they did when he posted the announcement on his Facebook page.

Anastasia Pantsios|February 10, 2015

Staying afloat amid climate change

South Florida is Ground Zero for the effects of climate change. With 2.4 million residents living no more than four feet above sea level, we have little room for error and no time to waste.

According to the U.S. National Climate Assessment, sea levels rose about eight inches last century and are predicted to rise anywhere from one foot to four feet in the coming century. If a two-foot change happened right now in Miami, it would put 25,000 homes underwater, flood more than $14 billion worth of property and submerge 134 miles of roads.

While an underwater Miami might seem impossible to imagine, students at Florida International University are already painting the picture. They built models of the city showing the impact of three-, four- and six-foot sea-level rise, which are now on display at the Coral Gables Museum. The students were also preparing to look at the effects of a ten-foot sea level rise — a scenario that’s not out of the realm of possibility — but they said, at six feet, “the whole map disappeared.”

In the face of these devastating potential effects of climate change, South Florida is taking action.

The Southeast Florida Regional Climate Action Plan, including Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe counties, has laid out recommendations for how to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change.

In addition, Miami-Dade has its own climate action plan to research possible responses to climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emission levels by 80 percent in the next 35 years.

First lady Michelle Obama has taken notice of Miami’s efforts. She invited Miami native Nicole Hernandez Hammer as one of her personal guests to the president’s State of the Union Address. Hernandez Hammer is a climate activist with Moms Clean Air Force — a coalition of parents fighting against air pollution and climate change — and works with South Florida coastal communities to combat rising sea levels.

Facing an uncertain future, we must do all that we can to prepare by thinking globally and acting locally.

The Obama administration made progress in 2014 when the president forged a bilateral agreement between the United States and China to place a cap on carbon emissions and created the first regulations on power plants under the president’s Climate Action Plan. The Environmental Protection Agency proposed regulations that will cut carbon emissions from existing power plants by as much as 30 percent by 2030.

Preliminary talks were held last year in Lima. The countries present discussed domestic plans to reduce harmful emissions. These talks will continue in December at an international summit in Paris.

For those of us in South Florida already working on responding to the potential risks of climate change, we must call on Congress and the Florida Legislature to follow our lead. I ask my colleagues to pass smart energy policies that cut carbon emissions and promote production of renewable fuel.

In Congress, my focus has been on creating jobs and ending the unemployment crisis while addressing environmental concerns. That is why I introduced the American Jobs Act, a bill that creates green jobs and promotes green infrastructure development, and the Homeowners’ Defense Act, a bill that helps ensure the availability and affordability of homeowners insurance for the kinds of catastrophic natural disasters that climate change makes more prevalent.

Ultimately, policymakers must come to understand that energy transformation can be the best policy for reducing unemployment and increasing resilience: We need to put Americans back to work upgrading vulnerable and inefficient infrastructure and installing the clean, green, low-cost energy systems of the future.

I am deeply heartened by the progress our community has made so far, but we must do much more to ensure that South Florida’s future stays afloat.

FREDERICA WILSON|house.gov|02/15/2015

Italy’s coastline is fast disappearing, says country’s top environmentalists

From the Veneto region in the north, to Puglia in the south, Italy loses 75,000 sq m of coastline.

The sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters of Italy’s Adriatic coast have long made it a popular spot with British tourists, but the country’s top environmentalists have warned that much of the spectacular coastline is disappearing.

From the Veneto region in the north, to Puglia in the south, Italy is losing around 75,000 sq m – the equivalent of 10 football pitches – every year.

Fulco Pratesi, honorary president of Italy’s World Wide Fund for Nature, blamed excessive building along the coast for the “destruction” of many of Italy’s beaches.

Sand and gravel is often taken away from the shore for use on construction sites or to make way for second homes, promenades and squares along the hugely popular coastline. Flood defenses can also lead to erosion in surrounding areas.

Between 1950 and 1999, Italy lost a total of 54 sq km of coastline, according to Italy’s National Institute for the Environment. While between 1999 and 2007 the coastline shrunk by 600,000 sq m – around 75,000 sq m a year.

Regions at particular risk include the South’s Molise, Basilicata and Puglia. However, the northern regions are also affected.

Almost a quarter of beaches in Emilia Romagna have suffered erosion, while in Forte dei Marmi, an upmarket coastal resort in Tuscany, locals are so concerned by the threat to tourism that they have presented a petition to the local court.

The Federalberghi federation of hoteliers said a breakwater built in the nearby port of Marina di Carrara made the erosion problem worse in Forte dei Marmi, and it feared holidaymakers will stop coming.

Mr Pratesi warned that Italian authorities must now place limits on construction in coastal areas.

“Humans have had a big influence on the destruction of these bathing beaches, which are hugely popular with tourists in the summer months,” he told La Stampa.

“The only possible solution we have is an accurate monitoring program. We need to avoid the destruction of our last precious dunes, reduce ill-thought out human intervention and limit the use of cement.”

 Alice Philipson|Rome|16 Feb 2015

Will the Vatican Become a New Leader Against Climate Change?

As political leaders make only moderate concessions in the name of fighting climate change, will anyone emerge to apply the pressure necessary to enact legitimate policy change? Surprisingly, the planet’s savior could wind up being the Pope. The latest rumors indicate that the Vatican is planning to take a serious leadership role in trying to avoid our disastrous climate change problem.

While nothing has been made official, Father Federico Lombardi confirmed that an international group of cardinals assembled privately to discuss forming a new environmental think-tank of sorts. “We see a growth in the awareness and in the importance of reflection, commitment, and study of environmental issues and their relation to social and human questions,” Lombardi said. A formal announcement about the next steps the church will take is expected by this summer.

Say what you will about the Catholicism, but even environmentalists without a religious affiliation should be excited at this potential new alliance. With over one billion people in the world identifying as Roman Catholic, a papal decree could theoretically enliven the largest bloc of eco-activists yet.

Pope Francis isn’t dancing around the subject either. He’s not only acknowledging that climate change is real, he’s also assigning humans with the majority of the blame for said climate change. “It is man who continuously slaps down nature,” Francis said. It is expected that he will instruct Catholics to take care of the earth that God created. Assuming the pope’s followers take it as a legitimate, God-endorsed call-to-action, that’s the kind of sway that results in actual change.

Environmental advocacy by the pope is not unusual – even John Paul II encouraged his followers to take care of the environment back in the ‘90s. However, Francis appears poised to actually challenge the status quo. While he may have as many as a billion faithful Catholics in his corner, Francis’ call will directly oppose the agendas of powerful political and moneyed interests, which means that the Vatican is probably going to be in for a fight with this one.

Given that it took 350 years for the Vatican to acknowledge that the earth does in fact revolve around the sun and not the other way around, it’s nice to see the Catholic Church (comparatively) ahead of the game this time by accepting the overwhelming scientific evidence even when it’s not necessarily “convenient” for everyone involved. With the stakes of climate change so high, environmentalists need every advocate on their side as they can muster, including some unexpected ones like the folks at the Vatican.

Kevin Mathews|February 17, 2015

Why Climate Change Might Make Future Disease Outbreaks Worse

Even as health workers continue to struggle against the current Ebola crisis, two prominent zoologists are warning that climate change could make such outbreaks harder to handle as infectious diseases spread to regions where previously they hadn’t been able to take hold.

Researchers writing in the the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, explain that 30 years of studying animals and parasitic infections suggests to them that not only will parasites and other infections adapt to previous host species dying out, that adaptation could threaten to spread of viruses to new regions that aren’t prepared for them. 

Zoologists Daniel Brooks and Eric Hoberg, who have worked primarily in the tropics and Arctic regions respectively, write that they believe this won’t lead to one killer strain that will wipe out wildlife, livestock and humans completely, but many more smaller outbreaks, which will put severe strain on our health systems and ecology and may ultimately cripple health efforts.

We already know that climate change could make outbreaks of deadly viruses harder to handle, and not just because of compromised infrastructure. Previous research has warned that as the climate shifts we will likely see problems with invading species bringing known infections to regions they hadn’t previously inhabited, posing a risk for human populations in those areas.

At the same time though, prevailing wisdom had said that parasites and viruses that haven’t historically posed a risk to humans are unlikely to pose a threat. That’s because scientists have theorized that close evolutionary relationship between a parasite and its host would make the chance of humans seeing emerging threats in new regions relatively rare. However, Brooks and Hoberg believe that this theory is mistaken.

The researchers contend that this argument ignores two very important facts: that parasites have ancestral DNA, meaning that they have a history of other adaptations which may allow them to overcome the problem of having narrowly adapted to one particular host–and that they may do this in a relatively short space of time, too. Secondly, the researchers note that the parasite need not necessarily be that well adapted to a new host in order to be a problem because the host has a disadvantage of potentially not having any resistance to the parasite or invading virus. While the new host species may then quickly adapt, the virus will still have taken hold in a new region and then itself can begin to adapt, thus further spreading potentially infectious diseases and threatening new animal and human populations.

To illustrate this, the researchers use the example of capuchin and spider monkeys. These two species were hunted to virtual extinction in certain regions of Costa Rica. However, the parasites quickly re-emerged in closely related howler monkeys and survive today. Brooks also notes that lungworms, similarly, have moved from caribou to muskoxen and as such have been able to move north out of their original range.

In case this sounds like a scary story, the researchers are clear that they are raising this issue now because they want greater cooperation with those who track diseases among animal populations. They believe that by tracking parasites and infectious diseases among wildlife and livestock, researchers will be able to stop future “emerging” diseases from becoming a threat, not just to human populations but vulnerable animal populations, too.

“We have to admit we’re not winning the war against emerging diseases,” Brooks is quoted as saying. ”We’re not anticipating them. We’re not paying attention to their basic biology, where they might come from and the potential for new pathogens to be introduced.”

The zoologists suggest that by paying attention to this possibility we might begin to get a picture of the potential geographic distribution of infected animals and develop strategies that might help us minimize emerging disease risk. For instance, we could limit human contact–a strategy that has helped in the fight against malaria. In addition, we might also theorize which animals that currently aren’t hosts to these diseases may be susceptible if the parasites were to make that leap in the future, and begin monitoring for signs of such a transition.

The key thing here, the scientists say, is that we plan for emergent diseases carefully and with appropriate health care funding in place because failing to do so could, in both financial and health terms, be a costly mistake.

Steve Williams|February 17, 2015

Warming Planet Threatens More and Possibly Deadlier Pathogens, Warns Study

New research claims to upend previous understanding of how parasites that may carry infectious diseases are adapting to changing temperatures

An overall hotter planet and a rapidly-changing climate are altering the range of pathogens and increasing the appearance of infectious diseases, warns a new research paper published this week.

It may not come in the form of a global pandemic, but outbreaks of viruses like West Nile, and Ebola are signaling that global warming is already having dramatic impacts in the development and spread of such diseases, according to zoological researchers Daniel Brooks and Eric Hoberg. Increasing the level of concern is the impact rising temperatures may have on the emergence of previously unknown pathogens introduced to new regions or human environs.

“It’s not that there’s going to be one ‘Andromeda Strain’ that will wipe everybody out on the planet,” explained Brooks, making reference to the 1971 science fiction novel by Michael Crichton. “There are going to be a lot of localized outbreaks putting pressure on medical and veterinary health systems. It will be the death of a thousand cuts.”

In the study, published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B on Monday, Brooks and Hoberg, who work for the Harold W. Manter Laboratory of Parasitology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the U.S. National Parasite Collection respectively, warn that rising global temperatures have upended the balance of biodiversity of ecosystems which in turn threaten both human and animal populations across the planet.

While Brooks’ research has focused on how parasites and pathogens operate in tropical regions, Hoberg has performed similar studies in the Arctic. “Over the last 30 years, the places we’ve been working have been heavily impacted by climate change,” Brooks said in a recent interview. “Even though I was in the tropics and he was in the Arctic, we could see something was happening.”

According to Science World Report:

In both of these regions, the scientists witnessed the arrival of species that hadn’t previously lived in the area and the departure of others. This means that as animals change locations, they’re exposed to new parasites and pathogens. 

For example, after humans hunted capuchin and spider monkeys out of existence in some regions of Costa Rica, their parasites switched to howler monkeys. In addition, lungworms have moved northward and have shifted hosts from caribou to muskoxen in the Canadian Arctic.

What their research claims to show is that theses parasites, many of which carry the most dangerous pathogens, are much more capable of switching hosts than previously thought.

“Even though a parasite might have a very specialized relationship with one particular host in one particular place, there are other hosts that may be as susceptible,” said Brooks. “West Nile Virus is a good example – no longer an acute problem for humans or wildlife in North America, it nonetheless is here to stay.”

According to the abstract of the research paper, “Episodic shifts in climate and environmental settings, in conjunction with ecological mechanisms and host switching, are often critical determinants of parasite diversification, a view counter to more than a century of coevolutionary thinking about the nature of complex host-parasite assemblages.”

Offering a warning that more must be done to recognize and combat the threat, Brooks stated, “We have to admit we’re not winning the war against emerging diseases. We’re not anticipating them. We’re not paying attention to their basic biology, where they might come from and the potential for new pathogens to be introduced.”

Jon Queally|staff writer|Common Dreams|February 17, 2015

Climate Change Leads to Rapid Emergence of Infectious Diseases

Climate change is creating conditions that are likely to increase the rate of infectious disease worldwide.

That’s the key findings of two new studies that show viruses such as Ebola, H1N1 and TB, as well as dengue and yellow fevers could spread further and become more frequent because of our changing climate.

In one recently published article, zoologists studied climate in two vastly different regions—the tropics and the Arctic—to gain an understanding of how climate change may affect the spread of disease.

In both regions the scientists found that by altering and moving habitat zones of disease-carrying animals, climate change could be making outbreaks of diseases more frequent.

Previously, scientists believed that parasites could not quickly jump from one host to another because of the way parasites and hosts co-evolve. This would, in effect, make new disease more rare as parasites would first have to evolve a genetic mutation in order to move to another species.

However, the new analysis argues that these evolutionary jumps can come quicker then anticipated.

“Even though a parasite might have a very specialized relationship with one particular host in one particular place, there are other hosts that may be as susceptible,”said Daniel Brooks, professor at University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Newer hosts are more susceptible to infections because they haven’t developed resistances to them, making the hosts more likely to get sicker.

The researchers predict that as humans move deeper in wildlife areas they are more likely to interact with animals affected by new more virulent strains of pathogens. This would increase the rate of human epidemics and could be spread even further through global air travel.

Sometimes the new diseases will come to us more directly.

In another new study, a team of researchers from the U.K. and Germany found that rising temperatures in Europe could bring traditionally tropical diseases such as dengue and yellow fevers to Europe.

The researchers predicted 2.4 billion people could be exposed to the Asian tiger mosquito by the middle of the century, as they emigrate from Africa to Europe’s new warmer climate.

The mosquito can transmit pathogens that spread diseases including dengue fever, chikungunya infection, yellow fever and encephalitis.

The research suggests the chances of the Asian tiger mosquito, hitting the UK and France are higher than previously thought.

Eastern Brazil, the eastern U.S., Western and Central Europe and Eastern China are also likely to provide increasingly suitable habitats for the mosquito between the period 2045 and 2054.

Adam Novak|TckTckTck|February 18, 2015

Legendary Iditarod Sled Dog Race Moved North As Alaska Deals With Climate Change

Alaska is having yet another mild winter. A ski area near Juneau recently had to close until it gets more snow. Now, the iconic Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is dealing with the consequences of a changing climate. For only the second time in its 43-year history, the start of the Iditarod will move north to Fairbanks.

Traditionally, the race starts in Anchorage, but due to a lack of snow in certain areas, the starting line will be moved 300 miles north. The starting line was moved to Fairbanks one other time in 2003 when unseasonably warm weather made the trail impassable.

The ceremonial start will still take place in Anchorage on March 7, but the official start of the race will be in Fairbanks on March 9. The race will still end in Nome as always, but the rerouted course is 968 miles long as opposed to the standard 987 miles from Anchorage.

iditarodmapPhoto credit: Alaska Department of Natural Resources

The decision to reroute the course was made last week when the board of directors of the Iditarod Trail Committee held a special meeting. Board members heard a trail report from a committee, which flew over various portions of the trail to assess the conditions and found that “conditions were worse in the critical areas than in 2014 and therefore, not safe enough for this year’s race.”

The race was almost moved to Fairbanks last year because of a lack of snow, but officials decided to keep the start of the race in Anchorage. “Bruised and beaten up” racers were extremely critical of that decision because the trail was so treacherous, according to News Miner. This year, the course from Anchorage looked even worse. “The troublesome areas had half as much snow as in 2014, and the bad spots were twice as long,” said Rick Swenson, Trail Committee board member.

“This year, you can’t go through a rock,” said board member Aaron Burmeister. “There’s boulders and rocks that we’ve never seen there in 20-some years that are littering all the gorge, places that you’d never even see a rock because you’re going over feet of snow going through there. This year, you’re looking at bare ground.”

“While some snow did fall east of the Alaska Range over the past couple of weeks, other parts of the trail did not get much or any of it at all,” said Stan Hooley, executive director for the Iditarod Trail Committee. It might seem early to make the call, but Race Marshall Mark Nordman explains that transporting and coordinating all of the supplies and equipment takes time.

The unseasonably warm weather and lack of snow is not some anomaly. Over the past 50 years, temperatures across Alaska increased by an average of 3.4 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Alaska’s winter warming was twice the national average over that time period, and average annual temperatures in the state are projected to increase 3.5 to 7 degrees by 2050.

Anywhere from 50 to 100 teams race every year. The sport has a long history that goes back far before it became a formalized race when it was simply a means of transportation. Now, climate change puts the legacy of the “last great race” in question.

Cole Mellino|February 17, 2015

Unprecedented California Sea Lion Strandings Linked To Warmer Pacific

SAN FRANCISCO, Feb 18 (Reuters) – The strandings of a record number of sea lion pups along the California coast this year are linked to a puzzling weather pattern that has warmed their Pacific Ocean habitat and likely impacted fish populations they rely on for food, federal scientists said on Wednesday.
Some 940 stranded sea lions, mostly pups, have been treated by marine mammal centers in California so far this year, according to Justin Viezbicke, West Coast Stranding Coordinator for the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

That is well above the 240 strandings typically seen through April, and scientists suspect the emaciated pups are prematurely leaving Southern California sea lion rookeries to seek food on their own after their mothers failed to return swiftly from hunting trips to nurse.

“These little pups, so desperate and so thin, are leaving the rookeries long before they’re capable of hunting effectively,” said Shawn Johnson, director of veterinary science at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, which has treated 220 stranded animals. “It’s alarming because we haven’t seen this number of stranded pups this early in 40 years.”

The strandings are unusual because the pups, born last June, aren’t supposed to be completely weaned until May.

Satellite data show sea lion mothers are foraging in traditional hunting grounds, but likely spending longer periods away, said Sharon Melin, a biologist with NOAA’s National Marine Mammal Laboratory in Seattle.

Fish populations are likely being disrupted by a layer of ocean water, some 100 meters (330 feet) deep, that is 2 to 5 degrees warmer than usual this time of year along the Pacific Coast from Baja to Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, said NOAA climatologist Nate Mantua.

The change was caused by a weather pattern involving weak northern and strong southern winds that are creating warmer-than-normal conditions.

It’s unclear how many stranded animals will die among the 300,000-strong sea lion population. In 2013, some 70 percent of nursing pups perished in what NOAA declared an “unusual mortality event” linked to strandings.

Melin said pups checked on San Miquel Island this month were 44 percent below average weight at seven months old, marking the lowest growth rate since scientists began recording such measurements in the 1990s.

Most of the stranded pups have been recovered in Southern California, but the pups also swim or are carried further north, and may eventually turn up in Washington state and Oregon, according to Johnson.

“We’re braced for more,” Johnson said.

Mary PapenfussReuters02/18/2015|Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Sandra Maler

Extreme Weather

NASA Scientists: Future Megadroughts Could Last 30+ Years ‘Thanks to Human-Induced Climate Change’

The drought in California, going into its fourth year, has been in the news, especially since California produces much of the country’s food. But a new NASA study, published this week in the journal Science Advances, suggests that the U.S. could be looking at much worse. It predicts multi-decade “megadroughts” of more than 30 years by the end of the 21st century if we don’t significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“Recent droughts such as the ongoing drought in California or the Southwest, or even historical droughts such as the Dust Bowl in the 1930s, these are naturally occurring droughts that typically last several years or sometimes almost a decade,” said the study’s lead author Ben Cook, a climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “What we’re seeing is that with climate change many of these types of droughts will likely last for 20, 30, sometimes even 40 years.”

How bad these droughts will get is tied to how much greenhouse gas emissions humans generate in future years. Cook and his colleagues say the current risk of a megadrought is 12 percent. If greenhouse gas emissions stop increasing by the mid-21st century, they project the risk at more than 60 percent in the second half of the 21st century. And if they continue to rise at current rates, the researchers say, there is an 80 percent chance of a megadrought in the Southwest and Central Plains between 2050 and 2099. “Alternatively, if the world were to take aggressive actions to reduce emissions, the model still showed drought but the trends would be less severe,” they found.

Cook said this study is more robust than previous research, which used fewer drought indictors and few climate models. This study used 17 different climate models, all of which showed a drier planet “thanks to human-induced climate change,” says NASA.

“What I think really stands out in the paper is the consistency between different metrics of soil moisture and the findings across all the different climate models,” said climate scientist Kevin Anchukaitis of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, who was not involved in the study. “It is rare to see all signs pointing so unwaveringly toward the same result, in this case a highly elevated risk of future megadroughts in the United States.”

This is also the first study to compare future drought projections to droughts over the last 1,000 years, using tree-ring information to estimate droughts beyond the last 150 years. The researchers looked at megadroughts of 30-50 years that occurred in North America between 1100 and 1300 and compared them with projected late 21st-century droughts. They found that whether greenhouse gas emissions stop increasing or continue to increase at the current rate, the likelihood of drier conditions and droughts lasting 30 years or more is greater.

“We can’t really understand the full variability and the full dynamics of drought over western North America by focusing only on the last century or so,” said Cook. “We have to go to the paleoclimate record, looking at these much longer timescales, when much more extreme and extensive drought events happened, to really come up with an appreciation for the full potential drought dynamics in the system.”

Anchukaitis agreed that comparing medieval-era droughts with projected ones is useful.

“Those droughts had profound ramifications for societies living in North America at the time,” he said. “These findings require us to think about how we would adapt if even more severe droughts lasting over a decade were to occur in our future.”

Those adaptations would be more challenging than anything we’ve seen in the past, says Cook.

“The droughts represent events that nobody in the history of the U.S. has ever had to deal with,” he said. “Even in the modern era, droughts such as the ongoing droughts in California and the Southwest, these normal droughts act as major stressors on water resources in the region. So we expect that with these much longer droughts, it’s going to be even more impactful and cause even more problems for agriculture and ecosystems in the region.”

Anastasia Pantsios|February 13, 2015

Ski Resorts Close as West Coast Drought Intensifies

As we all know, California is experiencing its fourth year of extreme and exceptional drought. Scientists have confirmed it’s the worst drought in the region in the last 1,200 years. Thankfully, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced on Feb. 6 that the Bureau of Reclamation is “making $50 million in funds available for drought relief projects throughout the West—including nearly $20 million for California’s Central Valley Project.”

Mt. Shasta Ski Park has shut down “until the next storm comes in,” according to its website.

“California’s ongoing drought is wreaking havoc on farmers, ranchers, municipalities, tribes and the environment,” said Secretary Jewell. “With climate change, droughts are projected to become more intense and frequent in many parts of the West, so we need to pursue every measure to provide relief and support to communities who are feeling the impacts.”

Secretary Jewell made the announcement after a meeting with California’s Governor Brown to discuss the Obama Administration’s “all-in” approach to the drought in California.

Outdoor recreation enthusiasts hope these measures help alleviate the crisis because winter sports especially have taken a hard hit from the drought. Ski areas and resorts in Southern California haven’t been able to open or have struggled to stay open for the past several years. But it’s not just Southern California where the skiing is getting dicey. Central and northern parts of the state, including the famed Tahoe ski resorts, are floundering this season, too.

Many parts of Central and Northern California had their driest January (usually California’s wettest month) on record, according to the latest summary from the U.S. Drought Monitor. The California Department of Water Resources (CDWR) reported that at the end of January, the snowpack was “dismally meager” at 25 percent of the historical average statewide and as low as 11 and 12 percent in some areas. Washington and Oregon remained dry as well.

The little precipitation that these states have seen falls as rain even in higher elevations due to warmer than average temperatures, making it likely that California's drought will run through a fourth consecutive year. Photo credit: U.S. Drought MonitorThe little precipitation that these states have seen falls as rain even in higher elevations due to warmer than average temperatures, making it likely that California’s drought will run through a fourth consecutive year.

Photo credit: U.S. Drought Monitor

The little precipitation that these states have seen falls as rain even in higher elevations due to warmer than average temperatures, said the U.S. Drought Monitor. The snowpack is so crucial because, “in normal years, it supplies about 30 percent of California’s water needs as it melts in the spring and early summer,” according to CDWR. Unfortunately, CDWR’s snow survey shows that California’s drought will likely continue for a fourth consecutive year.

In California, the Tahoe Donner Cross Country trail, Dodge Ridge in Pinecrest, Badger Pass in Yosemite National Park and Mt. Shasta Ski Park have shut down indefinitely, citing a lack of snow. Willamette Pass Resort and Hoodoo Ski Area in Oregon suspended operations as well.

Willamette Pass Resort in Oregon has suspended its operations due to lack of snow.

Even ski areas and resorts in northern climes, such as Mt. Washington Ski Resort on Vancouver Island, are closing due to lack of snow. That’s the second year in a row that Mt. Washington was forced to close early. Hemlock Ski Resort near Vancouver won’t even open this season. Eaglecrest Ski Area near Juneau, Alaska halted lift operations until they receive enough snow to open at least part of the upper mountain. That’s right, a ski area in Alaska is closed due to insufficient snow.

Cole Mellino|February 9, 2015

Weary Northeast braces for fourth round of snow

Arctic air expected to plunge as far south as Florida

MARBLEHEAD, MASS. As light snow began to fall Saturday afternoon, residents braced for a fourth round of heavy snow in less than a month across New England.

The latest storm threatened to deliver life-threatening blizzards, hurricane-force winds, whiteouts and widespread power outages.

In Marblehead, a North Shore town about 16 miles northeast of Boston, Fred Brink raced to dig out his office entrance, which has been buried for two weeks, before it becomes inaccessible and prone to flooding.

“At least if I clear this now, then I’ll only be dealing with fresh snow after this storm,” he said, pointing to what he could see of his office door.

A few blocks away, Miles Keroack bought a gas can to fill his new snowblower. He hadn’t needed one during his 20 years in the town, but he finally made the purchase after the most recent storm, the third major one in two weeks.

“My wife said, ‘That’s enough. Time to get one,’ ” he said. “It took me going to 10 places to find a snowblower, but we finally got one.”

The forecast for another round of heavy snow is disheartening enough for winter-weary New England, but the storm will also usher in another Arctic air mass that will dip south Sunday, bringing some of the coldest temperatures of the year as far south as Florida.

Boston, which has already endured 42 inches of snow this month, plans simply to hunker down, with the area’s transit lines shutting down Sunday. The city has issued a parking ban starting 10 p.m. Saturday, and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker urged residents to stay off the road.

For Sunday, 208 departing and 143 arriving flights already had been canceled at Boston’s Logan airport, which might have to shut down for awhile.

“Travel will become nearly impossible and potentially life threatening due to whiteout conditions and bitterly cold wind chills,” the National Weather Service warned.

That is grim news indeed for a region that, in some areas, has staggered under 6 feet or more in recent weeks. The hardest hit area will likely stretch along the coast from Cape Cod to Maine, which could get as much as 15 inches of snow. The Boston area could see 8 to 10 inches or more.

“The Arctic front will behave like a squall line, but instead of bringing heavy rain, it could bring a brief period of heavy snow with perhaps thunder and lightning,” AccuWeather.com meteorologist Henry Margusity said.

The National Weather Service said the Arctic air mass is expected to drop temperatures into the single digits, teens and 20s well into Virginia and North Carolina. Northern Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia were likely to have highs only in the 30s into early this week.

“The air will get cold enough in northern Florida to bring the risk of damage to unprotected sensitive fruits and vegetables,” AccuWeather.com meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said.

G. Jeffrey MacDonald and Doug Stanglin|USA TODAY|February 15, 2015

Worst Drought in 1,000 Years Predicted for American West

Global warming to cause historic “megadrought” by century’s end.

Large parts of the U.S. are in for a drought of epic proportions in the second half of this century, scientists warn in a new study that provides the highest degree of certainty yet on the impact of global warming on water supplies in the region.

The chances of a 35-year or longer “megadrought” striking the Southwest and central Great Plains by 2100 are above 80 percent if the world stays on its current trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions, scientists from NASA, Columbia University, and Cornell University report in a study published Thursday in the new open-access journal Science Advances.

If countries reduce their emissions to current “middle of the road” targets, the chances of a megadrought hitting the Great Plains drop to between 60 and 70 percent. But they remain nearly 80 percent for the Southwest.

That’s because rising temperatures spurred by the greenhouse effect result in more evaporation and less precipitation for the region, which is already relatively dry. (Read “Drying of the West” in National Geographic magazine.)

“Even at the middle-of-the-road scenario, we see enough warming and drying to push us past the worst droughts experienced in the region since the medieval era,” said Benjamin Cook, the study’s lead author and a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York.

Why It Matters

Drought often has significant impacts on agriculture, ecosystems, and city water supplies. “We see some of those impacts going on now in California,” said Cook, referring to the ongoing drought that is the worst in that state’s recorded history.

In fact, 11 of the past 14 years have seen drought in much of the American West, from California across to Texas and Oklahoma, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. (Learn about the resulting groundwater drilling boom.)

In their study, Cook’s team used 17 computer models of droughts and three models of soil moisture to predict the likelihood of dryness over the next century. After they found a high degree of agreement among the models, they applied them to data gathered from tree rings going back to about the year 1000.

They found that the megadrought that struck the region in the 1100s and 1200s—which has been tied to the decline of the ancient Pueblo peoples, or Anasazi, of the Colorado Plateau—was likely not as severe as the one expected in the near future.

“Even when selecting for the worst megadrought-dominated period, the 21st-century projections make the megadroughts seem like quaint walks through the Garden of Eden,” study co-author Jason E. Smerdon of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory said in a statement.

The Big Picture

The megadrought predicted for the U.S. seems to be part of a “northward creeping of desert bands” in other subtropical regions, especially in the Mediterranean and southern Africa, said Tom Painter, a snow and drought scientist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, who was not involved with the study. That shift is clearly related to changes in air circulation caused by global warming, but the precise mechanics are “fuzzy,” Painter said. (Learn more about Painter’s work.)

The new study is the latest in a series over the past decade highlighting the challenge facing people in the American West, where strategies for coping with drought, such as irrigation and water conservation, have a long history. “The real challenge is whether we can take strategies we have now and apply them to the more severe droughts that are likely in the future,” Cook said. (Learn about efforts to restore the Colorado River ecosystem.)

“Over the past year, water managers and the public have started paying more attention to the possibility of a megadrought,” said Painter. “Water demand has passed supply in some areas. Throwing 30 years of drought on top of that means we’re going to have to change the way we live out here.”

Brian Clark Howard|National Geographic|February 12, 2015

Winter hits South, Northeast

FRANKFORT, Ky. —Snow swirled sideways in Kentucky, and the typically bustling state capital, Frankfort, came to a frozen halt Monday as a storm walloped parts of the South, which unlike the Northeast had been mostly spared this winter.

That all changed with a mix of snow, sleet and freezing rain across the region, making roads treacherous and knocking out power to thousands of people.

Officials made sure certain roads were prepared this year after Southern cities — most notably Atlanta — were caught off guard a year ago when a winter storm stranded thousands of people on interstates overnight. Raleigh, North Carolina, suffered a similar fate last year.

2 dead in Northeast

In the Northeast, temperatures were bitterly cold. New York City came close to breaking a 127year-old record when the temperature in Central Park hit 3degrees, just 2 degrees above the record set in 1888, said Jeffrey Tongue, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh said the latest snowstorm left one person dead, apparently because of a heart attack while shoveling snow. A partial roof collapse at an eight-building apartment complex in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, left 500 to 700 people looking for warmth.

In New Jersey, a 66year-old woman who had been drinking at a benefit was found dead in the snow, just two doors from her home. Firefighters working on a blaze in Philadelphia left behind a building coated in icicles. No one was hurt. West Virginia was hit hard by the snowstorm when a train carrying crude oil derailed about 30 miles from Charleston. At least one tanker went into the Kanawha River, and a nearby house caught fire. It wasn’t clear if the winter storm had anything to do with the crash. The storm was headed toward the Carolinas overnight and then expected to march through the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.

Kentucky buried

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear urged people to stay home. By Monday afternoon, 9 inches of snow had fallen in Louisville, and other parts of the state were buried under a foot of snow. In central Kentucky, home to much of the state’s signature thoroughbred industry, horses kept warm by galloping through the deep snow, pausing occasionally to shake it off from their thick winter coats. Arkansas, where temperatures plummeted f rom the 70s on Saturday to highs in the 30s a day later, had nearly 30,000 people without power at the peak of the storm.

Roads were slushy and traffic moving slowly in Tennessee. Georgia officials were taking no chances, bringing in more personnel to the state operations center and pre-treating roads with a mixture of salt and water. North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory said he hoped the government was “over-prepared and underwhelmed.”

Record cold snap blankets eastern US in deep freeze

Another band of Arctic air making its way into region

A bitter, record-setting cold air mass kept its icy grip on much of the central and eastern U.S. o n Fri d a y, b r i n g i n g s u b z e r o temperatures and showing no sign of relief next week for winter- weary residents from Florida to New England.

At least 72 record-low temperatures were set Friday morning, all the way from Marquette, Michigan, at minus 26 degrees, to Miami, at 42 degrees.

In Minnesota, the community of Cotton posted an overnight low of minus 42 degrees, without the wind-chill factor, the National Weather Service reported. In western Pennsylvania, temperatures dipped to minus 18 degrees in some areas.

“An eddy of the polar vortex is leading to the coldest weather of this recent cold spell, creating a deep layer of bitterly cold air, along with gusty winds,” said meteorologist David Hamrick of the weather service’s Weather Prediction Center.

Lynchburg, Virginia, plummeted to minus 11 degrees Friday morning, setting an all-time record low, the Weather Channel reported. Flint, Michigan, tied its all-time record low of minus 25, while Cleveland set an all-time February low of minus 17.

Washington’s Reagan National Airport registered a 6-degree low Friday, beating a 119-year-old record low for the day of 8 degrees. New York City’s Central Park dipped to 2 degrees, breaking a 1950 mark of 7 degrees.

Baltimore’s airport posted a low of 2 degrees, besting the previous record of 4 degrees set in 1979.

Amazingly, at 25 degrees, it was warmer in Anchorage, Alaska, than it was in Atlanta, where the temperature bottomed out at 15 degrees Friday morning.

After subzero overnight lows from Illinois to western Virginia, highs Friday struggled to get out of the teens, according to the weather service.

Winter isn’t ready to give up for the year as February comes to a close. The weather service the latest band of Arctic air could plunge parts of the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic into deep freezes that haven’t been felt since the mid-1990s.

As the cold air mass settles in, more moisture from the Gulf of Mexico is forecast to set the stage for what the weather service calls an “ice event” across portions of the Lower Mississippi and Tennessee valleys into the early weekend.

Sleet and freezing rain is expected from Missouri to northern Georgia, changing over to rain Saturday. On the East Coast, snow will change to a wintry mix and eventually to rain for many areas of the Mid-Atlantic.

“We are very concerned about the added weight triggering a new round of roof collapses in New England and parts of upstate New York,” AccuWeather meteorologist Mark Paquette said.

Doug Stanglin and Doyle Rice|USA TODAY|Contributing: Associated Press|2/21/2015

Genetically Modified Organisms

USDA Approves GMO Arctic Apples Despite Opposition

Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved the Okanagan Specialty Fruits’ genetically engineered Arctic Apples. These apples are engineered to resist browning when sliced. The USDA’s environmental review received 73,000 comments that overwhelmingly opposed the commercialization of Arctic Apples. This decision marks the first approval of an aesthetically-improved genetically engineered food and will expand the reach of GMO products into the produce aisle, which currently only offers a small number of GMO foods.

The USDA has neglected to look at the full range of risks from these apples. In its environmental assessment, the USDA glossed over the possibility of unintentional effects associated with the technology used to engineer these apples, potential economic impacts on the U.S. and international apple market, effects of potential contamination for non-GMO and organic apple growers and the impact of the non-browning gene silencing which also can weaken plant defenses and plant health.

This apple was produced using a relatively new method of genetic engineering, known as RNA interference. This technology uses RNA to silence a target gene, but mounting evidence has shown that meddling with the genes could have unintended effects within the plant and also on organisms that eat the plant. The particular gene targeted by this technology allows the apples to be sliced without turning brown, which could mislead consumers into thinking they are eating fresh apples when they might be eating apples on the verge of rotting. Browning is an important indicator to consumers in determining the freshness of an apple or apple slice. The silenced gene is also heavily involved in a plant’s natural defense against pests and pathogens, which could lead to trees that are less healthy than non-GMO apples and rely on more chemical treatments to ward off pests and disease.

The domestic apple industry is opposed to the commercialization of GMO apples and some food companies have already said they would not sell Arctic Apples. The U.S. Apple Association, Washington Apple Commission and other grower groups have voiced their disapproval due to the negative impact GMO apples could have on the apple industry, and in 2013 Gerber and McDonald’s announced that they would not use GMO apples in their products.

This GMO apple is simply unnecessary. Apple browning is a small cosmetic issue that consumers and the industry have dealt with successfully for generations. The USDA has let down U.S. apple growers and the public by wasting resources on this useless and risky food. To make matters worse, these apples will not be required to be labeled and consumers will not know that the sliced apples they pack in their children’s lunches were made through genetic engineering.

Wenonah Hauter|Food and Water Watch|February 13, 2015

Monsanto on the Menu: Science, Knowledge and GMOs

On Twitter this week, someone asked the question “Why do people doubt science?” Accompanying the tweet was a link to an article in National Geographic that implied people who are suspicious of vaccines, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), climate change, fluoridated water and various other phenomena are confused, adhere to conspiracy theories, are motivated by ideology or are misinformed as a result of access to the ‘University of Google.’ The remedy, according what is said in the article, is for us all to rely on scientific evidence pertaining to these issues and adopt a ‘scientific method’ of thought and analysis and put irrational thought processes to one side.

Who tweeted the question and posted the link? None other than Robert T Fraley, Monsanto’s Vice President and Chief Technology Officer.

Before addressing that question, it is worth mentioning that science is not the giver of ‘absolute truth’. That in itself should allow us to develop a healthy skepticism towards the discipline. The ‘truth’ is a tricky thing to pin down. Scientific knowledge is built on shaky stilts that rest on shifting foundations. Science historian Thomas Kuhn wrote about the revolutionary paradigm shifts in scientific thought, whereby established theoretical perspectives can play the role of secular theology and serve as a barrier to the advancement of knowledge, until the weight of evidence and pressure from proponents of a new theoretical paradigm is overwhelming. Then, at least according to Kuhn, the old faith gives way and a new ‘truth’ changes.

Philosopher Paul Feyerabend argued that science is not an ‘exact science’. The manufacture of scientific knowledge involves a process driven by various sociological, methodological and epistemological conflicts and compromises, both inside the laboratory and beyond. Writers in the field of the sociology of science have written much on this.

But the answer to the question “Why do people doubt science” is not because they have read Kuhn, Feyerabend or some sociology journal. Neither is it because a bunch of ‘irrational’ activists have scared them witless about GM crops or some other issue. It is because they can see how science is used, corrupted and manipulated by powerful corporations to serve their own ends. It is because they regard these large corporations as largely unaccountable and their activities and products not properly regulated by governments.

That’s why so many doubt science – or more precisely the science corporations fund and promote to support their interests.

US sociologist Robert Merton highlighted the underlying norms of science as involving research that is not warped by vested interests, adheres to the common ownership of scientific discoveries (intellectual property) to promote collective collaboration and subjects findings to organised, rigorous critical scrutiny within the scientific community. The concept of originality was added by later writers in order to fully encapsulate the ethos of science: scientific claims must contribute something new to existing discourse. Based on this brief analysis, secrecy, dogma and vested interest have no place.

This is of course a highly idealized version of what science is or should be because in reality careers, reputations, commercial interests and funding issues all serve to undermine these norms.

But if we really want to look at the role of secrecy, dogma and vested interest in full flow, we could take a look at in the sector to which Robert T Fraley belongs.

Last year, US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack called for “sound science” to underpin food trade between the US and the EU. However, he seems very selective in applying “sound science” to certain issues. Consumer rights groups in the US are pushing for the labelling of GMO foods, but Vilsack said that putting a label on a foodstuff containing a GM product “risks sending a wrong impression that this was a safety issue.”

Despite what Vilsack would have us believe, many scientific studies show that GMOs are indeed a big safety issue and what’s more are also having grave environmental, social and economic consequences.

By not wanting to respond to widespread consumer demands to know what they are eating and risk “sending a wrong impression,” Vislack is trying to prevent proper debate about issues that his corporate backers would find unpalatable: profits would collapse if consumers had the choice to reject the GMOs being fed to them. And ‘corporate backers’ must not be taken as a throwaway term here. Big agritech concerns have captured or at the very least seriously compromised key policy and regulatory bodies in the US, Europe, India and in fact on a global level.

If Robert T Fraley wants to understand why people doubt science, he should consider what Andy Stirling, Professor of Science and Technology Policy at Sussex University, says:

“The main reason some multinationals prefer GM technologies over the many alternatives is that GM offers more lucrative ways to control intellectual property and global supply chains. To sideline open discussion of these issues, related interests are now trying to deny the many uncertainties and suppress scientific diversity. This undermines democratic debate – and science itself.”

Coming from the GMO biotech industry, or its political mouthpieces, the term “sound science” rings extremely hollow. The industry carries out inadequate, short-term studies and conceals the data produced by its research under the guise of ‘commercial confidentiality’, while independent research highlights the very serious dangers of its products. It has in the past also engaged in fakery in India, bribery in Indonesia and smears and intimidation against those who challenge its interests , as well as the distortion and the censorship of science. With its aim to modify organisms to create patents that will secure ever greater control over seeds, markets and the food supply, the widely held suspicion is that the GMO agritech sector is only concerned with a certain type of science: that which supports these aims. Because if science is held in such high regard by these corporations, why isn’t Monsanto proud of its products? Why in the US doesn’t it label foods containing GMOs and throw open its science to public scrutiny, instead of veiling it with secrecy, restricting independent research on its products or resorting to unsavory tactics?

If science is held in such high regard by the GMO agritech sector, why in the US did policy makers release GM food onto the commercial market without proper long-term tests? The argument used to justify this is GM food is ‘substantially equivalent’ to ordinary food. But this is not based on scientific reason. Foreign genes are being inserted into organisms that studies show make them substantially non-equivalent. Substantial equivalence is a trade strategy on behalf of the GM sector that neatly serves to remove its GMOs from the type of scrutiny usually applied to potentially toxic or harmful substances. The attempt to replace processed-based regulation of GMOs in Europe with product-based regulation would result in serving a similar purpose.

The reason why no labelling or testing has taken place in the US is not due to ‘sound science’ having been applied but comes down to the power and political influence of the GMO biotech sector and because a sound scientific approach has not been applied.

The sector cannot win the scientific debate (although its PR likes to tell the world it has) so it resorts to co-opting key public bodies or individuals to propagate various falsehoods and deceptions. Part of the deception is based on emotional blackmail: the world needs GMOs to feed the hungry, both now and in the future. This myth has been blown apart. In fact, in the second of those three links, the organisation GRAIN highlights that GM crops that have been planted thus far have actually contributed to food insecurity.

This is a harsh truth that the industry does not like to face.

People’s faith in science is being shaken on many levels, not least because big corporations have secured access to policy makers and governments and are increasingly funding research and setting research agendas.

“As Andrew Neighbor, former administrator at Washington University in St. Louis, who managed the university’s multiyear and multimillion dollar relationship with Monsanto, admits, “There’s no question that industry money comes with strings. It limits what you can do, when you can do it, who it has to be approved by”… This raises the question: if Agribusiness giant Monsanto [in India] is funding the research, will Indian agricultural researchers pursue such lines of scientific inquiry as “How will this new rice or wheat variety impact the Indian farmer, or health of Indian public?” The reality is, Monsanto is funding the research not for the benefit of either Indian farmer or public, but for its profit. It is paying researchers to ask questions that it is most interested in having answered.” – ‘Monsanto, a Contemporary East India Company, and Corporate Knowledge in India‘.

Ultimately, it is not science itself that people have doubts about but science that is pressed into the service of immensely powerful private corporations and regulatory bodies that are effectively co-opted and adopt a ‘don’t look, don’t find approach’ to studies and products. Or in the case of releasing GMOs onto the commercial market in the US, bypassing proper scientific procedures and engaging in doublespeak about ‘substantial equivalence’ then hypocritically calling for ‘sound science’ to inform debates.

The same corporate interests are moreover undermining the peer-review process itself and the ability of certain scientists to get published in journals – the benchmark of scientific credibility. In effect, powerful interests increasingly hold sway over funding, career progression as a scientist, journals and peer review which question the reliability of peer review in the area of GMOs.

Going back to the start of the piece, the question that should have been tweeted is: “Why do people doubt corporate-controlled or influenced science?” After that question, it would have been more revealing to have posted a link to this article about the unscrupulous history of a certain company from St Louis. That history provides very good reason why so many doubt and challenge powerful corporations and the type of science they fund and promote (or attempt to suppress) and the type of world they seek to create.

“Corporations as the dominant institution shaped by capitalist patriarchy thrive on eco-apartheid. They thrive on the Cartesian legacy of dualism which puts nature against humans. It defines nature as female and passively subjugated. Corporatocentrism is thus also androcentric – a patriarchal construction. The false universalism of man as conqueror and owner of the Earth has led to the technological hubris of geo-engineering, genetic engineering, and nuclear energy. It has led to the ethical outrage of owning life forms through patents, water through privatization, the air through carbon trading. It is leading to appropriation of the biodiversity that serves the poor.” Vandana Shiva

Colin Todhunter|Global Research|February 13, 2015

Frito-Lay SunChips Test Positive for Weedkiller and GMOs

Operation: Label GMOs Test Results for Kellogg’s Froot Loops

By ‘Editing’ Plant Genes, Companies Avoid Regulation

Monsanto And Farmer Suicides

Suicide rates among Indian farmers have skyrocketed thanks to Monsanto, whose viselike contracts have trapped thousands of farmers in cycles of debt and poverty ever since its GMO crops were introduced to the country in 2002. According to the Center For Human Rights and Global Justice, in 2009 alone 17,638 Indian farmers committed suicide, averaging one suicide every 30 minutes.

The biggest factor sending Indian farmers into deeper and deeper debt are the absurd royalties that Monsanto charges when farmers use “renewal” seeds, which are seeds gathered from a previous harvest. The practice of saving seeds to plant the following year is a worldwide, ancient tradition––one that farmers have always relied on to economically produce enough food.

Join us in demanding that Monsanto stop charging royalties on crops produced from renewal seeds!

But because Monsanto’s seeds are patented, the corporation charges royalties for crops produced from the same genetic material as the original seed, slamming struggling farmers with mounting fees they can’t afford. In India, more and more farmers are viewing suicide as the only way out of Monsanto’s financial trap.

Sam Adler-Bell|watchdog.net|1/29/15

USDA Moving Toward Less Oversight, Regulation Regarding New GE Trees

Without regulatory oversight or public consultation, the USDA allows for the commercial production of a new GE pine variety. Yet opponents warn that the implications of introducing this GE product are unknown, and unknowable, without long-term studies.

WASHINGTON — Without regulatory oversight or public consultation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has given the go-ahead to a biotech company to start introducing a genetically engineered (GE) pine tree that it has developed.

The green light came in the form of a letter dated Aug. 28 and signed by Michael Firko, director of the Biotechnology Regulatory Services under the USDA. This letter — and the green light it gives to ArborGen Inc. — was made public by Dr. Doug Gurian-Sherman, a biologist with the Center for Food Safety.

Noting that this may be the biggest environmental regulatory shift in the United States since the early 1990s, Gurian-Sherman asserts that the USDA “is deliberately thumbing its nose at the public by refusing to enact the regulations it has been authorized to use.”

“As recently as January 13, GE Loblolly pine, a native tree important in ecosystems throughout the southeast, was given a free pass—even though its possible impacts on the environment and the many species that depend on the tree is still largely unknown,” Gurian-Sherman writes.

ArborGen Inc. had sent a letter to the USDA’s Biotechnology Regulatory Services on Sept. 14, 2012, “to confirm that a loblolly pine with increased wood density developed without the use of any plant pest components is not subject to” Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) regulations.

Indeed, the letter states that the company’s GE loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) would not be considered a “regulated article” because “no plant pests are being used in developing these new varieties, the recipient organism itself is not a plant pest, and there is no reason to believe that any components used to develop these new varieties would make loblolly pine become a plant pest.”

The GE trees are being developed with a biolistic method of genetic transformation, using genes that increase wood density from the Monterey pine native to California. The marker gene was isolated from E. coli, a fully classified organism and not considered a plant pest.

The ArborGen letter also explains that increasing wood density is “a valuable economic trait for the pulp and paper industry, the solid wood products industry, as well as bioenergy applications.”

Read more

Christine Graef|February 16, 2015

Energy

9,200 Solar Jobs in Arizona Despite Resistance from Big Utilities

Few states in the U.S. seem more ideal for solar energy generation than Arizona. With close to 300 or even more sunny or partly sunny days on average each year in most of the state, there’s no lack of the essential ingredient.

And the Arizona Solar Jobs Census released by The Solar Foundation yesterday shows that solar is providing jobs by the thousands in the state, with a total of nearly 9,20o including 600 created in the last year. That puts it third in the nation, behind California—by far the national leader with 54,700 jobs—and Massachusetts, with 9,400 jobs. Arizona solar employers believe the number could climb to more than 11,000 by the end of 2015.

“This is a welcome reversal from 2013, when we found solar employment in the state down by approximately 1,200 workers,” said Andrea Luecke, president and executive director of The Solar Foundation. “While there is much to be desired in terms of support for increased use of the technology, the Arizona solar industry is optimistic, expecting to increase the number of jobs by more than 21 percent over the next twelve months.”

“Today’s findings confirm what we know all along: solar is here and is ready to power our homes and our economy,” said Brandon Cheshire, founder and director of production at the Phoenix-based SunHarvest Solar. “With enormous clean energy potential, the growth in solar jobs in Arizona demonstrates the vast potential we have to transition from coal to clean energy here in the Valley of the Sun. Rather than putting up barriers to this important progress, utilities should move forward with a clean energy transition.”

There’s the rub—the barriers. The Solar Foundation’s Arizona Solar Jobs Census paints a picture of enormous potential. According to Environment Arizona, Arizona has the potential to produce more than 320 times the state’s energy needs from solar power, including rooftop installations. But in the several years, the state’s major power company Arizona Public Service Company (APS) has been lobbying state legislators and regulators to penalize those who install rooftop solar photovoltaic panels. In November 2013, the state granted it a small surcharge of 70 cents per kilowatt hour on solar owners, less than it had been seeking.

“In 2013, APS led the assault to weaken Arizona’s net metering policies by proposing a new $50-$100 surcharge on rooftop solar installations in the state,” said the Sierra Club. “The proposed solar fee was opposed by a diverse coalition of organizations including conservative organizations, clean energy businesses, environmental advocates and many other groups.”

In addition, the state’s second largest utility company, the Salt River Project, is currently proposing a package of rate changes that could increase the utility bills of solar customers by about $50 per month. APS has also been advocating for a property tax on leased solar panels, which comprise about 85 percent of the state’s new solar installation and can make solar panels more affordable for the average homeowner.

“With the growth of leasing programs that allow building owners to acquire rooftop solar at little to no upfront cost and without ownership responsibilities, rooftop solar is booming and utilities’ lost revenues are becoming noticeable,” wrote GreenTechMedia.

The Solar Foundation’s report points to legislative and regulatory uncertainty as one of the things that could impede the growth of solar.

“A recurring theme in the National Solar Jobs Census report series is the importance of policy stability at the federal and state levels,” said The Solar Foundation. “With the wide variety and ever-evolving nature of the policy changes facing it, one would be hard pressed to find a better solar-specific example of the importance of such stability than Arizona. Whatever the ultimate outcome of the various proposals currently under consideration at the state and local government and utility levels, companies across the state would receive at least a small benefit from having these issues laid to rest once and for all, providing them with the policy certainty they require to plan for future business and employment growth.”

Community and environmental activists have pointed to the growth of solar providing great opportunities for the state to transition to clean energy from APS’s Cholla coal-fired plant near Joseph City. The company has already announced plans to phase out three units at Cholla by the mid 2020s, including one it will phase out next year. But they’ve indicated that they will move to natural gas rather than clean, renewable technologies.

“The bottom line is the health and sustainability of our planet,” said Doug Bland, executive director of Arizona Interfaith Power and Light. “The bottom line is the future of our children. The bottom line is how quickly we can break our addition to fossil fuels. The bottom line is about making as much renewable energy possible available to as many as possible as soon as possible. Optimizing renewable energy is not just an economic issue; it’s a moral issue.”

Anastasia Pantsios|February 13, 2015

Look Out Utility Companies: Tesla is Disrupting More Than Just the Auto Industry

Elon Musk, founder of Tesla Motors, has been leading the way in innovation in the auto industry for more than a decade. The Model S made waves at this year’s International Auto Show. Last September, Tesla announced it will build the world’s largest battery factory just outside of Reno, Nevada. The company is calling it a “gigafactory,” which will produce batteries for cars making their all-electric cars more affordable. But the company also has plans for new products in solar and in-home energy storage.

Tesla will be the most significant competition utility companies have seen in 100 years, according to Adam Allington of Marketplace. Allington spoke with J.B. Straubel, Tesla’s chief technology officer, who says, “In a single factory we’re doubling the worldwide capacity to manufacture lithium-ion batteries.” That will be huge for Tesla’s all-electric fleet, but the company also plans to develop batteries for use with solar power generation.

In places such as California where solar is becoming commonplace, there is a huge demand for these batteries. “We sign up approximately one new customer every minute of the workday,” Will Craven, director of public affairs at California-based SolarCity, told Allington. Much of the excess energy harnessed by solar panels is returned to the power grid, Cravens says. Homeowners have no control over where that excess energy goes.

But now, in a partnership with SolarCity, Tesla plans to use rooftop solar panels fitted with Tesla’s batteries to allow customers to keep that energy in-house. That way, homeowners can use that energy when they want and how they want. It’s what investors call a disruptive technology and it puts Tesla in direct competition with utility companies.

“Stationary storage, or backup storage, is really being considered the ‘Holy Grail’ of renewable electricity generation,” Ben Kallo, an analyst with the Robert W. Baird financial services firm, told Marketplace. With the ability to store energy, renewable energy sources can compete head-to-head with utility companies for customers, according to Kallo.

Musk has never been afraid of the competition. Tesla released its patents in an unprecedented move to advance electric vehicles. When asked at the International Auto Show if he was worried that so many other car companies were going electric, he said no. The future is in electric vehicles. “Forward-minded utilities might look at Tesla’s business model as an opportunity,” says Kallo. “Energy-storage technology could be used to build capacity in their existing grids and also to build new infrastructure for battery-powered cars and homes.”

Cole Mellino|February 10, 2015

First Country in the World Dumps Fossil Fuels As Divestment Movement Heats Up

Back in 2012, Bill McKibben with fellow activists including Naomi Klein, Winona LaDuke, Josh Fox and Reverend Lennox Yearwood began a nationwide tour to promote fossil fuel divestment—that is, selling off your shares in fossil fuel companies–in an effort to combat climate change.

With action in Congress impossible, McKibben saw college campuses—known for being laboratories of democracy—as ground zero in the campaign for divestment. With his ‘Do the Math’ campaign in sold-out concert halls across America, McKibben and others were able to launch Fossil Free, an international network of divestment campaigns. It’s a project of the larger organization 350.org. Flash forward three years and the movement has made impressive strides.

Fossil Free lists divestment commitments from 24 colleges and universities, 37 cities, 2 counties, 69 religious institutions, 30 foundations and 13 other institutions—most notably the Rockefeller Brothers Fund last September. That’s right, the organization endowed by the co-founder of the Standard Oil Company has committed to fossil fuel divestment. Additionally, the international Invest-Divest coalition announced last September divestment commitments for $45 billion in assets from nearly 700 financial institutions.

In January, Goddard College in Vermont, University of Bedfordshire in the UK, California Institute of the Arts, University of Maine and Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden joined the growing number of colleges and universities that think it’s wrong to profit from the destruction of the planet.

The top 500 or so university endowments hold nearly $400 billion. “Add in the big state pension funds and church, synagogue and mosque investments, and we’re well on our way” to threatening the “viability of the fossil fuel industry’s business model,” according to Fossil Free. Even if we only move “one percent of the $400 billion in university endowments towards sustainable alternatives,” that’s $4 billion worth of new investments in renewable energy, says the rapidly growing nonprofit.

The United Methodist Church has now joined the more than 60 religious organizations taking a stand. The church’s pension fund will screen coal from its investments. “Our denomination is on the front lines of climate change mitigation and recovery efforts worldwide,” said Reverend Jenny Phillips, coordinator of Fossil Free UMC. “It doesn’t make sense for our pensions and ministries to depend on the flourishing of the companies that are wreaking this havoc.” And now, Fossil Free is urging Pope Francis to divest, as well.

February brought even more excitement for the global divestment campaign. Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global reported yesterday that a total of 114 companies had been dumped because of their risk to the climate, according to The Guardian. While the wealth fund moved billions of dollars in assets out of shares in fossil fuel companies, it still has billions invested in other fossil fuel companies.

Still, as the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, its move to divest has a large impact. Here’s a tweet by Bill McKibben yesterday sharing the news:

Cole Mellino|February 10, 2015

Sarah Palin: “Dying caribou have to take one for the team so we can expand oil pipelines”

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) said this week that caribou that died as a result of oil pipeline expansions would have to “take one for the team.”

According to Forbes’ Christopher Helman, Palin delighted members of the oil and gas industry in a speech to the North American Prospect Expo (NAPE) in Texas on Thursday.

She recalled to the crowd that what she missed most about being Alaska’s governor was making decisions about oil and gas exploration.

“Energy is my baby,” Palin explained, adding that oil and gas could “feed and fuel a hungry nation with what God has created for man’s responsible use.”

With the recent drop in the price of oil, Palin said that now “is the time to plan for more drilling and more production.”

But she said that President Barack Obama was making that difficult with EPA regulations and by refusing to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.

“The punitive aspect of it is to really stick it to the American people,” Palin insisted.

She argued that the president “is not for American energy independence” because he refused to expand drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

“All we need to explore and develop ANWR is a 2,000 acre swath. Alaska is 400 million acres when you consider our water and land. A postage stamp in the middle of a football field. That’s all the land we need to develop.”

“The administration is not understanding the inherent link between energy and security and energy and prosperity,” Palin opined. “He’s rewarding the environmentalists who are extreme in saying there would be environmental harm in developing ANWR.”

She told the crowd that concerns over the “moose and caribou” were blown out of proportion because the Trans-Alaska Pipeline “has not been adverse at all.”

In fact, “the animals mate under the pipeline,” the former Republican vice presidential candidate remarked, admitting, “I haven’t actually seen it.”

But even if some animals had to die for oil and gas exploration, Palin said that it was an acceptable risk.

“[I]f it is to hurt one caribou, then that one caribou should take one for the team and allow the rest of the country to benefit,” she quipped.

As for 2016, Palin predicted that Republicans would win the presidential election because the party had a “deep bench” of candidates.

“I don’t underestimate the wisdom of the people,” she said. “Enough is enough for this hopey-changey stuff that didn’t work.”

“It’s a psychological, emotional type thing. Our young people are losing the sense of what it means to be America,” Palin concluded. “What we will do on our lands? How we will responsibly develop God-given resources for our use?”

[The qualifier here is “responsibly”.]

Worst Fracking Wastewater Spill in North Dakota Leaks 3 Million Gallons Into River

Three million gallons of brine, a salty, toxic byproduct of oil and natural gas production—also known as fracking wastewater—spilled from a leaking pipe in western North Dakota. State officials say it’s the worst spill of its kind since the fracking boom began in the state.

The spill was reported 17 days ago when Operator Summit Midstream Partners found a toxic leak of salty drilling waste from a pipeline in the heart of the Bakken oil boom.

Officials say there’s no immediate threat to human health but as Marketplace’s Scott Tong reports yesterday, there could be trouble ahead. He interviews Duke geochemist Avner Vengosh who has sampled frack wastewater and has found that “North Dakota’s is 10 times saltier than the ocean, that endangers aquatic life and trees, and it has ammonium and radioactive elements.”

Tong also interviewed Hannah Wiseman, law professor at Florida State, who says the disposal of fracking wastewater is under-regulated.

“A typical well can spit about 1,000 gallons a day,” says Tong. “Some of the water is recycled back into fracking, stored in pits or used to de-ice roads. It’s also injected deep underground, which has been known to cause earthquakes.”

Wiseman shares that fracking wastewater issues also exist in Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas.

Stefanie Spear|January 23, 2015

Local government, FPL fight over water for Turkey Point canals

Miami-Dade County and the city of Miami stepped into the fray over Florida Power & Light’s problem-plagued Turkey Point cooling canals this week, arguing that the aging system is stealing too much water from Everglades restoration and leaving behind a trail of salt threatening drinking water supplies.

In petitions filed with the state Department of Environmental Protection, the two governments also contend the new state plan to manage the canals violates both water regulations and rules for managing nuclear power plants.

The plan “purports to order FPL to take certain actions to fix its cooling canal system, but DEP’s ‘remedy’ would, at best, allow those water quality violations to continue indefinitely,” the county’s petition said.

By adding fresher water to increasingly hot and salty canals rather than replacing the canal water, FPL risks worsening conditions for the entire area, according to the petitions by the governments, Tropical Audubon and rock mining company Atlantic Civil.

Related

“If they don’t flush out all this stuff, it’s not going to operate properly. And we’re saying no way are you going to flush out this pollution to our wellfields and Biscayne Bay,” said Tropical Audubon executive director Laura Reynolds. “They [expanded] their power plant and went too far.”

FPL said it is trying to fix problems and accused the groups of “throwing up roadblocks that do absolutely nothing to solve the problem,” said spokesman Greg Brostowicz. “We see this as… procedural maneuvers, or a delay tactic, and they don’t benefit FPL customers, citizens or the environment in any way.”

The canals, a 168-mile-long loop, were built in 1970 to act as a radiator for the plant’s two nuclear reactors and licensed as an industrial wastewater facility. Canal water was supposed to stay put, even after the plant expanded in 2009. But in August 2013, the South Florida Water Management District found the canal water – heavier and saltier than nearby seawater – had spread underground, threatening inland wellfields. The district ordered FPL to come up with a plan to stop the spread.

The utility’s solution was to start pumping up to 14 million gallons of water daily from the Florida aquifer and nearby canals into the cooling system.

But over the summer, temperatures soared and conditions worsened: a festering algae bloom spread and the canal water heated up, routinely climbing above 100 degrees. At 104 degrees, the nuclear units must power down. FPL made an emergency request to draw up to 100 million gallons a day to freshen the system.

In December, when DEP approved the new management plan two days before Christmas, local officials say they were caught off-guard.

The water management district, which has long monitored conditions and found fault with FPL’s calculations for fixing the advancing underground saltwater plume, had been removed from the plan and stripped of oversight. Tropical Audubon, which objects to the removal, argued the move means the district will never get to weigh in on the calculations. The county contends the state does not have the authority to “unilaterally” eliminate regulatory agencies.

Read more

Jenny Staletovich|MiamiHerald.com

Biobatteries: Taking Battery Technology to the Next Level

There’s a good chance that the electric battery of the future will have biobased aspects to them — or may even be powered by a biofuel. How’s that again?

If you’ve been following the long-standing competition between electric and fuel-powered cars, you’ll know the basics. That electric motors have better efficiency than internal combustion engines, but electric cars have short ranges because batteries lack the energy density of liquid fuels, are heavy, and expensive, and take a long time to re-charge.

The current favorite among advanced battery technologies is the lithium-ion battery, which can produce a real-world range just north of 200 miles for a Tesla S sedan, but the Tesla S checks in at 4,600-4,900 pounds, and costs between $70,000 and $100,000.

So, we have a ways to go before all-electrics dominate car sales.

The Biobased Pathway to Batteries with 3x Today’s Top Efficiency

One battery technology that may prove a game-changer is a lithium-air battery. Going back to the theory of the battery, you get electron current flow because at the positive end of a battery you are creating free electrons through reduction, and they are flowing out of the negative end through oxidation. No need to go through the specifics — just focus on oxidation, meaning you need oxygen, which batteries usually are loaded with. And oxygen adds weight.

Hence the lithium-air battery. Acts in many ways like a Li-ion battery, only it draws its oxygen from the air. Hence it weighs less, and is more efficient. Up to 3X what a Li-ion battery can achieve — that’s the promise seen in the labs.

Solving Challenges in Lithium-air, Limitations in Li-ion

The biobased angle in this? Bio is solving three daunting challenges in making lithium-air a reality — stability, rate of discharge and recharge, and the cost of manufacturing.

The technology employed is not entirely unlike the process by which an sea-based organism builds a shell. From clams to abalone, they have a metabolic process by which they extract calcium from seawater, and use the calcium to accumulate a pattered structure.

A team led by Angela Belcher at MIT — who had a previous technological breakthrough that is currently at the heart of Siluria’s technology, to mention one — uses a modified virus known as M13, which extracts manganese from water and accumulates manganese oxide into an 80 nanomater-wide structure known as a nanowire, which can carry a current.

As you know, shells have a rough texture on the outside and a large surface area because of that texture, and M13’s nanowires have the same qualities. Bottom line, that dramatically increases the charge and discharge rate — and M13 works under normal room tempetature conditions. Plus, they are more stable than nanowires produced through chemical instead of an organic process.

The Biobased Pathway to 10X Efficiency

Far beyond what lithium-air batteries can achieve, there are the efficiencies possible with fuel cells. Now, the typical fuel cell uses stored hydrogen, and in the process of mixing it with oxygen drawn from the air, produces water and an electron flow. It’s just about Nirvana when it comes to engine efficiency and green appeal, because you have electric motor efficiencies and the only emission is water.

But there’s the problem of hydrogen. It’s difficult to store very much of it in a confined space, it’s explosive, and it’s generally produced at economical rates only from petroleum. Whoops, there goes range, stability and green appeal. But help is on the way.

The solution is the organic world’s favorite energy source. You guessed it, sugar. Yes, glucose. It’s far more energy dense than hydrogen on a joules/cc basis, it’s stable, widely available and green.

Now, how do you get electric flow from sugar? That’s where fuel cell technology comes in.

A team at Virginia Tech recently demonstrated a small-scale practical system that works as a fuel cell that uses enzymes to extract electricity from glucose. In all, 13 enzymes, and an air intake. The headlines from a report in Nature Communications are:

24 electrons per glucose unit of maltodextrin…a maximum power output of 0.8 mW cm−2 and a maximum current density of 6 mA cm−2, which are far higher than the values for systems based on immobilized enzymes…Enzymatic fuel cells containing a 15 percent (wt/v) maltodextrin solution have an energy-storage density of 596 Ah kg−1. which is one order of magnitude higher than that of lithium-ion batteries.

The Bottom Line

As seen in the chart below, the energy densities far outstrip li-ion technologies, and only methanol fuel cells are showing a higher energy density. So, you have methanol or sugar as a pathway to producing on-board electricity for a future generation of vehicles.

Now, isn’t that an elegant solution? After all, the dirty secret of electric cars is that, since they generally charge up in location dependent on natural gas or coal for power gen, they are really a highly-efficient from of natgas or coal-powered vehicle. It’s not going to be all that renewable until there’s a lot more renewable power generation in the mix.

It’s early days. We haven’t seen costs yet, at scale — or a manufacturing process developed. Or outputs that would run a car. Let’s call it “early, early, early days”.

But for now, here’s the green outcome — producing electricity from sugars. Which in turn can be produced as a low-cost, energy-dense storage material from CO2, sunlight and water. As companies like Proterro are now demonstrating using bacteria to do the work, or as Mother Nature does every day with sugarcane, corn, grasses and the like.

That would be energy-efficient, emissions-negative, and really cool.

Jim Lane|Biofuels Digest|February 06, 2015  

This article was originally published on Biofuels Digest and was republished with permission.

Scientists Say Small Fracking Earthquakes Could Lead to Major Ones

Over the last several years clusters of earthquakes have been occurring in places that rarely saw significant earthquake activity, including Texas, Oklahoma and Ohio. Those earthquakes have been connected to the wastewater injection techniques used in fracking, which researchers say activate hidden fault lines. It’s referred to as “induced seismicity.”

While most of those earthquakes have been minor—in most cases too small to feel and most under magnitude 3 on the Richter Scale—they could be getting much larger according to scientist William Ellsworth of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

“The more small earthquakes we have it just simply increases the odds we’re going to have a more damaging event,” he said. “To some degree, we’ve dodged a bullet in Oklahoma.”

He added that we shouldn’t “expect a large earthquake tomorrow,” but that it could happen at any time. Ellsworth presented the still-unpublished research at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Ellsworth has been warning about the danger of fracking-induced earthquakes for several years. In a 2013 paper, he wrote, “Human-induced earthquakes have become an important topic of political and scientific discussion, owing to the concern that these events may be responsible for widespread damage and an overall increase in seismicity. Earthquakes caused by injection have become a focal point, as new drilling and well-completion technologies enable the extraction of oil and gas from previously unproductive formations.”

It’s not controversial to say that this increase in earthquakes is caused by fracking, but the usual justification has been that they are minor, unfelt and not of sufficient magnitude to cause damage. But Oklahoma provides a dramatic example of how quakes have increased size and destructiveness. According to the USGS, the state had just two quakes greater than magnitude 3 between 1978 and 2008. In 2014, it had 145. That includes 20 with a magnitude of more than 4. In November, a series of three quakes, one reaching 4.2 magnitude, caused some structural damage such as cracks in walls. And a 5.7 magnitude earthquake hit Prague, Oklahoma in 2011, destroying 14 homes in the rural area.

“The rate of earthquakes in Oklahoma has increased remarkably since October 2013—by about 50 percent—significantly increasing the chance for a damaging magnitude 5.5 or greater quake in central Oklahoma,” said the USGS.

The government agency said, “They do not seem to be due to typical, random fluctuations in natural seismicity rates. Significant changes in both the background rate of events and earthquake triggers needed to have occurred in order to explain the increases in seismicity, which is not typically observed when modeling natural earthquakes. The analysis suggests that a likely contributing factor to the increase in earthquakes is triggering by wastewater injected into deep geologic formations.”

Ellsworth isn’t the first scientist to warn that fracking earthquakes could be getting larger. In May at the annual meeting of the Seismological Society of America, several scientists suggested that future quakes could be larger than anticipated.

“Induced seismicity complicates the seismic hazard equation,” Gail Atkinson, a professor at the University of Western Ontario and one of Canada’s foremost experts on seismic hazard, said at the meeting. She said that larger quakes in the future might overwhelm structures such as dams and nuclear power plants built for areas of low seismicity. “There is a real dearth of regulations. We need a clear understanding of the likely induced seismicity in response to new activity.”

Anastasia Pantsios|February 17, 2015

Sanilac County, Michigan may get third wind farm

A third wind farm may be sprouting in Sanilac County soon.

But plans have yet to officially planted.

Invenergy of Chicago has been collecting property easements since 2004 in Argyle, Lamotte and Moore townships for the purpose of building a wind farm.

Invenergy plans to spread its wind turbines across 25,000 acres of private land. The number of wind turbines planned and the construction time line has not yet been determined, according to a press release from Invenergy.
The project will produce 10 permanent operating jobs and 100 construction jobs.

George Lasecki, Moore Township zoning administrator, said the township still has a ways to go before work can begin.

“An ordinance allowing or not allowing wind turbines doesn’t even exist for our township currently,” Lasecki said. “We are still researching the ordinance, we have to finish writing it, and then it will have to be approved.”

Lasecki said Invenergy has been acquiring land in the county for the past decade. He said if no ordinance exists, though, then the company can’t move forward. “It’s all tight-lipped right now,” he said. “We don’t know even know where the parcels of land that the turbines would be built on are located.

Right now we are just working on the ordinance.” In Argyle Township, the process is the same.

“Right now we are working on a wind turbine ordinance, since we don’t have one,” said Edward Pfaff, Argyle Township clerk. “The company has p.m. told us a fair amount of property owners signed up in the township, but I don’t know who or where the parcels would be.”

Carolyn Martin, 47, of Moore Township, said she wouldn’t mind the wind farms.

“I’ve seen the other wind farms around the county, and I don’t mind them,” she said. “I wouldn’t care if they came either way.”

Within Sanilac County, two wind farms already have populated Delaware, Marion and Minden townships with more than 70 wind turbines. Exelon Corp. owns one and DTE Energy owns the second.

“In 2010 was when we first started doing the permitting and working with Exelon. A year later DTE came,” said Terry O’Connor, Minden Township supervisor. “In 2012, final construction wrapped up, so we’ve had them for a few years, but we do get some complaints.”

O’Connor said the main complaints are that the windmills are too noisy or cause shadow flickering. “During the day when the sun hits a certain spot, the turbines will cause shadow flickering on some houses,” he said.

“But the company is very accommodating. For those specific residents that complain, they come out and set it so that the wind turbine shuts off for a few minutes during the day when the shadow flickering would happen.”

O’Connor said for noisy turbines the companies have installed low noise mode software. They can slow the turbine or turn the pitch of the blade to try to reduce the noise level.

“For some people, the wind turbines are an intrusion,” O’Connor said. “Some people have moved to our area to get the peace and quiet that a rural community offers, and the turbines take away f rom that. Our township is definitely not like it used to be, and that’s a problem. But change is constant, and we try to make it work.”

Marion Township Supervisor Arnold McVittie said the response in Marion Township has been mostly positive.

“At first people didn’t like the looks of the wind turbines, but pretty soon you don’t even know they are there,” McVittie said.

O’Connor said there are financial benefits to wind farms.

“For us, the tax revenue was a big plus,” he said. “Minden Township was the lowest valued township in the county, and the wind turbines increased our taxable value.”

O’Connor said the taxable value for Minden Township increased from $18 million to $71 million in the first year. Minden Township has about 25 wind turbines.

“The taxable value decreases over time as the value of the wind turbines depreciate, though,” O’Connor said. “Last year, our taxable value dropped to $61 million. It will continue to drop until it plateaus, but even once it hits its leveling point, it will still provide us with more taxable value than before we had the wind turbines.”

O’Connor said the property owners in the township who agreed to have a wind turbine built on their property also receive money. “Landowners with wind turbines on their property get a yearly payment from the companies,” he said. “But they give up certain freedoms in exchange. The wind turbine takes up about half an acre of their land that they could use to farm, and they also have to have access roads on their property now for workers to access the turbines.”

Nicole Hayden|Times Herald

License for Fermi 3 plant moves forward

FRENCHTOWN TOWNSHIP — The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s staff has recommended approval of an operating license for a proposed addition to DTE Energy Co.’s Fermi nuclear plant in southeastern Michigan.

The NRC staff said the Detroit-based utility should get a combined operating license for the Fermi 3 plant, the Monroe News reported, and a construction license also is included for the reactor.

Guy Cerullo, manager of nuclear communications at Fermi, said that if the 40-year operating license is granted it would give DTE more options when considering energy alternatives. The company is closing some coal-fired plants in the coming years and replacing them with natural gas plants.
“We have not announced or committed to building a unit at this time,” he said of Fermi 3. “We’re keeping our options open.”

The existing Fermi 2 plant is in Monroe County’s Frenchtown Township, near Monroe, and provides 1,170 megawatts. The proposed Fermi 3 plant would provide 1,560 megawatts, and DTE said it could help meet tighter carbon emissions regulations.

“Nuclear power is the only large scale, reliable base load source of energy that doesn’t emit greenhouse gases,” Cerullo said.

The Fermi 1 plant has been offline since 1972.

The application for Fermi 3 was submitted in 2008. Before making a decision, the commission must consider two petitions against the license.

Associated Press

A Forest of Power: Solar Energy-Harvesting Trees

Scientists at VTT have developed a prototype of a tree that harvests solar energy from its surroundings — whether indoors or outdoors — stores it and turns it into electricity to power small devices such as mobile phones, humidifiers, thermometers and LED light bulbs. The technology can also be used to harvest kinetic energy from the environment.

The “leaves” of the tree are flexible, patterned solar panels made using a technique developed by VTT on a printing process. The leaves form an electronic system complete with wiring that conduct energy into a converter that feeds electricity to devices such as mobile phones or sensors analysing the environment.
The tree trunk is made with 3D technology by exploiting wood-based biomaterials VTT has developed.
VTT’s technologies create endless opportunities for applications involving different kinds of electronics regarding lighting and energy harvesting, for example.
The more solar panels there are in a tree, the more energy it can harvest.

Watch the video:

Olli Ernvall|VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland |February 16, 2015

Third oil train in 72 hours derails in West Virginia

On February 16, Fayette County, West Virginia, was rocked when an oil train, loaded with Bakken crude, derailed and exploded near the town of Mt. Carbon. The local water supply was contaminated, a house burned to the ground, and residents were evacuated.

This was the third oil train derailment in just 72 hours – trains also derailed in Alberta and Ontario, Canada.

At least one tank car spewed oil into the local drinking water supply. Two water-treatment plants downstream closed intakes and halted operations as a precaution, and residents were urged to conserve water.

Right now, the Obama administration is drafting new safety standards for oil trains, but the fact is no oil train is safe. The president must stop these trains before the next inevitable disaster strikes. 

Oil companies are moving volatile crude through our backyards and over waterways in trains that are so notoriously unsafe the National Transportation Safety Board has declared them an “imminent hazard” to the public.4 These trains aren’t just a public safety nightmare – the oil they carry is some of the most toxic and climate-torching crude on the planet.
But despite the risks to our lives and the environment, the oil and rail industry has spent months fighting against critical safety measures like lowering train speeds. Their excuse? They cost too much.

Last year, we saw a record number of oil trains derailing and exploding across the country. So far, 2015 is starting with more of the same. Yesterday, it was a freezing day in quiet small town in West Virginia. Where’s next – Philadelphia, Seattle, Chicago, or even your hometown?

It’s time the president stop allowing the oil and rail industry to gamble with our lives and finally put a stop to oil trains before the next disaster turns deadly.

Matt Krogh|ForestEthics|2/1715

Derailed oil train burns for 2nd day

Thick, black smoke rose for a second day Tuesday from a 109 car train hauling North Dakota crude oil that derailed Monday along a snowy West Virginia river.

The derailment ignited several tank cars, burning down a house and prompting water treatment plants to shut down after at least one tanker landed in the river, authorities said.

About 2,400 residents around Adena Village, near Mount Carbon, were evacuated as a precaution, Fayette County deputies told WCHS-TV. Shelters shelters were set up at a school and recreation center.

One person was treated for possible breathing problems, but no other injuries were reported. Officials said they would let the fires burn themselves out, WCHS-TV reported.

The Federal Railroad Administration’s acting administrator, Sarah Feinberg, and chief safety officer, Robert Lauby, will survey the site, U.S. Department of Transportation spokeswoman Suzanne Emmerling told The Charleston Gazette.

At least one tanker from the CSX train tumbled into the Kanawha River south of Charleston and was leaking Bakken shale oil, which was headed to a refinery in Yorktown, Virginia, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s office told the Gazette. WSAZ-TV, citing emergency dispatchers, said several of the 33,000-gallon cars were in the river, and some were leaking.

Two water-treatment plants downstream closed intakes and halted operations as a precaution, and residents were urged to conserve water. One of the plants resumed normal operations Tuesday.

Tomblin declared a state of emergency in Kanawha and Fayette counties.

Michael Winter|USA TODAY

[How many more trains have to explode and burn, with perhaps loss of life, before authorities realize that this is an unsafe mode of transport?]

Trains Hauling Crude Oil Across North America Just Keep Exploding

More evacuations, fireballs, and oil spills.

A train hauling more than 100 tankers from North Dakota’s booming oil fields derailed during a snowstorm on Monday in West Virginia. The accident sparked massive explosions that prompted the evacuation of two nearby towns, and an oil spill that threatened the water supply of thousands of local residents. The train was heading to Yorktown, Virginia, and came off its tracks 33 miles southeast of Charleston, West Virginia. A state of emergency was declared.

Oil spilled into the Kanawha River, and one home was destroyed during the inferno that continued for 10 hours after the derailment, according to CNN. One person was injured. Dramatic footage shows fire and smoke billowing through the snowy sky:

Bakken crude is regarded as potentially more flammable than traditional crude, thus posing an increased hazard. And since the derailment of a train hauling Bakken crude killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, in July 2013, the type of tankers involved in these accidents has become the subject of intense scrutiny. Both Canada and the United States have called for tougher safety standards, including upgrading the tankers. In mid-January, Canada announced it would take older tankers, known as the “DOT-111″, off the network years sooner than the United States will, putting the two countries at odds over increased safety measures on the deeply integrated system.

Here’s a diagram of the weaknesses in the older DOT-111 model tanker, which is still in operation across the network:

The train operator, CSX, has said that the train was not pulling DOT-111 tankers. Instead, the company says it was using a tougher, newer model, the “CPC 1232″, according to Reuters.

But even newer cars like these are evidently not invincible: when a 105-car CSX train derailed in Lynchburg, Va., last April, a fiery CPC-1232 tanker careened into the James River and spilled 30,000 gallons of Bakken crude oil. And Washington state regulators are investigating CPC-1232 tankers, after a BNSF train carrying Bakken crude oil across Idaho and Washington in January was found to have leaking cars. The CPC-1232 also doesn’t quite live up to the US regulators’ proposed rules to upgrade the system, according to Bloomberg, which reports that:

The draft rule also would require that new cars be built with steel shells that are 9/16th of an inch thick, people familiar with the plan said. The walls of the current cars, both DOT-111s and the newer CPC-1232 models, are 7/16th of an inch thick.

The West Virginia accident on Monday is the second major derailment in three days across North America’s booming oil-by-rail network. A Canadian National Railway train detailed northern Ontario, Canada, on Saturday night, again resulting in an inferno and an oil spill: 29 railway cars in the 100-car train derailed. Seven caught fire, according to CTV.

James West|Feb. 17, 2015

Senate bills targeting utilities, PSC win committee support

TALLAHASSEE – A Senate committee gave support Tuesday for two measures that seek to make the Public Service Commission more consumer-friendly and to guard electricity customers from some utility billing practices.

One bill, by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, would prohibit utilities from charging customers higher rates for higher usage as a result of extended billing periods, and would limit how much utilities can charge their customers for deposits.

The bill also would require the PSC to hold public hearings on rates in utilities’ service areas and to stream them live on the Internet; require PSC members to receive ethics training; and require anyone who lobbies the PSC nominating council to register. The council sends PSC nominees to the governor.

A second bill, by Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, would limit the number of days a utility can extend a customers bill to seven.

Meanwhile, some consumers aren’t waiting on Tallahassee to act. They are taking matters into their own hands.

An unusual coalition of solar proponents on Tuesday announced a growing number of backers for a ballot initiative to allow those who generate electricity from the sun to sell the power directly to other consumers.

Almost two-dozen organizations have banded together from across the political spectrum – tea party and Christian Coalition conservatives, the Florida Retail Federation, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, the Sierra Club, Clean Water Action among others – for what they call an opportunity for consumers to choose how they get their power.

Announcement of the growing coalition came at a press conference during which the group detailed the status of its petition drive. After about a month, the coalition said it has generated 100,000 signatures for the petition drive, a significant milestone toward the 683,149 signatures needed to get the petition on the 2016 election ballot.

“The positive response has been overwhelming,” said Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “One thousand plus people are saying they want to help.”

Much of the public and political angst stems from a series of troubles with Duke Energy Florida and its failed nuclear projects that are costing consumers $3.2 billion.

In addition, the Tampa Bay Times detailed last summer how Duke added weeks to some customers’ bills, not only increasing their total bills but in some cases bumping them into higher rates. That’s because Duke increases customer charges after usage exceeds 1,000 kilowatt hours.

Also, businesses, including churches, were put on rate tiers that were higher than necessary. And some businesses received demands for security deposits that were as much as five times higher than their average monthly usage.

“It’s probably hard to understand the number of e-mails, the public input that we get on this,” Latvala told the committee. He said while some utilities might be improving their service and practices, Duke Energy “has gotten worse. That’s why I decided it’s time to act.”

To ensure that customers get more of the protections they need, Latvala said he also wanted tougher requirements for the commission.

“The (term) public service in Public Service Commission should remind everyone why they’re there,” he said.

Ivan Penn|Staff Writer|Tampa Bay|Times|February 17, 2015

Gas Burned Off at Oil Production Sites Is Equivalent to Emissions From 70 Million Cars 

It’s like burning banknotes. Latest statistics from the World Bank (WB) indicate that the amount of gas flared each year is enough energy to supply electricity to several small countries or many millions of households.

The flaring of 140 billion cubic metres (bcm) a year releases large quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere—and that is not only bad news for the climate, but also for human health.

The WB estimates that flaring results in total annual global carbon dioxide emissions of 350 million tones. Eliminating the burning of gas at hundreds of oil production sites round the world would be the equivalent, in terms of emissions savings, of taking 70 million cars off the road.

Flared gas is often contaminated with toxic compounds and cancer causing carcinogens such as benzene. And in Nigeria’s Niger Delta—the country’s main oil production area and a region where flaring has been going on for several decades—villagers complain of skin diseases and breathing problems.

Toxic chemicals

Flaring has other impacts. Those living near flaring sites in Nigeria say agricultural yields have dropped due to contamination of the land by acid rain. The toxic chemicals in the flared gases are also blamed for corroding the metal roofs of houses in the area.

The process of flaring takes place when there are no facilities to harness the gas that is produced along with oil—or when companies decide it is uneconomical to process and pipe the gas.

The WB’s Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership (GGFR), launched in 2002, is a public-private initiative aimed at halting routine gas flaring by 2030. The idea is to persuade the oil companies and state-run petroleum organisations to work together to reduce flaring at oil drilling sites.

Anita Marangoly George, senior director of the WB’s energy and extractive global practice group, told a recent conference on flaring in Moscow that it was time the practice was stopped.

“We simply cannot afford to waste it [the flared gas] anymore,” she said. “Reducing flaring is one very tangible way the oil and gas industry can show leadership on mitigating the effects of climate change and ensuring proper use of natural resources. But it is also about access to energy.”

The WB says its initiative is showing results. Satellite data indicates that flaring dropped worldwide by 20 percent between 2005 and 2012.

But much still needs to be done. According to the WB, the Russian Federation is at present by far the world’s largest flarer, annually burning off an estimated 35bcm of gas—or 25 percent of the global total. Other big flaring nations are Nigeria, Iraq, Iran, Algeria and Venezuela.

The recent rapid expansion of shale oil and gas exploration in the U.S. has resulted in the country joining the league of big gas burners, and the flares from hundreds of shale oil and gas sites in the state of North Dakota can be seen from space.

Although Russia claims to be rapidly reducing its flaring and harnessing more of its gas for energy, the situation in Nigeria continues to be problematic.

Oil corporations such as Shell, Chevron and the Italian Eni group have been given repeated deadlines by the Nigerian government to end flaring at their operations in the Niger Delta, but the flaring continues.

Shell in particular has been criticized for its activities. Last month, the Anglo-Dutch giant announced it would be paying out £55 million to farmers and fishermen in the Delta area in compensation for two large oil spills.

The Nigerian National Petroleum Company, which partners foreign oil corporations, is blamed for refusing to take action to end flaring.

Inadequate fines

In the past, fines that have been imposed on flaring by the Nigerian government are said to have been inadequate or often not collected. Questions are now being asked as to why the government has abruptly cancelled levying flaring fines.

Shell and other international companies say they are taking action to end flaring in Nigeria and elsewhere.

In 2012, Shell and its Nigerian government partner announced a $4billion spending program on oil and gas projects, including a facility to capture gas and reduce flaring.

But industry analysts point out that with the halving of oil prices in the last six months, oil companies are increasingly wary about embarking on big new investment projects.

So flaring, in Nigeria and elsewhere, is likely to continue for some considerable time yet.

large quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere—and that is not only bad news for the climate, but also for human health.

The WB estimates that flaring results in total annual global carbon dioxide emissions of 350 million tones. Eliminating the burning of gas at hundreds of oil production sites round the world would be the equivalent, in terms of emissions savings, of taking 70 million cars off the road.

Flared gas is often contaminated with toxic compounds and cancer causing carcinogens such as benzene. And in Nigeria’s Niger Delta—the country’s main oil production area and a region where flaring has been going on for several decades—villagers complain of skin diseases and breathing problems.

Toxic chemicals

Flaring has other impacts. Those living near flaring sites in Nigeria say agricultural yields have dropped due to contamination of the land by acid rain. The toxic chemicals in the flared gases are also blamed for corroding the metal roofs of houses in the area.

The process of flaring takes place when there are no facilities to harness the gas that is produced along with oil—or when companies decide it is uneconomical to process and pipe the gas.

The WB’s Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership (GGFR), launched in 2002, is a public-private initiative aimed at halting routine gas flaring by 2030. The idea is to persuade the oil companies and state-run petroleum organisations to work together to reduce flaring at oil drilling sites.

Anita Marangoly George, senior director of the WB’s energy and extractive global practice group, told a recent conference on flaring in Moscow that it was time the practice was stopped.

“We simply cannot afford to waste it [the flared gas] anymore,” she said. “Reducing flaring is one very tangible way the oil and gas industry can show leadership on mitigating the effects of climate change and ensuring proper use of natural resources. But it is also about access to energy.”

The WB says its initiative is showing results. Satellite data indicates that flaring dropped worldwide by 20 percent between 2005 and 2012.

But much still needs to be done. According to the WB, the Russian Federation is at present by far the world’s largest flarer, annually burning off an estimated 35bcm of gas—or 25 percent of the global total. Other big flaring nations are Nigeria, Iraq, Iran, Algeria and Venezuela.

The recent rapid expansion of shale oil and gas exploration in the U.S. has resulted in the country joining the league of big gas burners, and the flares from hundreds of shale oil and gas sites in the state of North Dakota can be seen from space.

Although Russia claims to be rapidly reducing its flaring and harnessing more of its gas for energy, the situation in Nigeria continues to be problematic.

Oil corporations such as Shell, Chevron and the Italian Eni group have been given repeated deadlines by the Nigerian government to end flaring at their operations in the Niger Delta, but the flaring continues.

Shell in particular has been criticized for its activities. Last month, the Anglo-Dutch giant announced it would be paying out £55 million to farmers and fishermen in the Delta area in compensation for two large oil spills.

The Nigerian National Petroleum Company, which partners foreign oil corporations, is blamed for refusing to take action to end flaring.

Inadequate fines

In the past, fines that have been imposed on flaring by the Nigerian government are said to have been inadequate or often not collected. Questions are now being asked as to why the government has abruptly cancelled levying flaring fines.

Shell and other international companies say they are taking action to end flaring in Nigeria and elsewhere.

In 2012, Shell and its Nigerian government partner announced a $4billion spending program on oil and gas projects, including a facility to capture gas and reduce flaring.

But industry analysts point out that with the halving of oil prices in the last six months, oil companies are increasingly wary about embarking on big new investment projects.

So flaring, in Nigeria and elsewhere, is likely to continue for some considerable time yet.

Kieran Cooke|Climate News Network|February 16, 2015

World’s First Wave Energy Array Goes Online

Australia’s Carnegie Wave Energy has officially switched on a new onshore power station of its wave energy project—the world’s first commercial-scale, grid-connected wave energy array.

It is also represents the first time that wave-generated energy has been fed into the grid in Australia.

The Garden Island station uses the ocean’s waves to drive tethered underwater seabed pumps that feed high pressure water onshore to a hydroelectric power station.

The pumps are underwater to protect them from storms and corrosion.

In addition to driving the high-pressure water to the hydroelectric power station, the water also goes to a desalination plant, supplying both renewable energy and fresh water.

The power generated from the facility will be sold to the Australian Department of Defense, supplying Australia’s largest naval base, HMAS Stirling, with energy. The fresh water from the desalination plant will also be sold to the base.

The plant is the product of nearly 10 years of work and extensive testing from Carnegie Wave’s Perth Wave Energy Project and was switched on at a ceremony involving Australian Industry Minister Ian Macfarlance.

The Australian Renewable Energy Association (ARENA) is providing $13 million in funding support towards the $32 million project.

Ivor Frischknecht, CEO of ARENA, said:

This progress is a clear example that given time, and with the right government support, emerging renewable energy technologies can progress along the innovation chain towards commercialization.

Carnegie Wave is already taking the next steps to move its technology towards competitiveness with other power generation sources with the planning and design of Carnegie’s next generation CETO 6 technology.

Adam Novak|TckTckTck|February 20, 2015

Solar Industry Prepares for Battle Against Koch Brothers’ Front Groups

 

Mark Twain said it best, there are “lies, damned lies and statistics.” It’s hard to tell which is which after closely reviewing the latest hatchet job on solar energy by the Koch brothers’ front group, The Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA).

Aside from spelling solar correctly, much of the report, Filling the Solar Sinkhole, is untrue or misleading—including its basic assertion that the U.S. solar industry receives $39 billion in annual subsidies. Seriously? How can that be? How can an industry with a U.S. market value of $15 billion receive $39 billion in annual subsidies? The answer: it doesn’t. This is fuzzy math, and dirty tricks, at their very worst. But that shouldn’t come as a surprise. The purpose of this report isn’t to inform or educate. The purpose is to incite activists and generate scandalous headlines, when, in fact, no scandal exists.

According to PV-Tech’s John Parnell, who did a thoughtful analysis, “The report doesn’t make it clear how it arrived at the $39 billion figure. Of the 26 references cited in the report, 16 of them are from organizations that were either founded by the Koch brothers, or have received funding from them.”

Enough is enough. If clean energy critics want a bare knuckle brawl, then they’re going to get one. This type of guerrilla warfare simply isn’t going to work. Americans overwhelmingly support clean, renewable solar energy—and that scares the hell out of the Koch brothers and their lackeys. Here’s the dirty little truth: few industries benefit more from the U.S. tax code than carbon-rich big oil. By their own estimates, oil and gas tax breaks amount to a staggering $100 billion over 10 years. So how do the Koch brothers divert attention away from this? They prod conservative groups, many of which they fund directly or indirectly, to attack clean energy. If it served their purposes, they would portray Snow White as an adulteress, a deadbeat and a crack queen.

Solar energy is an American success story—not a fairy tale. Since first being enacted in 2006 under a Republican administration, the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) has been a tremendous boon to both the U.S. economy and our environment, changing America for the better and helping to secure our nation’s energy future. Today, the solar industry employs nearly 175,000 U.S. workers, pumps $15 billion a year into our economy and offsets more than 20 million metric tons of damaging carbon emissions into the air, which is the equivalent of removing 4 million cars off U.S. highways and roads.  In the past four years, employment in the solar industry has increased by more than 85 percent—and last year alone, we created one out of every 78 new jobs in America.

But the news keeps getting better. We now have an estimated 20 gigawatts (GW) of installed solar energy capacity nationwide, which is enough to power more than 4 million U.S. homes—or every single home in a state the size of Massachusetts or New Jersey—with another 20 GW in the pipeline for 2015-16. This remarkable progress is due, in large part, to smart, effective public policies like the ITC.

If the Koch brothers and their minions want to have a discussion about the solar ITC, then let’s have one at the same time about intangible drilling costs and the oil depletion allowance. And while we’re at it, let’s take a few questions on refinery explosions, oil spills and deadly train derailments. Yep. We’ll have that debate with them any day of the week.

Ken Johnson|Solar Energy Industries Association|February 20, 2015

Land Conservation

DEP Accepting Land and Water Conservation Fund 2014-2015 Applications

TALLAHASSEE – The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has opened the application submission cycle for the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund for fiscal year 2014-2015. Grant applications will be accepted today through Friday, Feb. 27. Congress appropriated approximately $1.8 million in grant funds for this application cycle.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund is a federal competitive program, which provides matching grant funds for acquiring or developing land for public outdoor recreational use. This year marks the 50th anniversary of this conservation program. Since its inception, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has supported more than 41,000 projects nationwide.

“We encourage local governmental entities to apply for these grant funds to help meet the needs of their communities,” said Rick Mercer, director of DEP’s Office of Operations. “This grant opportunity can help communities develop parks and trails, increasing recreational opportunities for residents and visitors.”

Up to $200,000 may be awarded for each project. Applicant matching funds are required. The matching ratio is 50-50, which equates to one applicant dollar to one program dollar for all grant awards. Additional information, including the 2014-2015 Land and Water Conservation Fund application, can be found here.

The Land and Recreation Grants Section within DEP’s Bureau of Financial Management administers the Land and Water Conservation Fund on behalf of the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service. Eligible participants include all local governmental entities with the legal responsibility for the provision of outdoor recreational sites and facilities for the use and benefit of the public.

nataliarodriguez2015|Feb.16.2015

Obama Will Designate 3 New National Monuments

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will designate three new national monuments on Thursday and announce a new initiative to increase the number of children who visit national parks.

Obama will formally name the three monuments this afternoon in remarks near Chicago’s Pullman neighborhood, an industrial community known for its historic role in labor and civil rights organizing. The Pullman neighborhood will be the first National Park Service-protected area in Chicago.

Obama is also designating Browns Canyon in Colorado and the site of the World War II Honouliuli internment camp, which lies on property in Hawaii that’s been donated by Monsanto.

Under the Antiquities Act of 1906, presidents have the power to grant federal protection to certain areas due to their historic or natural significance. National monuments can be managed by several agencies, including the National Park Service.

“Together, these monuments will help tell the story of significant events in American history and protect unique natural resources for the benefit of all Americans,” said a White House statement. The latest additions bring the total number of national monuments designated by Obama to 16.

Conservation groups celebrated the news. “Few sites tell the story of American industry, labor, urban planning and African American workers as well as Pullman,” Clark Bunting, president of the National Parks Conservation Association, said in a statement. “There is no doubt that those who lived and worked at Pullman helped shape our country. We owe it to them to preserve their story.”

Obama will also formally announce what the administration is calling its “Every Kid in a Park” initiative, which aims to get more children into the country’s national parks ahead of the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary in 2016. All fourth-graders in the U.S. and their families will be granted free admission to national parks and public lands during the 2015-2016 school year.

In addition, the National Park Foundation is reviving a program that provides free transportation to parks for underfunded school districts. Obama’s budget request this year included an additional $45 million for the Department of the Interior to use for youth engagement activities.

Kate Sheppard|02/19/2015

Speaker Crisafulli: Don’t buy land south of Lake O

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, says he opposes the controversial land deal that would enable the South Florida Water Management District to purchase 46,800 acres of land south of the lake at fair market value.

The option to purchase the land expires in October. If the district wants the U.S. Sugar land after that, it would have to meet the conditions of another option, which would require the district to buy the 46,800 plus another 106,200 at fair market value.

Gov. Rick Scott has neither endorsed or opposed the deal but has indicated he wants to see the district proceed with projects currently underway on land that is already owned by the state.

When asked by the Palm Beach Post for his position on the deal, Crisafulli mirrored the governor’s position but added that he opposed the deal:

“A rational, scientific approach to restoring the Everglades is to focus on the water that enters Lake Okeechobee from the north and to utilize the public lands we already have acquired north, south, east and west of the Lake to construct planned water storage and treatment infrastructure.,” Crisafulli wrote in an email response. “At this time, I do not support spending limited state resources to purchase more land south of Lake. My priority is to utilize and care for the land we own now.”

Environmental groups, spearheaded by the Everglades Foundation, want the district to purchase the land. They believe that the district could use the land to build a reservoir to store water, which they say would reduce harmful discharges of water from the lake into the St. Lucie Estuary and Caloosahatchee River. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers releases water from the lake into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee when water levels rise and threaten the aging earthen dike that protects farmland and communities around the lake.

At it’s Feb. 12 meeting last week, governing board members made no commitment to more than two dozen frustrated environmentalists who urged them to buy the land. Instead, the board laid out the hurdles and risks they face in making such a buy.

Christine Stapleton|February 18, 2015

Air Quality

Boston Has a Methane Problem

A team of researchers led by Kathryn McKain of Harvard University has recently discovered that approximately three percent of the natural gas delivered to Boston leaks directly into the atmosphere, taking with it a heavy load of methane, a known greenhouse gas. Their study doesn’t just have significant environmental implications: It’s estimated that the city is losing around $90 million to leaks every year. Correcting leaks is a relatively straightforward task, though it would require some investment in natural gas infrastructure and consumer education. However, these costs would be mitigated by the substantial savings offered if Boston was able to cut down on its methane problem.

Methane contributes to smog and warming trends over time. Cities like Boston often struggle with poor air, especially in the summers, when smog can be intense — and this study indicates that as much as 3.3 percent of the methane in the air over Boston could be coming from leaks in natural gas pipelines. This echoes the findings of a cooperative study in 2013 that teamed up the resources of Google and the Environmental Defense Fund to conduct a survey of Boston’s streets in search of natural gas leaks. The study used sensors to focus specifically on gas pipelines and determined that many of Boston’s aging pipelines were not providing secure transport for natural gas (for those with safety concerns, all leaks were reported to Boston’s energy companies).

In Boston, the wasted natural gas being vented into the atmosphere could fuel 200,000 homes for a year — this in a city where cold conditions over the winter can place a heavy load on heating systems. The majority of the energy loss appears to come from pipeline leaks, indicating that at least some portions of the city’s aging gas infrastructure need to be inspected and replaced. Some come from improperly piped and vented gas appliances, an issue that needs to be addressed by energy companies, plumbers and maintenance personnel who deal directly with natural gas-powered equipment. Finally, some emissions may be the result of appliances that are not set correctly, requiring an inspection by a repairperson to confirm that they’re set up for maximum efficiency.

The research shows that it’s time to take a look at other urban areas to assess their natural gas infrastructure as well. These energy audits, as it were, can be used to direct funding most appropriately to the U.S. cities that need to address natural gas leaks so the nation can do its part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

Everyone stands to benefit from measures to address the leaks. The environment will appreciate the reduction in pollution, while energy companies won’t be hurting as a result of massive financial losses every year. Consumers pay less when their appliances operate more efficiently and energy companies can also pass down savings.

Natural gas has been touted by government agencies as a cleaner fuel, one that runs more efficiently and reduces fewer pollutants. However, it still needs to be refined appropriately, and, as this study illustrates, if it’s not handled properly from refinery to distribution center to endpoint, it can still produce emissions. These findings by no means indicate that we should give up on natural gas, but they do illustrate the importance of making sure it’s used efficiently so we can enjoy the maximum benefits from switching over to cleaner fuels.

s.e. smith|February 2, 2015

“Fighting for Our Right to Breathe”

“None of us should have to be here right now fighting for our right to breathe.” That’s what a young woman told the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at a hearing this week about smog pollution, after boarding a bus with 100 high school students before dawn and traveling for hours to deliver her three minutes of testimony. The students live in a county with some of the worst air pollution in America, and one after another, they shared their personal stories, many noting they made the trip to speak for their family member who suffers from asthma or other smog related ailments. Their stories left audience members and EPA staff alike visibly shaken, choked up and teary-eyed.
They were among hundreds of Americans who attended three recent public hearings on EPA’s proposed standards for ozone, also known as smog. I myself testified in Washington, D.C., last Wednesday, where supporters of a stronger smog standard greatly outnumbered polluter industry representatives.
The same situation played out in Arlington, Texas, and on Monday in Sacramento, California. In Texas, nine organizations worked together to turn out over 230 people to testify and rally for strong smog protections, while only a handful of opponents attended. The Dallas Morning News wrote that “the top doctors’ organizations in Texas and Dallas County, along with other groups and individuals, pressed hard on Thursday for a much tougher federal limit on ozone, or smog.”
Doctor Robert Haley of Dallas put it this way, “As physicians who care for those patients and see the asthma attacks, respiratory failure, hospitalizations and premature deaths, we believe that the citizens of these 10 counties are paying a high price for ozone pollution that could potentially be avoided.”

In Sacramento, more than 400 people showed up to rally in support of strong smog standards, with 186 testifying. Of those, well over 100 were elementary and high school students — some from as far away as a seven-hour drive.
I’m especially impressed and moved by the 107 students from Desert Mirage High School in Thermal, California, pictured at the top of this blog post. They got on a bus as 1:00am to get to Sacramento in time for the hearing. And their testimony was phenomenal. Here’s one example from an excellent article about the Desert Mirage students:

For Sierra Club organizer Marina Barragán, who lives in Oasis and graduated from Desert Mirage two years ago, the fight for tougher smog restrictions is personal. Barragán’s uncle died from asthma-related health issues eight years ago, and her 23-year-old-sister, Maritza, suffers from the same condition.
“I remember growing up, and my sister never played outside with us. I used to think it was normal,” said Barragán, who helped organize the Sierra-Club led trip to Sacramento. “I thought it was normal that she could not go outside because she would start breathing really heavy.”
Eventually, Barragán said, her sister’s monthly hospital visits became more frequent, culminating in a summer when she went to the hospital three times in the same week.
“I realized this was not normal, no one should have to do this,” Barragán said. “That is ridiculous. That is inhumane. No one should have to do that.”
Speaking from Sacramento, Barragán said that east valley residents “shouldn’t have to fight for clean air.”
“None of us should have to be here right now fighting for our right to breathe,” she said. “I already lost my uncle – I shouldn’t have to lose my sister too.”

Those who attended the Sacramento hearing said the EPA officials and many in the audience became teary-eyed listening to so many young people talk about how asthma affects their families.
This is a life and death issue for millions of Americans who suffer from respiratory issues like asthma. EPA must enact a smog standard of 60 parts per billion (ppb). This is the level at which scientists, medical experts, and public health advocates say must be enforced because of the health threats.
To make sure our message is heard loud and clear, the Sierra Club also launched a five-figure ad campaign this week to mobilize parents in the fight to tackle smog pollution.

I’m so glad that hundreds of Americans were able to tell the EPA in person how much clean air matters to them. Now it’s up to the EPA to do the right thing and create a strong 60 ppb standard that’s based on recommendations from medical scientists, which will protect people like Marina’s sister and countless Americans across the country. You can help – send a comment to EPA in support of strong smog protections.

Mary Anne Hitt|director|Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign|February 5, 2015

Earliest evidence of large-scale human-produced air pollution in South America found

Trace elements encased in mountaintop ice predate industrial revolution by more than 200 years

COLUMBUS, Ohio—In the 16th century, during its conquest of South America, the Spanish Empire forced countless Incas to work extracting silver from the mountaintop mines of Potosí, in what is now Bolivia–then the largest source of silver in the world. The Inca already knew how to refine silver, but in 1572 the Spanish introduced a new technology that boosted production many times over and sent thick clouds of lead dust rising over the Andes for the first time in history.

Winds carried some of that pollution 500 miles northwest into Peru, where tiny remnants of it settled on the Quelccaya Ice Cap.

There it stayed–buried under hundreds of years of snow and ice–until researchers from The Ohio State University found it in 2003.

In the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they report discovery of a layer within a Quelccaya ice core that dates to the Spanish conquest of the Inca, contains bits of lead and bears the chemical signature of the silver mines of Potosí.

The core provides the first detailed record of widespread human-produced air pollution in South America from before the industrial revolution, and makes Quelccaya one of only a few select sites on the planet where the pre-industrial human impact on air quality can be studied today.

“This evidence supports the idea that human impact on the environment was widespread even before the industrial revolution,” said Paolo Gabrielli, a research scientist at the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center at Ohio State and corresponding author of the study.

Lonnie Thompson, Distinguished University Professor of earth sciences at Ohio State and co-author of the study, called the find “another keyhole into the past of human activity in that part of the world,” and suggested that further investigation could ultimately help us better understand the fate of pollution circulating in the atmosphere today.

Previously, Thompson has called the Quelccaya ice cores a “Rosetta Stone” for gauging Earth’s climate history. The samples were cut from ice that formed over 1,200 years as snow settled on the Peruvian Andes. Layer by layer, the ice captured chemicals from the air and precipitation during wet and dry seasons for all those years. Today, researchers analyze the chemistry of different layers to measure historical changes in climate.

For this study, the researchers used a mass spectrometer to measure the amount and type of chemicals present in the ice dating back to 800 AD. They looked for antimony, arsenic, bismuth, molybdenum and especially lead. That’s because the refining process that the Spanish introduced to South America involved grinding silver ore–which contains much more lead than silver–into powder before mixing it with mercury in a process called amalgamation. So atmospheric pollution from silver production would chiefly contain traces of lead particulates.

The mass spectrometer revealed some spikes in the concentrations of these elements in the years before Spanish rule, but those layers all likely coincide with natural contamination sources, such as volcanic eruptions. Starting just before 1600, however, the Quelccaya ice began capturing much larger quantities of these elements, and the high amounts persisted until the early 1800s, when South American countries declared independence from Spain.

To pin down where the pollution came from, the researchers compared their data with those from a peat bog in Tierra del Fuego, Chile, and from sedimentary lake records from regions including Potosí and other mines throughout Bolivia and Peru. These latter sites would have captured the pollution generated in their local area during that time.

The chemical signatures in the Quelccaya ice meshed with what researchers knew from written records: most of the pollution likely came from Potosí, where the Spanish produced the vast majority of silver. Other mines throughout the region contributed to the Quelccaya pollution to a lesser extent.

Even in their highest concentrations, the elements entrapped in the ice are not visible to the naked eye and can be detected only through chemical analyses, Gabrielli explained. The section of core containing them has the translucent white appearance of perfectly clean ice.

“The fact that we can detect pollution in ice from a pristine high altitude location is indicative of the continental significance of this deposition,” Gabrielli added. “Only a significant source of pollution could travel so far, and affect the chemistry of the snow on a remote place like Quelccaya.”

The spread of human-made pollution across vast distances has become common since the industrial revolution of the late 18th century. Greenland received substantial amounts of airborne lead pollution from Europe and the United States until the 1970s, when national policies began requiring producers to change the formulation of gasoline. And some of the pollution currently troubling North American skies has been traced back to Asia, which is experiencing its own industrial boom right now.

A question in the scientific community is whether much earlier activity should be included in measures of human environmental impact. For example, ice cores in Greenland contain traces of lead from as far back as the 5th century BC, which were sent airborne by smelting in the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations. This latest ice core from Quelccaya shows that humans generated substantial pollution in the 16th century. Still, the 20th century produced more pollution than any other time in human history.

International geological governing bodies are currently considering whether to officially call our current epoch the Anthropocene, or “Age of Humans,” to designate the span of time that humans have been changing the environment. Gabrielli, Thompson and their colleagues hope that the Quelccaya core will inform that debate.

In the meantime, they are turning their attention to a core that Thompson’s team drew from the Dasuopu Glacier in southwest China. It is the highest-altitude ice core ever retrieved, and it contains some 8,000 years of climate history. Some of that new trace element record, they hope, will tell new and powerful stories of ancient human activity.

Co-authors of the study include Chiara Uglietti, formerly a postdoctoral researcher at the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center and now at the Paul Scherrer Institute; Colin A. Cooke, formerly at Yale University and now at the Alberta Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development; and Paul Vallelonga of the University of Copenhagen.

This work was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Paleoclimate Program and by Ohio State as part of the Byrd Polar Research Fellowship. The mass spectrometer used in the study was funded by the NSF and by Ohio State’s Climate, Water and Carbon Program.

Pam Frost Gorder|Mon, Feb 09, 2015

Transportation

Why we need to fix our crumbling roads, not build new ones

The United States road system is knit together like a Forever 21 cardigan: marginally functional, mass-produced, and likely to fall apart shortly after first usage. These days, our roads are wearing out — probably because, much like the pieces of trash fashion rapidly deteriorating at the back of your closet, they’ve been built to break.

Past transportation spending has mostly been directed to construction rather than repairs. But this ends up doing more harm than good because, as we’ve reported before, more roads equal more traffic jams. Economists call the concept “induced demand,” or, when supply of something (i.e. roads, cars, tribal-print jumpsuits) is increased, people will buy it — and then want more.

Vox senior editor Brad Plumer wrote an excellent explanation on why the U.S. needs to redirect transportation dollars to fixing what’s old rather than building something new — which is where, as he reports, more than half of state road funds go. This is because misdirected dollars end up causing “excessive sprawl,” says Plumer, which does “little to alleviate traffic congestion or deterioration.” We couldn’t agree more!

Here’s more from Vox:

If all these new roads were beneficial, [building new ones] might make sense. But, as [Streetsblog’s Angie Schmitt] points out, that’s not always the case. One study by the Center for American Progress found that 50 percent of U.S. roads don’t even generate enough traffic to pay for themselves in gas taxes. With driving on the decline and the National Highway System reaching the end of its natural lifespan, there’s a good argument for devoting more scarce resources to repairing the expensive and dilapidated system we already have.

There’s a dollars-and-cents case for allocating more money to repairs, too: Taking care of a damaged road early on is much cheaper than trying to deal with it when it’s near-destroyed. However, an even more economical — and green — solution in the long term could be building improved public transit networks.

We’re living in a nation that’s trying to reduce carbon emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 — but that’s going to mean changing our long-held habits, like a transportation system that’s built around personal cars. The fact is, we need more new roads like we need that adorable cat sweater. Really, put the sweater down, and walk away.

Liz Core|11 Feb 2015

Move Over Food Trucks: Eco-Friendly Food Bikes Hit the Streets

Riding your bike to work is gaining momentum as more cities adopt or expand bike-sharing programs, but what about ordering your morning latte or lunch from a bike? With more and more food bikes popping up in cities across the country, finding more meals on wheels (without the truck) might soon be an option.

While food on-the-go is nothing new—wheeled food carts delivering food to cowboys and soldiers date back as early as the late 1800s—food bikes are seeing a sudden urban resurgence likely fueled by the recent food truck craze.

According to IBISWorld market research, food trucks are a booming industry with $857 million in sales in 2015 with an estimated 4,000 businesses employing nearly 15,000 people nationwide. While the industry is expected to continue to thrive, the drag of costly equipment, unfavorable regulatory conditions and gas-guzzling trucks has a new crop of traveling food entrepreneurs opting instead for cheaper eco-friendly food bikes.

Food bikes run the gamut from simple coolers carting pre-packaged items like popsicles and beer to more elaborate on-the-go kitchen operations on wheels like the Hot Bike! in San Francisco that’s fully equipped with blenders and a propane stove.

Although food bikes can fall victim to unfavorable weather, erratic automobile drivers and food safety regulations, Wayne Sosin of custom bike shop Worksman Cycles says that the alluring marketing value of a bike makes it a winning business strategy.

“The public sees a bike or tricycle as charming, not like a truck spewing fumes,” he said in an interview with NPR.

Aside from the obvious nostalgic charm of a cycling restaurant on wheels, food bikes offer up some unique advantages to owners and patrons alike:

  • No Traffic Jams: In an interview with NPR, Charlie Wicker of Trailhead Coffee Roasters in Portland said, “On a bike, you’re basically impervious to traffic jams. I can calculate my delivery time down to the minute.”
  • No Costly Gas: Without a truck relying on expensive gas, food bikes are of course free from harmful emissions and pollutants. In fact, for every one mile pedaled rather than driven, about one pound of CO2 is saved.
  • Hyper-focused Menu: With restricted storage and prep space, food bikes offer a limited menu featuring carefully selected, artfully prepared food items making it easier for owners to source ingredients and train staff.

Katie Levans|February 9, 2015

Recycling

Bill allowing small cities to ban plastic bags would obviously be a good for the environment. But will it pass?

Florida lawmakers: Yes, we all like sea turtles, but think about the billionaire industrialists!

Shoppers carelessly let one or two of the translucent plastic bags accompanying their groceries fly away in the wind.

Storms whip those bags into a frenzy, taking them down the street and into our bays, bayous and beaches, from which they float out into open water.

Turtles mistake them for jellyfish, eat them, and die when the bags block their digestive tract.

Biologists find bits of them in fish; often in the fish we eat.

Our economy, environment and overall quality of life diminish as a result.

And the State of Florida says there isn’t a damn thing local governments can do about it.

In 2008, state lawmakers made it illegal for cities and counties to ban plastic bags, tying the hands of local politicians, because of course.

This week, though, state representative. David Richardson (D-Miami-Dade) filed a disposable bag bill which, if it passes, would allow cities with populations under 100,000 to initiate, if they choose, pilot programs that would ban plastic shopping bags, then study the environmental and economic impacts of doing so.

It would apply to 248 of Florida’s 410 cities, according to the US Census Bureau.

Such a reversal on the issue would be huge, because California’s 2014 ban on plastic prompted the American Progressive Bag Alliance (notice how they don’t use the word “plastic” in their name?) to spend $3 million to get a enough signatures on a petition to put a repeal of the ban on the November 2016 ballot (As of December 31, the group had collected 80,000 of the needed 505,000 to get a place on the state ballot, which equates to $37.50 spent per signature).

The big question in Florida, of course, is whether lawmakers on the appropriate committees will even agree to look at the proposal. After that, of course, the lobbyists that pushed for the 2008 ban on local plastic bag bans will come out of the woodwork to fight this one if it gets to the floor.

Cathy Salustri |Wed, Feb 11, 2015

The Ocean is Filling Up with Plastic, 8 Million Metric Tons Per Year

There’s a lot of plastic crap in Earth’s oceans; the latest estimate was that there are over 5 trillion pieces of plastic floating in our seas, weighing over 250,000 tons. That’s about 700 pieces of plastic for every human on earth.

But a new study paints an even more alarming picture of the situation. Jenna Jambeck and her colleagues at the University of Georgia found that an incredibly large amount of plastic waste is mismanaged by the populations living in coastal area, and that even a conservative estimate of how much ends up in the sea puts adds up to between 4.8 million to 12.7 million metric tons of plastic. Per year. (8 million is the mid-point of the estimate).

Part of the problem is that some of the countries with the largest coastal populations – mostly in Asia – are also developing nations with inadequate infrastructure to deal with all the waste that they generate.

Here ones of the authors of the study explains the methodology behind the numbers and also gives a warning about the future if we don’t clean up our act on waste management:

Our methods for this estimate were to look at per person waste generation rates in 2010 from 192 countries with a coastline in the world. Because people’s activities nearest the coast are responsible for most of the plastic going into the water, we limited our analysis to a 50km strip of the coastline. From there, we looked at what percent of that waste is plastic, and what percentage of THAT is mismanaged waste (which means litter or when waste is not captured and dumped on the land). From there we had three scenarios of input into the ocean: low, mid and high. Our 8 million metric ton estimate is that mid-range scenario. 8 million metric tons of plastic is equal to 5 bags filled with plastic going into the ocean along every foot of coastline in the world. That… is HUGE.

And it can get worse. If we assume a business as usual projection with growing populations, increasing plastic consumption and increased waste generation, by 2025, this number doubles – we may be adding 17.5 million metric tons of plastic per year. If that happens, then our cumulative input over time from 2010 to 2025 is projected to be 155 million metric tons.

The solutions to this plastic pollution problem are known, we just need to actually do it. We need to cut back on plastic production in the first place, so there’s less of it in the system. Then whatever is left needs to all be captured and managed properly. This requires not only better infrastructure (especially in poorer areas of the world), but also social and cultural changes. People need to be educated on what needs to be done with their trash in general, and plastic specifically.

Kara|TreeHugger|February 15, 2015

Miscellaneous

$20 million expected for flood control

SARASOTA – Flood control efforts in North Port, water pollution prevention in Venice and on Anna Maria Island, and Sarasota Bay habitat restoration are among the 18 projects in Sarasota and Manatee counties likely to get funding next year from regional water regulators.

More than $20 million is expected to be passed down from the Southwest Florida Water Management District for projects in the two counties — 87 percent of the $23 million requested by local officials. District leaders reviewed the joint funding requests at a meeting in Sarasota on Wednesday.

One of the more timely projects is a $125,000 request from North Port to study flood mitigation. The city experiences persistent flooding in some neighborhoods because water flowing from Big Slough causes drainage systems to back up.

The drainage issue is a key reason that North Port’s high-risk flood zones are expanding dramatically under the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s proposed new flood risk map for the city.

Another 22,614 North Port properties soon will be in high-risk zones. That designation could force property owners with mortgages to buy costly flood insurance, and also comes with restrictions on construction activity.

“The expansion of the FEMA flood maps recently has had a tremendously negative effect on a lot of homeowners,” said Carlos Beruff, the Manatee County representative on the 16-county district’s governing board.

Beruff said he wants to help North Port alleviate the flooding problem.

“That’s a big deal and if we can help to expedite a solution, that’s part of our core mission,” he said.

North Port stormwater manager Elizabeth Wong said the district money, combined with $125,000 from the city, would be used to research solutions such as diverting the water, retaining it upstream or raising certain roads.

“We’d like to at least reduce the flooding in smaller annual storm events,” Wong said.

District officials rejected a separate request by North Port to address flooding along Price Boulevard, one of the city’s main arterial roads. The city wants to elevate a section of the road.

“If we start getting into the road-building business we won’t have enough money to last a month,” Beruff said.

Other priorities

Among the other top priorities for funding next year are projects like the Dona Bay water quality improvement effort in Venice that have already received financial support.

The district approved $3.1 million for the project in previous years and is expected to write another $3.15 million check next year.

Sarasota County plans to restore 363 acres of wetlands along Cow Pen Slough to remove excess nitrogen before the water flows into Dona Bay.

Engineering plans have been completed and the $12.5 million project is preparing for construction.

Another water quality improvement effort is underway in the cities of Bradenton Beach, Anna Maria and Holmes Beach. Those cities are requesting $452,500 from the district next year to reduce the impact of stormwater discharges in Sarasota and Tampa bays.

Sarasota Bay would also benefit, through a proposal to restore coastal habitat on Lido Key.

The Sarasota Bay Estuary Program is requesting $300,000 from the district to pay for 50 percent of the costs associated with restoring 16 acres of wetlands and dunes.

Other projects slated for funding range from an expansion of reclaimed water lines in Lakewood Ranch to a watershed management study in Bradenton.

The district’s governing board will approve a final ranking in April for each project.

All projects ranked as a medium priority or higher are expected to receive funding.

Only five of the 23 projects in Sarasota and Manatee counties ranked below medium priority on the initial list released Wednesday.

The district, which gets some of its funding from local property taxes, regulates water resources across a wide region, from the Ocala area to south of Punta Gorda, including Sarasota and Manatee counties.

THE PROJECTS

The Southwest Florida Water Management District is expected to help finance 18 water projects in Sarasota and Manatee Counties next year. Among the requests from the district:
$3.1 million: Dona Bay water quality improvement
$1.15 million: Lakewood Ranch reclaimed water line
$452,500: Holmes Beach, Bradenton Beach, Anna Maria water quality improvements
$300,000: Sarasota Bay coastal habitat restoration on Lido Key
$175,000: Bradenton watershed management plan
$125,000: North Port flood control study

Zac Anderson|February 11, 2015

Environmental Links

SFAS International Wildlife News Audubon Advocate Audubon Restore Eco-Voice South Florida Wildlife Care Center Sawgrass Nature Center & Wildlife Hospital The Turtle Hospital The Marathon Wild Bird Center Climate change info Audubon’s Coastal Strand Audubon of Florida News Blog Bioenergy News Climate Progress – climate science, politics and solutions Collins Center for Public Policy Comprehensive Everglades Restoration News EcoWatch – feeds from the WaterKeeper Alliance Everglades Foundation – press releases Everglades Hub Fort Myers News – Press Green Front Pages from Florida Newspapers Herald Tribune Newspapers –  Environmental News KeysNews.com Naples Daily News  – Environmental News National Public Radio Eco-News Riverwatch News about the Caloosahatchee Sierra Club Sierra Club Florida South Florida Watershed  Journal South Florida Water Management District Union of Concerned Scientists – news Yahoo News Search: Everglades NASA Climate Information American Littorial Society log NASA Climate Information Sun Newspapers – Lake Okeechobee News Everglades City News  – Mullet Wrapper IFAW’s World of Animals Magazine

Posted in Of special interest | Leave a comment

ConsRep 1502 B

Why has it seemed that the only way to protect the environment is with heavy-handed government regulation? Gale Norton

Announcements

Announcing the 2015 Arthur R Marshall Summer Intern Program for interested parties!

Replies to sip@artmarshall.org

Everglades Summer Intern Program

May 15 – July 31, 2015

Application Deadline: March 30th

Arthur R. Marshall Foundation & Florida Environmental Institute, Inc. For the Everglades
A Hands-on grassroots.org

www.ArtMarshall.org

To Educate, Restore, Protect !
1028 N Federal Hwy, Lake Worth, FL 33460
Phone: 561-801-2165

Of Interest to All

10 Million ‘Missing’ Gallons From the 2010 BP Oil Spill Turn Up on Sea Floor

The BP oil spill that followed the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in 2010 was one of the defining environmental moments of the past decade. It showed the world that things will sometimes go terribly wrong, which is why we shouldn’t take stupid risks (can you imagine if that rig had been in the Arctic ocean? How easy would it have been to go up there to plug the leak and rescue people..).

It’s now been almost five years since over 200 million U.S. gallons of oil were spilled over an area of around 68,000 square miles, and we’re still picking up the pieces.

The latest mystery that was finally solved involves about 10 million gallons of crude oil that government officials and BP cleanup crews couldn’t account for until now.

It was known that a portion of the oil from the spill had settled on the Gulf of Mexico sea floor, but only a small fraction had been found so far, with 70percent of the oil remaining “missing.” But a new study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology found up to 10 million gallons of crude that settled at the bottom of the Gulf.

The researchers took 62 sediment cores from an area encompassing 9,266 square miles (24,000 square kilometers) around the site of the Deepwater Horizon spill. Unlike other sediment on the ocean floor, oil does not contain any carbon-14, a radioactive isotope. Therefore, sediment samples without carbon-14 indicate that oil is present, Chanton said. […]

After studying the samples, the researchers made a map of the areas affected by the spill. About 3,243 square miles (8,400 square km) are covered with oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill, they found. (source)

Because oil floats on salt water, it is not entirely clear how so much oil sank to the bottom, but there are a few theories on how it could have happened, from zooplankton eating the oil and discarding it in “fecal pellets” that sank to the fires that were used on certain patches of oil making part of it dense enough to sink.

Because there’s little oxygen on the sea floor, the oil might stick around for a very long time, potentially causing all kinds of problems to the Gulf ecosystems.

“This is going to affect the Gulf for years to come,” Florida State University Professor of Oceanography Jeff Chanton said. “Fish will likely ingest contaminants because worms ingest the sediment, and fish eat the worms. It’s a conduit for contamination into the food web.”

Michael Graham Richard|TreeHugger|February 4, 2015

Calls to Action

  1. TAKE GMO’S OUT OF OUR FOOD – here
  2. Save Panama’s Threatened Bird Habitatshere 

Birds and Butterflies

Impacts of NRCS’ Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative

NRCS swiftly launched the Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill to enable farmers to create and enhance habitat for migratory birds, providing an alternative to habitat in impacted coastal ecosystems. NRCS invested $40 million in the initiative, which led to conservation practices implemented on more than 470,000 acres in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas.

Evaluation of the Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative

Mississippi State University completed a three-year evaluation of bird use of habitat and availability of food in rice fields, catfish ponds and wetlands managed through MBHI. The results were released in a report in fall 2014. This report includes findings that demonstrate the importance of landscape-level conservation efforts. The evaluation began in November 2010.

The study’s findings demonstrate:

  • Rice fields flooded early through MBHI were home to an average 15 migratory birds per acre, compared to two birds per acre on rice fields not flooded;
  • Catfish ponds flooded early showed heavy biodiversity with 40 species of ducks, shorebirds and other waterbirds visiting them;
  • Over seven times more migrating shorebirds were observed on shallowly flooded idled catfish ponds enrolled in MBHI than on other catfish ponds;
  • MBHI-enrolled catfish ponds in Mississippi met nearly all the established shorebird migration habitat goal for the region; and
  • MBHI-managed habitats provided up to 28 percent of the winter waterfowl food energy needed in the Mississippi Delta and up to 25 percent needed in southwestern Louisiana.

Download the report to learn more. (PDF, 795KB)

Technology solves disappearance mystery of one of Africa’s famous birds

The mystery of the gradual disappearance of the Bearded Vulture, one of Africa’s most famous birds, has been solved using the technology of satellite tracking.

Once widespread throughout much of Southern Africa, the Bearded Vulture is now critically endangered, with a decline in nesting sites of nearly 50 per cent since the 1960s.

The remaining population is now restricted to the Drakensberg mountains in Lesotho and South Africa. But even in these isolated mountains they continue to decline.

Satellite trackers attached to 18 Bearded Vultures have confirmed conservationists’ worst fears: humans are largely to blame with collisions with power lines and poisoning being the two major vulture hazards that killed half of the birds in the satellite tracking survey.

These are key findings contained in two new research projects published this month. The studies paint the most detailed picture to date of the challenges facing the Bearded Vulture, also known as the ‘bone breaker’ due to its habit of dropping bones from a height to feed from the marrow inside.

The first paper, published in the international ornithological journal The Condor by scientists from EKZN Wildlife and the Percy FitzPatrick Institute at the University of Cape Town, found that human-related factors were the common denominator in differences between abandoned and occupied Bearded Vulture territories.

Lead author on the study Dr Sonja Krueger says:  “We explored where the biggest difference lay between abandoned and occupied territories and found that human related factors such as human settlement density and powerlines were consistently different between these sites.”

Power line density and human settlement density were more than twice as high within abandoned vulture territories compared to occupied territories, the study found.

Results also suggested that food abundance may influence the bird’s overall distribution, and that supplementary vulture feeding schemes may be beneficial.

By contrast climate change was not found to be a major contributing factor in nest abandonment.

“Though not definitive, the results strongly suggest that we humans are our own worst enemies when it comes to conserving one of Africa’s iconic birds,” Krueger says.

The study recommended a new approach to vulture conservation management: “Based on the identified threats and mechanisms of abandonment, we recommend that conservation management focus on actions that will limit increased human densities and associated developments and influence the attitudes of people living within the territories of (vulture) breeding pairs,” the study concluded.

“We recommend that mitigation of existing power lines, stricter scrutiny of development proposals, and proactive engagement with developers to influence the placement of structures is essential within the home range of a territorial pair.”

The study’s findings are backed up by a second paper published in open access journal PLOS ONE, which relied on data from satellite trackers attached to 18 Bearded Vultures.

The trackers not only showed the exact location of the tagged birds every hour, they also provided critical information on movement patterns and mortality.

Tagging enabled dead birds to be quickly recovered and their cause of death determined.

The study confirmed that, in addition to power lines, poisoning was considered the main threat to vultures across Africa and was contributing to the so-called “African Vulture Crisis”– a large decline of many vulture species across the continent.

The tracking data also provided new information about the birds’ ranging behaviour. It revealed that non-breeding birds traveled significantly further than breeding birds and were therefore more vulnerable to human impact.

Some young non-breeding birds patrolled an area the size of Denmark. The average adult bird had a home range of about 286 sq km, but the range was much smaller for breeding adults at just 95 sq km.

Dr Arjun Amar from UCT said detailed knowledge about Bearded Vulture home ranges could be hugely beneficial to vulture conservation: “We knew the species was likely to have large home ranges, but our results show just how far these birds travel – and therefore how exposed they are. The more they travel, the more they risk colliding with power lines or falling prey to poisoning.” 

Protection Sought for California’s Tricolored Blackbird

On Tuesday the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned to protect the tricolored blackbird — which once formed massive nesting colonies in California’s Central Valley — as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. When we first submitted an emergency petition in 2004 to place the species on both the federal and California endangered species lists, the feds declined.

Fortunately, after another Center petition last year, the bird did earn California protection.

But that’s not enough: Surveys show that tricoloreds have declined by 87 percent over the past nine decades. These birds form the largest breeding colonies of any North American land bird, with a single colony often consisting of tens of thousands of birds — a defense again predation.

But only 145,000 birds total were counted in 2014, in contrast to one 1930s biologist’s report of a flock of more than a million in the Sacramento Valley alone. These birds are threatened by destruction of wetlands and native grasslands, shooting, pesticides, and nest destruction when they build their homes on agricultural land.

Read more in the Central Valley Business Times.

2015 Great Backyard Bird Count!

Contribute to Citizen Science from your backyard or kitchen window

February 13-16 | Global, sign up today.

Bird Watchers of all ages and backgrounds will count birds to create a real-time snapshot of where birds are this month.

Launched in 1998 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, the Great Backyard Bird Count was the first online Citizen Science project to collect data on wild birds and to display results in near real-time.

It’s easy and a lot of fun! Click here to learn how you can participate.

Tropical Audubon Society

  Invasive species

Learn to identify, report and safely capture pythons

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is offering several Python Patrol trainings in south Florida. The trainings are for people interested in learning about Burmese pythons in Florida and how to identify, report and safely capture these snakes.

Burmese pythons are an invasive, nonnative species in Florida that present a threat to native wildlife. Through the Python Patrol program, the FWC is creating a network of citizen scientists to help stop the spread of this large snake.

“The FWC is committed to stopping the spread of the Burmese python,” said Jenny Novak, who coordinates the FWC’s Python Patrol Program. “We want people to help us by reporting sightings of Burmese pythons, however, we only want people who are properly trained to attempt to capture and remove these large constrictors.”

Upcoming Python Patrol training workshops in south Florida:

  • Miami-Dade County

Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015, 10 a.m. – noon

A.D. Barnes Park Nature Center

3401 SW 72nd Ave., Miami, FL 33155

  • Broward County

Sunday, Jan. 11, 2015, 10 a.m. – noon

Oak Ridge Hall at Tree Tops Park

3900 S.W. 100th Ave., Davie, FL 33328

Sunday, Feb. 8, 2015, 10 a.m. – noon

Oak Ridge Hall at Tree Tops Park

3900 S.W. 100th Ave., Davie, FL 33328

  • Palm Beach County

Saturday, Jan. 17, 2015, 10 a.m. – noon

FWC Regional Office

8535 Northlake Blvd., West Palm Beach, FL 33412

Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015, 1 p.m. – 4 p.m.

Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge

10216 Lee Rd., Boynton Beach, FL 33473

Sunday, Feb. 1, 2015, 10 a.m. – noon

FWC Regional Office

8535 Northlake Blvd., West Palm Beach, FL 33412

To register for training, visit MyFWC.com/Python, click on “Python Patrol” and scroll down to the list of upcoming trainings. More dates will continue to be posted; please continue to check the website.

Python Patrol training workshops are free and open to the public, but participants must register online because space is limited; if less than eight people register for a training workshop, it will be rescheduled. In order to take part in the training, all participants must wear long pants and closed-toe shoes. Participants are encouraged to take the free online Reptile Early Detection and Documentation (REDDy) training, which is offered by the University of Florida. The REDDy training can be accessed at http://ufwildlife.ifas.ufl.edu/reddy.shtml.

To report a sighting of a nonnative species, such as a Burmese python, visit IveGot1.org or call 888-IveGot1, (888) 483-4681. For more information about the Python Patrol Program, visit MyFWC.com/Python and click on “Python Patrol.”

Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission|01/06/2015

FWC raises awareness on lionfish issue with creation of ‘Removal’ day

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) adopted a resolution to help raise awareness about the invasive-lionfish issue. At its meeting Feb. 5 in Jacksonville, the FWC designated the first Saturday after Mother’s Day each year to be Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day.

On this day, through education and outreach, the FWC will encourage extra effort from the public to remove lionfish from Florida waters.

Lionfish are a nonnative, invasive species that have a negative impact on Florida’s native wildlife and habitat. Consistent lionfish removal can reduce the negative impacts lionfish have on the reef community.

The FWC has several activities planned for the weekend of the first annual Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day, which is May 16. On the 16th and 17th, divers across the state will be encouraged to see how many lionfish can be removed from Florida waters in one weekend. Divers are asked to report their catches via the Report Florida Lionfish app or online at www.MyFWC.com/Lionfish.

To supplement this effort, several local sponsors across the state are scheduling lionfish derbies in conjunction with the weekend. A festival and derby will be hosted by the FWC, Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation and the Gulf Coast Lionfish Coalition in Pensacola.

The FWC is also excited to roll out its new Reef Rangers Lionfish Control Program the weekend of May 16 and 17, asking members of the public to select a reef and pledge to remove lionfish from that area several times a year.

To learn more about lionfish, including upcoming events and how to fillet your catch so you can enjoy it for dinner, visit www.MyFWC.com/Lionfish.

Endangered Species

Here’s Why You’re Seeing Fewer Bees These Days

Environmentalists and the scientific community have been raising the alarm over diminishing bee populations for some time. Now, scientists believe they have found at least part of an explanation for what could be destroying our bee populations.

They’re pointing the finger at a class of insecticides called neonicotinoids. These are relatively new insecticides. Developed only about 30 years ago, they are now the most popular insecticides in the world and are used on 95 percent of corn and canola crops as well as on cotton, sugar beets and a variety of fruits and vegetables like apples, oranges, peaches, tomatoes— you get the picture.

However, scientists believe these insecticides are damaging the brains of bees. The European Commission has found the chemicals to be so bad for bees that they have prohibited their use for two years while more testing is done.

As research continues, the case against neonicotinoids is becoming even stronger. A study from the Universities of St. Andrews and Dundee in Scotland determined even trace amounts in pollen can seriously affect the brains of bees. If you were to put a teaspoon of neonicotinoids in an Olympic swimming pool of water it would still be enough to have serious affects on bees.

The chemicals change the mitochondria in the bees brains, and they mess with how the brain of a bee communicates. Bees can lose their memory because of this and forget how to get home or forget that flowers equate to food.

The problem is, neonicotinoids don’t actually kill bees— they just really mess with them, causing their colonies to become slower and their populations to decline over time. In the last decade beekeepers in the U.S. and Europe have noted a decline of about 30 percent annually in bee populations. In 2013 the U.S. beekeepers tallied a decline that was closer to 40 or 50 percent.

Bees are incredibly important to the ecosystem, and these staggering numbers have environmentalists significantly worried.

So as more research pours in, lawmakers will have to determine the best path forward for farmers and the environment. Globally, the world would have to either limit neonicotinoid usage, or find a way to provide healthier habitats for bees to thrive in.

Jolene Latimer|RYOT|February 8, 2015

New yellow frog discovered in Peru

A new water frog species has been discovered on Pacific slopes of the Andes in central Peru, an area scientists had thought was poor in biodiversity.

The name of the new species Telmatobius ventriflavum comes from the Latin for yellow belly (venter and flavus) and refers to the golden yellow and orange coloration on the body.

Water frogs are a subfamily of frogs endemic to the Andes of South America. The populations of several species of Telmatobius have declined dramatically over the past 30 years, and the genus is now thought to be extinct in Ecuador. These declines have been associated with the spread of the fungal disease chytridiomycosis.

“The discovery of a new species in such arid and easily accessible environments shows that much remains to be done to document amphibian diversity in the Andes,” said the lead author Dr. Alessandro Catenazzi of Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

The study detected the presence of the chytrid fungus, but the impact of chytridiomycosis on the new species is unknown. The authors recommend disease surveillance to prevent outbreaks that might endanger the survival of this endemic species.

Manatees—so gentle, so peaceful—could disappear on our watch.

In 2013, over 800 manatees lost their lives in Florida waters—more than 15 percent of the estimated population of 5,000. The worst year on record.

Seagrasses provides food, habitat and nursery areas for approximately 70 percent of all sea life, including manatees. But sadly, we’ve now lost almost a third of all seagrass worldwide.

Ocean Conservancy is working to save the majestic manatee, protect important seagrasses and diminish the damaging effects of increased ocean acidity.

We can protect the beloved Florida manatee by restoring critical seagrasses and reducing the harmful effects of carbon pollution.

Let me connect the dots between the manatee, the seagrass and Ocean Conservancy’s work to combat ocean acidification.

For centuries, the West Indian Manatee—a peaceful gentle giant that lives in Florida’s brackish streams and coastal waters—has enchanted those fortunate to see it up close.

Affectionately dubbed sea cows, manatees, so enormous in size, are strict vegetarians. They need warm waters to thrive. They swim three to five miles an hour and reproduce once in two or three years.

The manatee’s seagrass home, a hallmark of Florida waters, absorb up to twice as much carbon as the world’s temperate and tropical forests, but they occupy only a sliver of the world’s oceans. In essence, seagrasses “take it on the chin” for carbon pollution—helping to protect the ocean against acidity that damages coral reefs, shells and the skeletons of tiny ocean animals so critical to the ocean web of life.

We critically need more seagrass to lessen the impact of carbon pollution—and to feed the manatees that depend on it for a major portion of their sustenance.

We’ve made it a priority to fight acidification and keep the ocean blue—and save the playful manatee, the critical seagrasses and our beloved ocean.

Julia Roberson|Director|Ocean Acidification Program|2/07/15

Lolita the Loneliest Orca Finally Gets Endangered Species Protection

Animal advocates are celebrating news that Lolita, the lone orca at the Miami Seaquarium, is another step closer to freedom with the announcement that she will now get the endangered species protection already granted to her wild relatives.

Lolita is a member of the Southern Resident killer whales, who live in three distinct pods (J,K and L) in the Pacific Northwest. Her tragic story began in 1970 when she was taken from her family during a brutal roundup in Penn Cove, Wash., when she was just a calf. She has been in a ridiculously small tank at the Miami Seaquarium ever since.

Her relatives, who have yet to recover from the losses they suffered to the captivity industry, were protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 2005, but the listing specifically – and inexplicably – excluded any orcas placed in captivity prior to the listing, leaving Lolita out.

In 2013, the Orca Network, Animal Legal Defense Fund and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals filed a petition seeking to have her included in the listing, arguing, among other things, that Lolita is the only captive member of any endangered species to be excluded from a listing decision like this. Ultimately, they hope her inclusion will help lead to her being freed from her current confines in the oldest and smallest tank in the United States.

This week, and in response to the petition, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that she will be included in the ESA listing along with the rest of the Southern Residents. The agency stated:

As presented in the proposed rule we find that Lolita’s captive status, in and of itself, does not preclude her listing under the ESA.  Accordingly, we are removing the exclusion for captive whales in the regulatory language describing the Southern Resident killer whale DPS.   The best available genetic information and sighting history of killer whales supports  recognizing Lolita as a member of the Southern Resident killer whale population and, as such, is not excluded from the listed Southern Resident killer whale DPS.

While the ruling doesn’t guarantee her freedom, or initiate any immediate changes, her advocates are celebrating it as another positive step in the fight for her freedom. Howard Garrett, founder of the Orca Network, said in an email that this is a huge breakthrough towards getting her home. He further explained that her inclusion should make her current living conditions illegal under the ESA, which makes it unlawful to harm, harass or take endangered animals, and gives her advocates grounds to sue the Seaquarium, or possibly NOAA, over those violations.

The ultimate goal is to get Lolita back to her native waters off the coast of Washington. While those who want to see her stay where she is are continuing to try to incite fears that moving her will unquestionably kill her, mainstream media is helping them out by perpetuating the perception that crazy animal activists want to plunk her down in the ocean, wave goodbye and let her fend for herself when that is not the case.

The Orca Network has an extensive retirement plan in place that’s been ready and waiting for her for years. The plan involves relocating her to a sea pen where she will be able to feel the current and communicate with her pod. She will hopefully be able to return to the wild and reintegrate with her family, however, if she is unwilling, or unable, they have vowed to provide care for her for the remainder of her life. In either case, it’s far better than any future she could face in captivity.

Some are also spinning Keiko’s story as an example of what could happen should she be released. Her advocates, however, counter that the two are entirely different cases and that depending on how we look at it, Keiko’s release can be seen as a success. The creators of the documentary Keiko: the Untold Story are currently calling out PBS for misrepresenting what happened to him by saying he died after only a year.

In reality, after 23 years of confinement, he spent five years freely and independently in the wild, going from listless in captivity to curious and adventurous in the wild, but a major problem for him was that we didn’t know where his family was.

We know exactly who Lolita’s family is and exactly where they are. She is a member of the L pod and her mother, L25 (Ocean Sun), is still believed to be alive and with the pod, along with a few others who were present the day Lolita was taken. According to the Orca Network, she still calls out in the unique language used only by her family members – she remembers.

The story about Springer, the first orca who was successfully rescued and returned to the wild where she was recently spotted with a calf of her own, should also offer hope that Lolita, who is strong and healthy, would have the same success.

While future legal actions on her behalf have yet to be decided, there’s currently a lawsuit pending on appeal against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) concerning the Seaquarium’s violations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). The lawsuit argues that not only is she being kept in a tank that violates the USDA’s standards for minimum size, but she’s being kept in solitary confinement with no escape from the Florida sun or other weather conditions, which are now all violations.

According to Garrett, if they win, it’s proof that keeping her in that tank causing her harm and needs to be remedied, but if they lose the violations and harm done will be documented and ready to use in any future lawsuits.

While we wait for the outcome of the pending lawsuit, which is expected to be heard in March, we can help Lolita by ensuring she has a home and family to go to by supporting campaigns to restore Chinook salmon, which the Southern Residents rely on for food.

For more info on how to help, visit the Orca Network and Whale and Dolphin Conservation’s Don’t Let Orcas Be Dammed campaign.

Alicia Graef|February 6, 2015

21 Rehabilitated Sea Turtles Released into Gulf of Mexico

A massive cold-stunning event in New England this year has led to a startling number of sick sea turtles washing ashore around Cape Cod. The endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles migrate south each fall to avoid the cold, but many didn’t make it in time this year. Inundated with hundreds of turtles to rehabilitate, the New England Aquarium in Boston sought help from the Audubon Aquatic Center and the Louisiana Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Rescue Program. After one month of rehabilitation, 21 of the turtles are healthy enough to be released, while five will remain onshore for further treatment.

Nepal Achieves Huge Milestone: Zero Poaching for a Whole Year

Poachers have not claimed even one elephant, rhinoceros or tiger in Nepal for a solid year. That’s mightily impressive, considering the rampant and constant poaching in that area of the world.

Thirteen Asian countries gathered in Nepal’s capital city of Kathmandu for a first-of-its-kind anti-poaching symposium during the week of February 2-6, 2015. Among their goals: learn how Nepal is getting it right in the battle against illegal animal poaching.

Toward Zero Poaching in Asia hosted discussions by wildlife experts, government officials, police advisors and other anti-poaching stakeholders. Participant nations included Russia, Bangladesh, India, Bhutan, Myanmar and Vietnam. The Government of Nepal co-sponsored the event with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Global Tiger Forum, South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network and National Trust for Nature Conservation.

Success breeds enthusiasm. Symposium attendees left Nepal armed with a plan to coordinate anti-poaching efforts throughout Asia.

What is Nepal Doing That’s Working So Well?

Tigers best demonstrate the success achieved in recent years by Nepal. The tiger population rose by nearly two thirds between 2009 and 2013. India is doing almost as well, with a 30 percent increase since 2010.

“Almost 23 percent land in Nepal has been protected as conservation area to sustain endangered flora and fauna in their natural habitat,” said Nepal’s Minster of Forest and Soil Conservation (MoFSC), Mahesh Acharya, at the symposium. Indeed, Nepal is taking good care of its biodiversity and its threatened species.

The country boasts 10 national parks, six conservation areas and three wildlife reserves, encompassing 13,000 square miles. It embraces technology, using unmanned aerial vehicles to patrol protected areas. Well aware that it serves as a hub for transnational wildlife trafficking, Nepal works cooperatively with China and India to curb illegal trade.

“Nepal has achieved outstanding results in setting a role model for zero poaching for Asia as well as other parts of the world for four years,” said Sharad Chandra Paudel, MoFSC Secretary.

Stopping Poachers Takes a Village… and Then Some

How is Nepal doing it? National leadership works hand in hand with citizens to get the job done. One of Nepal’s biggest victories has been convincing local villagers to turn in poachers, in part by agreeing to give them 50 percent of tourism profits if they do.

Incredibly, there are now more than 400 community-based anti-poaching units throughout Nepal. They keep a close eye on wildlife trafficking, patrol wildlife corridors, remove snares and much more.

“Earlier, some villagers even protected poachers because they didn’t want tigers attacking them. We heard them out, built electric fences, focused on increasing tourism and gave them a big cut of the revenues,” Tikaram Adhikari, director general of Nepal’s department of national parks and wildlife told AFP.

“Now they know the benefits of protecting tigers and they want to help. The survival of the animal is a matter of prestige for them,” he added.

The 50 percent cut of tourism dollars from Nepal’s national parks goes toward community development efforts. That money builds farm roads, local schools and much-needed irrigation facilities. It’s was [eas]y to understand why villagers have been won over to this cooperative conservation effort.

The WWF Nepal’s Diwakar Chapagain agrees that it will take more than wildlife experts to stop the insidious devastation that poaching causes in Asia.

“We have to involve people on the ground — volunteers and local law enforcement must have a stake in the process,” Chapagain told AFP. “Otherwise conservation is not sustainable. Spending money and running awareness campaigns is not enough. You need boots on the ground and that’s where local communities and law enforcement play an important role in cracking down on poachers.”

Nepal figured that out and has done something amazing. It’s now a role model for the rest of Asia.

“Nepal proved to the world that zero poaching can be achieved,” said the WWF’s Dr. Barney Long. “This took incredible commitment from the highest levels in the government right through to frontline conservation heroes like rangers and community anti-poaching patrols.”

Now that word is spreading, will more nations be as proactive and effective as Nepal? Time will tell. There’s no arguing with success.

Susan Bird|February 9, 2015

Rare Pangolins Could Go Extinct if We Don’t Quit Eating Them

In many places, it’s illegal to buy or eat the pangolin, A.K.A. the scaly anteater, but people in many places do it anyway.

The pangolin is a small creature, about a foot to three feet long, that eats ants and termites and lives a mostly solitary nocturnal life. Eight species of pangolin are still around, though two of them are critically endangered, and more have already died out.

According to folklore, its scales, which are made of keratin — the same stuff that’s in our hair and nails — can supposedly purify the blood, fix women’s hormonal problems, and debloat the body. Some people also think eating them can cure cancer and asthma.

For the pangolin, the scales serve as armor against predators. As a defense mechanism, it rolls up in a ball, and wild animals can’t get to it. But it’s got no way to protect itself from humans.

There’s a huge illegal market in Vietnam and China for pangolin meat, which is eaten by some rich people who see it as an exotic luxury good. In Southeast Asia, it’s often brought out in celebration as business deals are finalized.

The pangolin is also hunted and used for meat in parts of Africa, and as it becomes more and more rare in Asia, people are trafficking it across borders to make up for the scarcity.

No one’s sure how many pangolins are left in the wild, but if it’s killed at this rate, all eight species of the mammal could die out, says a report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). According to the report, the pangolin is “literally being eaten out of existence.”

Back in the day, pangolin was a useful source of protein for people who lived near its natural, wild habitat. Today in Asia, according to Dan Challender of IUCN in an interview with NPR, that’s the same reason it’s so desirable: it’s not easy to get.

Before the pangolin can die out forever, IUCN is working on two fronts to save them. First, they’re concentrating on supply, and secondly, they’re working to reduce demand.

Though the governments of China and Vietnam already prohibit sales of these endangered creatures, the laws are really just for show. The trades happen anyway. So it’s going to be hard to make a difference through policy.

But decreasing demand could do the trick. Getting people to start seeing pangolin as a living creature, not a delicacy, will be tough — but it will make a big difference.

If people quit eating it, eventually vendors will stop hunting and trying to sell pangolin, legally or not. Even if you don’t eat meat, you can make a difference by raising awareness for the pangolin’s plight, and helping others understand what will happen if they don’t make a change. The pangolin’s fate is in our hands. Can we make up for the destruction we’ve caused it?

Wolf survey starts Feb. 16 in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula

 State officials announced Monday that they are planning to track the presence of gray wolves in Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula.

The survey on wolf numbers in the region is scheduled to begin Feb. 16 and run through March 13, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Wolf sightings or tracks believed to be from a wolf can be reported to the DNR online as part of the survey.

Wolves started returning to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula through Canada and Wisconsin in the early 1990s. Wolf populations have been increasing since then, and their range continues to expand as well.

The DNR estimates there were more than 630 wolves in the Upper Peninsula last year, compared to 658 in 2013. A wolf hunt in 2013 killed 22. There was no hunt last year.

“The probability of observing an actual wolf or its tracks in the Lower Peninsula is low,” said DNR wildlife biologist Jennifer Kleitch. “It’s helpful to have as many eyes as possible looking, so public reports are important for this survey.”

The survey will be a collaboration between the DNR, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services, the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians and the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians.

Survey teams will respond to areas where there have been reports of wolves.

“It’s important that observations are reported in a timely manner so we can work with fresh evidence,” Kleitch said, adding that any evidence should be disturbed as little as possible.

A federal judge in December threw out the Obama administration’s decision to remove wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan from the endangered list. The move banned sport hunting and trapping of wolves in the region, where the combined population is around 3,700.

Alisha Green|Associated Press

Wild & Weird

Norwegian Lemmings stand out in a crowd and scream to deter predators

Conspicuous, boldly colored fur and loud barks warn would-be predators that little Norwegian Lemmings are not to be messed with, researchers have discovered.

The findings of the team headed by Malte Andersson from the University of Göteborg in Sweden appears in Springer’s journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.

The Norwegian Lemming (Lemmus lemmus) is endemic to northern Finland, Norway, Sweden, and the Kola peninsula in Russia.

The animals have a red-brown back, yellow flanks, white breast, chin and cheeks and a large black patch on the head, neck and shoulders.

They are unique among small rodents in their ferocity, and will readily fight back the aerial attacks of predators such as the Long-tailed Skua with loud screams, lunges and bites.

Most smaller rodents rarely aggressively protect themselves from predators; a willingness to have a go, therefore, is worth advertising.

Through five field tests, Andersson noted that the Norwegian Lemming’s remarkable traits can be ascribed to aposematism: the use of warning colors and other methods to signal to predators that the potential prey has some form of defence, for example being toxic.

Aposematism is unusual in herbivorous mammals, however, being much more common among insects, snakes and frogs.

In one of the experiments, 18 observers found it easier to spot Norwegian Lemmings in their natural habitat than their main rodent neighbor, the Grey-sided Vole.

In another test, Andersson noted that Brown Lemmings only gave anti-predatory warning calls in one out of 39 instances when a human (seen as a potential predator) was near.

Norwegian Lemmings, on the other hand, did so in 36 of 110 cases.

Black and white or yellow are classic warning colorations, which some birds instinctively know to avoid.

Andersson explains that such calls and coloration are often useful at close range, where a lemming is likely to be discovered even if silent.

They signal to a predator that the rodent will put up a fight if attacked.

“The Norwegian Lemming combines acoustics with visual conspicuousness, probably to reduce its risk of becoming prey,” says Andersson, who believes that such aposematism could help explain why the long-distance movements of Norwegian Lemmings are so conspicuous.

Everglades

Florida Everglades would be a winner, Louisiana coast a loser under proposed Obama budget

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) – For centuries, long before hotel resorts sprouted along the Florida Keys, Florida bay was a wonderland.

The Everglades fed the blue green waters of the bay just enough fresh water to create a world-class estuary between the Keys and the mainland.

“It’s in sick shape,” said Dr. Jerry Lorenz of Audubon Florida, as he took FOX 8 on a tour of the bay last April.

The state of Florida, local water districts, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and environmental groups have worked for years on ambitious plans to rescue The Everglades.

Just as man sought to improve on nature, building levees to tame the Mississippi River, he also rearranged nature’s plumbing in central and southern Florida.

Historically, fresh water flowed south, beginning not far from Orlando, on a slow trek to the Gulf of Mexico, slower than the slowest Louisiana bayou.

As cities and farms sprouted, sticking more and more straws into what Floridians proudly call their “river of grass,” the system starved for fresh water.

“From that point on, things really deteriorated in Florida Bay,” Lorenz said.

However, Florida has a jumpstart on rescuing this wonderland and friends in powerful places.

Last week, President Obama proposed spending $195 million in the coming fiscal year for the Everglades through a series of projects aimed at restoring more of the nature water flow.

At the same time, the Obama budget would scrap plans to share half-a-billion a year in offshore oil royalties with Louisiana and other gulf coast states beginning in fiscal 2017.

Louisiana, home to much of the nation’s offshore oil and gas infrastructure, would tap into roughly one third of that money under the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA).

Instead, the president’s proposal would sprinkle the GOMESA funding onto conservation programs around the country.

“I mean, Chesapeake Bay and the Everglades don’t compare in terms of productivity,” said Jerome Zeringue, outgoing chairman of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

Zeringue noted Louisiana voters changed the constitution to dedicate the GOMESA funds solely to coastal restoration projects and hurricane protection.

The state’s estimated $170 million annual take represents one-third to one-half of the anticipated funding for the state’s Coastal Master Plan, Zeringue said, and the largest continuing source of revenue.

“What’s even more insulting is the fact that it’s even proposed,” Zeringue said.

While many observers believe the Obama budget will meet an early death in the Republican-controlled House and Senate, the president may have opened up a discussion in cash-hungry Washington about the use of GOMESA funds.

“When Louisiana loses guaranteed money, other states benefit with the chance to get that money,” said Tulane University Political Analyst Mike Sherman. “So, we’re going to see some strange coalitions probably on this one.’

Geologists estimate Louisiana is at risk of losing another 1,700 square miles of its coastline in coming decades. However, the issue may have more to do with another kind of map, an electoral one.

“Listen, most states in the country, we know how they’re going to vote for president in 2016,” Sherman said. “There’s just a few battleground states and then, there’s one super battleground. That’s Florida.”

Even without Barack Obama on the ballot 2016, Sherman said electoral politics still matter in Washington.

He believes the issue marks an early test for Louisiana GOP leaders, including Majority Whip Steve Scalise, the third-ranking republican in the House.

“Do they have the clout to stop President Obama from taking away this dedication?”

John Snell|Feb 09, 2015

Great Lakes & Inland Waters 

Can We Reverse-Engineer the Environment?

Across the top of the map, above the Arctic’s Mer Glaciale, there floats a banner inscribed with a legend that in translation reads “New Discovery of Many Nations in New France in the years 1673 and 1674.” This legend is a bit misleading. Although the terrestrial features seem to have been distorted by a fun-house mirror, the aquatic features are strikingly recognizable and strikingly out of scale, as if we were peering down through a magnifying glass poised over the Great Lakes. Read the semi-legible calligraphic names along the coasts and riverbanks, and you begin to perceive that this isn’t really a map of North America nor of New France. It’s a navigation chart and a relic of a time when waterways assumed out-of-scale proportions in our geographies.

The map was hand-drawn by the explorer Louis Joliet. On the return leg of their 1673 expedition to the Mississippi and back, Joliet and his traveling companion, Père Marquette, made a discovery, a long-sought trade route through the heart of the continent by which — Joliet later reported — “a bark” could sail “by very easy navigation” from “New France” to “Florida,” or as we would put it, from Canada to the Gulf Coast. It is this discovery, this route, that Joliet’s hand-drawn navigation chart illustrates.

Midwest Passage

Louis Joliet’s hand-drawn navigation chart of his 1673 expedition to the Mississippi.

Credit Chart from John Carter Brown Library at Brown University

There was just one small obstacle to overcome, identified on his map by the word “portage,” written at the site of present-day Chicago. There, at the southwestern tip of Lake Michigan, the explorers had been obliged to lug their cargo and canoes across the “half a league” of prairie separating a tributary of the Mississippi, now known as the Des Plaines River, from the Chicago River, which in 1673 still flowed east into the nearby lake. Joliet, however, had an idea: “It would only be necessary,” he suggested, “to make a canal.” This suggestion would eventually alter the history of the continent, as well as its ecology. We are still reckoning with the consequences in 2015.

Geologically speaking, what the French explorers discovered at the southern tip of Lake Michigan was a low point on the sub continental divide that for thousands of years had separated the Mississippi Basin from the Great Lakes. Joliet, although he didn’t know it, was proposing to reconnect them.

The canal he imagined exists today, but not for the reasons he suggested it, not exactly. With the arrival of rail, the need for navigable trade routes was less pressing. What Chicago really needed was a sewer. Lacking one, it used the Chicago River, which emptied into Lake Michigan, the city’s water supply. The Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal (shovel day: Sept. 3, 1892) would connect the Great Lakes to the Mississippi Valley, but it would also reverse the course of the Chicago River, flushing the city’s sewage south. The idea when first proposed seemed a folly, a boondoggle in the making. Reverse a river! You might as well part the waters of Lake Michigan or turn back time. But in low-lying Chicago, the plan’s proponents demonstrated, this miracle of engineering could in fact be performed: Dig a channel deep enough through the subcontinental divide, and gravity would do the rest.

The excavation lasted eight years and cost $33 million. On the eve of its completion, word came from St. Louis that attorneys were preparing to petition the Supreme Court, seeking an injunction to shut down the canal before it opened. The trustees of Chicago’s sanitary district responded not with legal actions of their own but by overseeing the destruction by dynamite and steam-powered dredge of the sole remaining barrier holding back the waters of the Chicago River.

Two days later, The Chicago Record delivered good news: “Clear water in the Chicago River — water that was actually blue in color and had blocks of ice of a transparent green hue floating in it — caused people who crossed bridges over the Chicago River yesterday to stop and stare in amazement.” The news from Missouri was gloomier: “Windy City Sewage Now Headed This Way” ran a headline in The St. Louis Star.

The Sanitary and Ship Canal was heralded as a triumph of that heroic age of American civil engineering in which technological progress and industrial might promised to deliver us from nature’s tyranny. If we could reverse the course of rivers, what couldn’t we bend to our will?

In 1955, the American Society of Civil Engineers named Chicago’s sanitation system to its list of seven modern wonders. Also included: the Empire State Building and Hoover Dam. “Man, modern man — the scientist, the explorer, the builder of bridges and waterways and steam engines, the visionary entrepreneur — had become the central creative force,” David McCullough wrote in “The Path Between the Seas,” his history of the Panama Canal (also on the list).

The view from 2015 is muddier. Like many modern wonders, Chicago’s canal solved the problem it was engineered to solve — the city’s sewage crisis — but it did so by sending the consequences downstream, to the Mississippi Valley and, in unanticipated ways, to all of us. In hindsight, it looks less like a triumph of the heroic age of civil engineering than like a prologue to the chastening age we live in now, the epoch geologists have proposed calling the Anthropocene, the age of the sixth extinction. One cause of this extinction: the trade routes and flight paths and navigable waterways with which we stitched continents and basins together. Thanks to us, species that evolved in isolation now collide, at times with devastating effects on ecosystems.

A hundred or so years after it opened, Chicago’s canal has been making news again. “Asian Carp DNA Found in Downtown Chicago, a Block From Lake Michigan” read a typical headline this past January. You’ve most likely seen footage of the slapstick scenes in which boaters motor through a storm of airborne fish. The aerialists in those videos are all silver carp, the only of the four invasive species of Asian carp that exhibits the entertaining fright response so popular on YouTube. Another of the four, the bighead carp, is constitutionally furtive, difficult to catch or detect. By the time the Asian carp footage went viral on the Internet, both species had already gone viral in the Mississippi watershed. Voracious planktivores, they reproduce quickly. Fully grown, they have no natural predators except humans. Commercial fishermen on the Illinois River now catch 25,000 pounds of Asian carp per day, with little discernible effect on the reproducing population.

Ecologists will tell you that it’s impossible to predict just how much havoc the Asian carp might wreak on the ecosystem of the Great Lakes, home to a $7 billion fishery; they will also tell you that we have more than carp to worry about. A 2011 report commissioned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates that 87 species in the Great Lakes are at risk of invading the Mississippi and another 57 are threatening to travel in the other direction. They have colorful names: the spiny water flea, the bloody red shrimp, the northern snakehead, the red-rim melania. Those numbers do not include the 103 other species — the round goby, the zebra mussel — for which, according to the report, “any dispersal control mechanism is already too late.”

When dynamite and the steam-powered dredge breached the subcontinental divide in 1900, it also breached thousands of years of evolutionary history. Ecologists and political leaders in Great Lakes states downstream from Chicago argue that as long as the canal remains open, the invasions will continue. The best permanent solution, they say, is “hydroseparation.” In other words, we need to part the waters, restore the continental divide.

Last year, in a much-anticipated report with a misleadingly bland title, “The Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study,” the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers affirmed the feasibility of hydroseparation but has yet to make a recommendation to Congress. Whatever recommendation it makes, the very prospect of re-engineering the canal suggests something about the ways our geographies and our own out-of-scale place in them have changed.

“The canal is the only remaining link wanting to complete the most stupendous chain of inland communications in the world,” one visitor to Chicago wrote in 1834. That use of the word “communications” sounds archaic to our ears, but there’s a furtive meaning bottom-dwelling in those etymological channels. Ideas, goods, images, species — everything is communicable now. In shortening distances, we’ve accelerated processes — climatological, evolutionary — to a pace even our own species, the most adaptable, invasive one on the planet, is struggling to keep up with.

Don’t ask just the ecologists. Ask the engineers. Increasingly, it’s the consequences of our own past creations they’re seeking to deliver us from. That report published last year celebrates the Army Corps’s recent “efforts to restore the natural characteristics of aquatic systems.” Those efforts include “hydrologic regime re-establishment, dam removal, river meandering, reconnecting floodplains, reintroduction of fire, etc.” More than 1,000 dams have been removed from American rivers in the past century, 72 of them last year. Homesteaders drained wetlands; after Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, we’re building them. Battling the effects of climate change is now central to the Army Corps’s mission. Having spent centuries trying to bring natural forces under our control, our civil engineers are now declaring peace with them, or at least establishing diplomatic relations.

It’s enough to make you wonder if water might once again assume a place of prominence in our geographies, which is not to say that we should throw away our Global Positioning Systems and go back to using Joliet’s hand-drawn navigation chart. No matter how accurate or beautiful, all of those old maps leave out a crucial dimension, one that computer models of planetary processes have only recently added to ours: time. On our best maps, the rivers move.

DONOVAN HOHN|FEB. 6, 2015

Judge’s Ruling a Victory for Buffalo National River

Coalition Seeks to Protect Arkansas’ National River from Factory Farm Waste

The end of 2014 brought a legal victory so significant for the Buffalo National River watershed in Arkansas that the nonprofit environmental law organization Earthjustice called it “a rare win against industrial agriculture and federal malfeasance.”

Congress established the Buffalo National River in 1972 as America’s first national river. Over a million people visit this national park each year, spending over $46 million annually in local communities. Activities at the park include canoeing, fishing, swimming, caving, camping, hiking, hunting, and sightseeing.

Last month, U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall found two federal agencies liable for illegally guaranteeing portions of approximately $3.6 million in loans applied for by C&H Hog Farms, a 6,500-animal factory farm that began operating on a tributary of the river in 2013. The two federal agencies—the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Farm Service Agency (FSA)—guaranteed these loans despite failing to conduct adequate environmental reviews.

The FSA did prepare a cursory document claiming the hog farm would have no significant environmental impact, but without sufficient documentation or reasoning to back up the claim. The FSA then failed to properly notify the public of the study and left only a 15-day window for public comment. Not surprisingly, no one commented. Both the assessment and the public notice are required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Not even the National Park Service knew about the environmental assessment until after the fact. After receiving a copy of the FSA environmental assessment finding no significant impact, the National Park Service submitted a letter to FSA outlining 45 flaws and deficiencies in the assessment. The Park Service asked to halt the project until the agency, the public, and other stakeholders had a chance to comment.

In addition to the NEPA violations, the judge also ruled that both agencies violated the Endangered Species Act by not properly consulting with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on potential impacts the hog farm could have on protected species—particularly the endangered gray bat.

C&H Hog Farms provides piglets for the giant meat-processing company Cargill. Its thousands of pigs create an estimated 1.8 million gallons of waste each year on the banks of Big Creek, a waterway six miles upstream of Buffalo National River. C&H stores the hog excrement in two settling ponds. Periodically, the company drains the ponds and sprays the waste on a series of fields, most of which are also on the banks of a tributary of the Buffalo River.

Disposing millions of gallons of hog waste upstream of a national river where thousands of families swim and fish is bad enough in itself—but the region’s porous geography, known as “karst,” is particularly susceptible to spreading contaminants, making the seriousness of the violations even worse. The karst geology of the national park includes over 360 caves and thousands of sinkholes, sinking streams, and springs.

NPCA served as a plaintiff in the federal suit along with three partner organizations, the Arkansas Canoe Club, the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, and the Ozark Society, all of whom were represented by Earthjustice, Earthrise Law Center, and Carney Bates & Pulliam, PLLC. In the final ruling, Judge Marshall agreed that the environmental assessment “didn’t mention the Buffalo River or Big Creek, misstated that C&H would have 2,500 swine, didn’t address any alternative locations, didn’t mention the Gray Bat, and concluded without explanation that mitigation measures were unnecessary.”

Now it’s up to these two agencies to make it right.

What’s next?

Per the judge’s ruling, the FSA and SBA have until December 2015 to conduct the proper environmental reviews and consultations that should have occurred in the first place. Depending on the findings, this additional review could require that C&H Hog Farms meet new environmental conditions to continue to receive the loans backed by these agencies.

In the meantime, NPCA has been supporting the Ozark Society’s work on the state level to ensure that factory farming within the Buffalo River watershed does not adversely impact national park resources.

Last year, after significant public protest against the factory farm, the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission issued a moratorium preventing any new medium- or large-sized factory farms in the Buffalo River watershed. This moratorium is temporary, however, and the commission could fail to renew it when it expires on April 20, 2015. Although Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, who took office earlier this month, campaigned on a pro-Buffalo platform, it remains to be seen whether he will champion a permanent moratorium.

The Ozark Society, NPCA, and other allies are investigating the best way to move forward on a permanent moratorium—the best step toward protecting this watershed from further harm.

Emily Jones|January 20, 2015

Offshore & Ocean

Why Maine’s Lobsters Could Be in Serious Trouble

Whether you like lobsters because you’re an ardent animal-lover, or just because you think they taste good dipped in butter, it’s time to start worrying about the lobster’s future.

The culprit is something that most people are not yet familiar with: ocean acidification. Like most environmental problems, it stems back to climate change. As carbon dioxide emissions increase, the ocean’s chemicals change as a result, and the water becomes significantly more acidic. This rise in acid spells trouble for all sorts of sea life, including shellfish like lobster.

Maine’s coastal acidity has increased by 30 percent in the last few centuries, and currently shows no signs of stopping. In the past couple of years, marine biologists have demanded that Maine stop its fishing seasons for shrimp, another kind of shellfish, due to the creature’s sudden scarcity. With shrimping already in major distress, people are preemptively concerned that the acidification could have negative ramifications on the state’s real cash crop: lobster.

Maine is so scared about what the future holds for its lobsters that the state’s legislators have proposed allocating $3 million to research how ocean acidification will affect the sea creature. Losing lobsters would not only dismantle the fishing industry, a key component of the state’s economy, it would probably also harm Maine’s tourism.

“No one comes to the Maine coast to eat a chicken sandwich,” quipped state Representative Michael Devin. “We lose our lobster, we lose our clams? We’ll lose tourism as well.”

Hopefully, the state’s commissioned research will prove useful to coastal communities outside of Maine as well. Though existing research on ocean acidification is far from plentiful, the information that does exist is worrisome. One independent study found that fewer lobsters are born when the ocean’s temperature rises. A second study revealed that lobsters’ growth and development has been stunted by acidification.

The initial findings of the research have been enough to get Maine’s legislators to act even before all of the research is complete. State lawmakers have drafted four bills to start tackling ocean acidification sooner than later through monitoring acid levels and blocking land runoff pollution that hastens acidification.

Republican Governor Paul LePage has a history of vetoing legislation designed to address climate change concerns, so none of these bills are a sure thing at this point. Nonetheless, even a non-environmentalist like LePage must be nervous about the public’s reaction to potentially jeopardizing the state’s livelihood. At some point, the conservative mindset to protect big business by ignoring climate change is less important than protecting the economy that is the lifeblood of the state.

Kevin Mathews|February 8, 2015

Biscayne Bay coral at risk from sloppy dredge work

Despite promises to a federal judge in October to clean up dredging at Government Cut, federal managers of a $205 million channel-deepening project continue to stir up sediment and risk damaging fragile marine life.

Federal environmental regulators refused to extend a permit in December after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reported a laundry list of problems in transporting the sediment to a dump site five miles offshore. The problems, 49 in all, mostly involved excessive leaking from scows, the large flat-bottomed barges used to carry sediment to the site.

The Environmental Protection Agency “is concerned about these violations in consideration of the valuable live bottom resources… including federally listed species protected under the Endangered Species Act,” Water Protection Division director James Giattina wrote in denying a two-year permit. Giattina extended the permit just six months and asked the Corps to correct the work.

Environmentalists have repeatedly complained the Corps is not doing enough to keep sediment from the massive dredging from fanning out over the bay and killing protected coral and meadows of seagrass. The work, scheduled to end in July, will scoop up about six million cubic yards of bay bottom to make way for larger ships coming through an expanded Panama Canal.

A month after it was transplanted from Government Cut to a nearby artificial reef, this colony of staghorn coral appears to be thriving. | Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper

“They’ve been dredging for over a year and we’ve been reporting damage for months now,” said Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper executive director Rachel Silverstein.

On two separate dives last week, Waterkeeper divers found and photographed sickly staghorn coral that had been transplanted from the channel to a nearby artificial reef a year ago for protection. The photos show tagged colonies now coated with sediment and dead or dying.

Corps officials said they are investigating the problems and are working closely with the EPA to correct them. Corps spokeswoman Susan Jackson wrote in an email this week that none of the leaks or dumping had damaged sensitive marine life. At six months, surveys showed the coral was healthy, she said. Workers recently completed a one-year inspection, she said, but have not yet reported their findings. State inspectors, who found extensive damage in July, are scheduled to return next week, said Florida Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller.

Once the project is completed, Jackson said the Corps will look at how the work affected marine life and take steps to lessen any damage.

“We’re a learning organization — we take the lessons learned and apply them not only to projects under execution, but to our future planning for projects,” she wrote.

In October, the Waterkeeper group along with Reef Guard and Tropical Audubon asked a judge to shut down work after state inspectors found the dredge had created a moonscape on the bay bottom, churning up sediment and triggering a “profound effect” on the sea floor. Divers found some areas buried in six inches of sand and coral suffocating as sediment piled up. Traps intended to measure sediment, which can block sunlight and kill sea life, were not working. Boulders dropped to create an artificial reef also crushed existing coral and sponges.

After a nine-hour stand-off in court, the environmentalists, who have also sued the Corps for violating the Endangered Species Act, agreed to drop the request when Department of Justice attorneys vowed to practice “adaptive management” strategies to protect marine life.

The dredge will consume about seven acres of reef, including five undisturbed acres at the mouth of the channel. To offset the damage, the Corps initially agreed to move threatened coral, which amounted to about 36 colonies, but agreed to expand rescue efforts after environmental groups sued in 2014 after much more protected coral was discovered. The location of the coral and how much should be moved has fueled much of the ongoing debate.

Environmentalists want the Corps to do a better job of determining the extent of sediment damage so they can take better steps to protect coral and other marine life. They worry that when the Corps dredges Port Everglades where about 30,000 colonies are scheduled to be planted from nurseries to compensate for damage to the Fort Lauderdale port, no measures will be taken to protect them.

“If we don’t know how far sediment impact goes, we don’t know where it’s safe to put coral,” Silverstein said. “In Miami, we found that even where they thought it was safe, they’re still getting sediment damage.”

Jenny Staletovich|MiamiHerald.com|02/05/2015

14 new reefs planned for the Gulf

MEXICO BEACH — In the next few months, the city of Mexico Beach and the Mexico Beach Artificial Reef Association (MBARA) will build 14 new artificial reefs off the coast of Mexico Beach and Port St. Joe with the support of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

Bob Cox, president of the MBARA, announced that the city of Mexico Beach and MBARA was successful in winning two grants from FWC for a total of $120,000.

Of that funding, $40,000 comes from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Sport-fish Restoration Program plus $80,000 from the state Legislature and FWC. In addition to the grants, MBARA will add a $45,000 cash match made possible with cash donations from its sponsors, members, and other fundraising efforts by its volunteers.

Cox added that the MBARA’s annual Kingfish Tournament is one of largest and most successful fundraisers, netting more than $25,000 a year thanks to the ambitious efforts of tournament director, Ron Childs and all the volunteers that make it happen.

Cox also mentioned that the MBARA’s memorial reef program has become very popular. About $15,000 will be added to the project this year, raising the total to $180,000 with construction of the Billy Gillen memorial reef, Jimmy Stephens memorial reef, and enhancement of the John Thompson Memorial Reef. Memorial reefs are growing in popularity as a “green” and cost-saving alternative to traditional burials.

This project marks a milestone of over $2 million invested in artificial reef construction off the shores of Mexico Beach and Port St. Joe, according to Cox.

Bay County was ranked second in the state with 88 reefs constructed over the past five years, Cox said he learned during the 2015 Florida Artificial Reef Summit.

According to Cox’s records, 69 of the 88 reefs in Bay County were constructed by the city of Mexico Beach and MBARA. Second, a new artificial reef economic impact study shows an averaged statewide annual return of $19 for every $1 invested in to artificial reefs.

SPECIAL TO THE NEWS HERALD|February 4, 2015

Local Pollutants Compound Threats to Coral Reefs

NEW YORK, Feb 6 2015 (IPS) – A recent study suggests that one of the multiple threats to coral reefs contains both the problem and solution.

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), based in Cape Cod, conducted a study highlighting multiple threats to coral reef ecosystems and also identifying a management strategy that could slow reef decline.

“Management of a local coral reef, in terms of limiting human nutrient supplies to that coral reef, can actually have real substantial effects over the next century.” — marine researcher Thomas DeCarlo

Coral reefs are animal organisms that are like sea castles, vibrant with algae and home to sponges, mollusks and creatures seeking shelter. In fact, 25 per cent of marine life relies on coral reefs as part of their habitat.

Coral reefs build their skeletons using limestone, or calcium carbonate. The increase of acid in the ocean due to excess carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere causes the carbonate ion to become less available. Coral reefs rely on carbonate to produce their well-cemented skeletons, which they are doing more slowly.

As a result, the natural equilibrium governing production–erosion of coral reefs has been disrupted in favour of erosion.

To add to the imbalance, the added component of ‘nutrients’ to water accelerates the rate of erosion 10 times.

The interaction between high levels of nutrients with acidity makes the effect of ocean acidification 10 times greater.

‘Nutrients’ refer here to pollution by humans on a local scale.

And herein lies the study’s seed of good news as it says in encouraging terms that “…people can take action to protect their local reefs. If people can limit runoff from septic tanks, sewers, roads, farm fertilizers and other sources of nutrient pollution to the coastal ocean, the bioeroders will not have such an upper hand, and the balance will tip much more slowly toward erosion and dissolution of coral reefs”.

Mark Eakin is coordinator of Coral Reef Watch, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“Reducing erosion by tenfold is major,” he told IPS.

He also explained that coral reefs face both global and local threats, thereby requiring solutions at each level, regardless of whether the global stressors or the local factors, such as overfishing, are paramount (and in fact, both are severe).

“In addressing things like pollutant runoffs that contribute to the local issue of why ocean acidification can be so harmful, what you’re doing is you’re pointing to a local solution to a local problem,” said Eakin.

While the climate change remains a problem of planetary scale, requiring concerted efforts on a cross-national level, the plus-side of local problems is that they can be addressed on a local scale.

“And by doing that what you’re doing is making the reefs more resilient to climate change and ocean acidification. So that better helps them to survive, while we work on getting the global problems under control,” he said.

A good warning sign

Thomas DeCarlo is doing his PhD in the joint program of oceanography between Massachusetts Institute of Technology and WHOI. He led the Woods Hole study.

In an interview with IPS, DeCarlo was asked the extent to which cleaning up waters locally could alleviate the overall strains on coral reef development.

He explained that local action could buffer or limit to some extent the global impact of ocean acidification, which is certain to continue over the next century.

“I guess the source of optimism is that whereas the CO2 ocean acidification problem is really truly global, and that’s a really big problem because reefs can’t really escape that, it’s such a global phenomenon that all coral reefs are going to be seeing this ocean acidification effect.

“But the nutrient problem from human nutrient addition is really a pretty local problem, in a lot of respects so, the optimism is that that can actually be limited and controlled on a local scale, so management of a local coral reef, in terms of limiting human nutrient supplies to that coral reef, can actually have real substantial effects over the next century,” he said.

There is an economic incentive that could help the political agenda bend to the needs of nature, with the total dollar value of coral reef services estimated in the billions annually in the U.S. alone.

Furthermore, coral reefs protect shorelines by absorbing storm energies and perform many other roles in the world as we know it.

Leila Lemghalef|Edited by Kitty Stapp

Forestry

Conservation Organizations’ Objection to Hundreds of Helicopter Landings in Tonto National Forest Wilderness Upheld

PHOENIX, AZ—The Regional Forester of the USDA Forest Service upheld objections filed by conservation groups regarding a plan by the Tonto National Forest to allow hundreds of helicopter landings in five Wilderness areas on the Tonto National Forest, ostensibly to “manage” bighorn sheep. The groups contended that the action violated the Wilderness Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Forest Management Act, and that it would harm wildlife including bighorn sheep, as well as other wilderness values.

In a letter to the conservation groups, Regional Forester Cal Joyner stated,

“Based on my review, I find that the analysis presented in the EA and supporting documentation does not adequately address Forest Service responsibilities under the Wilderness Act and other guidance that requires coordination with States related to wildlife and fish management in wilderness.”

“As we noted in our objection, a plan to land helicopters in Wilderness areas for the next ten years is contrary to the very nature of wilderness,” stated Cyndi Tuell with Friends of Wild Animals. “Wilderness areas are protected to allow for wild sheep and wild lands to go ‘untrammeled.’ Had the Forest Service agreed to this project, there would have been major trammeling in five of our Arizona wilderness areas.”

Gary Macfarlane of Wilderness Watch stated, “This plan was an unprecedented assault on the national wilderness system. Bighorn sheep and predator numbers should be determined by nature, not heavy-handed management. And helicopters have no place in Wilderness except emergencies and truly extraordinary circumstances. We’ll continue to insist the Forest Service gets it right next time.”

“This is a great win for wilderness and its values. We are pleased that some of our spectacular wilderness areas — Superstition and Four Peaks – will not be assaulted by the noise and the harm to wildlife and wildlife habitat that this project promoted,” said Sandy Bahr, chapter director for Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter. “Sierra Club supports having healthy populations of bighorn sheep and other native wildlife, but the best way to ensure that is to maintain and re-establish connected and healthy habitat not to invade wilderness with helicopters.”

Groups filing the Objection include Friends of Wild Animals (FOWA), Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club, Wilderness Watch, WildEarth Guardians, and SPEAK (Supporting and Promoting Ethics for the Animal Kingdom).

News Release – For More Information Contact:

Cyndi Tuell, Friends of Wild Animals 520-404-0920
Gary Macfarlane, Wilderness Watch 208-882-9755
Sandy Bahr, Sierra Club 602-253-8633, 602-999-5790

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

Global Warming and Climate Change

This Common Kitchen Item Could Help Fight Greenhouse Gases

Power plants are still the single largest source of carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas that traps heat and makes the planet warmer. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, coal- and natural gas-fired plants were responsible for a third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2012.

At TreeHugger we used to comment frequently on ways to capture greenhouse gases and (ostensibly) reduce global warming. Around 2009 there were plenty of strategies and talk about how carbon capture was definitely going to be a tool to slow global warming.

Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) was a very real idea but a very expensive proposition for power companies, and after some spendy pilot programs – like at the Mongstad plant in Norway – the idea started to fade away.

But not entirely. At the University of Illinois, for example, one project recently celebrated sequestering one million tons of CO2.

And a recent Harvard team has reported on materials that enable a safer, cheaper, and more energy-efficient process for carbon capture at power plants. The new materials are based on good old kitchen-grade baking soda. You know – in the orange box with the arm and the hammer.

Otherwise known as sodium carbonate, the baking soda achieves an order-of-magnitude increase in CO2 absorption rates compared to the type of absorbing materials currently used.

These materials, based on caustic amine solvents, separate CO2 from the flue gas escaping the power plant’s smokestacks. But they are expensive, result in a significant reduction in a power plant’s output, and yield toxic byproducts.

The new technique developed by the Harvard team encapsulates the baking soda and is called microencapsulated carbon sorbents (MECS). While currently-used amines break down over time, carbonates have much better staying power.

“MECS provide a new way to capture carbon with fewer environmental issues,” said Roger D. Aines, leader of the fuel cycle innovations program at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and a co-lead author. “Capturing the world’s carbon emissions is a huge job. We need technology that can be applied to many kinds of carbon dioxide sources, with the public’s full confidence in the safety and sustainability.”

With the EPA proposing rules that would require reduced emissions from new plants, the cheaper MECS process for capturing greenhouse gases may bring CCS back to life, and help stall climate change.

A.K. Streeter|Treehugger|February 7, 2015

New Satellite Data Reveals Dramatic Shrinkage of Arctic Ice Cap

An ice cap in the high Arctic has lost what British scientists say is a significant amount of ice in an unusually short time.

It has thinned by more than 50 metres since 2012—about one sixth of its original thickness—and the ice flow is now 25 times faster, accelerating to speeds of several kilometers per year.

Over the last two decades, thinning of the Austfonna ice cap in the Svalbard archipelago—roughly half way between Norway and the North Pole—has spread more than 50km inland, to within 10km of the summit.

A team led by the scientists from the UK Centre for Polar Observation and Modeling (CPOM) at the University of Leeds combined observations from eight satellite missions, including Sentinel-1A and CryoSat, with results from regional climate models, to understand what was happening.

Sea level rise

The study’s lead author, geophysicist Dr. Mal McMillan, a member of the CPOM team, said: “These results provide a clear example of just how quickly ice caps can evolve, and highlight the challenges associated with making projections of their future contribution to sea level rise.”

The study, published in Geophysical Research Letters, is the first to make use of measurements from the European Space Agency’s latest Earth observation satellite, Sentinel-1A.

Dr. McMillan said: “New satellites, such as the Sentinel-1A and CryoSat missions, are essential for enabling us to systematically monitor ice caps and ice sheets, and to better understand these remote polar environments.”

Melting ice caps and glaciers account for about a third of recent global sea level rise. Although scientists predict that they will continue to lose ice in the future, determining the exact amount is difficult, because of a lack of observations and the complex nature of how they interact with the climate around them.

The 20 years of satellite data that the scientists have amassed show some fairly small changes at the start of the study period, but these have since increased.

“Glacier surges, similar to what we have observed, are a well-known phenomenon,” said Professor Andrew Shepherd, the director of CPOM. “What we see here is unusual because it has developed over such a long period of time, and appears to have started when ice began to thin and accelerate at the coast.”

There is evidence that the surrounding ocean temperature has increased in recent years, which may have been the original trigger for the ice cap thinning.

Flow models

Prof. Shepherd said: “Whether or not the warmer ocean water and ice cap behaviour are directly linked remains an unanswered question. Feeding the results into existing ice flow models may help us to shed light on the cause, and also improve predictions of global ice loss and sea level rise in the future.”

The team says long-term observations by satellites are the key to monitoring such climate-related phenomena.

Dr. McMillan told Climate News Network he did not think what was happening in Austfonna suggested any sort of tipping point in the Arctic, which scientists say is warming more than twice as fast as anywhere else on Earth.

He said: “What I take from this work is that we don’t understand well enough what’s caused this sort of behavior—natural variability, ocean temperatures or atmospheric temperatures. It reinforces the complexities and the challenges of the future.”

Alex Kirby|Climate News Network|February 2, 2015

Louisiana Tribes Battle Rising Gulf Waters

Much has been made of small Alaska Native villages falling prey to erosion and sea level rise way up near the Arctic. But similar problems are being faced in the Lower 48 as well, specifically coastal tribes in Louisiana whose members are seeing their small island being slowly devoured by the Gulf of Mexico.

Beset by rising sea levels, communities on the Louisiana coast and offshore islands are constantly flooding, leaving the United Houma Nation and the Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha Choctaw struggling for dry land. These communities in southern Louisiana’s bayou region “are fighting a daily battle against the rising seawaters and disappearing land—a natural process which has been expedited over the last century by the dredging of tens of thousands of miles of wetlands for pipelines and navigation canals by oil and gas companies dating back to the 1930s,” the newswire Climate Progress reported in a January 22 story.

“Honestly, I think there’s maybe one or two generations more,” said Regee Dupree, executive director of the Terrebonne Parish Levee District, to Climate Progress. “It’s heartbreaking with the culture aspects but sooner or later, as a government official, you have to be realistic about how much you can spend per capita. All you can do is rearrange the chairs on the deck of the Titanic right now.”

Read more

ICTMN Staff|1/30/15

Climate and Weather

The American Association for the Advancement of Science tries to explain the relationship between weather events and climate change.  And much more.  Worth the few minutes it will take to read.  Climate scientists do not blame climate change for any single weather event – they are well aware of variability in weather systems.  They blame greenhouse gases for a  dramatic and rapid change in earth’s climate – and forecast more changes to come.  

http://whatweknow.aaas.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/AAAS-What-We-Know.pdf

No matter where they live, Americans are experiencing the effects of climate change. Of
course, extreme weather events of varied intensity have always occurred. Family photo albums, community lore and history books recount the big storms, droughts and floods that communities  have borne. Against this backdrop of natural variation, however, something different is happening.
Greenhouse gases from manmade sources such as smokestacks and tailpipes have altered our climate system. Greenhouse gases have supercharged the climate just as steroids supercharged hitting in Major League Baseball. Over the course of a baseball season in the steroid era, we witnessed more – and longer – homers, even though we cannot attribute any specific homer to steroids. Similarly, even though we cannot attribute any particular weather event to climate change, some types of extreme events such as heat waves are now more frequent.

University Crafts Climate Action Plan to Achieve Carbon Neutrality

Last month Bowling Green State University (BGSU) pledged its commitment to achieving carbon neutrality by 2040 in their newly crafted Climate Action Plan (CAP). The plan targets resource consumption and policy changes to guide the future decision-making process. In addition, the CAP outlines a plan of attack regarding four different sectors: energy use, transportation, solid waste management, and education and outreach development.

Talks over the CAP began last September and incorporated input from a number of students and faculty members. Undoubtedly, the cornerstone of the plan is the 2040 carbon neutrality date, which requires a 4 percent reduction in emissions per year. Establishing short- and long-term goals for each sector, the writers created a framework of achievable actions BGSU may take in order to become more sustainable. The CAP then calls for a Sustainability Master Plan: a plan that not only coincides with the university’s existing developmental blueprint, but would also establish a commitment to carbon neutrality by the university itself. The leading long-term goal is the establishment of a solar array that powers the majority of campus, coupled with geothermal energy facilities to heat and cool campus buildings. However, major negotiations must be worked out with the city in order to implement large-scale renewable energy development—which is what makes these actions long-term in scope.

Next, the CAP addresses university transportation. Aside from the creation of ride-sharing initiatives for commuting faculty and students, the plan outlined a policy that prohibited campus vehicles from idling, and gave preferential parking to carpoolers and fuel-efficient cars. More ambitious long-term policies call for a “fuel-efficient only” campus vehicle fleet.

Thirdly the Climate Action Plan states that in fiscal year 2013, BGSU produced approximately 100,000 lbs. of solid waste, a significant increase from 2012 levels. Thus, this sector offers the best opportunity to make significant changes in a relatively short amount of time. Aside from business as usual recycling, an assessment of all buildings is sought in order to improve overall recycling efforts. Coupled with the assessment, Campus Sustainability looks to internalize all recycling efforts and create a “Sustainability Purchasing Policy.” This would be a policy that guides BGSU in the acquisition of new building equipment, materials, supplies, etc.

Lastly, the CAP looks to increase awareness of climate change and sustainability in its own students. By adding a general education course focused on the causes and effects of climate change, the CAP wants to establish a campus-wide “eco-literacy.” Stemming off of this, a re-branding of the university is sought in order to establish both its commitment to climate action, but also its students.

Overall, the Climate Action Plan offers a solid framework to lead BGSU in making significant changes while working toward net carbon neutrality. However it is just that, a framework. It will be up to President Mazey and the Administration to take monumental steps forward in the name of campus-wide sustainability. With the support of the student body and the framers of the Climate Action Plan, BGSU has an opportunity to make real progress in addressing its own impact on the world.

Sean Gogolin|Bowling Green State University|February 9, 2015

Extreme Weather

Snow-weary Boston getting blasted again

 Mother Nature was taking no coastal prisoners Sunday, with nasty storms rolling into snow-weary New England and recently battered Northern California and the Pacific Northwest.

Parts of New England, already reeling from record breaking snow in the past two weeks, were bracing for up to 2feet of snow Sunday and Monday. The Pacific Northwest faced another round of heavy rain, high winds, and possible flooding and landslides.

Upstate New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, southern Maine, Massachusetts, northern Connecticut and northern Rhode Island were prime targets, said Jon Erdman, a senior meteorologist with the Weather Channel.

AccuWeather senior meteorologist Dan Pydynowski said Boston and Worcester, Massachusetts, once again were in a winter storm’s cross hairs.

Boston was blasted with 16 inches of snow Monday, less than a week after 2 feet of snow paralyzed the city. With a total of 40.5 inches in a week, the city broke its all-time seven-day snowfall record, the National Weather Service reported. Worcester was hit with 47 inches of snow in the same period.

“The Boston area could easily get 12 to 18 inches this time around,” Pydynowski said.

Another system that could hit the area Thursday could bring 6-plus additional inches, he said.

“For Boston, the hits just keep on coming,” he said.

Northern California braced for the return of downpours and strong winds in the wake of a powerful storm Friday that downed trees and power lines and led to dozens of flight cancellations at San Francisco’s airport.

The storm system forecast to hit Sunday had the potential to bring strong wind gusts and up to 4 inches of rain to hills saturated from Friday’s rain, Pydynowski said. “Flooding and mudslides are a possibility for Northern California and for parts of Oregon and Washington as well,” he said.

John Bacon|USA TODAY|Contributing: Associated Press

Genetically Modified Organisms

Monsanto Forced To Pull Advertisement Because Someone Actually Fact-Checked Them

Monsanto was recently forced to withdraw one of its advertisements after The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) of South Africa determined that the information in the advertisement was unsubstantiated.

The commercial boasted the many benefits of GMO crops, but The African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) filed a complaint because they believed that Monsanto’s claims were false.

In the advertisement, Monsanto claimed that GMO crops “enable us to produce more food sustainably whilst using fewer resources; provide a healthier environment by saving on pesticides; decrease greenhouse gas emissions and increase crop yields substantially.”

After the complaint was filed, Monsanto was unable to provide sufficient evidence to support their claims, and were thus forced to pull the advertisement.

“We are elated with this decision. Monsanto has already been warned by the ASA as far back as 2007, that it needs to substantiate its claims from an independent and credible expert in the matter of GM Food/M Wells/ 8739 (18 June 2007) regarding its claims of the so-called benefits of GM crops.

However, it appears Monsanto does not have much regard for South African law as it is hell bent on disseminating false information to the South African public,” Mariam Mayet, Executive Director of the ACB said in a statement.

06 Feb 2015

Diane Rehm Examines the Dangers of Monsanto’s Roundup and Dow’s Enlist Duo Herbicides

Yesterday on NPR’s The Diane Rehm Show, Diane Rehm and her guests discussed the race against pests and weeds, and the recent approval by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Dow AgroSciences’ herbicide Enlist Duo, a new combination of 2,4-D and glyphosate meant to fight chemical-resistant “superweeds.”

This new herbicide has many in the environmental and health communities concerned because of the dangerous impacts to human health and the environment. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and other groups sued to block the EPA’s approval because they don’t think the EPA considered all of the environmental and health impacts of the new herbicide. Many have joined the NRDC in calling for a new approach to pest and weed control that doesn’t wreak havoc on human health and the environment.

Rehm starts the discussion by talking about the most common herbicide, Monsanto’s Roundup, which she says, “is steadily becoming less effective.” Erik Olson, director of the health program for the NRDC explains why that is:

What we have is a chemical arms race between the pesticide companies, who are developing ever more powerful pesticides to kill bugs and to kill weeds, and the bugs and weeds that keep evolving and become more resistant to those pesticides. So another new generation of pesticides have to be invented. So we’re on this treadmill.

During the process of deploying more and more pesticides to deal with pests and weeds that are resistant, we are killing non-target organisms, according to Olson. These non-target organisms are often beneficial insectsbees in particular—that help keep pest populations in check and pollinate crops.

How do these pests and weeds become resistant? “It’s basic evolution,” says Olson. A pesticide can wipe out 99.9 percent of pests or weeds but that 0.1 percent that survives is resistant and they produce offspring that are even more resistant, according to Olson.

That’s why experts like Andy Dyer, professor of biology at the University of South Carolina, author of Chasing the Red Queen: The Evolutionary Race Between Agricultural Pests and Poisons and a guest on yesterday’s show, say gigantic monocultures—one single crop in a field—are a huge problem. We’ve taken highly diversified ecosystems and reduced them to a single species, providing pests with an all-you-can-eat buffet, according to Dyer.

Dyer says he wrote his book because “the connection between pesticide resistance and the underlying principles of evolutionary biology—while they’re understood—have not really been closely linked.” Dyer says, we have to realize “each chemical pesticide has a lifespan and it will lose its effectiveness over time.”

Les Glasgow of Syngenta said on yesterday’s show that because herbicides like Roundup are so effective in the short term, they get overused to the point where they lose their effectiveness. “The future really is about diversity” for weed management, says Glasgow. “If we can introduce more diversity in the tactics that we use for weed control, then we can certainly avoid the resistance.” Glasgow says products like Roundup and now Enlist Duo are not intended to be used on their own.

That’s not common practice, though. Farmers of commodity crops like soy and corn, which tend to be genetically modified, use herbicides like Roundup “more or less indiscriminately” because “it’s their one tool” in pest and weed control, says Dyer.

Aaron Hobbs, president of Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment, says pesticides are merely a part of the solution. He calls for integrated pest management, which is an approach to controlling pests that relies on a combination of best practices. Hobbs agrees with the other guests that we’ve completely overused Roundup, “dousing fields with it” and as a result we’ve killed off a lot of the milkweed, a plant that Monarch butterflies feed on. With milkweed wiped out, the Monarch butterfly population has collapsed as well. The increased reliance on chemical pesticides is effecting the entire food web.

Not only are these chemical pesticides destroying human health and the environment, but, according to Olson, it can cost millions of dollars to develop a new pesticide, and yet they can become obsolete within a few years. So we need to work with nature using “these more innovative tools of sustainable agriculture,” Olson says.

Allen, a listener who called into the show is a former EPA employee, says 2,4-D should have been phased out years ago. “It was half of agent orange and it’s just being brought back and it’s a really bad idea.” Olson and Dyer agree we’re on a backwards trend: we’re using dangerous chemicals on fewer and fewer crops with less and less genetic diversity. We need a wide variety of crops with high genetic diversity in order to move away from this chemical dependency. Olson says, “I think we can all agree in this room that taking an integrated approach to solve a pest problem is the way to go.”

Cole Mellino|February 4, 2015

How Do You Feel About Genetically Modified Mosquitoes That Can Decimate Disease?

A genetically modified mosquito may hold the key to preventing the spread of two painful and incurable tropical diseases in the United States. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Can it be both?

Mosquitoes, as we all know, are proficient at infecting people and animals with blood-borne diseases and infections. Climate change appears to be driving mosquitoes northward into the Florida Keys, carrying with them two particularly bad diseases — dengue and chikungunya.

Dengue, also known as “break bone” or “dandy” fever, infects roughly 50 million people around the world each year via mosquito bites. Its symptoms include fever, rashes and muscular pain. There is no vaccine and no cure. Treatment merely manages the symptoms.

Chikungunya also causes fever, along with debilitating joint pain, joint swelling, headaches and rash. Like dengue, it has no vaccine and no cure. One must simply suffer. Some with compromised immune systems die.

Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Cuba and Central America have most recently experienced outbreaks, leading the Centers for Disease Control to begin issuing travel warnings in 2013 to people bound for the Caribbean.

Keeping mosquitoes that carry these diseases away from the U.S. is admittedly critical if we want to short circuit the spread of these diseases here. The carrier mosquitoes have already reached the Florida Keys and have demonstrably infected people there. The problem is in its earliest stages, when it’s easiest to stop. Knowing this, British researchers want to test an idea in the Keys.

They want to get federal approval to release millions of genetically modified mosquitoes into a community in the southern Florida Keys in the spring of 2015.

So How Does a Genetically Modified Mosquito Help?

A company called Oxitec has developed a way to tinker with the DNA of the Aedes aegypti mosquito. This modification renders the mosquitoes unable to produce offspring that can survive.

Oxitec releases modified male mosquitoes which mate with local regular females. Their fertilized eggs will inevitably die, thereby decimating the local mosquito population and reducing the number of females who could bite infected people and pass these diseases on to others.

What many don’t realize is that only female mosquitoes bite us and feed on blood. Males feed only on plant nectar. That means it’s the females which infect us when they bite. This is why Oxitec releases only males — to ensure humans aren’t bitten by a modified mosquito.

Unfortunately, some find it hard to believe that Oxitec can manually separate out every single modified female. Some must end up out in the wild, and that worries people. Can they do us any damage if they bite us? No one knows for sure.

It’s probably inevitable that public opinion sways decidedly against releasing these mosquitoes.

“When I met with Oxitec researched in England three years ago at a conference I told them this was going to be a tough sell to the American public, which gets the bulk of its understanding of DNA science from Jurassic Park and 1920s movies about 50-foot ants,” the American Mosquito Control Association’s Joe Conlon told the Christian Science Monitor.

Yes, It Works, But We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know… Yet.

Oxitec has run this test twice before, by the way. In the Cayman Islands in 2010 it released 3.3 million modified mosquitoes. Oxitec asserts that their special mosquitoes suppressed an impressive 96 percent of local mosquitoes.

Another test in Brazil resulted in similar numbers. Apparently, this idea works — and so far, no one’s reporting any horrific effects on humans or animals. Is it too early to know if there will be any effects?

“People fear what they don’t understand and they don’t understand this issue,” Conlon noted. “While it’s true we don’t know the long-term effects, theoretically, given all the data we’ve seen, there shouldn’t be any. But that just takes us right back to Jurassic Park when the scientist said the same thing. Movie thinking affecting real life.”

Why can’t we just blast the mosquitoes with chemicals? We’ve been doing that for some time. Here’s the problem: pesticides aren’t working on these mosquitoes anymore. The Aedes aegypti mosquito has been sprayed so often down in the Keys that most pesticides just aren’t killing it anymore.

“If I knew that this was a real risk and lives could be saved, that would make sense,” Marilyn Smith, a resident of Key Haven, Fla., told the Associated Press. “But there are no problems. Why are we trying to fix it? Why are we being used as the experiment, the guinea pigs, just to see what happens?”

Isn’t the time to stop this problem now, before it has a solid hold on southern Florida? By the time the situation makes the general public seriously concerned, it’s almost too late. However, even experts differ on whether this proposed experiment is a good idea right now.

“What Oxitec is trying to spin is that it’s highly improbable that there will be negative consequences of this foreign DNA entering someone that’s bitten by an Oxitec mosquito,” said Phil Lounibos of the Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory. “I’m on their side, in that consequences are highly unlikely. But to say that there’s no genetically modified DNA that might get into a human, that’s kind of a gray matter.”

For some people, there’s no good answer — tinker with the mosquitoes, use even more pesticides, or sit around and allow these painful and incurable mosquito-borne illnesses to gain a solid foothold in the U.S.

Susan Bird|February 5, 2015

Dismantling The Big Lie About GMOs

The agribusiness has perpetuated a great lie through their creative PR.  Monsanto’s PR, and also that of just about every major commercial participant in the industrialized food system, is to focus on the promotion of one single idea–that industrial producers in the food system want you to believe is that only they can produce enough for the future population. Monsanto is joined by other corporations like Cargill, Syngenta, Bayer, The U.S. Farm Bureau and organizations like the Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation and now even NASA who raise the “urgent problem” of how are we going to feed the growing population that is expected to grow to 9 to 10 Billion by 2050.

Food Integrity Now spoke with Jonathan Latham, PhD.  Dr. Latham is co-founder and executive director of the Bioscience Resource Project, which is the publisher of Independent Science News. We were intrigued by an article he recently wrote entitled “How the Great Food Wars Will be Won“. Dr. Latham’s spoke with me today about what he thinks is the answer to winning the food war–dismantling this lie that we need GMOs to feed the world.

Dr. Latham shared information about the over food production in this world. In his article, he states:

“There is no global or regional shortage of food. There never has been and nor is there ever likely to be. Granaries are bulging, crops are being burned as biofuels or dumped, prices are low, farmers are abandoning farming for slums and cities, all because of massive oversupply.”This begs the question that if there is no food shortage, why do we need GMOs?

In the interview, Dr. Latham proposes that the food movement through its labeling campaigns need to switch their focus from “we have the right to know” to discrediting the agribusinesses claims of food scarcity and needing GMOs to feed the world. In the article he explains how the food movement can divide and conquer:

“Food campaigners might also consider that a strategy to combat the food scarcity myth can unite a potent mix of causes. Just as an understanding of food abundance destroys the argument for pesticide use and GMOs simultaneously, it also creates the potential for common ground within and between constituencies that do not currently associate much: health advocates, food system workers, climate campaigners, wildlife conservationists and international development campaigners. None of these constituencies inherently like chemical poisons, and they are hardly natural allies of agribusiness, but the pressure of the food crisis lie has driven many of them to ignore what could be the best solution to their mutual problems: small-scale farming and pesticide-free agriculture. This is exactly what the companies intended.”

Dr. Latham expanded on how PR works and how agribusiness has been able to convince so many people that this lie is true. He believes that people in general want what is fair and what will help their neighbor. If he is correct, it is easy to see how this plays into the notion that we need GMOs to help our neighbors and what about the starving people in Africa? Has this massive PR campaign been so powerful that it preys on people’s beliefs to the point that they might believe that if they buy organic food and not GMOs, they are taking food away from people who are starving? This certainly is a question to ponder.

Dr. Latham further explained how if the PR experts are correct that food shortage is of utmost importance to their industry then if makes sense for those who oppose this industrialization of food and agriculture to make the dismantling of this lie their top priority.

He feels that the crucial struggle in the food war is the one inside people’s heads and that the great food war will be won by the side that understands that and uses it best.

If we can disprove the food crisis, can we destroy the industrial model of agriculture forever?

Energy

Should Companies That Burn Fossil Fuels Pay a Dividend to Citizens?

If companies that drill for oil or mine coal had to pay a dividend to people who live in the state or province where the drilling and mining occur, would they drill or mine less? As a result, would carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions decrease and help reduce the impact of climate change?

Care2 member Keith McNeill thinks so. McNeill, a Canadian from British Columbia, has hit on the dividend idea as a way to fight the build-up in the atmosphere of the CO2 gases that contribute to global warming. McNeill has launched a Care2 petition asking the leaders of Canada’s six political parties to hold a nationwide referendum to give citizens there a chance to vote on whether Canada should institute a national “carbon fee-and-dividend system.”

Here’s how the system would work: Companies that drill for oil or mine coal would be charged a fossil fuel fee set at $30 per ton of carbon dioxide released by the fuel in question. McNeill calculates that that fee would generate about $20 billion (Canadian) per year, “enough to give every adult in Canada a fossil fuel dividend close to $1,000 per year.”

McNeill says that the fee-and-dividend approach is similar to a carbon tax, a system that would tax companies for the carbon dioxide they generate. However, unlike a carbon tax, the fees paid would not go into government coffers. Instead, they would be distributed as equal and repeating dividends to every adult.

It’s a bit like the “share the wealth” system already in place in Alaska, where in January 2015 nearly every year-round resident received $1,884 in “windfall oil revenue.”

Unfortunately, in Alaska, the system doesn’t work out so well for the environment. State oil revenues pay 90 percent of the state budget, which explains why the state’s Congressional delegation and most local elected officials are so pro-oil. But oil revenue also goes into a Permanent Fund that pays out the windfall dividends to Alaska’s residents every year. The payout began 32 years ago, and is intended to continue indefinitely. Alaskans who have received every one of the 32 previous checks have pocketed the equivalent of $51,345, according to the Los Angeles Times.

McNeill contends that giving Canadians a substantial carbon dividend would also give them “an incentive to make sure that the price on burning fossil fuels remains high and in place.” However, as Alaska’s example has shown, there’s also a worry that it could primarily bolster their financial self-interest in maintaining fossil fuel production to the highest possible degree.

Diane MacEachern|February 7, 2015

Nitrogen-Fed Bacteria Could Power Our Future

A bacterium that doesn’t need its nitrogen preprocessed could breathe new life into environmentally friendly ethanol production, turning mowing the lawn from a chore into an income source.

Most ethanol is currently produced from corn or sugar, competing with food for the raw materials while also combating rising prices, among other problems. If the transportation systems of the future are to be powered by low carbon biofuels, we need something better.

Cellulosic ethanol is widely promoted as the great hope. Vast quantities of cellulose and lignin produced by grasses rot around the world every day. Ethanol made from cellulose and lignin would, in theory, emit no more carbon dioxide than is released naturally, and no more than the plants draw from the atmosphere to grow in the first place. In the real world, inefficiencies creep in, but even so, cellulosic ethanol is likely to have about one-sixth of the Greenhouse impact of fossil fuels for the same amount of energy.

So far, however, cellulosic production has proven to be frustratingly slow and expensive. The recent collapse in oil prices has left biofuels even further from being cost-competitive, so something big is needed.

The bacteria or yeasts used to turn sugars from cellulose, hemicelluse and lingin into ethanol need nitrogen to grow, but the switchgrass or lawn clippings to feed them are lacking in this regard. Current producers add nitrogen-rich chemicals to drive the process, adding millions of dollars a year to the cost of the currently small amount of ethanol produced in this way, and forming a major obstacle to growth.

However, Indiana University’s Dr. James McKinlay has announced in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that this isn’t always necessary. Zymomonas mobilis is an ethanol-producing bacterium that can use nitrogen gas (N2) instead. As the most common component in the atmosphere, nitrogen is hardly in short supply.

Most living things can’t get their nitrogen directly from the atmosphere, instead depending on symbiotic prokaryotes to “fix” it for them. While McKinlay hadn’t expected his first finding, the next observation surprised him even more.

“When we discovered that Z. mobilis could use N2 we expected that it would make less ethanol. N2 utilization and ethanol production demand similar resources within the bacterial cell so we expected resources to be pulled away from ethanol production to allow the bacteria to grow with N2,” McKinlay said. “To our surprise the ethanol yield was unchanged when the bacteria used N2. In fact, under certain conditions, the bacteria converted sugars to ethanol much faster when they were fed N2.”

The university has patented the process for using nitrogen-fed Z. mobilis to convert sugars from cellulose into ethanol. But this is not the big breakthrough cellulosic ethanol needs. The corn steep liquor and diammonium phosphate currently used are less expensive than the raw plant material and the enzymes that turn it into sugar, “But we recognize nitrogen fertilizers as a smaller, yet considerable, cost contributor that could potentially be more readily addressed,” said McKinlay.

Stephen Luntz|February 3, 2015

EPA Confirms Keystone XL Fails President’s Climate Test

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) drove what may prove to be the final nail in the coffin for the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline in comments released today, linking the project to an expansion of the tar sands and a significant increase in greenhouse case emissions.

As the Administration concludes its review of Keystone XL, the U.S. EPA’s critique of the proposed tar sands pipeline exposes the project’s impact on climate—an issue that President Obama said would be a threshold issue in deciding whether to allow the project to move forward. The EPA’s letter highlights the Department of State’s conclusion that at prices between $65 to $75 a barrel, “the higher transportation costs of shipment by rail ‘could have a substantial impact on oil sands production levels—possibly in excess of the capacity of the proposed project.’” Observing that the development of tar sands represents a significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions, the EPA’s comments lay the basis for Keystone XL’s rejection as failing the President’s climate test.

In light of the EPA’s comments today, it is worth revisiting the terms of President Obama’s climate test for the embattled tar sands pipeline:

“But I do want to be clear. Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interests. And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”

—President Barack Obama, Speech at Georgetown University, June 25, 2013

The EPA’s comments lay a clear framework for Keystone XL’s rejection on the basis of this test. In addition to highlighting the likelihood that Keystone XL would have a substantial impact on tar sands expansion:

“[T]he Final SEIS makes clear that, compared to reference crudes, development of oil sands crude represents a significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions.”

—U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Comment letter to the State Department, Feb. 2

As the Administration enters the final stages of the National Interest Determination process for Keystone XL, the EPA urged decision-makers to give more weight to Department of State’s low oil price scenario where “construction of the pipeline is projected to change the economics of oil sands development and result in increased oil sands production, and the accompanying greenhouse gas emissions, over what would otherwise occur.”

EPA’s assessment of Keystone XL underscores a fact that has become increasingly clear—the proposed tar sands would enable expansion of tar sands development which in turn will lead to a significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions. It is now clear that Keystone XL fails the President’s climate test and should be rejected.

Anthony Swift|Nature Resources Defense Council|February 3, 2015

Oil Industry Dumping Toxic Wastewater Into Scores of California Aquifers

California regulators allowed the oil industry to drill hundreds of wastewater disposal wells into aquifers with water suitable for drinking or irrigation, newly released documents show. Now the Center for Biological Diversity is calling on the EPA to immediately shut down these operations — which are illegal — to protect California’s water during an unprecedented drought.

Last summer the state’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources issued emergency shutdown orders for multiple injection wells in Kern County after they were found to be dumping wastewater into aquifers containing drinkable water.

But documents show that the agency has allowed hundreds of other injection wells to dump oil wastewater into protected aquifers around the state, from Monterey County and sites near San Luis Obispo to Kern and Los Angeles counties. Oil industry wastewater is an extremely salty fluid that typically contains a wide range of contaminants. It can also contain fracking chemicals.

“California’s drinking water aquifers shouldn’t be garbage dumps for the oil industry,” said the Center’s Kassie Siegel. “Both common sense and federal law require the EPA to shut down every illegal wastewater well immediately.”

Read more in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Big News: China Has Cut its Coal Production

For the first time in a century, China’s coal production has fallen; and the country isn’t importing coal to make up the difference, either.

In fact, imports are dropping too. It’s a sign that the world’s biggest polluter might be making a huge change, and it indicates China is committed to reducing fossil fuel emissions in the coming years, something that would benefit the entire planet. The country’s move toward clean energy at a time when fossil fuel prices are dropping — at least temporarily — shows that officials are thinking in the long term, and that starts with getting rid of one of the dirtiest fuels on Earth.

Environmental agencies have noted that China produces, and uses, almost as much coal as the rest of the world combined. The nation’s high energy consumption is the result of a push toward industrialization that leaves the market desperate for raw materials like coal — China needs substantial amounts of electricity for industrial processes and relies heavily on coal-fired power plants, and coal also plays a key role in the steel industry.

In recent years, officials have recognized that China’s pollution problem is becoming quite significant — Beijing is infamous for having such poor air quality that it’s almost uninhabitable. The Chinese government has been forced to consider alternative energy options, including hydropower, and it went so far as to mandate a reduction in coal production and use, but 2014 marked the first year when that reduction played out in reality.

The Wall Street Journal reports that: “Beijing is mandating that the mineral’s share of China’s energy consumption fall to at most 65% from 70% by 2017, and then to 60% by 2020.” These tough emissions targets are being paired with a clean energy push that’s changing the face of the coal industry. Mines are closing or combining with other facilities to adjust to the falling demand for coal, which in turn is changing the face of communities across China. As the country realizes the potentially high cost of coal, it’s scrambling for alternatives and pushing the energy industry to do the same, which is excellent news for Chinese citizens as well as the rest of the world. Air quality problems are significant across the country, not just in Beijing, and they’re responsible for serious health problems as well as quality of life issues. High levels of greenhouse gas emissions also contribute to climate change — making China’s problem the entire world’s problem.

While it’s hard to determine if this is a momentary interruption in China’s energy trends or the real thing, it’s a good sign. Paired with mining closures and increased reliance on alternative energy, it suggests that the nation may be about to turn the corner on inefficient fossil fuels. If China can reach its emissions targets, it would make a huge difference globally — especially if the country keeps pushing itself to do better. Better yet, falling coal production makes China a less appealing target for investors interested in coal futures, which creates even more of an incentive to stop mining; if the trade isn’t profitable and the fuel can’t be used, it might as well be left in the ground.

s.e. smith|February 9, 2015

Land Conservation

  Everglades group wants state to buy more Big Sugar land

Everglades Coalition wants the state to buy more land from U.S. Sugar Corp.

Environmental group planning to ask state to buy land that could cost at least $350 million

State may be asked to buy 46,800 acres of U.S. Sugar Corp. land that could cost $350 million

Buying more Big Sugar land is at the top of Everglades advocates’ 2015 to-do list, with taxpayers potentially facing a price tag that could hit $350 million.

The Everglades Coalition is calling for the state to buy another 46,800 acres of U.S. Sugar Corp. land. The sugar cane fields and other property south of Lake Okeechobee would be used to get more water flowing south to the Everglades, instead of draining that water out to sea for South Florida flood control.

“The acquisition of the land is a critical piece of the restoration puzzle,” Jason Totoiu, Everglades Coalition national co-chairman, said Friday.

South Florida taxpayers already spent $197 million in a 2010 land deal allowing the South Florida Water Management District to buy 26,800 acres from U.S. Sugar for Everglades restoration efforts.

That deal also gave the South Florida Water Management District an exclusive, 10-year option to buy some or all of U.S. Sugar’s remaining 153,200 acres.

Under the deal, state officials have until October to be first in line to buy another 46,800 acres of that U.S. Sugar land. Yet U.S. Sugar’s interest in selling more land to the state may have cooled since the 2010 deal.

U.S. Sugar spokeswoman Judy Sanchez on Friday said that federal and state restoration plans have changed and that the company has “not seen any serious interest in purchasing a large amount of land for which there is no plan or project.”

The Everglades Coalition – which includes more than 50 environmental groups and other advocacy organizations – plans to try to change that. The group   announced that lobbying for the state to buy those 46,800 acres would be the coalition’s top priority in 2015.

Acquiring more land to store and clean up water that rains down on South Florida each year could help send more water to the Everglades, which suffers from decades of draining to make way for farming and development. Sending more of that water south to the Everglades helps replenish both wildlife habitat and South Florida’s supply of drinking water.

Also, restoring more Lake Okeechobee water flows south to the Everglades could lessen flood-control discharges from the lake out to sea. Draining hundreds of billions of gallons of lake water toward the coast, as occurred during 2013, can hurt coastal fishing grounds and fuel algae blooms that make waterways unsafe for swimming.

“Time is of the essence,” said Cara Capp, of the National Parks Conservation Association, who also heads the Everglades Coalition. “[The land] should be in the state’s ownership.”

If bought at the same per-acre price as the 2010 deal, buying all 46,800 acres would cost taxpayers about $350 million.

That cost could go up or down depending on updated land appraisals that would likely be part of a land buy. State officials could also try to buy less than 46,800 acres.

But another high-dollar sugar land deal could face hurdles getting support from state lawmakers.

Former Gov. Charlie Crist bypassed the Legislature when his administration negotiated the previous deal for U.S. Sugar land that the water management district bought in 2010. Afterward, the Legislature slashed the water management district’s budget by 30 percent.

Also, Gov. Rick Scott when he first ran for office in 2010 opposed Crist’s U.S. Sugar deal. Since then, Everglades restoration proposals advocated by Scott have involved making use of land already owned by the public.

Everglades Coalition representatives say they have the public support they need to win over support in Tallahassee for another Everglades land buy.

Florida voters in November overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment intended to commit a portion of fees levied on real estate sales to helping the state pay for buying land for environmental projects.

Voter approval of Amendment One doesn’t mean there will be state support for buying more U.S. Sugar land, said Sanchez, of U.S. Sugar.

“Surely the preference for Amendment One Funding will be the significant number of shovel-ready projects that will benefit the Everglades, estuaries, lakes, springs and beaches and other environmental priorities all over the state,” Sanchez said.

The Everglades Coalition gathered in Key Largo starting Thursday and wraps up Sunday for its 30th annual conference, bringing together a host of environmental groups and state and federal leaders to discuss ways to help Florida’s famed River of Grass.

During the past 15 years, much of the coalition’s efforts have focused on trying jump start state and federal efforts for slow-moving Everglades restoration.

To try to reverse the environmentally harmful consequences of South Florida flood control and pollution, the state and federal government in 2000 agreed to an Everglades restoration plan that calls for redirecting more water to the Everglades.

It has already cost taxpayers about $3.1 billion to build more places to store water that rains down during storms as well as treatment areas to clean up pollutants washing in from farmland, lawns and roads.

While progress has been made, none of the Everglades restoration proposed in the 2000 plan have been finished.

“The Everglades restoration for many years has crawled along,” South Florida Water Management District Executive Director Blake Guillory told the Everglades Coalition. “We have a lot more to do.”

Andy Reid|Sun Sentinel

State Closes on Conservation Land Purchase in Southwest Florida

TALLAHASSEE – This week, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, in collaboration with The Trust for Public Land, acquired 669 acres of conservation lands within the Charlotte Harbor Flatwoods Florida Forever project located northwest of Fort Myers for $3.15 million.

The Charlotte Harbor Flatwoods project protects the largest and highest-quality slash-pine flatwoods in southwest Florida and connects to the Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management Area. This purchase of the Bond Ranch parcel abuts a portion of the Florida Department of Transportation widening project for Interstate 75. FDOT provided $1.4 million toward the acquisition.

“Adding this land to Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management Area will create innovative stormwater treatment along the interstate, reducing wetlands impacts and improving water quality in the Caloosahatchee Estuary,” said DEP Secretary Jon Steverson. “State ownership and management of this parcel will result in safe, self-sustaining habitat for wildlife in this area.”

“It was a privilege to work with the members of the Charlotte Harbor Flatwoods Initiative who supported the protection of this important property to help with the restoration of the natural water flow in the area,” said Brenda McClymonds, senior project manager with The Trust for Public Land. “Protecting Bond Ranch also improves public access to the Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management Area for fishing, hiking, and biking.”

Until recently, the Bond Ranch was an operating cattle ranch. The property will be managed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission providing additional hiking and hunting opportunities for Floridians and visitors. This acquisition will provide hydrologic and habitat restoration. Additionally, Cape Coral residents will see an increase in groundwater levels, as well as supply in the drinking water reservoir.

FDOT District One Secretary Billy Hattaway said, “FDOT is proud to participate in creating an innovative and win-win outcome for the taxpayers of Florida through the contribution of $1.4 million in funds toward the purchase of the Bond Ranch parcel. This purchase, which was done as part of the permitting process, allows the department to 6-lane one of the last 4-lane segments of I-75, reduce our long term maintenance costs, acquire important conservation lands, and facilitate improvements to the hydrology within the Charlotte Harbor Flatwoods.”

The Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Fund approved the acquisition on Jan. 13, 2015, at the Cabinet meeting in Tallahassee, Florida.

nataliarodriguez2015| February 9, 2015|Feb.6.2015

Air Quality

CLEAN AIR VICTORY FOR FLORIDA AS GULF POWER PHASES OUT LANSING SMITH COAL-FIRED UNITS

Panama City, FL– Today, Gulf Power, operating under Southern Company, announced its plans to cease burning coal at the 357 MW Lansing Smith coal-fired plant by March 2016, marking a huge victory for Florida residents who will soon breathe cleaner air.

Sierra Club and hundreds of local citizens have urged Gulf Power to phase out coal in Florida’s panhandle to protect clean air and public health. Gulf Power will work with the 60 impacted workers to transition into other company positions and there will be no mandatory layoffs.

“We applaud Gulf Power for recognizing the risks and costs associated with the continued reliance on dirty coal. We’ve seen time and time again, that toxic air pollution from coal-fired plants causes premature heart attacks, stroke, asthma attacks, and even death,” said Kelly Martin, Senior Representative for Florida’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “Gulf Power’s decision to retire Plant Smith is a positive step for Florida residents, one that that will leave our families and children breathing easier.”

Until now, the Lansing Smith coal-fired plant has been one of the largest local sources of hazardous mercury air pollution. Not only does Gulf Power’s decision improve public health, but it significantly reduces the amount of climate-disrupting carbon pollution the region contributes.

Last month, the Sierra Club applauded Gulf Power for its announcement to install three new solar plants at naval and air force bases in Northwest Florida. Sites at Eglin Air Force Base, Holly Field in Navarre and Sautly Field in Pensacola are slated for solar power projects totaling 120 megawatts, or enough power to keep the lights on at 18,000 homes each year. Combined, these projects increase in the state’s solar generation by 60% which currently stands at 218 megawatts. With these clean energy solutions, Gulf Power is taking beneficial steps towards promoting a healthy community and environment.

This is the second coal plant retirement in Florida that Gulf Power has announced in the last two years. With today’s announcement, 185 coal-fired power plants across the country have been slated for retirement.

EPA Debates Smog Limits that Affect FL Cities

The American Lung Association recently gave Tampa a failing grade for its number of unhealthy ozone days. With other Florida cities also witnessing bad air quality, residents are invited to share their concerns with the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA is debating a tougher limit to as low as 60 parts per billion, instead of the current limit of 75.

At current levels, said American Public Health Association executive director Dr. Georges Benjamin, smog is linked to a number of health problems. “It exacerbates people with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and it causes not only just these attacks but can cause premature death and other morbidity,” said Benjamin. “It’s a significant problem, and we can address it by reducing the amount of ozone that’s produced.”

Some industry leaders say the current standard is effective, but Benjamin said there is solid science showing it isn’t strong enough.

Written comments can be made to the EPA until March 17.

Pulmonary physician Dr. Dona Upson, an associate professor of medicine at the University of New Mexico, testified at one of the hearings last week. According to Upson, the limit will go a long way in protecting public health. “The EPA’s analysis has shown that setting a standard at 60 parts per billion would prevent up to 7,900 premature deaths, 1.8 million asthma attacks in children and 1.9 million missed school days each year,” she said.

According to the American Petroleum Institute, the stronger limit would be expensive.

But the American Lung Association’s senior vice president for advocacy and education, Paul Billings, said the standards are not set based on cost but on the levels at which this type of air pollution is considered dangerous. “You want your doctor to tell you what makes you sick, not what it’ll cost to cure you,” he said. “So, the API is really at the wrong part of the process.

Cost and feasibility come into the conversation when we try to meet these standards, what strategies are employed.” The standard has not been updated since 2008, and a final rule is expected by Oct. 1. The proposal is online at www.federalregister.gov. The State of the Air report is at www.stateoftheair.org.

Stephanie Carson|Public News Service|FL|February 2015

Transportation

Tesla and Toyota Driving Innovation Far Beyond Electric Cars

Can the “Open Source” Agenda Lift Humanity above Globalization?

Brilliance doesn’t stem from success. It radiates from trendsetters who make change and bring our species closer to “tomorrow.” Innovators like Elon Musk, who’s achieved capitalistic success while refusing to compromise environmental standards. Musk’s pioneering electric automotive company, Tesla, is galvanizing a new economic movement: one with a manual gearshift in the market in order to supply a new demand. Continuing the trend is this year’s release of the Mirai, Toyota granted unrestricted use of thousands of hydrogen fuel cell patents (including pending patents), subsequently passing a torch that not only sympathizes with climate change activists but also empathizes with the realities of globalization.

Elon Musk’s pioneering electric automotive company, Tesla, is galvanizing a new economic movement.

These realities date back to the 18th century, when President George Washington signed a bill that laid out the framework for an inclusive and flexible American patent system. Since then, the ingenuity of Americans and avant-gardists around the world has been capitalized into an economic era with an ideal, optimistic lifestyle. Unfortunately, despite globalization’s spherical connotation, its steamrolling proliferation does not come to full circle. By sculpting the planet for its resources, man’s era of industrialization has left the carvings out to dry. Current civic culture supports a backwards relationship between the economy and environment, in which patents that liberated visionaries from past fiscal boundaries have now inadvertently ensnared the potential of smarter, more viable economic growth. And yet, with the imagination that crafted today comes the extrapolation that we can find a solution tomorrow.

Here’s the thing about most of tomorrow’s environmental solutions: we already have them, here, today. Environmental problems typically run parallel with this redundancy, in a situation that is just as politically and economically tangled. The fossil fuel industry is transparently saturated, perforated with ostensible controversies that reveal how colossally difficult it is to overcome humanity’s dependency. “Tomorrow” might be a bit more distant from the dark reality Musk believes our economy faces today, where “electric car programs at the major manufacturers are small to non-existent, constituting an average of far less than 1% of their total vehicle sales.” Tesla therefore cannot create substantial change in the economy, society or environment if they’re only impacting a fraction of one percent of the market. The situation has settled in between invention and implementation, where we cannot take the hydrogen-powered train until the ensuing tracks are in place.

By releasing royalty-free use of 5,680 fuel-cell patents vital to the construction of hydrogen-powered vehicles, Toyota is placing those tracks and growing that one percent. It’s not enough to get on board, however; to continue the movement, each piece needs to provide an extension—another piece—that can streamline humans as fast as industrialization has. So when Tesla supplied Toyota with battery packs for developing its fuel cell technology, Toyota then promised an additional 70 hydrogen-fueling station patents that can be used by any electric automotive product let alone for its production. This economic phalanx can carry society to tomorrow while bringing tomorrow a bit closer with each new extension made today.

By releasing royalty-free use of 5,680 fuel-cell patents vital to the construction of hydrogen-powered vehicles, Toyota is placing those tracks and growing that one percent.

Don’t mistake these extensions as hyper or heroic. From an ECON 101 perspective, relinquishing proprietary components of a business is economic suicide. Before telling these companies’ novel engineers to stick to science, the economic potential of this movement can put Tesla and Toyota’s hydrogen-electric tandem ahead of all other future competitors in a market that is sure to grow.

Toyota eluded to this part of the marketing strategy, as their senior vice president, Bob Carter, explains that companies who manufacture and sell hydrogen-fuel cell vehicles can free use the patents “through their initial market introduction period, which they anticipate is today to the end of 2020.” Hence after, companies still interested in using the patents must sign a licensing contract. However, by placing “good faith” in the industry as well as within themselves, Tesla and Toyota are looking to set a palpable bar for others to exceed with an appropriate mentality that they’ve got nothing to lose. Sounds radical? How could it, considering creative innovation and bold risk-taking is how “tomorrow” is perceived and eventually conceived.

This “tomorrow” has been teed up by Tesla and driven by Toyota’s latest swing. Now it’s time for the rest of the industry to follow through, completing a stroke that can put society on the green every time. All that’s left is putting people into a better future. Sinking that putt is a result of successfully rising above globalization by globalizing an environmental solution.

Nikhil Goel|Case Western Reserve University|February 9, 2015

Plans Underway for World’s First Bicycle Superhighway

Bike paths? Protected bike lanes? You’re thinking way too small!

The city of London is thinking much bigger, as befits a city with a population of more than 8 million where cycling is rapidly becoming a favored means of commuting.

The city’s transportation agency, Transport for London, last week approved the world’s first bicycle superhighway. It would run along the bank of the Thames River, which flows east-west through southern England, including the entire width of London. The plan is part of the city’s Road Modernization Plan, proposed by Transport for London (TfL), the city’s transportation coordinating agency. It received final approval yesterday. A subsection of the plan touts Mayor Boris Johnson’s “Vision for Cycling.”

Describing the superhighway, Johnson said, “My flagship route will run for at least 15 miles, very substantially segregated, from the western suburbs, through the heart of the Capital, to the City, Canary Wharf and Barking in the east. It will, we believe, be the longest substantially segregated continuous cycle route of any city in Europe. It will use a new segregated cycle track along, among other places, the Victoria Embankment and the Westway flyover. The Westway, the ultimate symbol of how the urban motorway tore up our cities, will become the ultimate symbol of how we are claiming central London for the bike.”

With the number of cyclists on London’s main roads tripling in the last decade, a study of cycling was undertaken in the spring of 2013, leading to the development of the plan. It projects to double the number of people cycling by 2020 through what it calls a “Tube network for bikes,” a series of high capacity, joined-up tracks, many running parallel to bus, rail and Underground routes; more segregated, mandatory bike lanes and junctions; and a network of direct, back-street “Quietway” routes to encourage those concerned about safety on London’s busier main streets. In addition to the east-west “superhighway,” there will be several shorter mini superhighways including a north-south route.

To get there, the plan doubles the amount of money spent on cycling. London’s first-ever cycling commissioner Andrew Gilligan, appointed two years ago, will oversee the execution of the plan. Work could start within weeks and the new routes could be open by the spring of 2016.

According to The Guardian of London, “The forces in favour seem overwhelming: Johnson, with all his political capital and democratic mandate, is a key proponent, and a nine-week consultation involving 21,500 people or organisations found 84 percent in favour.”

But it also notes the plan has faced opposition from some business groups and the Licensed Tax Drivers Association (LTDA), which wants a judicial review of the process. LTDA general secretary Steve McNamara claims cyclists have been attacking him.

“You can’t believe the amount of emails and tweets I’ve been getting,” he told The Guardian. “Some of it is quite outrageous. I’ve been threatened with violence. But I’m 6ft 2in, I weigh 15 stone, and I grew up in Hackney. They don’t scare me.”

LondonBikeRouteMapNumerous new routes and protected lanes would make cycling safer and more convenient throughout London. Image credit: Transport for London

While the TfL study showed that most London cyclists are young and male, Johnson, who is a cyclist himself, wants to mix it up more.

“I want cycling to be normal, a part of everyday life,” he said. “I want it to be something you feel comfortable doing in your ordinary clothes, something you hardly think about. I want more women cycling, more older people cycling, more black and minority ethnic Londoners cycling, more cyclists of all social backgrounds–without which truly mass participation can never come. As well as the admirable Lycra-wearers, and the enviable east Londoners on their fixed-gear bikes, I want more of the kind of cyclists you see in Holland, going at a leisurely pace on often clunky steeds.”

Johnson says that the cycling plan will benefit all of the city’s citizens, including those crabby cabbies.

“At the very heart of this strategy is my belief that helping cycling will not just help cyclists,” he said. “It will create better places for everyone. It means less traffic, more trees, more places to sit and eat a sandwich. It means new life, new vitality and lower crime on underused streets. It means more seats on the Tube, less competition for a parking place and fewer cars in front of yours at the lights.”

Anastasia Pantsios|February 9, 2015

Recycling

Which Fast Food Companies Are Polluting Our Oceans the Most?

From Starbucks and Subway to Domino’s Pizza and Dairy Queen, most U.S.-based fast food companies could be doing a lot more to use a lot less plastic. So could mega-brands General Mills, Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, Colgate-Palmolive and Panera.

Why does it matter? Because so much of the plastic packaging these companies use is ending up in the ocean, rather than being captured and recycled.

The Natural Resources Defense Council and As You Sow examined the packaging practices of 47 fast food/quick service, beverage, and consumer goods/grocery companies and found that none of them attained the “Best Practices” status the two groups have deemed necessary to make a significant dent in plastic waste.

Among the 47 tested, Starbucks and McDonald’s surprisingly landed in the “Better Practices” zone, while the following fast-food companies landed in the lowest-ranking category:

  • Arby’s
  • Quizno’s
  • Burger King
  • Wendy’s
  • Jack in the Box
  • Dairy Queen
  • Domino’s Pizza
  • Papa John’s Pizza

The groups looked at the kind of packaging used, whether the packaging was recyclable, able to be composted, or made of recycled content, and what the companies are actually doing to promote the recycling of their packages. Though plastic packaging is the fastest growing form of packaging in the U.S., only 14 percent is being recycled, at an annual loss of $11.4 billion in potential recycling revenue.

“Most leading U.S. fast food, beverage, and packaged goods are coming up significantly short of where they should be when it comes to the environmental aspects of packaging,” said As You Sow’s senior vice president Conrad MacKerron. “These companies have not sufficiently prioritized packaging source reduction, recyclability, compostability, recycled content, and recycling policies.”

“Single-use food and beverage packaging is a prime component of the plastic pollution in our oceans and waterways, which kills and injures marine life and poses a potential threat to human health,” noted Darby Hoover, senior resource specialist and packaging report project editor, for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Companies have an opportunity and an obligation to curb this pollution.  Better packaging design and improved support and adoption of recycling are key to turning the tide on this unnecessary waste.”

Plastic litter from takeout orders — including cups, plates, and straws — has long contributed to urban blight. But increasingly it’s being swept into waterways and oceans, where it partially degrades and harms marine life. A Clean Water Action study of street litter in four Bay Area cities found that the biggest source of street litter (49 percent) was from fast food.

Every company studied can do more. Andrew Behar, As You Sow CEO, said: “Industry foot-dragging is one of the primary reasons we recycle only 14 percent of plastic packaging in the U.S. The more we boost recycling rates, the more we reduce the use of virgin natural resources and mitigate emissions that contribute to climate change.”

Some of the companies have vowed to improve. Wal-Mart has set a goal of increasing the amount of post-consumer recycled plastic in its products and packaging by 3 billion pounds by 2020. Procter & Gamble has agreed to make 90 percent of its packaging recyclable by 2020. Unilever has committed to increase post-consumer recycling of its packaging 15 percent by 2020 in its top 14 global markets.

Still, more needs to be done. Phasing out the use of plastic packaging wherever possible needs to be a top priority. Enabling consumers to recycle more plastic is also critical. Many communities either offer no curbside recycling, or restrict what they pick up to paper, glass and aluminum. With the support of the companies that make it and use it, plastic packaging should move from the bottom of the reuse-and-recycle totem pole to the top.

Diane MacEachern|February 5, 2015

Miscellaneous

New Florida State Parks website

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection launched a new and improved website for Florida’s state parks and trails at  www.floridastateparks.org.

The new website includes enhanced maps and search abilities to help find specific facilities, activities or events. It has a new look and feel and features breathtaking photos highlighting Florida’s natural and historic treasures. Visitors will find it easier to plan their trips to state parks and state-designated trails. The new website is also smartphone and tablet friendly.

“We are excited about this new website and the enhanced tools to help Floridians and visitors plan their trips to state parks and state trails,” said Donald Forgione, director of the Florida Park Service. “From the maps to the search boxes, this site is easier to navigate.”

From 2013-2014, 27.5 million people visited state parks and state trails. Each week, approximately 130,000 visitors come to the website looking for information to plan their trips.

Floridians and visitors are invited to visit the new website to plan their next visit to a state park or state trail.   

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 1502 A

It is imperative to maintain portions of the wilderness untouched so that a tree will rot where it falls, a waterfall will pour its curve without generating electricity, a trumpeter swan may float on uncontaminated water – and moderns may at least see what their ancestors knew in their nerves and blood. ~Bernand De Voto

Announcements

Wings Over Florida: Tallahassee Workshop ‏

Join Wings Over Florida coordinator Andy Wraithmell and Great Florida Birding & Wildlife Trail coordinator Greg Schrott for this exciting and rewarding program in Tallahassee.

The workshop will consist of 2 field trips and 2 classroom presentations.

The morning field trip will be to GFBWT trail sites around Lake Jackson where we will hope to see Limpkins, Bald Eagles, Ruddy Ducks, Osprey, American White Pelican and more.

The afternoon field trip will be to L. Kirk Edwards WEA where we will hope to see a plethora of forest species such as Brown-headed Nuthatch and Pine Warbler.

There are only 12 places available so register early to ensure yourself a place!

For more information about this exciting program.

http://www.cvent.com/d/rrq78m/6X

For more information about Wings Over Florida.

http://floridabirdingtrail.com/index.php/resources/wings/

ARTHUR R. MARSHALL LOXAHATCHEE NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE

SCHEDULED PROGRAMS:       

 February 2015

16th Annual Everglades Day

Saturday, February 14,

8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Join us for Everglades Day, our all-day family festival, with activities for all ages.  

This year’s theme is “Romance of the Everglades.”

Enjoy guided tours, nature walks, bird walks, wildlife demonstrations, presentations, exhibits, games,

kids’ fishing, kids’ archery, canoeing, live music, dance, food trucks and much more! 

All day free admission. Special features this year include:

·         Rey Becerra and his black Stallion, representing the Seminole Tribe
·         Ron Magill of Zoo Miami, with a program called Alligator Love
·         Edward Mercer, Python Hunter, with live specimens caught in the Everglades
·         Roger Hammer, speaking on Romantic Wildflowers – photos & book signing
·         Petie McCarty, romance mystery author of Everglades – book signing
·         Animals from Busch Wildlife Sanctuary and the Palm Beach Zoo·       

Palm Beach County Plein Air painters, painting and holding an awards ceremony of works done live, then and there! 

Park just south of the Refuge entrance in Monte’s parking lot and ride the bus to the Visitor Center.

The first bus leaves Monte’s at 7:30 a.m.  

On the Refuge, buses will be running continuously between the various activities.

A free handicapped-accessible van will also be available.

The last bus returns to Monte’s parking lot at 4:30 p.m.

So bring yourself, kids and grand-kids, friends, neighbors and students –

don’t forget sunscreen, re-fillable water bottles, and walking shoes – and participate in the Romance of the Everglades!

For more information, visit http://www.auduboneverglades.org/everglades-day-2/

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.,

except Everglades Day, Feb. 14

Join a volunteer naturalist for an early morning bird walk on the Marsh Trail. 

Meet in the Marsh Trail parking lot.

“Attracting Birds to South Florida Gardens”

Presented by co-authors Jim Kushlan and Kirsten Hines

James A. Kushlan and Kirsten Hines present their new books on South Florida gardening, “Attracting Birds to South Florida Gardens” and “Birds of Fairchild”.

They will discuss how bird gardening is different in sub-tropical South Florida,

how large-scale gardens, such as botanic gardens, can be good examples of bird-friendly landscaping,

and what you can do to make your own yard, even just a patio, more attractive to our unique community of birds,

helping to restore and maintain the region’s ecological functions through bird-friendly landscaping.

  • Thursday, February 5, 6:30 – 7 p.m. social reception,
  • 7 – 8:30 p.m. author presentation and book signing
  • Buehler Auditorium, FGCU Kapnick Center, Naples Botanical Garden
  • Free, but please register to agrace@naplesgarden.org to reserve your seat.

Ding’ Darling lectures

Admission is free to the lectures, which are sponsored by The Sanibel Captiva Trust Company

and “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge (DDWS), as part of the latter’s 14-week Friday Lecture Series.

Funding for this program was also provided through a grant from the Florida Humanities Council with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed do not necessarily represent those of the Florida Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Future events are listed below; all lectures include two presentations at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.

As usual, Wildlife Drive is closed on Friday, but visitors are welcome to enjoy the free Visitor & Education Center

and the recreational opportunities at Tarpon Bay Explorers, the refuge’s official concessionaire located at its Tarpon Bay Recreation Area.

For more information on the lecture series, call 239-472-1100 ext. 241 or visit www.dingdarlingsociety.org/lectures.

UPCOMING “DING” DARLING LECTURE SERIES EVENTS

(*Book-signings will follow all starred presentations)

*Feb. 6 – Author Jeff Klinkenberg, Alligator in B Flat

*Feb. 13 – Authors Don and Lillian Stokes, “Beautiful Birds of Sanibel”

*Feb. 20 – No Lecture – Volunteer Luncheon

*Feb. 27 – Author Gary Monroe, The Highwaymen

March 6 –  Sarah Adams, “Memories of My Grandfather, Ansel Adams”

*March 13 – Author Frederick “Fritz” Davis, Banned: A History of Pesticides and the Science of Toxicology

*March 20 – Author Marie Read, Into the Nest: Intimate Views of the Courting, Parenting, and Family Lives of Birds

*March 27 –  Peggy Macdonald, Marjorie Harris Carr: Defender of Florida Environment

April 3 –  Jeremy Conrad, “Sea Turtles”

April 10 – Jerry Lorenz, “The Beauty & Science of 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.

To support DDWS and the refuge with a tax-deductible gift, visit www.dingdarlingsociety.org 

or contact Birgie Miller at 239-292-0566, 239-472-1100 ext. 4, or dingdarlingsociety@gmail.com  

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!

WATER CONSERVATION EXPO & VENDOR FAIR

Reducing Your Water Footprint:

Corporate & Institutional Practices

Guest Speakers From:

WALT DISNEY WORLD, MARRIOTT, PUBLIX,

UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI, TOHO WATER AUTHORITY

AND FLORIDA HOSPITAL ASSOCIATION

View Full Agenda

Friday, February 20, 2015

8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

South Florida Water Management District Headquarters

B-1 Auditorium, 3301 Gun Club Road

West Palm Beach, Florida 33406

Sawgrass Nature Center Job Opening ‏

The Sawgrass Nature Center & Wildlife Hospital, a 501(c)3 organization,  is seeking a part-time Environmental Educator.

Please click here for the details.

If you are or know someone who is interested and qualified, please forward a letter of interest and resume to robin@sawgrassnaturecenter.org.

To learn more about our organization, please see our our website, www.sawgrassnaturecenter.org.

Robin Reccasina, Operations Director

Sawgrass Nature Center & Wildlife Hospital

3000 Sportsplex Drive

Coral Springs, FL 33065

954/752-9453

www.sawgrassnaturecenter.org

Protect the Future of Florida’s Water, February 18 in Tallahassee!

Time is running out for our algae-choked springs, dying Indian River Lagoon, red tide plagued Gulf Coast,

slimed St. Johns River, long-suffering Everglades, disappearing coral reefs and dwindling Apalachicola River.

The natural lands needed to protect our water quality remain unprotected and will be unless

dedicated Floridians like you speak up for clean water as a human right in Florida.
On February 18th, Floridians’ Clean Water Declaration and Amendment 1 activists will join forces for a “We Want Clean Water” rally on the front steps of the historic Old Capitol.

After the rally, we’ll spread out over the Capitol for the unique opportunity to bring our water stories directly to public officials and the state’s highest water managers!
We will take our demands for a new clean water ethic straight to the Capitol!

The more people who pack the rally, the stronger our message will be!

Here are the details:
WHO: Floridians’ Clean Water Declaration and Amendment 1 activists from all across the state!
WHAT: Floridians for Clean Water & Amendment 1 Rally
WHEN: Wednesday, February 18th from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
WHERE: On the front steps of the Old Capitol, 400 S. Monroe Street, Tallahassee, FL 32399 [
Map]

The Sierra Club, St. Johns Riverkeeper, and Florida’s Water & Land Legacy are providing bus service to the rally!

You can catch a bus for a day-long round trip excursion from these 10 cities: Ft. Myers, Bradenton, St. Pete, Tampa, Gainesville, Orlando, Ocala, Port St. Lucie, Melbourne and Jacksonville.

Act now, buses will fill up fast! You will need to register for the bus separately from your RSVP.

Questions? Contact Cris Costello at cris.costello@sierraclub.org

Hope to see you at the Floridians for Clean Water & Amendment 1 Rally on February 18th, and thanks for taking action to protect our waterways!

Get more info on the Floridians’ Clean Water Declaration Campaign at:

www.facebook.com/FCWDcampaign

www.wewantcleanwater.com

Save the Dates!

The Miami Pine Rocklands Coalition  is planning two action events. More details will follow, but mark your calendars now!

Friday February 27th Ponce de Leon Drive and Stanford Drive 3 PM to 6 PM

Rally – Shame on “U” (of M) – to protest the UM’s decision to sell endangered pine rockland habitat to a developer

instead of to the Miami-Dade County Environmentally Endangered Lands (EEL) program, and encourage them to buy it back!

Tuesday March 3 - Miami-Dade County Commission Meeting – 9AM

Speak out against the proposal to declare the Richmond Pine Rockland Tract a “blighted area” so that Community Reinvestment Act money can be used to develop it!

Submit Your Photos and Win a
Trip to Yellowstone!

Defenders of Wildlife is pleased to announce our sixth annual Wildlife Photography Contest!

From now through Monday, March 16, 2015, you can submit up to six photos featuring North American wildlife and wild lands.

Last year’s contest resulted in nearly 4,000 breathtaking and inspiring submissions.

Winners will be eligible for a range of prizes, including a six-day guided photography trip to Yellowstone Park with expert wildlife photographer, Jess Lee.

Share your best photos and get a chance to see them printed in the next issue of Defenders, in one of our email messages or on our website!

We’re excited to see more of the wild world through your eyes – and camera lens!

So grab your equipment and go exploring – we can’t wait to see what you find!

Of Interest to All

U.S.-Cuba vow to protect environment near Florida coast

Fearing an oil spill in Cuban waters, U.S. officials have forged a bond with the Castro regime to preserve the threatened marine ecosystem that connects the island nation to the Florida coast.

The U.S.-Cuba agreement to move toward normal relations includes a little-noticed pledge to work together to keep their shared air and water clean.

The historic breakthrough opens the way for cooperation to preserve dwindling fish and bird populations that migrate across the Florida Straits and to protect coral reefs vital to marine life and a big slice of Florida tourism. The pledge also clears a path for U.S. companies to provide equipment and high-tech services to contain a potential oil spill in Cuban waters — a matter of grave concern to Florida scientists and environmentalists.

“It changes the equation and makes it somewhat less likely that (a disaster) will occur,” former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham said in an interview. “It’s very important to the United States, and particularly to Florida, that should there be drilling in the Florida Straits, and if there is an accident, that it be capped as quickly as possible.”

Cuba and Florida are linked by ocean currents and adjoining air space, but frosty relations have stifled attempts to address common concerns. The new opening removes some of the obstacles.

As a result, Florida has the most to gain from the emerging environmental partnership with Cuba. But a 2006 state law still forbids resource managers, researchers at state universities or anyone from state institutions to use state money to travel to the island or its waters as long as Cuba is officially listed as a “sponsor of terrorism.”

The Obama administration is reviewing the matter with an eye toward removing Cuba from the list, but for now Florida scientists are constrained.

“We can’t just put a black box over Cuba and pretend we understand our environment, but that’s what we’re being forced to do,” said Frank Muller-Karger, a marine scientist and oceanographer at the University of South Florida. “So the opening is very good, except for the state of Florida. This puts us in a bad spot. We need to understand what happens in our state, but we are forbidden by law to work in waters abroad, because these waters belong to Cuba.”

Muller-Karger wants to measure water flow along the Gulf Stream, a powerful current that rushes north from Cuba to the Florida Keys and along the East Coast, past coral reefs, sea grasses and fish habitat.

“A lot of water that flows past Cuba flows past Florida. So anything like larvae, eggs of fish and invertebrates like corals and lobster, they end up in Florida,” he said. “So if we want to manage our fisheries and understand what happens to our coral reef, we need to understand everything that moves with the water and air. It affects us both.”

Partly because of limited coastal development, Cuba’s coral reefs are healthier than Florida’s. But over-fishing along the populated north coast has taxed its fish stocks, depleting some of the marine life that travels to Florida. Scientists hope research in Cuban waters will show ways to enhance Florida’s reef while helping Cuba find ways to manage and expand its fish populations.

The same ocean currents that bring fish from Cuba to Florida would also potentially carry a toxic oil slick to the state’s coastline and up the East Coast, oceanographers warn.

The risks of offshore drilling were dramatically demonstrated in 2010 when a massive spill in the Gulf of Mexico slathered much of the Gulf Coast with oil, ruining the tourist season, devastating the fishing industry and causing lasting harm to marine life. With this experience in mind, scientists and environmentalists were alarmed when Cuba contracted with major energy companies to search for oil off its north coast within about 50 miles of the Florida Keys, near reefs and marine sanctuaries.

“If an accident happened, the consequences would be enormous. It’s a low probability of occurring, but a high impact event if it did occur,” said former Sen. Graham, who co-chaired a presidential commission that recommended ways to prevent future disasters. Among other things, Graham recommended easing the U.S. embargo to allow American companies to respond to a spill in Cuban waters.

Graham said his concern has become less urgent because Cuba’s initial exploration failed to produce enough oil to be worth extracting and because a sharp decline in oil prices has reduced pressures to drill. Cuba has suspended its search but still hopes to eventually tap offshore resources while developing renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power.

“Because environmental threats are not limited by national borders, circumstances may warrant the export and re-export of certain items to Cuba to protect U.S. national interests or international interests,” federal officials wrote while publishing new rules that open an exception to the U.S. trade embargo.

Scientists say the new policy will allow them and U.S. companies to protect Florida while helping Cuba develop its coastline without harming the environment or tourism.

“This decision is a game-changer,” said Dan Whittle, Cuban program director for the Environmental Defense Fund.

“The northern coast of Cuba is rich in coral reef ecosystems: healthy sea grasses, mangrove forests, really, really important fish habitat. It’s important to fish populations in Cuba but also to South Florida and the Southeast Coast.”

William E. Gibson|Washington Bureau|Sun Sentinel|February1, 2015

The first 2015 issue of World Wildlife Magazine is here! Check out:

Senate Committee on Environmental Preservation & Conservation Launches Website to Take Public Comment on Amendment 1 Implementation

Senator Charlie Dean (R-Inverness), Chair of the Senate Committee on Environmental Preservation and Conservation, today announced the creation of a webpage dedicated to collecting public comment on the implementation of Amendment 1, Water and Land Conservation, passed by Florida voters in November 2014.

“Florida’s environment impacts every single resident and visitor to our state, so we want to be certain that we hear from Floridians with specific ideas for how to implement this constitutional amendment,” said Chair Dean. “This webpage gives all interested citizens the opportunity to play a meaningful role in the legislative process.”

In November 2014, Florida voters approved an amendment to the state constitution which requires one third of documentary stamp revenue to be placed into the Land Acquisition Trust Fund and spent on a variety of environmental programs and initiatives. Senate President Andy Gardiner (R-Orlando) has tasked the Senate Committee on Environmental Preservation and Conservation with drafting legislation to implement this new amendment.

“Implementing this amendment is a historic responsibility and a tremendous opportunity to make a significant impact on the future of water and natural resources policy in our state,” said President Gardiner. “It is important for all interested Floridians to make their voices heard on existing and new programs to improve and protect Florida’s environment.”

The Water and Land Conservation page within the Senate website provides constituents an easy way to access information and provide feedback to members of the Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee. Over the next few months, the committee will conduct a number of meetings to discuss and review these comments as they prepare legislation for the 2015 Session.

“We will preserve all comments and maintain them as part of our committee record,” said Chair Dean. “We plan to provide frequent updates and hope interested Floridians will sign up for the Senate Tracker, which will allow them to stay informed about the ongoing work of our committee.”

To view the Water and Land Conservation webpage, please click here. 

Miami-Dade County Passes Fracking Resolution

Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava Introduces Anti-Fracking Resolution

On Wednesday, January 21, Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava proposed a resolution that calls on the Miami-Dade County Commission to urge the Florida state legislature to ban hydraulic and acid fracking in Florida. The urging comes after a company in Collier County began injecting acid under high pressure into the bedrock near the Everglades to gain access to oil reserves. Currently, Florida’s oil and gas regulations make no mention of hydraulic fracking. The resolution passed unanimously…

  “I am pleased that the resolution I proposed to urge the State Legislature to ban fracking in Florida and support SB166 passed unanimously. I would like to thank all those who showed their support on this issue and my colleagues on the dais for prioritizing this important initiative,” Commissioner Levine Cava said.

  The resolution urges the state legislature to pass SB166, a bill filed by Senator Dwight Bullard (D-Cutler Bay) and Senator Darren Soto (D-Kissimmee), that the House will consider later this year. SB166 would ban hydraulic fracking throughout the state. The County’s support for a fracking ban came on the same day that the Commission approved new plans to tackle sea level rise, a historic act, led by Commissioner Rebeca Sosa and Clerk of Courts Harvey Ruvin.

  “I believe today marks an important moment for Miami-Dade’s environment and well-being. The County’s passing of this resolution proves once again that the people of our state want to protect our natural resources. Just last year, Floridians overwhelmingly approved Amendment 1, which called for the protection of our most precious lands and drinking water resources. Today, the representatives of the residents of Miami-Dade County voted to support a ban on fracking and to adopt new ways to battle sea level rise,” Commissioner Levine Cava said. “Now we must focus on assuring that Senate Bill 166, proposed by Senators Dwight Bullard and Darren Soto, is implemented. This unstudied process can pose serious and detrimental health risks to our residents, our agriculture and our state’s livelihood. We cannot risk the state of our drinking water, something we need to survive, to search for oil when better options exist. Our County has taken a major step in urging the legislature to ban this potentially dangerous practice and I sincerely hope that the state legislature will hear the will of the people and protect our precious natural resources.”

  The Floridian Aquifer is the source of drinking water for nearly 10 million Floridians. The effects of acid fracking in highly permeable bedrock are unstudied and could threaten our environment, the quality of our drinking water and the economy.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015 

Check out National Audubon’s new website

5 years after the spill: What BP owes the Gulf Coast

It’s been nearly five years since BP slimed the Gulf Coast, taking the lives of 11 men, wrecking livelihoods and killing tens of thousands of helpless coastal birds. Finally, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier is heading into the final stretch, deciding how much the third-largest oil company in the world will have to pay in pollution fines for the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

It’s time to hold BP accountable for the environmental damage it continues to cause the wildlife and people of the Gulf Coast. The Gulf Coast’s way of life is a rich stew, a place that’s uniquely American, where drilling and shrimping go hand-in-hand. But we also know whether you’re talking about a curfew for your kids or creating a safe construction site, there have to be consequences when rules are blatantly ignored. America’s laws acknowledge that deep-sea drilling is risky business that requires extraordinary safety measures — and that’s why there are penalties for lawbreakers.

BP already admitted it broke U.S. laws and has pleaded guilty to felony manslaughter, environmental crimes and lying to Congress. One of its executives is awaiting trial on other criminal charges.

While the third and final phase of the civil trial is under way to determine how much BP will have to pay in environmental Clean Water Act penalties, BP continues to employ the big lie strategy: It’s all better. Nothing to see here on the Gulf Coast, folks. Move along.

BP has also been trying to muddy the waters inside the courtroom, but the judge has not been fooled, and neither has the public.

In the previous two rounds of the trial, Barbier found BP “grossly negligent” for its role in the disaster and chastised the British oil corporation for covering up from the very beginning how much oil gushed out of the Deepwater Horizon well during the spring and summer of 2010.

Barbier conceded we may never know precisely how much oil spewed into the Gulf of Mexico, writing, “There was no meter counting off each barrel of oil as it exited the well.” He has ruled that expert testimony indicates at least 3.19 billion barrels poured into the currents of the Gulf in the nearly three months before BP managed to cap the well as it should have in the early hours of the crisis.

But we do know that scientists continue to find oil and uncover new damages — from lung disease in dolphins to the destruction of critical wetlands.

To be sure, the long-term environmental damage isn’t as easy to show in pictures and video as those early heartbreaking images of pelicans and herons covered in oily brown goo.

How do you show a “bathtub ring” of oil residue the size of Rhode Island on the floor of the Gulf where deep-water coral has been bleached and stunted? How do you photograph the continuing kills of Louisiana coastal insects that are the primary food for countless birds, fish and other wildlife? How do you show dolphins suffering from reproductive problems?

Even more troubling is the mounting evidence that the damage from the oil spill has accelerated marsh erosion in a place where every square foot of wetland is essential to protect people and wildlife from powerful hurricanes and rising sea levels. The money BP is required to pay under the Clean Water Act will go a long way to helping to preserve and restore coastal areas.

In this final phase of the civil trial, Barbier will consider a range of eight different factors in determining the amount BP should pay. Those issues range from BP’s history of violations to the British oil company’s revenues — its ability to pay the fines.

The most recently totaled numbers show BP was the third-largest petroleum company in the world based on just over $440 billion in revenues in 2013. If Barbier rules BP should pay the maximum allowed under law for 3.19 million barrels of spilled oil, the bill will be just under $14 billion.

David Yarnold|Director|National Audubon Society|Feb. 3, 2015

EPA Approval of Dow’s Enlist Duo Herbicide Violates Endangered Species Act

Lawsuit filed to protect endangered whooping crane and Indiana bat from toxic herbicide to be used on genetically engineered crops

A coalition of farmers and environmental groups filed a motion Friday to stay the EPA’s October 2014 decision to approve a powerful new herbicide called “Enlist Duo” for use on genetically engineered (GE) crops in six Midwestern states. The groups maintain that EPA violated the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by failing to consult with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) regarding the impact of Enlist Duo on two endangered species in those states, the whooping crane and the Indiana bat.  The motion builds on an earlier challenge of EPA’s approval led by Center for Food Safety and Earthjustice on behalf of Beyond Pesticides, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Environmental Working Group, the National Family Farm Coalition, and Pesticide Action Network North America.

The Endangered Species Act requires that every federal agency determine whether its actions “may affect” any such species or any designated critical habitat.  If so, the action agency must consult with FWS and/or the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to “insure” that the action is “not likely to jeopardize the continued existence” of that species. However, EPA admitted its action may affect the whooping crane and Indiana bat, but instead of consulting FWS as required, engaged in a series of elaborate internal calculations.

“EPA is well aware that pesticides routinely drift and affect public health and wildlife beyond the fields in which they are sprayed. To ignore this known risk and avoid consultation with other expert agencies is unlawful and irresponsible,” said George Kimbrell, senior attorney for Center for Food Safety.

“EPA admits that its approval of a toxic pesticide cocktail including 2,4-D for widespread use may affect endangered species, including the whooping crane, one of the most endangered animals on earth,” said Earthjustice managing attorney Paul Achitoff. “We ask only that the Court decide whether EPA has violated the law, as we believe it has before putting these imperiled birds at further risk.”

The whooping crane is one of the most endangered animals on earth.  Conservation efforts over the past seventy years have led to only a limited recovery; as of 2006, there were only an estimated 338 whooping cranes in the wild. EPA admitted that during their migration, whooping cranes “will stop to eat and may consume arthropod prey” that may have been exposed to 2,4-D in fields sprayed due to EPA’s registration of  Enlist Duo, and that in sufficient amounts, such exposure is toxic to the cranes.

Similarly, EPA’s own analysis revealed that the Indiana bat would likely suffer reproductive harm by consuming 2,4-D-tainted prey, as a direct result of EPA’s approval of Enlist Duo. Indiana bats play a crucial role in maintaining the balance of the ecosystem. In addition to habitat loss and cave disturbance, scientists have attributed pesticide contamination of the Indiana bats’ food supply as a reason for their continued decline.

Approved for use on GE corn and soybeans that were engineered to withstand repeated applications of the herbicide, the creation of 2,4-D-resistant crops and EPA’s approval of Enlist Duo is the result of an overuse of glyphosate, an ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup. The misuse resulted in an infestation of glyphosate-resistant super weeds which can now be legally combatted with the more potent 2,4-D. Dow Chemical has presented 2,4-D resistant crops as a quick fix to the problem, but independent scientists, as well as USDA analysis, predict that the Enlist crop system will only foster more weed resistance.

While the EPA proposed initially to restrict the use of Enlist Duo to Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin, it’s anticipated another 10 states, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Tennessee and North Dakota, will follow.

enter for Food Safety|February 9th, 2015

Calls to Action

  1. Call for BP to fully accept their responsibilities, and help the Gulf finally heal – here
  2. Tell the USFWC the Coastal California Gnatcatcher should remain on the Endangered Species listhere
  3. Ask Your Lawmakers to Support and Co-Sponsor the Florida Anti-Fracking Billshere
  4. Save The Pacific Fisher – here
  5. Stop big polluters from threatening our water – here 
  6. Force the Navy to protect marine animals now, before it’s too latehere
  7. Tell Congress to Dump Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository – here
  8. Stop Destruction of Wild Bird Refuge – here
  9. Demand that coal companies pay their fair sharehere
  10. Please let your members of Congress know that you support restored funding for our national park – here
  11. Protect Endangered Seabirds from Habitat Destructionhere
  12. Make Florida Frack-free – here
  13. Tell Congress you oppose the DARK act and support mandatory GMO labelinghere

Birds and Butterflies 

Hero Freed Dangling Owl with Tree Branch, Then They Rested in a Hotel Together

A guest at the Bel Air Inn in West Springfield, Massachusetts was startled to lay eyes on an Eastern screech owl who was hanging upside down from a crevice in the corner of the building. Our hero, who goes only by the name Jose, didn’t waste any time. He immediately phoned wildlife rescuers for help, but he was unable to reach anyone for help. Rather than sitting on his hands, Jose decided to get resourceful.

The owl’s foot had somehow become wedged into a crevice between the first and second floor on the exterior of the building. Though Jose couldn’t reach the owl overhead, he was able to find a tree branch and began offering it to the owl. The owl was able to right himself on the branch, and with a bit of gentle maneuvering from Jose, the animal was soon able to flutter to the ground.

Jose felt a rush of relief when he saw the owl perch in a bush, but the sense of relief was short lived. Jose soon noticed the owl was bleeding.

Though some might have shook their head and walked away, Jose had a better idea. He decided to take the owl into custody. He gently scooped up the small owl and carried it back inside and all the way into his hotel room.

While the owl found a lovely perch on top of the kitchen cabinets and surveyed the room from a safe height, Jose made some more calls and was able to find a wildlife rehabilitator who was willing to help. It would be a few hours’ wait, but the owl was soon fast asleep, undoubtedly exhausted from his ordeal.

We don’t know José’s full name and we probably never will. There’s something about anonymity that makes a hero seem ten feet tall. In this case, that was exactly tall enough to save the life of one desperate little bird.

Laura Simpson|February 2, 2015

Wading Birds: The Canary In The Coal Mine?

It’s not a canary or a coal mine in Florida, but the idea from Audubon of Florida is the same. Wading birds hold the same function as the canary, and in this case the coal mine is the Everglades. Tabitha Cale with the society says things are dire.

The 20th annual Wading Bird Report shows some positive and negative stories about Everglades Restoration.

The 20th anniversary of the Wading Bird Report is out and there’s some bad news. Everglades restoration is not going well. The report shows that in 2014 there were 34,714 wading bird nests in the Greater Everglades. That’s 28 percent fewer than in 2013.

The biggest drops included little blue herons, 83 percent, tricolored herons, 42 percent, and snowy egrets, 47 percent.

Counting wading bird nests is an indicator of where water flows are improving.  The report shows the area with great progress is the Kissimmee River Basin. Meanwhile, Everglades National Park still needs improvement.

There’s promise on the legislative side. Last month Governor Rick Scott set aside $150 million in his budget for the Everglades. It’s part of a 20-year plan to pump $5 billion into protecting and restoring the ecosystem. This week President Barack Obama proposed in his budget for another $195 million for the Everglades.

Locations of wading bird colonies with 50 or more nests in South Florida, 2014. Source: South Florida Water Management District

Locations of wading bird colonies with 50 or more nests in South Florida, 2014. Source: South Florida Water Management District

Credit SFWMD

  Twenty-years after the first wading bird report, things are not all bad news. Cale says, “I think we’re getting there in terms of getting important projects finished, like the Central Everglades Planning Project. That’s something that really will improve a lot of the conditions in the Central Everglades and allow to move water into the Southern Everglades.”

Cale adds, “As we restore those water flows, not only will we protect these beautiful birds, it will also push back against sea water intrusion as well protect coastal habitats and reduce land loss.”

We are halfway through the Everglades Restoration Plan set back in 2000. It’s an effort to restore and protect the natural ecosystem of the Everglades. It covers 18,000 square miles over sixteen counties at a cost of more than $10 billion dollars.

Luis Hernandez

Great Backyard Bird Count

Count for as little as 15 minutes in your own backyard to help expand our understanding of birds

The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is a free, fun, and easy event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of bird populations. Participants are asked to count birds for as little as 15 minutes (or as long as they wish) on one or more days of the four-day event and report their sightings online at birdcount.org. Anyone can take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, from beginning bird watchers to experts, and you can participate from your backyard, or anywhere in the world.

Each checklist submitted during the GBBC helps researchers at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society learn more about how birds are doing, and how to protect them and the environment we share. Last year, participants turned in more than 144,000 online checklists, creating the world’s largest instantaneous snapshot of bird populations ever recorded.

The 18th annual GBBC will be held Friday, February 13, through Monday, February 16, 2015. Please visit the official website at birdcount.org for more information and be sure to check out the latest educational and promotional resources.

“This count is so fun because anyone can take part —we all learn and watch birds together—whether you are an expert, novice, or feeder watcher. I like to invite new birders to join me and share the experience. Get involved, invite your friends, and see how your favorite spot stacks up.”  -Gary Langham, Chief Scientist

Bird populations are always shifting and changing. For example, 2014 GBBC data highlighted a large irruption of Snowy Owls across the northeastern, mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes areas of the United States. The data also showed the effects that the polar vortex had on bird movement around the country. For more on the results of the 2014 GBBC, take a look at the Halftime Report, and be sure to check out some of the images in the 2014 GBBC Photo Contest Gallery.

On the program website participants can explore real-time maps and charts that show what others are reporting during and after the count. Be sure to check out the Explore a Region tool to get an idea of what you can expect to see in your area during the next GBBC.

For questions and comments, please contact the Cornell Lab of Ornithology or the National Audubon Society:

Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Inside the US: (800) 843-2473
Outside the US: (607) 254-2473)
gbbc@cornell.edu

National Audubon Society
citizenscience@audubon.org

The Great Backyard Bird Count is made possible, in part, by generous support from Wild Birds Unlimited.

Study says USDA effort benefits birds after 2010 Gulf oil spill
YAZOO CITY, Miss., Feb. 6, 2015 – A newly released study says the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) effort to create habitat on private lands for migratory birds following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill has provided significant benefits to ducks, geese and other birds.  The independent study conducted by Mississippi State University (MSU) on USDA’s Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative (MBHI), a Farm Bill conservation effort, shows that wetlands created and enhanced by farmers provided migration and winter habitat for many more birds than unmanaged sites.

“Catastrophes like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill can have lasting impacts on waterfowl and water birds,” said Robert Bonnie, USDA undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment. “The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) worked with farmers to create alternative habitat for waterfowl and other birds through Farm Bill conservation programs. The ecosystems that NRCS helped create through this initiative are thriving.”

Bonnie visited Mississippi today to announce the results of this report, and was joined by U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson and representatives from MSU and other partnering organizations.

While the university is still collecting data, findings show the initiative generated substantial ecological, environmental and economic benefits in the Gulf of Mexico region. NRCS launched MBHI in 2010, investing $40 million to work in partnership with private landowners to create migratory bird habitat on more than 470,000 acres in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas.

“With tomorrow marking the one-year anniversary of the signing of the 2014 Farm Bill, it’s important we recognize how important this legislation is to rural America and our nation’s natural resources,” Bonnie said. “The Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative is one example of how farmers and ranchers are voluntarily stepping up to improve the environment.”

Millions of migratory birds, including ducks, geese, and shorebirds travel the Mississippi Flyway each year to winter in Gulf of Mexico-area ecosystems, or in the case of many shorebirds, Central and South America. The study shows many of these birds benefitted from lands managed through MBHI.

“We know well-managed habitat is valuable, but this study helped us quantify how valuable,” Bonnie said.

The study’s findings demonstrate:

  • Rice fields flooded early through MBHI were home to an average 15 migratory birds per acre, compared to two birds per acre on rice fields not flooded;
  • Catfish ponds flooded early showed heavy biodiversity with 40 species of ducks, shorebirds and other waterbirds visiting them;
  • Over seven times more migrating shorebirds were observed on shallowly flooded idled catfish ponds enrolled in MBHI than on other catfish ponds;
  • MBHI-enrolled catfish ponds in Mississippi met nearly all the established shorebird migration habitat goal for the region; and
  • MBHI-managed habitats provided up to 28 percent of the winter waterfowl food energy needed in the Mississippi Delta and up to 25 percent needed in southwestern Louisiana.

Findings also show MBHI was particularly beneficial during the drought the region experienced following the oil spill, when many wetland habitats were dry. See more findings.

Mississippi State University’s Forest and Wildlife Research Center led the independent evaluation of the initiative. MBHI is one of USDA’s Landscape Initiatives, which are temporary, targeted conservation efforts to address a particular conservation need. NRCS uses the MBHI concept as the foundation for other similar NRCS efforts across the country, such as the Waterbird Habitat Enhancement Program in the Sacramento River Delta.

Justin Fritscher

Monsanto’s Roundup Ready Crop System Puts Monarch Butterflies at Brink of Extinction

Center for Food Safety (CFS) released today a detailed, 80-page scientific report, Monarchs in Peril: Herbicide-Resistant Crops and the Decline of Monarch Butterflies in North America. The comprehensive report reveals the severe impacts of herbicide-resistant genetically engineered (GE) crops on the monarch population, which has plummeted over the past twenty years. The report makes it abundantly clear: two decades of Roundup Ready crops have nearly eradicated milkweed—the monarch caterpillar’s sole source of food—in cropland of the monarch’s vital Midwest breeding ground. At the urgent request of scientists and public interest groups, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently considering listing the monarch as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

The report is being presented to Congress today at an expert briefing on the decline of monarchs.

“This report is a wake-up call. This iconic species is on the verge of extinction because of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready crop system,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director at Center for Food Safety. “To let the monarch butterfly die out in order to allow Monsanto to sell its signature herbicide for a few more years is simply shameful.”

Monarch population numbers have fallen by 90 percent in less than 20 years. This year’s population was the second lowest since careful surveys began two decades ago. The critical driver of monarch decline is the loss of larval host plants in their main breeding habitat, the Midwestern Corn Belt. Monarchs lay eggs exclusively on plants in the milkweed family, the only food their larvae will eat.

Monarch butterflies have long coexisted with agriculture, but the proliferation of herbicide-resistant GE crops is threatening that balance. Monsanto’s glyphosate-resistant Roundup Ready corn and soybeans have radically altered farming practices, sharply increasing the extent, frequency and intensity of glyphosate use on farm land. Glyphosate—one of the very few herbicides that kills common milkweed—was little used two decades ago, but has become by far the most heavily used herbicide in America thanks to GE Roundup Ready crops. As a result, corn and soybean fields in the Corn Belt have lost 99 percent of their milkweed since just 1999.

“The alarming decline of monarchs is driven in large part by the massive spraying of glyphosate herbicide on genetically engineered crops, which has virtually eliminated monarch habitat in the corn and soybean fields that dominates the Midwest landscape,” said Bill Freese, Center for Food Safety science policy analyst and co-author of the report. “Glyphosate is the monarch’s enemy number one. To save this remarkable species, we must quickly boost milkweed populations and curtail the use of herbicide-resistant crop systems.”

Milkweed does grow outside of cropland, but there is too little habitat to support a viable monarch population. First, corn and soybeans dominate the Midwest landscape, leaving little area in roadsides, pastures, and other land where milkweed grows. Second, monarchs produce almost four times more eggs per plant on milkweed within agricultural fields than on milkweed growing elsewhere.

“Milkweed growing in Midwest cropland is essential to the monarch’s continued survival. Without milkweed, we’ll have no monarchs,” said Dr. Martha Crouch, biologist with Center for Food Safety and co-author of the report. “Very few of us fully understand the ecological impacts of our food system, but we need to pay attention. The decline of the monarch is a stark reminder that the way we farm matters.”

As the monarch population declines other threats have greater impacts, and the butterflies are less likely to bounce back from adversity. For example, a winter storm in 2002 killed an estimated 468-500 million monarchs. A similar storm today could completely eliminate today’s much reduced monarch population.

Center for Food Safety and the Center for Biological Diversity, along with the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation and renowned monarch scientist Dr. Lincoln Brower, filed a legal petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect monarchs as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In December 2014, the Service responded to this petition request and announced that ESA listing may be warranted, an important first step towards securing stronger protections for monarch butterflies. While obtaining ESA listing is paramount, numerous interim and additional policy recommendations are listed at the end of Center for Food Safety’s report, starting on page 73. 

Fact Sheet- 2014 Everglades Wading Bird Nesting Report

A bird doesn’t eat like a bird… when the habitat is right!

A new study by Mississippi State University shows NRCS’ work to create habitat after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill effectively sheltered and fed migratory birds.

Called the Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative, this initiative created 470,000 acres of alternative habitat for ducks, geese, shorebirds and others.

Over seven times more migrating shorebirds were observed on shallowly flooded idled catfish ponds enrolled in MBHI than on other catfish ponds.

Plus, these ponds were incredibly more diverse, housing and feeding up to 40 different species.

Download Free John James Audubon Prints

California State Parks completes purchase of 25,000 acres of prime bird habitat in Kern County

California State Parks in December completed the purchase of approximately 25,000 acres in Kern County – ranging from the Mojave Desert to the Southern Sierra. The land in the Kelso Valley includes Butterbredt Springs and Jawbone Canyon, both of which are highly prized bird habitat within the Southern Sierra Desert Canyon Important Bird Area. Audubon supported this purchase to help ensure that State Parks will stop further wind energy development in this area, as well as increase protection for these critical habitat areas.

The spring is widely known in the birding community as tens of thousands of migratory birds can be seen here at the peak of spring migration. One of the largest documented fall migrations of Turkey Vultures as well as other southward bound raptors has been documented in this area as well.

Nearby wind energy developments have killed dozens of golden eagles as well as having some of the highest bird mortality in the country per kilowatt generated, making that sort of development inappropriate within this Important Bird Area. California State Parks purchased the last through its Off-highway Vehicle Recreation Division, which will bring added resources to improve law enforcement, restoration and management of the off-highway recreation use in the area, and address problems that have proliferated in the area over the last decades. By improving the off-highway vehicle trails and infrastructure, it is likely that State Parks will concentrate use away from the high-value habitat areas, and improve access for birders and other nature enthusiasts.

Garrison Frost|February 11th, 2015

What’s Causing a Massive Die-Off of California’s Only Native Pigeon?

As many as 10,000 band-tailed pigeons may have died in California this winter, according to Krysta Rogers, an environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). Hard numbers are difficult to produce, because birds are difficult to monitor, but these estimates are based on reports of dead birds submitted by the public.

Band-tailed pigeons are California’s only native pigeon.

They are the West Coast version of the passenger pigeon, which was once the most abundant bird in North America, but it was hunted to extinction. Millions of band-tailed pigeons used to inhabit California but almost became extinct, and much of their habitat was destroyed. They were eventually protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

Band-tailed pigeons are not listed as endangered. The pigeons spend their winters in the higher elevations of California’s mountain ranges before migrating in early spring to the northernmost regions of Northern California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia.

The sudden increase in mortality is disturbing and sad, especially because the closest living relative to the extinct passenger pigeon has been struggling for decades to recover from rampant hunting, habitat loss and other environmental problems.

Blame Non-Native Species and the Drought

The CDFW blames the deaths on Avian Trichomonosis, a disease caused by a single-celled microscopic protozoan parasite believed to have co-evolved with the common rock pigeon, which was introduced from Europe. It causes lesions to form in infected birds’ mouths and throats. The birds, which subsist largely on acorns that they swallow whole, are unable to move food down their throats and starve or can even suffocate.

What a horrible way to die.

Scientists believe that water sources, like bird feeders and stagnant pools, may play a role, and especially in the current drought conditions in California.

“These events seem to be more common in winters with less precipitation, so I do suspect there is some weather component in these mortality events,” Rogers said. “When you have large flocks and there is a disease like this circulating, and you have stagnant pools and puddles and not much flowing water, the parasite can become more concentrated in that small amount of water and the disease is going to spread more easily.”

As a result, California wildlife authorities are asking residents to take down bird baths and feeders if they spot sick or dead birds in their yards as experts closely monitor the massive die-off.

Destruction by Non-Native Species

I am reminded of what happened in New Zealand, a country I visited a month ago.

For millions of years, there were no land mammals in the country, so New Zealand birds evolved in isolation. Free from attack and competition from mammals, many birds became flightless ground-dwellers.

Migrating to New Zealand around 1250–1300, Polynesians brought kiore (the Pacific rat) and other animals. That spelled doom for those flightless birds.

The first birds to become extinct, within a century or two after human arrival, were the largest – all species of moa, both species of goose, and both adzebill species. Being flightless, all were quite easy to hunt and catch, yielding large quantities of meat. Their slow breeding rate meant they were lost faster than they could be replaced.

The list of New Zealand species known to have become extinct since human settlement includes one bat, at least 51 birds, three frogs, three lizards, one freshwater fish, four plant species, and a number of invertebrates

Then came the second wave of destruction. Europeans came in the late 18th century, bringing rats, cats, stoats, weasels and ferrets. The rabbit was introduced as a food and game animal by European settlers and by the 1870s, it was becoming a serious threat to the newly developed farming economy.

Farmers began demanding the introduction of mustelids (including stoats) to control the rabbit plague. Warnings about the dangers to bird life from stoats were given by scientists in New Zealand and Britain. However, the warnings were ignored and stoats began to be introduced from Britain in the 1880s. Within six years, drastic declines in bird populations were noticed.

The destruction in New Zealand continues.

And now the pattern is repeating itself in California, this time with the European-introduced rock pigeon potentially wiping out the native band-tailed pigeon.

How sad that tales of non-native species causing destruction keep repeating themselves around the world.

Judy Molland|February 12, 2015

 

 Florida Panthers

Florida Panther Release at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park Video 

On January 7, 2015, FWC staff released FP232 at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park in Okeechobee County. This male panther was injured after colliding with a vehicle in Ft. Meade in April 2013, and after several surgeries the panther was rehabilitated at White Oak Conservation Center up until its release in January. To report dead or injured panthers, call the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or dial #‎FWC or *FWC on a cell phone.

Photos from the release are also on our Flickr page: https://www.flickr.com/photos/myfwc/s…

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida reports that four panthers were killed in January.  This is after 2014 went down as the deadliest year for our endangered state mammal. You can watch their short video of Panthers walking close to their wildlife cameras here.

The Conservancy is the only environmental organization of its kind with a Florida panther biologist on staff. Their cutting-edge research, like what their Panther Cams captured, helps to keep the remaining 180 panthers alive by better understanding their habits. 

  Invasive species

UF/IFAS Scientists Find Potential Biological Control for Avocado-Ravaging Disease

University of Florida scientists think they’ve found the first potential biological control strategy against laurel wilt, a disease that threatens Florida’s avocado industry. The redbay ambrosia beetle bores holes into avocado trees, bringing the disease that causes laurel wilt.

University of Florida scientists believe they’ve found what could be the first biological control strategy against laurel wilt, a disease that threatens the state’s $54 million-a-year avocado industry.

Red ambrosia beetles bore holes into healthy avocado trees, bringing with them the pathogen that causes laurel wilt. Growers control the beetles that carry and spread laurel wilt by spraying insecticides on the trees, said Daniel Carrillo, an entomology research assistant professor at the Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead.

But a team of researchers from the Tropical REC and the Indian River Research and Education Center in Fort Pierce have identified a potential biological control to use against redbay ambrosia beetles that could help growers use less insecticide.

First, they exposed beetles to three commercially available fungi, and all of the beetles died. Then they sprayed the fungi on avocado tree trunks, and beetles got infected while boring into the trunk. About 75 percent of those beetles died, said Carrillo, an Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences faculty member.

Ideally, the fungal treatments could prevent beetles from boring into the trees, eliminating the risk that the pathogen would enter the trees, the study said. But tests showed female beetles bored into the trees and built tunnels regardless of the treatment. Still, researchers say their treatment can prevent the female beetles from laying eggs.

UF/IFAS scientists don’t know yet how much less chemical spray will be needed to control the redbay ambrosia beetle. But Carrillo sees this study as the first step toward controlling the beetle in a sustainable way.

“When you want to manage a pest, you want an integrated pest management approach,” Carrillo said. “This provides an alternative that we would use in combination with chemical control.”

The redbay ambrosia beetle – native to India, Japan, Myanmar and Taiwan – was first detected in 2002 in southeast Georgia. It was presumably introduced in wood crates and pallets, and its rapid spread has killed 6,000 avocado trees in Florida, or about 1 percent of the 655,000 commercial trees in Florida. The beetle was first discovered in South Florida in 2010.

Most American-grown avocados come from California, with the rest coming from Florida and Hawaii. The domestic avocado market is worth $429 million, according to Edward Evans, a UF associate professor of food and resource economics, also at the Tropical REC. Florida’s avocados are valued at about $23 million, or about 5 percent of the national market, Evans said.

The redbay ambrosia beetle is not an issue with California avocados, so the new tactic found by Florida scientists wouldn’t apply to this pest in the Golden State, said Mark Hoddle, a biological control Extension specialist with the University of California-Riverside. Hoddle studies biological pest control for California avocados. Scientists there are exploring ways to control a different ambrosia beetle, he said, and bug-killing fungi may be useful for the new California pest.

More than 95 percent of Florida’s commercial avocados grow in Miami-Dade County, although many Floridians have avocado trees in their yard.

The redbay ambrosia beetle feeds and reproduces on a very wide variety of host plants, native oaks, sycamores, and of course it is very detrimental to avocados.

The study, which also involved scientists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Crop Bioprotection Research Unit in Peoria, Ill., was published online Nov. 30 in the journal Biological Control.

Brad Buck, UF/IFAS Communications

Endangered Species

Rare fox spotted in Yosemite National Park

It’s the first confirmed sighting of the fox in Yosemite National Park in nearly 100 years.

(CNN)It’s not every day that a fox sighting makes headlines. But when it’s a once-in-a-century sighting of a rare Sierra Nevada red fox, it merits a mention.

Researchers on staff at Yosemite National Park made the find during a five-day trek through the backwoods of the park. The scientists, part of the aptly named Yosemite Carnivore Crew, went to check on motion sensitive cameras. That’s when they saw them: two images of the fox, one from December and another in January, trotting through the snow.

Don Neubacher, the park’s superintendent, said he’s “thrilled” by the news. He called the species “one of the most rare and elusive animals in the Sierra Nevada.” It’s the first time the fox has been spotted in the park in nearly 100 years.

Indeed, little is known about the fox in part because they’re so hard to track down. According to a fact sheet from the U.S. Forest Service, the Sierra Nevada red fox lives in remote and rugged habitats. They’re solitary and have a habitat range from California to southern Oregon and western Nevada. It’s thought 50 of them may remain, but the fact sheet notes that there could be as few as 15.

It’s not known why the population of this specific species has dramatically dwindled. Their bright red fur once made them a popular target for hunting, but that has been ruled out as a factor, says the Forest Service, noting that hunting and trapping them was banned in 1974.

Scientists now hope that this sighting could help protect the foxes.

The Yosemite Carnivore Crew will now scour other cameras for signs of any additional foxes. They’re outfitting the cameras with “hair snare stations” to collect samples for genetic testing.

Emma Lacey-Bordeaux|CNN|January 29, 2015

This Endangered Species Act Loophole Will Let Killer of Famous Gray Wolf Escape Prosecution

For the first time in 70 years, a wolf padded through the Grand Canyon.

A great explorer and adventurer, she travelled alone hundreds of miles from the Northern Rockies to a place wolves had called home long before any human beheld the area’s mesmerizing beauty.

She was dubbed Echo, because, according to the 10-year-old who won a contest to name the wolf, “she came back to the Grand Canyon like an echo does.”

But it didn’t take long for a hunter, who wildlife officials refuse to name, to kill the three-year old, radio-collared symbol of wild America.

Despite the massacre that has ensued since the Obama administration removed gray wolves from Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection in 2011 in the Northern Rockies, where 3,480 wolves have been killed for “sport” and many hundreds more executed by state wildlife agencies for alleged crimes against livestock, Echo made it through the war zone and into an area in Utah where she should have been safe from hunters.

The gray wolf hasn’t been found in Utah since the 1940s when hunters finished their eradication program. However, they are still protected in the state under the ESA, which makes it illegal to kill wolves without a permit.

But there’s an easy out in the Department of Justice’s unofficial “McKittrick policy” which has allowed almost every known example of killing of an endangered species to go unprosecuted if the hunter has claimed it was a case of mistaken identity.

And that’s just what this hunter, whose trigger finger ended Echo’s epic, has claimed. The hunter, he says, was out killing coyotes when he shot and killed Echo, claiming he mistook her for a coyote.

Under the McKittrick policy no charges will be brought against him.

“Critics charge that the 15-year-old McKittrick policy provides a loophole that has prevented criminal prosecution of dozens of individuals who killed grizzly bears, highly endangered California condors and whooping cranes as well as 48 federally protected Mexican wolves,” the Los Angeles Times wrote.

All of these animals lost to trigger-happy hunters represent millions of tax payer dollars wasted after figuring in the cost of radio collars, reintroduction and management.

But how can we put a price on losing a species that has persisted for millions of years only to succumb to our outdated conquest of wild America?

In 2013 environmental groups WildEarth Guardians and the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance filed a lawsuit against the Justice Department regarding the McKittrick policy that is still pending.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Wendy Keefover of WildEarth Guardians likens the policy to “district attorneys rescinding speeding tickets issued by traffic cops when the speeder claims he or she believed the legal speed limit was greater than what was posted, and that he or she had no intention to break the law.”

As a nation claiming to long for peace, it seems counterproductive to coddle and foster the love of killing as we do when it comes to hunting. Even cases of human-on-human violence during hunting often cite the golden excuse of mistaken identity.

Like most countries, the story of our nation is a recipe of right and wrong that brought us to where we are today. The test of our evolution is whether we are able to be critical of what we’ve done wrong and learn from our mistakes.

Tina Page|January 25, 2015

FWC may allow bear hunts to prevent more attacks

Florida black bears, off-limits to hunters for 20 years, may soon be in the cross hairs again.

The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission on Wednesday will be presented with proposed changes to the state’s bear-management strategies, including an option to allow a hunt of the state’s largest native land mammal.

The aim is to keep in check the bear population and tamp down the growing number of human-bear conflicts, which have included serious injuries to four people, including two Seminole County women and a teenage girl in the Panhandle who were mauled in separate incidents.

“We’re not trying to sell hunting as the end-all and be-all solution,” said Nick Wiley, FWC’s executive director. “But it’s time to get it on the table.”

Florida, which listed the bear as a threatened species in 1974, then delisted it in 2012, banned hunting of the animal in 1994.

The Sierra Club and the Humane Society of the United States oppose a renewed hunt in Florida, arguing it won’t solve conflicts between the species that have forced state wildlife officers to catch and kill bears in Alaqua, Carisbrooke, Heathrow, Wingfield North and other Seminole County neighborhoods.

“A trophy hunt is missing the mark,” said Kate MacFall, Florida director of the Humane Society of the United States. “If you go into the woods and kill bears minding their own business, that doesn’t really address the bears causing problems in suburban neighborhoods. The real issue is trash management.”

She also questioned why FWC would propose a bear hunt when the agency hasn’t yet finished its bear-population study.

The last count of Florida bears, completed in 2002, estimated the state had 3,000 black bears living within its borders, with Central Florida serving as host to the most. A new study got underway last spring with research in Lake, Orange and Seminole counties, but won’t be finished until 2016 or later.

Wiley said FWC will have partial figures by summer, but added that nuisance calls and roadkills suggest bears have outgrown native spaces.

The wildlife agency fielded 6,312 nuisance-bear complaints last year, the third consecutive year its bear hotline handled at least 6,200 calls. Prior to 2012, the agency had never logged as many as 4,200 complaints in a year.

Since 1994, the number of bears killed annually in collisions with motor vehicles in Florida has quadrupled from 47 to 196 last year. In 2012, cars killed 285 bears.

Black bears roam 41 states, and 32 allow annual hunts or “harvests.” Florida has the largest bear population of any state without a hunt.

From 1981 until the ban in 1994, hunters in Florida killed about 600 bears — an average of 46 a year.

According to a “conceptual framework” suggested by FWC for a renewed bear hunt, Florida hunters would pay $100 for a permit to shoot a bear. Out-of-state hunters would pay $300. Hunters could not target a mother bear with cubs or animals less than 100 pounds. They could not use bait or dogs.

A weeklong hunt could begin as soon as this autumn on private and public lands in Central Florida and other regions where bear populations are estimated to be the largest and healthiest. The state plan likely would limit the number of bear kills to no more than 20 percent of the estimated population.

That figure also would factor in bears killed on highways or euthanized as nuisances.

The agency is not likely to allow bear hunting near residential neighborhoods, but could allow hunters to take aim at bears in the Ocala National Forest and on other public lands such as the 14,000-acre Rock Springs Run State Reserve, where FWC manages seasonal hunts of white-tailed deer.

Wiley said FWC consulted with colleagues in New Jersey, which renewed a bear hunt in 2010 after a five-year hibernation.

Hunters in the Garden State have killed 1,871 bears over five seasons, including nearly 600 the first year.

Reports of nuisance bears and “aggressive bears” fell three years in a row after the hunt resumed — but opposition has not, said Larry Ragonese, spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. He said some foes regard bears as “neighborhood squirrels” not dangerous wild animals.

A Rutgers University student was attacked and killed by a black bear in September while hiking.

“Hunting is the only way to reduce the numbers,” Ragonese said. “There’s no other way.”

Florida bear hunter Brad McNaughton, 44, is optimistic the Sunshine State will approve a state hunt and adopt reasonable rules.

As president of the Central Florida Bear Hunters Association, he takes annual trips with hunting buddies to Georgia and North Carolina, and sometimes to Utah, in pursuit of bears. His group often returns empty-handed because they won’t shoot mother bears, cubs or small and skinny bears.

“I want a bear season, yes, but I don’t want it to be a bloodbath,” he said.

Stephen Hudak|January31, 2015 

New Poll Shows Florida Voters Statewide Strongly Oppose a Black Bear Trophy Hunt

A new statewide survey reveals Florida voters strongly oppose the trophy hunting of black bears in the state, with strong majorities in every demographic group and political affiliation supporting continued protection for Florida black bears.  Nearly two-thirds of Florida voters (61 percent) said they oppose a bear hunting season, while only 25 percent support it.

By more than a 7-to-1 margin, Florida voters also oppose allowing hunters to use packs of dogs to chase bears (84 percent to 11 percent). In addition, 78 percent oppose the use of bait to lure bears; both of these practices are used in other states and could be included in a proposal to open a bear hunting season.  

Kate MacFall, Florida state director for The HSUS, said: “Research shows that trophy hunting does nothing to reduce problems with bears. Killing bears deep in the woods who aren’t causing problems is the wrong approach. Voters want humane, effective solutions to conflicts with bears, such as bear-wise trash management, hazing and public education.”

On Feb. 4, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will consider reopening a black bear trophy hunting season for the first time in 20 years. Florida’s unique subspecies of black bear was removed from the state’s threatened species list in 2012 and has only recently rebounded. The proposal is in response to recent human-bear conflicts, but a hunt won’t solve the problem. The high-profile bear incidents have all happened in areas where people have been responsible for attracting bears to human food sources. In one Seminole County case, three people were charged with illegally feeding bears. In the Panhandle town of Eastpoint, the FWC reported that bears had been eating from the nearby open dumpster on an almost nightly basis.

The poll confirms Floridians overwhelmingly favor educational outreach programs (84 percent to 11 percent) to further reduce human-bear conflicts and community programs that help provide bear-proof cans to residents (81percent to 14 percent).  Furthermore, 87 percent of those polled agree that neighborhoods located near areas where bears live have a responsibility to avoid attracting the animals by securing their garbage and other foods.

The poll of 1,664 statewide Florida voters was conducted by Remington Research Group from Jan.26-27, 2015. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.4 percent. The survey was commissioned by The Humane Society of the United States.

HSUS Press Release

FWC moving forward with comprehensive approach to reducing conflicts with bears

In response to rapidly increasing conflicts and several incidents where bears seriously injured people, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is building on its long-standing, proactive approach to bear management. At its Feb. 4 meeting in Jacksonville, the FWC approved a plan to move forward with a variety of tools to manage bears and help reduce human-bear conflicts.

“Our multipronged approach focuses on maintaining bear populations at healthy levels while ensuring public safety,” said Commissioner Brian Yablonski. “However, this is not something we can do on our own. There has to be an element of getting the community to police itself, since food attractants are the vast majority of the problem.”

The Commission provided staff guidance to move forward on several issues. Staff were directed to refine changes to the Bear, Fox, and Raccoon Feeding Rule 68A-4.001(3), and the Bear Conservation Rule 68A-4.009. Detailed information on the proposed amendments will be posted at MyFWC.com/Bear.

The Commission also expressed support for policy changes including more aggressive removal of conflict bears and additional options for the public and law enforcement agencies to haze bears.

“We are taking a more aggressive approach to conflict bears in neighborhoods and will continue to partner with counties, municipalities and homeowner associations to reduce conflicts by securing bear attractants like garbage,” said FWC Chairman Richard Corbett. “Properly securing garbage and other attractants is the single most important action for reducing conflict situations with bears.”

The Commission also asked staff to move forward with developing specific plans for a limited bear hunt in certain parts of Florida. Hunting alone is not likely to reduce human-bear conflicts in urban and suburban areas. However, in other states, hunting has proved to be an effective measure for managing bear populations and can help more direct measures of reducing conflicts such as securing attractants and removing conflict bears.

“Many of the bear conflict issues we are facing, particularly comprehensive waste management, go far beyond the ability of the FWC to handle alone,” said Dr. Thomas Eason, director of the FWC’s Division of Habitat and Species Conservation. “We all must share in the responsibility to manage human-bear conflicts effectively to achieve sustainable coexistence.”

If you would like to provide comment regarding bear-related topics discussed at the Commission meeting, visit MyFWC.com/Bear. This link will also provide information about Florida black bears and how to avoid conflicts with them.

Please report any threatening bear behavior to the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).

Photos available on FWC’s Flickr site. Go to: https://flic.kr/s/aHsk6VFJ5M.

Orphaned, frost-bitten Amur tiger cub now thriving in Russia’s Far East

A starving, frost-bitten orphan Amur tiger cub, rescued in the Russian Far East in the winter of 2012, has been a success story for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

The female animal, given the name Zolushka, which means Cinderella in Russia, was found alone, her mother have most probably been killed by poachers.

On the verge of starvation, she was brought by hunters to a wildlife inspector of the regional Primorskii Wildlife Department and was treated by vets from the regional Agricultural Academy, who had to amputate a third of her frostbitten tail.

For 15 months, Zolushka lived in a Russian federal tiger rehabilitation center, designed with technical assistance from WCS’s Bronx Zoo General Curator Dr Pat Thomas.

Dr Thomas made recommendations on facility design to improve safety and reduce the need for direct interactions between tigers and humans.

The key to this rehabilitation was ensuring that the tiger’s natural fear of humans would remain intact and that she learned to hunt live prey before being released by into the wild.

After growing significantly in size and strength, Zolushka began successfully capturing her live prey, including wild boar.

She was then released in the spring of 2013 into Bastak Reserve within the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, a region where tigers vanished some 40 years ago as a result of habitat loss, direct poaching, and loss of prey. Here she could continue learning how to be a tiger.

Scientists followed her movements with GPS and camera trap technology. They found clear evidence of successful predation on wild boar, badgers, and red deer.

“Zolushka appears to be thriving in her new home, and represents the spearhead of a process for re-colonizing habitat once roamed over by her ancestors,” says Dr Dale Miquelle, Director of the WCS Russia Program.

“This story is good news for Cinderella but also for tigers overall, as she and her prince appear to be consorting in formerly lost tiger habitat.

“Since her release, an additional five more orphaned cubs have been rescued, rehabilitated and released also into this westernmost range of historical tiger habitat. All but one of the cubs seems to be doing well in their new environment.”.

The exact population size of Amur tigers is difficult to estimate, but the official estimates suggest that tiger numbers have dropped to 330-390 individuals (from 430-500 in 2005).

This decline was likely the result of increased poaching of tigers and their prey between 2005-2010, a period when poachers took advantage of wildlife management restructuring and the confusion associated with those changes.

A full-range tiger population survey, conducted every 10 years, is scheduled for February 2015.

The WCS Russia Program plays a critical role in monitoring tigers and their prey species in the Russian Far East and minimising potential conflicts between tigers and human communities. WCS works to save tiger populations and their remaining habitat in nine range countries across Asia.

New research could help the critically endangered Saharan cheetah survive

The critically endangered Saharan cheetah, of which fewer than 250 individuals remain, requires vast areas to survive and adapt their behaviour to cope with the harsh desert environment scientists have discovered. They are active at night, probably to avoid heat or contact with humans, and must cover a vast amount of ground to find prey.

Scientists and conservationists at WCS, ZSL, University College London, UK, and Université de Béjaïa, Algeria, in collaboration with the Office National du Parc Culturel de l’Ahaggarthe, used infra-red camera traps to monitor Saharan cheetahs at Ahaggar Cultural Park, Algeria.

“This is the first time we have been able to collect scientific data on the rare Saharan cheetah, as in the past we have had to rely on anecdotes and guesswork,” said Farid Belbachir, lead-author from Laboratoire d’Ecologie et Environnement, Université de Béjaïa, Algeria.

“We hope that this important carnivore does not follow the path to extinction like other Algerian desert species such as the addax antelope and dama gazelle.”

This research into how the cheetah survives extreme desert conditions gives scientists a better understanding of how best to approach their conservation.

Dr Sarah Durant, co-author from WCS and ZSL, said: “This research provides us with important new insights into the world of this remarkable desert-dwelling large cat. I hope that it not only provides invaluable scientific information about the ecology of the Saharan cheetah for the first time but also reminds the world of the value of studying and protecting desert species and their environments, which are often overlooked by researchers and conservation programs.”

Confined to desert environments, the Saharan cheetah lives in pockets of north and west Africa. The report shows that Saharan cheetahs are more nocturnal, more wide-ranging and occur at lower densities than other cheetahs living in Africa.

Red Wolf Recovery Under Assault in North Carolina

The world almost lost red wolves forever once, but even with decades worth of efforts to help them recover, they still exist on the brink. Wildlife officials in North Carolina have just made their future survival even more questionable by passing resolutions in favor of ending the red wolf recovery program.

Red wolves once roamed vast portions of the southeast, but were essentially wiped out by the 1960s due to habitat loss and rampant predator control programs. In 1980 they were declared extinct in the wild. Seven years later, wolves who were part of a captive breeding program were released in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in the hope that they would lead to the return of the species in the wild.

Since then, their range has expanded to include 1.7 million acres covering five counties in northeast North Carolina – the only state where they now exist. Despite recovery efforts, today there are still fewer than 100 individuals in the wild and they remain one of the rarest mammals in North America and one of the most endangered canid species in the world.

Even with widespread public support and a previous agreement between state and federal wildlife officials to improve the recovery program, state officials are now moving to make changes that are intended to kill recovery efforts.

The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) just passed two resolutions intended to end red wolf recovery in the state: The first calls on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to declare red wolves extinct in the wild and end the Red Wolf Reintroduction Program in the five counties they now live in, while the second calls on the FWS to remove wolves who were released on private lands.

“The NCWRC is disturbingly eager to ignore the commitments they made in the Memorandum of Understanding,” said Tara Zuardo, a wildlife attorney with the Animal Welfare Institute. “This recovery program has been working exceptionally well since the late 1980s, and has only been hindered by the NCWRC’s blatant encouragement of coyote killing during the day and night in the five counties where the red wolves live. This illustrates just how poor a partner the NCWRC has become with respect to efforts to recover the red wolf―one of North America’s rarest mammals.”

At the same time, the commission is also considering rules that would list red wolves as a threatened species in the state, but has also approved temporary rules that will allow daytime coyote hunting in the reintroduction area to individuals who are granted a permit. This decision follows a lawsuit filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of the Red Wolf Coalition, Defenders of Wildlife and the Animal Welfare Institute, which argued that allowing coyote hunting in the red wolf recovery area violated the Endangered Species Act.

Red wolf advocates have continued to argue that death by gunshot is the main threat for red wolves and cases of mistaken identity continue to put them in danger because of their similar appearance.

While the FWS is expected to make an announcement regarding the future of the recovery program soon, the good news is there’s still time to speak out on their behalf.

Alicia Graef|February 2, 2015

Sturgeon Offer Small Sign of Missouri River Improvement

The Army Corps of Engineers recently announced discovery of the first two newly hatched pallid sturgeon captured on the lower Missouri River. The baby sturgeon were discovered near St. Louis by the Missouri Department of Conservation, leading researchers to conclude that some natural reproduction is occurring in the lower river.

The pallid sturgeon is not the most cuddly fish in its adult form. However, it is an important indicator of water health – the river version of a canary in a coal mine. Pallid sturgeon, native to the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, has been on the endangered species list since 1990, its populations struggling due to habitat loss. Finding evidence of sturgeon successfully reproducing in the wild is a small sign that we’re heading in the right direction in terms of river restoration. However, this is just the start. We need to continue habitat recovery and restoration efforts on the Missouri River to ensure this resource can support the needs of native fish and wildlife as well as outdoor recreation and local economies that depend on a healthy river.

Learn more about the League’s Missouri River efforts on our Web site.

It’s Manatee Season!

Watch the web cams at ManaTV.org and get information on manatee viewing areas and protection tips. 

Rare Snow Leopard Footage from Mongolia

Watch the video here

Rare footage of wild snow leopards taken in the Tost mountain range in Mongolia’s South Gobi province shows a vibrant population of these endangered cats – including a mother with three cubs.

The Tost mountains are home to more than a dozen snow leopards. These cats are part of what may be the most studied snow leopard population in the world. The area has been the focal point of the Snow Leopard Trust’s pioneering long-term ecological study since 2008.

Thanks to research tools such as GPS collars and remote-sensor research cameras, Trust scientists have been able to observe Tost’s snow leopard population in unprecedented ways. They’ve found wild cubs in their dens. They’ve tracked and photographed cats as they migrated to neighboring mountain ranges across the steppe, and they’ve revealed fascinating population dynamics.

This research has helped convince Mongolian authorities to grant parts of Tost “Local Protected Area” status – a first step to saving this important snow leopard habitat for future generations.

Despite these efforts, led by the local community and our Mongolia team, Tost remains under threat: Various mining licenses had already been issued for the area before it was granted a minimum level of protection – and some of those have yet to expire.

This new snow leopard footage, taken in 2014, is further proof of the urgent need for better protection for Tost! Our Mongolia team currently helps lead an effort to upgrade the protection status of the area to “Nature Reserve”, a designation that would prevent any future mining activities.

Last White Rhino in North America

Sometimes you don’t have to go to faraway lands to meet one of the rarest creatures on Earth. At the San Diego Zoo Safari Park you can see Nola, a head-turning, grass-munching, 40-something northern white rhino roaming the African Plains field exhibit. Hers is an uncommon beauty that reaches deeper than her thick, wrinkled skin—Nola is a charming rhino!

Recently, keepers noticed Nola wasn’t eating much and it seemed like she was coming down with a bug. They collected and tested nasal swabs from her, then moved her into a toasty warm boma to nurse her back to health. With only five northern white rhinos left on the planet, Nola is an extra-special gal. “We are honored to be her keepers for the rest of her life,” said Jane Kennedy, lead mammal keeper at the Safari Park. Thanks to the devotion and skill of keepers and veterinarians, Nola regained her strength and rejoined the animals back out in the field exhibit. Her burly southern white rhino friend, Chuck, seemed super excited to be reunited with her, as is clear in this video. His happy dance was better than a bouquet of flowers!

San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy

Bill Would End Protection for 4,000 Wolves in 4 States

A bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives this morning would strip Endangered Species Act protections from 4,000 gray wolves in four states and open them up to more hunting and trapping. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ended protections for wolves in the Great Lakes a few years ago — and more than 1,600 wolves died as a result.

Federal judges later overturned the decisions to remove protections, but the new legislation would override those court orders and again put the fate of wolves in Wyoming, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan in the hands of state wildlife agencies eager to resume their wolf-killing.

“This is an ugly political ploy that will end with a lot of dead wolves and do serious damage to one of the most important endangered species success stories in America’s history,” said the Center’s Brett Hartl. “This bill will subject some of the last remaining wolves in the lower 48 to state-sanctioned hunting and trapping seasons designed to drastically reduce populations.”

Read more in our press release

Bees matter, so restricting neonics is the right thing to do

No matter how you feel about Ontario’s proposal to restrict use of neonicotinoid insecticides on corn and soybean crops, we can all agree: bees matter. But as important as bees are, there’s more at stake. Neonics are poisoning our soil and water. This problematic class of pesticides needs to be phased out globally to protect Earth’s ecosystems. By implementing restrictions now (the first in North America), Ontario will have a head start in the transition to safer alternatives.

Not surprisingly, Ontario’s proposal has drawn the ire of the pesticide industry.

Neonics have only been around for a couple of decades, but annual global sales now top $2.6 billion. They were initially embraced because they are less directly toxic to humans than older pesticides and are effective at low levels, reducing the volume used. They can be applied to seeds and are absorbed into the plant, which then becomes toxic to insect pests, reducing the need to spray.

We now know these characteristics are the problem. These chemicals are nerve poisons that are toxic even at very low doses and persist in plants and the environment. They affect the information-processing abilities of invertebrates, including some of our most important pollinators.

Bees have borne the brunt of our unfortunate, uncontrolled experiment with neonics. Beekeepers report unusually high bee death rates in recent years, particularly in corn-growing areas of Ontario and Quebec. Virtually all corn and about 60 per cent of soybean seeds planted in Ontario are treated with neonics. A federal Pest Management Regulatory Agency investigation concluded that planting neonic-treated seeds contributed to the bee die-offs.

Europe reached a similar conclusion and placed a moratorium on the use of neonics on bee-attractive crops, which took effect last year.

Critics emphasize that other factors — including climate change, habitat loss and disease — affect pollinator health. But these factors are not entirely independent; for example, chronic exposure to neonics may increase vulnerability to disease. A comprehensive pollinator health action plan should address all these factors, and scaling back the use of neonics is a good place to start.

Apart from the immediate and lethal effects on bees, neonics represent a more subtle threat to a wide range of species. The 2014 Worldwide Integrated Assessment of the Impacts of Systemic Pesticides, the most comprehensive review of the scientific literature on neonics, pointed to effects on smell and memory, reproduction, feeding behaviour, flight and ability to fight disease. Jean‐Marc Bonmatin, one of the lead authors, summarized the conclusions: “The evidence is very clear. We are witnessing a threat to the productivity of our natural and farmed environment equivalent to that posed by organophosphates or DDT. Far from protecting food production the use of neonics is threatening the very infrastructure which enables it, imperiling the pollinators, habitat engineers and natural pest controllers at the heart of a functioning ecosystem.”

Is there some uncertainty involved in calculating these risks? Absolutely. Uncertainty is at the heart of scientific inquiry. The precautionary principle requires that where there is threat of serious or irreversible harm to human health or the environment, the absence of complete scientific certainty or consensus must not be used as an excuse to delay action. In the case of neonics, the weight of evidence clearly supports precautionary action to reduce — or even eliminate — them.

Ontario’s proposal to restrict the use of neonic-treated corn and soybean seed, starting next year, is far from radical. The idea is to move away from routinely planting neonic-treated seeds and use neonics only in situations where crops are highly vulnerable to targeted pests. The government expects this will reduce the uses of neonic-treated corn and soybean seed by 80 per cent by 2017.

It’s no surprise that the pesticide industry and its associates oppose even this modest proposal and are running expensive PR campaigns to obscure the evidence of harm. The industry’s objection to restrictions on neonics is eerily similar to big-budget advertising campaigns to create a smokescreen thick enough to delay regulatory responses to the obvious harm caused by cigarettes.

Let’s hope today’s decision-makers have a better grasp of the precautionary principle and a stronger commitment to protecting the public good, because bees really do matter.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Ontario and Northern Canada Director-General Faisal Moola.

Wild & Weird

The bear, the ant and the yellow flower – a scientist discovers an odd relationship

For a huge Black Bear, a very small ant would hardly seem to make a meal but in numbers these tiny insects are protein-packed.

Not only that, but the fact that bears eat ants is a crucial part of a complicated food chain that has wide-reaching benefits for wildlife in the US.

In a paper published in Ecology Letters, Florida State University researcher Josh Grinath examines the close relationship between bears, ants and rabbitbrush — a golden-flowered shrub that grows in the meadows of Colorado and often serves as shelter for birds.

Scientists know that plant and animal species don’t exist in a vacuum. However, tracing and understanding their complex interactions can be a challenge.

Grinath, working with Associate Professors Nora Underwood and Brian Inouye, has spent several years monitoring ant nests in a mountain meadow in Almont, Colorado.

On one visit, he discovered that bears disturbed the nests, which led him to wonder exactly how this disturbance might affect other plants and animals in the meadow.

From 2009 to 2012, Grinath, Underwood and Inouye collected data on bear damage to ant nests. In the course of this they noticed that rabbitbrush, a dominant plant in the area, was growing better and reproducing more near to the damaged nests.

The reason why was an insect called a treehopper, a tiny cicada-like arthropod that sucks sap out of plants such as rabbitbrush, which damages the plant.

Previous studies had established that ants and treehoppers have a mutualistic relationship, meaning they benefit from one another.

So the team began a series of controlled field experiments to see what would happen to treehoppers, first if there were more ants around and then if there were fewer.

They found that ants didn’t prey on the treehoppers or the rabbitbrush. Rather, they scared away other insects that typically prey on treehoppers.

In a situation where bears disturbed and ate ants, other bugs were free to prey on the treehoppers and the rabbitbrush thrived.
The study also highlighted how a modern phenomenon could end up causing more than just a nuisance.

Bears’ diets are being changed by their proximity to human habitation, and many populations are now eating human rubbish regularly instead of ants and other traditional food sources.

“Bears have an effect on everything else because they have an effect on this one important species — ants,” Grinath says.

“If bears are eating trash instead of ants, that could compromise the benefits the plants are receiving. These indirect effects are an important consideration in conservation.”

5 Animal Myths That Are 100% Untrue

Myths are just a part of life. There have been myths about famous people, events or even strange occurrences — and sometimes they are really convincing. Myths don’t just stop with humans. Animals, who have existed for millions of years, have had their share of bizarre and nonsensical tales told about them, too. However, modern science is debunking many of these false beliefs as animals are being studied more and more in the wild. Here we are setting the record straight on five misconceptions about animals:

1. Elephants are not afraid of mice.

This myth has been depicted in movies, cartoons, and even touted as fact, but there is no scientific basis to the claim that elephants are afraid of mice. Researchers have disproved this myth and attributed it to elephants being startled by anything that blends in with their environment and then suddenly becomes present — which can be any small or large camouflaged animal. To assert that one species is frightened by another species is bogus. Or is it? Experts actually discovered that as an evolutionary safeguard for plants that would otherwise get trampled by elephants, when plants are blanketed by ants, the massive animals stay away. Perhaps elephants are actually fearful of ants, but certainly not of mice.

2. Dogs can look up, and they frequently do look up at the sky.

Like many other tall tales, the idea that dogs cannot look up has traveled quite far, but it is another myth that simply has no merit. It is unclear where this story had originated from, but it was made even more famous after the 2004 comedic zombie movie, Shaun of the Dead. While your canine companion may be more focused on finding food or treats that us humans may clumsily drop on the floor, they are able to look straight up. Dogs often look up at flying insects, birds and airplanes. They can look up and all around, and often do.

3. Ostriches do not bury their heads in the sand when a threat is present.

This is another myth that many of us have seen in cartoons and even learned about when we were children. It has stuck with many people, who still believe that these birds hide their heads in the sand. Yet an ostrich cannot breath with its head in the dirt. If the fact that an ostrich would die if it buried its head in the earth each time it became frightened isn’t enough to convince you, maybe the fact that the longtime legend actually stems from an optical illusion that the animal creates will convince you. It’s seriously just a trick of the eye; when the giant birds are picking at the ground, from a distance it can actually look like their heads are buried in the sand. The ostrich does spend some time tending to their eggs that they bury in the sand, since they turn the eggs several times per day.

4. A mother bird will not reject their young if they have been touched by a human.

This is a myth that was likely created to stop human adults and children from handling helpless and fragile little peeps who have fallen from their nests. However, most birds have an extremely poor sense of smell and cannot detect the human scent on their young. The only bird with exceptional scent perception is the vulture, who uses this ability to detect dead and rotting animals for meals. Otherwise, most birds lack a developed sense of smell. Still, it is not advised to handle baby birds as they are probably learning to fly and should not be disturbed.

5. Camels do not store water in their humps.

It is one of the most common myths, but camels do not hold water in their massive humps like it has been assumed; instead they use them for fat storage. The reason why camels can avoid dehydration by surviving seven days without water is not due to their humps, but because of their red blood cells that are shaped like ovals. The animal’s kidneys and intestines are the parts of their bodies that retain water and not the camel’s humps. The humps contain fat and not water, but they are still fascinating since they equal the same amount of energy as three week’s worth of food.

Catherine Gill|February 12, 2015

Everglades

Pace of Everglades restoration threatens to harm estuaries

Spooked by warming currents in the Pacific known to presage heavy rains in Florida, the Army Corps of Engineers has been lowering Lake Okeechobee by discharging water into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries. Coastal residents are none too happy about it.

But 15 years after adoption of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan to clean and send water south, there’s still no choice but to discharge east and west to lower the lake. Neither the Corps nor the South Florida Water Management District is going to risk letting Lake Okeechobee rise above 16 feet and possibly trigger a catastrophic failure of the Herbert Hoover Dike.

The dike doesn’t meet national “dam safety” standards. It is under repair, but runoff from rain in the Kissimmee Valley flushes into the lake six times faster than it can be released. To maintain a margin of safety, releases must start before the rain. The lake is now at about 15 feet.

Keeping water low has been good for Lake Okeechobee and its rebounding bass fishery. It’s murder for the estuaries. And the bitter irony is: This is happening in the dry season.

The Caloosahatchee River and its estuary, on Florida’s west coast, handle lake releases better than the St. Lucie on the east coast. The St. Lucie neither needs nor wants lake water, and is still recovering from the 2013 lake dump during summer’s “rainy season.” That discharge uprooted and washed away grass beds, killed the oysters and shellfish and fed an algal bloom so toxic that health officials were warning: “Don’t touch the water.”

Protesters chanting “Send It South” don’t want any repeats.

Historically the water of the Kissimmee-Lake Okeechobee-Everglades did flow south. There are no natural links between Lake Okeechobee and the coast, only canals.

“Send It South” resonates well within the Everglades Coalition, which adopted it as the theme for its recent annual conference in Key Largo. There, the steadfastly bi-partisan coalition of 57 organizations urged attending members of Congress, state and federal officials to speed up implementation of the restoration plan adopted in 2000 by Florida’s Legislature and Congress with near unanimous support.

The plan laid out 68 projects to get the quantity, quality, timing and distribution of South Florida’s water “right.”

The basic principles are:

- Store freshwater in the rainy season for use in the dry season.
- Clean it up so the Everglades River of Grass doesn’t turn into a stagnant cattail marsh.
- Re-establish the seasonal shallow-sheet flow south through the Water Conservation Areas into Everglades National Park.

Assurances were also included that the region’s then-existing flood protection and water supply for urban, agriculture and commercial use would be maintained. Implementation of the plan has been painfully slow. As repeated “emergency” water discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the estuaries attest, there is now an urgent need for places simply to store water.

There was no doubt Gov. Rick Scott would press the Legislature for funds to complete his “Restoration Strategies” program to expand the filtration marshes, called Stormwater Treatment Areas, south of Lake Okeechobee and resolve longstanding lawsuits over water-quality issues. Tuesday, the governor made a welcome commitment to a much larger restoration program – $5 billion over 20 years. The South Florida Water Management District and Legislature must follow through, exercising the state’s option to buy 46,000 acres of U.S. Sugar-owned land for a reservoir adjacent to Lake Okeechobee to increase storage and conveyance, initiating construction of the long-planned Caloosahatchee Reservoir, and completing construction of the St. Lucie Reservoir.

Total costs on those water projects alone are estimated at $1.8 billion. So, bond-financing for such projects must be on the agenda too.

With 19 million people, Florida is now the nation’s third most populous state. That’s 19 million reasons to finish Everglades Restoration and to protect the state’s other endangered waters resources – springs, rivers, lakes and estuaries. Florida has the financial wherewithal. What we need is the sustained bi-partisan political will to do so.

Martha Musgrove|Florida Wildlife Federation|January 27, 2015

South Florida flood-control costs rising amid budget cuts
South Florida taxpayers face mounting maintenance costs for both flood control structures and Everglades restoration projects.

There’s a growing tab for living in what used to be the Everglades, and that increased flood-control bill could soon come due for South Florida taxpayers.

The 60-year-old system of canals, pumps and levees that guards against flooding in swampy South Florida needs more upkeep and repair to continue to protect homes and businesses.

In addition, ongoing work to fix the environmental consequences of draining the Everglades to make way for development and farming has a multibillion-dollar price tag of its own that is adding to the public costs.

The South Florida Water Management District now spends about $50 million a year fixing flood-control facilities, and in the coming months district officials are expected to consider ways to prioritize and pay for more upkeep and upgrades.

The water management district already “struggles” with meeting maintenance needs and now has to account for adding a host of new pumps, water treatment areas and other Everglades restoration-related structures to take care of, district Board Member James Moran said.

“We can’t get behind the curve any more,” Moran said. “This district was established to do flood control. … The longer we kick that can down the road, the further behind we get.”

Decades of draining to make way for development and farming shrunk the Everglades to about half its size.

Now 2,000 miles of levees and canals and 71 water pumping stations are among the far-flung, flood-control structures relied on to keep flooding rains from swamping South Florida.

Water management district officials estimate it would cost about $4 billion to $5 billion to completely replace South Florida’s vast flood-control system.

“We couldn’t live in South Florida if this system didn’t perform as it should,” district Executive Director Blake Guillory said.

While the South Florida flood-control system is good at draining rain water out to sea, it also wastes water needed to replenish the Everglades as well as South Florida community drinking-water supplies.

To try to reverse some of those harmful flood-control consequences, the state and federal government in 2000 agreed to an Everglades restoration plan that calls for redirecting more water to the Everglades. That involves building more places to store the water that rains down during storms as well as treatment areas to clean up the pollutants that wash in off of farmland, lawns and roads.

Federal and state Everglades restoration efforts have already cost taxpayers about $3.1 billion, with most of that money – $2.4 billion – coming just from Florida taxpayers.

There are now nearly three times as many water pumping stations spread throughout the South Florida Water Management District system as there were in 1999. There has also been a 20 percent increase in the miles of canals and levees.

At least 19 more water pumping stations and another 116 miles of canals are planned, according to the district.

Construction costs for new facilities come from future operations and maintenance expenses, much of which will be added to the South Florida Water Management District’s responsibilities.

“We are going to need a hell of a lot more money to keep this show on the road,” Moran said.

The South Florida Water Management District has a $700 million annual budget and about 1,500 employees. The agency oversees flood control and guards water supplies in a 16-county region reaching from Orlando to Key West.

Gov. Rick Scott made cutting the water management district’s budget a priority during his first term in office. In 2011, Scott and the state Legislature slashed the district’s budget by 30 percent, which triggered layoffs and put some district construction plans on hold.

Since then, the district’s nine-member, governor-appointed board has reduced the property tax rate for four years in a row, including a 7 percent cut for 2015.

The $50 million a year the district now spends on construction to fix flood control facilities is about $10 million less a year than prior to the budget cuts that started in 2011.

Environmental groups in recent years have raised concerns that state-imposed water district budget cuts and continued trims to the district property tax rate have gone too far to keep up with restoration needs.

“We need money and that is not going to go away,” said Drew Martin, of the Sierra Club.

District and state officials counter that budget cuts were needed to reduce expenses outside of the district’s “core” mission and haven’t hampered restoration or maintenance needs.

District officials say they are working on ways to better project the life span of flood-control facilities.

Also, the district in 2015 plans to spend about $2 million to start preparing engineering designs for future upgrades and rehab work so they can be ready to get to work when more construction money is available.

The water management district needs to make sure it’s making the right maintenance investments while focusing on ways to be “more efficient, more cost effective,” district Board Member Mitch Hutchcraft said.

“Rethink how we do this,” Hutchcraft said. “All things are on the table.”

Andy Reid |South Florida Sun Sentinel|January 2, 2015, 

Obama proposes $240 million in 2016 for Everglades restoration

The Obama administration signaled it’s serious about fixing the Everglades Monday by unveiling a budget that proposes spending $240 million on restoration work.

Of that, at least $124 million would go directly toward U.S. Army Corps of Engineers construction projects, nearly double the current budget and more than four times what was spent the year before, said Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg.

The money builds on $1.6 billion the administration says it has so far spent to complete chronically-delayed repairs to one of the nation’s largest ecosystems. Restoring the wetlands drained for development in the 1940s was first authorized under a landmark act signed by President Bill Clinton in 2000. But in recent years, the large public works bill intended to pay for projects failed to pass a divided Congress.

“We’ve been very vocal that if we’re going to avoid Everglades fatigue not only in Florida but around the country, we’ve got to move to finish these projects,” Eikenberg said. “So the White House coming out with $124 million just for the Corps is a very positive development.”

Eickenberg said he now hopes Congress follows the lead and “at least starts at that baseline.”

While the administration did not name specific projects to be funded, Julie Hill-Gabriel, director of Everglades policy for Audubon Florida, said top contenders include two older canal projects in South Miami-Dade County authorized nearly two decades ago, along with four projects inserted into a major 2014 water works bill. Among the projects are a water preserve in western Broward County and two reservoirs needed near Lake Okeechobee to keep polluted water from fouling the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers. In 2013, water from the lake triggered toxic algae blooms.

Jenny Staletovich|MiamiHerald.com|02/02/2015

SFWMD Details Restoration Project Progress

Completing current projects is an agency priority

West Palm Beach, FL – Recognizing that a healthy ecosystem is vital to a healthy economy, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) is making significant progress on dozens of initiatives and projects to improve water quality and increase storage.

“The most effective way to achieve restoration is by completing the host of projects now being designed or under construction across the region,” said SFWMD Executive Director Blake Guillory. “Major progress is being made, from wildlife returning to the Kissimmee to heavy construction work south of Lake Okeechobee on reservoirs and treatment wetlands that will help protect coastal estuaries and the Everglades.”

Improving Water Quality
Under Governor Rick Scott’s Restoration Strategies program, the SFWMD is creating more than 6,500 acres of new Stormwater Treatment Areas (STAs) and 116,000 acre-feet of additional water storage through construction of flow equalization basins (FEBs). The FEB’s will help optimize operation of the treatment wetlands.

Everglades water quality progress includes:

  • A-1 FEB [Flow Equalization Basin] under construction with a completion date of June 2016
  • L-8 FEB pump station under construction with a completion date of December 2016
  • STA-1 West Expansion in preliminary design and permitting underway
  • Two conveyance features required for the movement of water with the new FEBs and STAs under construction and another in design

The Sam Jones/Abiaki Prairie Wetland Restoration (C-139 Annex) project will complement Restoration Strategies by returning more historic Everglades conditions to 15,000 acres of former citrus grove, which will help improve water quality. To date, about 2,000 acres of citrus have been removed.

Kissimmee River Restoration

When complete, 40 square miles of Kissimmee River and floodplain will be enhanced, including almost 25,000 acres of wetlands and 40 miles of historic river channel.

Kissimmee River restoration progress includes:

  • Acquisition of approximately 100,000 acres of needed land
  • Construction completion of three phases, refilling 14 miles of C-38 canal and reestablishing continuous water flow to 24 miles of river channel; Seasonal rains and flows now inundate 15,000 acres of restored floodplain habitat and another 9 miles of canal is being backfilled to restore flow to 16 additional miles of the river; Project completion is scheduled for 2019
  • Planning and land acquisition underway to increase storage capacity in the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes – the headwaters of the river system
  • Ongoing environmental monitoring to evaluate ecosystem responses to the canal backfilling and other changes

Indian River Lagoon – South:

The restoration project will reduce harmful freshwater inflows and generate habitat and water quality improvements in the St. Lucie Estuary and the Indian River Lagoon.

Indian River Lagoon-South progress includes:

  • Completion of land acquisition and design for the C-44 Reservoir and STA component; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completion of the first phase of construction, including the intake canal, and the Corps will begin work on the 3,400-acre reservoir in 2015
  • SFWMD has initiated construction of the 6,300-acre STA and associated features and will start on the reservoir pump station in spring 2015; SFWMD construction will be complete in 2017
  • Acquisition of more than 20,000 acres of land for natural storage and treatment areas and initiation of wetland restoration activities on Allapattah Flats

The Caloosahatchee River (C-43) West Basin Storage Reservoir

The project will capture and store stormwater runoff from the C-43 basin and reduce excess freshwater flow to the Caloosahatchee Estuary. It will also capture and store regulatory releases from Lake Okeechobee, reducing discharges to coastal estuaries during wet periods and providing flows to the estuary during dry periods.

Caloosahatchee River (C-43) West Basin Storage Reservoir progress includes:

  • Acquisition of the land with significant cost-share from the U.S. Department of Interior; Design and permitting is complete
  • Authorization in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014
  • Utilization for emergency storage during wet periods
  • Design underway on incremental features that will provide 9,000 acre-feet of interim shallow storage, with construction in early 2015

The Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands Phase I

The project will restore natural water flows to Biscayne Bay and Biscayne National Park, improving salinity distribution near the shoreline. This will reestablish productive juvenile nursery habitats for shrimp, shellfish and other near-shore species.

Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands Phase I progress includes:

  • Completion of construction of the Deering Estate Flow- Way component, and 4 of the 10 culverts planned for the L-31East component have been completed
  • Authorization in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014; Federal appropriations are needed to enter into a Project Partnership Agreement

Dispersed Water Management

Additional water retention is being provided in the Northern Everglades.

Examples include cooperative agreements with public and private landowners to cost-share projects, retaining water on State-owned lands prior to the implementation of regional projects (interim lands), conducting pilot projects to document the costs and benefits of storing water on fallow citrus groves (water farming) and compensating ranchers for storage/nutrient reductions through the Northern Everglades Payment for Environmental Services Program.

Dispersed Water Management progress includes:

  • Achieved approximately 87,000 acre-feet of storage/retention in the Northern Everglades, with the majority located in the Lake Okeechobee watershed
  • Implementation of approximately 99,000 acre-feet of additional storage (including six new projects approved December 2014)

For More Information-

C43 Reservoir has been authorized by Congress.   Ground breaking  soon  

The Chief’s Report is the transmittal package for the Project Implementation Report to the Office of Management and Budget and subsequently to Congress. It contains updated costs and evaluation information for the PIR as submitted.

  Caloosahatchee River (C-43) West Basin Storage Reservoir Final Integrated PIR and EIS (March 2010) View or download the Chief’s Report Package (2.4 mb, PDF)

See more at: http://www.evergladesplan.org/pm/projects/proj_04_c43_basin_1.aspx#sthash.4P9W7IBa.dpuf

Water Quality Issues

House Water Bill Raises Questions About Who is in Charge of Florida Water Policy

A massive 91-page draft bill that contains the most aggressive changes to water policy in decades is sure to sail through the Florida House of Representatives. The bill, likely drafted by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, got a strong endorsement from major landowners and utilities at its first hearing at Wednesday’s House State Affairs Committee meeting.

While all legislators want the same thing as their constituents – clean and abundant water resources – the bill has sections that may make that goal elusive.

Audubon, which has 30,000-acre sanctuary in the marshes of Lake Okeechobee, objected to sections of the bill that set aside long-standing rules on phosphorous discharges into the lake. The bill replaces existing phosphorous control programs with plan that is more speculative than ambitious. 

Audubon offered conditional support when the Florida Department of Environmental Protection released the Lake Okeechobee Basin Management Action Plan last month. But we had no idea Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam was planning on a repeal of the plan’s failsafe rules. The plan itself is only workable with a strong rule that would allow the Water Management District to impose tougher controls on discharges if waterways are not improved. But that is the rule targeted for repeal. It is almost certain that the Lake Okeechobee cleanup plan will fall short of its targets.

Click here to see our fact sheet.

Commissioner Putnam was not at Wednesday’s hearing in Tallahassee. He was in Washington opposing the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s rules to protect isolated and shallow wetlands – the kind of wetlands wading birds need to forage.

Yet agency staff and industry lobbyists alike are claiming that the mere existence of the 160 page plan justifies repeal of long-standing phosphorous control rules. Audubon fears more delays in the longstanding fight to clean up Lake Okeechobee.

The Lake Okeechobee Basin Management Action Plan is based on the idea of reducing the phosphorous load to Lake Okeechobee from the current 448 tons annual average to just 105 tons. The only mechanisms in the plan are (largely voluntary) best management practices and expensive taxpayer funded treatment projects. The idea of just restricting sources of pollution across the watershed is absent from the plan. Nearly 4000 tons of phosphorous enters the watershed every year, mostly from fertilizer and animal feed.

The bill also contains provisions aimed at turning Lake Okeechobee into a deep water supply reservoir. The bill does this by directing state agencies to confront the federal government over water levels that are managed to balance safety and the environment. 

Lake Okeechobee has been called the liquid heart of the Everglades. This bill will postpone cleanup and support the idea of using Lake Okeechobee only as water supply and not as a natural system.

How You Can Help 

This is an important issue for everyone who cares about the Everglades and South Florida’s waterways. This includes Lake Okeechobee’s fishing community and the coastal residents who have been so vocal about our imperiled estuaries.

Please check your inbox every Friday during the 2015 Florida Legislative Session for the Audubon Advocate eNewsletter. This is the best way to stay engaged with breaking conservation news. Audubon policy staff will update you as soon as there is more information. Your voice will be needed.

Audubon Florida Advocate: February 2015

Nicodemus Slough project holds Lake Okeechobee freshwater releases

SFWMD Begins Pumping Water at Vast New Storage Area

West Palm Beach, FL – To increase storage of freshwater releases from Lake Okeechobee and help protect the Caloosahatchee Estuary, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) has begun full-capacity pumping into the new Nicodemus Slough water storage area in Glades County.

“Working in concert with efforts to capture water on public and private lands and move water south, Nicodemus Slough provides some relief now to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries,” said SFWMD Executive Director Blake Guillory. “The project also adds to our critical storage options in the interim while regional projects now under construction – and making progress – are completed.”

With Lake Okeechobee’s level at 14.74 feet NGVD today – about a foot higher than this time last year – the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been releasing water out of the lake to both estuaries. In response, the District worked to accelerate construction and testing operations in order to begin full-capacity pumping several weeks early onto the Nicodemus Slough site.

To send water onto the 16,000-acre project area, four pumps are each moving 30,000 gallons of water per minute. It may take approximately six weeks of round-the-clock operations to fill the vast site. The project can store an annual average of 34,000 acre-feet of water, or about 11 billion gallons.

Located south of Fisheating Creek on the western bank of the lake, the Nicodemus Slough project is intended to provide interim water storage until projects such as the Caloosahatchee River (C-43) West Basin Storage Reservoir are completed. In a cooperative agreement with Lykes Brothers, the District is leasing the property for an investment of $2 million a year for 8 years, with an option to extend the agreement.

This project is one of multiple actions the SFWMD is taking to expand water storage opportunities. Since 2005, the District and a variety of partners worked together to enhance water storage opportunities on private and public lands through the agency’s Dispersed Water Management Program.

Approximately 87,000 acre-feet of water retention and storage has been made available in the greater Everglades system through the program, with the majority located in the Lake Okeechobee watershed. Nearly 100,000 acre-feet of additional storage, including six new projects approved in December 2014, are under development.

January Rainfall Feeds Lake Okeechobee, Leaves South Florida Dry

Above-average Kissimmee rainfall contributed to lake inflows

A new online interactive map tracks the weekly amount and movement of water south out of Lake Okeechobee as well as updates on the storage capacity of major storage areas.

To help reduce freshwater releases to South Florida’s estuaries during the 2014 wet season, South Florida Water Management District operations moved approximately 339 billion gallons of water south from Lake Okeechobee through four water control structures from Nov. 1, 2013, through Oct. 31, 2014 – that’s equal to 782,367 football fields filled with 1 foot of water. This action is part of an effort to reduce Lake Okeechobee releases to the east and west coastal estuaries.

With an increased potential for above-average rainfall this winter, the District is continuing to move water south to help favorably position Lake Okeechobee’s water level before the 2015 rainy season starts. For weekly updates on how much water is being moved south, visit www.sfwmd.gov/movingwatersouth

WEEKLY WEB TRACKER: Moving Lake Okeechobee Water South

Major Expansion of Water Storage Program

New partnerships more than double the current storage capacity

West Palm Beach, 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  approved agreements that more than double the overall water retention capacity in its Dispersed Water Management program.

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.”

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.

Along with the Alico property in Hendry County, the District also signed separate agreements for water storage and nutrient removal:

  • Rafter T, in Highlands County, for 1,298 acre-feet per year
  • Babcock Property Holdings, at the border of Charlotte and Lee counties, for 1,214 acre-feet a year
  • MacArthur Agro Research Center Component 1, in Glades County, for 620 acre-feet per year
  • MacArthur Agro Research Center Component 2, in Glades County, for 1,567 pounds of phosphorus removal per year
  • Adams and Russakis Ranch, at the border of St. Lucie and Okeechobee counties, for retention of 508 acre-feet per year
  • Bull Hammock Ranch, at the border of Martin and St. Lucie counties, for 288 acre-feet per year

Dispersed Water Management Program

The District’s Dispersed Water Management program encourages private property owners to retain water on their land rather than drain it or to accept and detain regional runoff for storage, or do both. Landowners typically join the program through cost-share cooperative projects, easements or payment for environmental services.

Since 2005, the District has been working with a coalition of agencies, environmental organizations, ranchers and researchers to enhance opportunities for storing excess surface water on private and public lands. These partnerships have made thousands of acre-feet of water retention and storage available throughout the greater Everglades system.

When water levels in South Florida are higher than normal during the annual rainy season, the District can utilize this storage while taking further actions to capture and store water throughout the regional water management system. Holding water on these lands is one tool to help reduce the amount of water flowing into Lake Okeechobee and/or discharged to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries during high water conditions.

Managing water on these lands is one tool to reduce the amount of water delivered into Lake Okeechobee during the wet season and discharged to coastal estuaries for flood protection. Dispersed water management offers many other environmental and economic benefits to the region, including:

  • Providing valuable groundwater recharge for water supply
  • Improving water quality and rehydration of drained systems
  • Enhancing plant and wildlife habitat

Local government, FPL fight over water for Turkey Point canals

Miami-Dade County and the city of Miami stepped into the fray over Florida Power & Light’s problem-plagued Turkey Point cooling canals this week, arguing that the aging system is stealing too much water from Everglades restoration and leaving behind a trail of salt threatening drinking water supplies.

In petitions filed with the state Department of Environmental Protection, the two governments also contend the new state plan to manage the canals violates both water regulations and rules for managing nuclear power plants.

The plan “purports to order FPL to take certain actions to fix its cooling canal system, but DEP’s ‘remedy’ would, at best, allow those water quality violations to continue indefinitely,” the county’s petition said.

By adding fresher water to increasingly hot and salty canals rather than replacing the canal water, FPL risks worsening conditions for the entire area, according to the petitions by the governments, Tropical Audubon and rock mining company Atlantic Civil.

“If they don’t flush out all this stuff, it’s not going to operate properly. And we’re saying no way are you going to flush out this pollution to our wellfields and Biscayne Bay,” said Tropical Audubon executive director Laura Reynolds. “They [expanded] their power plant and went too far.”

FPL said it is trying to fix problems and accused the groups of “throwing up roadblocks that do absolutely nothing to solve the problem,” said spokesman Greg Brostowicz. “We see this as… procedural maneuvers, or a delay tactic, and they don’t benefit FPL customers, citizens or the environment in any way.”

The canals, a 168-mile-long loop, were built in 1970 to act as a radiator for the plant’s two nuclear reactors and licensed as an industrial wastewater facility. Canal water was supposed to stay put, even after the plant expanded in 2009. But in August 2013, the South Florida Water Management District found the canal water — heavier and saltier than nearby seawater — had spread underground, threatening inland wellfields. The district ordered FPL to come up with a plan to stop the spread.

The utility’s solution was to start pumping up to 14 million gallons of water daily from the Florida aquifer and nearby canals into the cooling system.

But over the summer, temperatures soared and conditions worsened: a festering algae bloom spread and the canal water heated up, routinely climbing above 100 degrees. At 104 degrees, the nuclear units must power down. FPL made an emergency request to draw up to 100 million gallons a day to freshen the system.

In December, when DEP approved the new management plan two days before Christmas, local officials say they were caught off-guard.

The water management district, which has long monitored conditions and found fault with FPL’s calculations for fixing the advancing underground saltwater plume, had been removed from the plan and stripped of oversight. Tropical Audubon, which objects to the removal, argued the move means the district will never get to weigh in on the calculations. The county contends the state does not have the authority to “unilaterally” eliminate regulatory agencies.

DEP’s office of general counsel is now reviewing the petitions to determine whether they merit a hearing, said spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller. If they don’t pass muster, the groups will get one more shot at making their case.

Jenny Staletovich|MiamiHerald.com|02/12/2015

Improved House Water Bill Advances

Senate Bill is Not Expected to Have Controversial Everglades Provisions

Two weeks ago we learned of a major draft water bill being considered by the Florida House of Representatives. The bill was amended before being approved by the House State Affairs Committee Wednesday on a spit vote.

Now numbered HB 7003, the bill will next be heard in the House Appropriations Committee and is expected to be quickly passed out of the House:

Audubon is still trying to improve the bill. The key provisions are described below:

  • Carefully sidesteps water conservation efficiency as strategies to deal with water supply shortages. This water utility oriented approach relies instead on expensive water development plans. The bill also ties setting Minimum Flows and Levels rules to prevention and recovery projects, which may serve to slow down the setting of MFLs. 

Springs advocates argued for water conservation measures but additional measures water conservation and efficient use of water are not found in the bill.

  • Endorses the Central Florida Water Initiative and gives direction about planning for new sources of water – again without any recommendations for water conservation or efficient use.

Environmental Representatives on advisory committees to the Central Florida Water Initiative expressed concern about the lack of focus on water conservation and efficient use.  Utility opposition to water conservation and efficiency in the plan is based on a solid front for developing expensive water supply projects.  

  • Tells the South Florida Water Management District to get tough with federal agencies over water levels in Lake Okeechobee.

Federal agencies have warned that storing too much water in Lake Okeechobee may threaten the safety of the dike around the lake. Strategies such as putting pumps in the lake to draw irrigation water during droughts have severely harmed the lake’s marshes and caused a “take” of endangered Everglade Snail Kites.

  • Lines up Lake Okeechobee phosphorous pollution control programs with the lake’s Basin Management Action Plan adopted under Florida’s water quality laws. The bill preempts the use of a long-standing existing rule that could be used by the South Florida Water Management District to set specific limits on pollution entering state waters.

Objections by Audubon and others led to some changes in the bill to make sure that the Best Management Practices (BMPs) used by landowners to control fertilizers and animal waste are enforced by the Department of Environmental Protection. We are still looking for guarantees under state law that if actual pollution loads are not met that  improved BMPs will be adopted. 

  • Five year water resource project funding plans will become part of the water management district budgets and submitted to the Legislature.  A troubling part of the five year plan is a provision that makes private water users qualified for project funding. 

Audubon had encouraged House Speaker Steve Crisifulli to look to water management districts to take the lead on water resource projects.  Five year plans will lead to greater visibility and will be an improvement over just having requests come directly to the Legislature.

  • A springs section of the bill tracks but is not as strong as the Springs Bill that passed the Florida Senate last year.  The House bill requires minimum flows and levels and water quality pollution limits for a large group of priority springs.  For polluted springs, cleanup programs are required.  The cleanup programs track existing state water quality laws.

Missing from the bill are springshed protection areas where polluting activities can be controlled. Controls will now be built into the general cleanup programs.  The bill misses the opportunity to ban or severely limit activities that could harm springs such as landfills, land disposal of sewage, animal feedlots and disposal of animal manure and carcasses within springsheds.   

For more information, please click here to see coverage from the Tampa Tribune.

From Audubon Advocate|February 2015

Great Lakes & Inland Waters

Obama asks $50 million cut in Great Lakes restoration effort

ANN ARBOR President Barack Obama’s proposed budget for 2016 seeks what it calls a $50 million “modest reduction” in a multi-year program to clean up the Great Lakes.

The president’s spending plan released Monday requests $250 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, down from $300 million appropriated for this year.

The program focuses on the lakes’ most serious long-term ecological challenges such as invasive species, toxic pollution, degraded fish and wildlife habitat and runoff from farms and cities that causes toxic algae blooms. Obama created the program after taking office in 2009. About $1.9 billion has been spent on about 2,000 projects region-wide.

Todd Ambs, campaign director of the Ann Arbor-based Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, said in a statement that the proposed cut is unacceptable. The president sought a $25 million reduction last year, but Congress kept the program at $300 million.

“This budget, for the Great Lakes, is a non-starter,” Ambs said. “We look forward to — once again — working with Republicans and Democrats in Congress to restore funding to Great Lakes protection efforts that are producing results for the environment and economy in communities across the region.

Bipartisan leaders in the House and Senate have proven that they will stand up for the Great Lakes — and we embrace the opportunity to work with them again to keep federal Great Lakes restoration efforts on track.”

The lakes provide drinking water to about 30 million people and are an economic pillar for eight states and two Canadian provinces.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman Liz Purchia said Monday that her agency “has made significant investments” in the Great Lakes cleanup effort over six years and would continue to do so under the proposed $250 million budget.

“With this investment, the EPA expects to continue to make progress advancing restoration,” she said in an email to The Associated Press. “The modest reduction to interagency agreements, grants, and contracts will place a greater focus on … clean-up of areas of concern, preventing and controlling the spread of invasive species, and taking steps to address the causes of harmful algal blooms in priority watersheds.”

Acting Deputy Administrator Stan Meiburg said in a statement Monday that his agency’s budget “sends a strong signal that the president is fully committed to making the investments needed to meet our mission to protect public health and the environment.”

Associated Press|Feb. 2, 2015

States Develop New Strategies to Reduce Nutrient Levels in Mississippi River, Gulf of Mexico

Summary
The 12 states of the Hypoxia Task Force have devised new strategies to speed up reduction of nutrient levels in waterways in the Mississippi/Atchafalaya River Basin. High nutrients levels are a key contributor each summer to the large area of low oxygen in the Gulf of Mexico known as a dead zone. Each state has outlined specific actions it will take to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus in the Mississippi/Atchafalaya River Basin from wastewater plants, industries, agriculture, and stormwater runoff.

The Task Force has decided to extend the target date for shrinking the dead zone from its current average size of almost 6,000 square miles to about 2,000 square miles from 2015 to 2035. Progress has been made in certain watersheds within the region, but science shows a 45 percent reduction is needed in the nitrogen and phosphorus entering the Gulf of Mexico. In order to track progress and spur action, the Task Force is also aiming at a 20 percent reduction in nutrient loads by 2025. 

In Their Words
“It’s going to take time to vastly improve water quality in very large bodies of water like the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico. Federal agencies and states are committing to comprehensive actions and increased resources to spur progress on the ground and in the water,” said Ellen Gilinsky, Senior Advisor for Water for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Task Force co-chair.

“Each of the states within the Mississippi River Basin are best able to understand what they need to do to achieve these aggressive goals.  The Hypoxia Task Force has been supporting the states as they develop voluntary, science-based strategies that work to achieve the shared goals of our states,” said Bill Northey, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture and state co-chair of the Task Force.

More information
Visit
http://water.epa.gov/type/watersheds/named/msbasin/index.cfm

In More Detail
High nutrient levels are one of America’s costliest, most widespread, and most challenging environmental problems. Too much nitrogen and phosphorus in the water leads to large algae growth, called algal blooms. These algal blooms can severely reduce or eliminate oxygen in water, creating dead zones and harming aquatic life, and harm humans because they produce elevated toxins and bacterial growth.

Examples of actions in state nutrient reduction strategies include:

  • The Illinois Fertilizer Act ensures that a $0.75/ton assessment on all bulk fertilizer sold in Illinois is allocated to research and educational programs focused on nutrient use and water quality. 
  • Iowa’s Water Quality Initiative has four main components: outreach and education, statewide practice implementation, targeted demonstration watershed projects, and tracking and accountability.
  • Minnesota is providing $221 million in state funds to support a wide range of activities including development of watershed restoration and protection strategies, ground water and drinking water protection, and monitoring and assessment.
  • Wisconsin is using state and Clean Water Act funding to expand the use of conservation practices in 45 agricultural watersheds and critical sites in the Mississippi River Basin.

The Task Force will focus on several areas in addition to the state nutrient reduction strategies, including:

  • Quantitative Measures: States and federal agencies will need to predict and measure how much nutrient levels are reduced by certain actions. So at their meeting in May 2015, members will describe how tracking mechanisms, watershed monitoring, and computer modeling will be used to quantitatively measure progress, particularly by the state nutrient reduction strategies.
  • Federal Programs: Federal agencies will work to integrate, strengthen, and quantify the nutrient load reductions from programs including, the USDA Regional Conservation Partnership Program, USDA Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watershed Initiative, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Mississippi River Habitat Initiative and Landscape Conservation Cooperatives, and EPA Water Pollution Control Program Grants and Nonpoint Source Management Program.
  • Funding: Reducing nutrient levels requires significant financial resources so Hypoxia Task Force members will identify funding needs for specific nutrient reduction actions and then better target existing resources and pursue additional funding.
  • Partnerships: The Task Force aims to expand existing and forge new partnerships.
    Agriculture – Farmers have a long tradition of commitment to soil and water conservation and have been a critical part of the development of state strategies. Farm innovations and the examples set by early adopters help improve solutions and provide needed demonstration, accelerating actions that improve agricultural productivity and water quality.
    Businesses – Many businesses are actively working to reduce their environmental impacts and have lessons to share that will enable other businesses to implement similar actions. Nitrogen inhibitors and other products already help keep nutrients in the soil and deliver nutrients to plants.
    Cities and Communities – The Task Force will rely on municipal wastewater agencies and the communities they serve to improve performance of sewage treatment facilities as a component of state nutrient strategies.
    NGOs – Many non-governmental organizations share the Task Force’s goals and mission and are working on initiatives to address water quality and nutrient pollution in the region.

Universities – Land Grant Universities have helped develop state nutrient reduction strategies and will continue playing an integral role in implementing them.

Members of the Hypoxia Task Force are the Army Corps of Engineers; U.S. Department of Agriculture; Department of the Interior; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; and the states of Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. Tribes are represented by the National Tribal Water Council.

Offshore & Ocean

Climate fix for rising seas could foul Miami’s Biscayne Bay

Last fall as Miami Beach triumphantly drained its streets, beating back seasonal King Tide flooding that has come to symbolize the perils of climate change, scientists got a different view of what the future may hold: one of the world’s most celebrated beaches surrounded by water too foul for swimming.

New pumps installed to keep the city dry flooded Biscayne Bay with a soup of phosphorus, nitrogen and other pollutants that can feed toxic algae blooms, according to a study overseen by Florida International University geologist Henry O. Briceno. In parts of the bay, the mass flushing caused nutrients to increase six-fold. If pumping were to become a regular practice, nutrients that are “like caviar for algae” could fuel nasty-smelling blooms that kill marine life and turn water a bright pea green, he said.

“You have a dry city. A very safe city,” with increased pumping, Briceno said. “But you won’t have any beaches to bring tourists.”

Over the next three to five years, the city plans to install 20 times as many pumps — between 60 and 70 altogether — capable of pumping up to 20,000 gallons a minute as part of a $300 million-plus fix to keep the island high and drive.

Briceno, who used the annual flooding event to conduct a rare island-wide experiment in real time, relayed his findings to Miami Beach officials. Officials said the work indicates more monitoring is needed, but is not conclusive.

“It gives you a good idea of the potential, but it doesn’t really prove anything other than this is something we need to look at,” said Miami Beach City Engineer Bruce Mowry.

Spikes in pollutants could have been caused by the city’s new, more powerful pumps flushing a century-old system, Mowry said. The city is also equipping pumps with devices meant to filter out pollution and plans to increase street sweeping and gutter cleaning to keep contaminants from reaching the bay. Mowry also pointed out that the new pumps passed muster with environmental regulators.

“I guess the question to be asked is: Is this enough?” he said.

Miami Beach, a natural mangrove barrier island sliced and diced by Miami’s early real estate moguls, sits on porous limestone rock, like a calcified sponge. When seas rise during annual fall and spring high tides, water washing over seawalls poses less of a threat than fresh groundwater, which floats on seawater, pushing up through holes in the ground. Mowry calls it vertical flooding. In the past, as seas crept higher, vertical flooding caused the city’s old gravity stormwater system to act like artesian wells, with water bubbling up through pipes, he said.

Last fall, the city focused its efforts on its most flood-prone — and most trafficked — locations near West Avenue and Sunset Harbor, installing three new pumps and rehabbing three old ones to keep water from washing back into streets as the tide drove water levels higher.

But Briceno worried the city was “only looking at one face of the coin,” and not at how water, pushed through ground polluted with old septic tanks, animal feces and other contaminants, affected the bay. So a month before the tides, he created a grid for sampling. Researchers collected water near sewer outfall pipes in the bay, midway into the bay and on the eastern edges of Star, Flagler Memorial and Rivo Alto islands. At the height of the tide in October, they returned for a second round of sampling.

Briceno said his experiment was really meant to provide a snapshot of what to expect.

“The city is being kept dry, which is excellent. That’s a success, protecting people’s health and property and tourism,” he said.

But what about the health of the bay?

“I imagine to live in Miami Beach in the future is going to cost you a lot of taxes,” he said.

Briceno predicts Miami Beach and other communities that want to drain increasing amounts of water will need to treat it to eliminate hazardous elements, or use deep injection wells where they can store it until limestone filters out pollutants. Mowry believes the solution could be a combination of keeping streets and pipes clean and more efficient pumping.

“This is not one thing,” he said. “It’s a big thing and the world is going to have to address it.”

Jenny Staletovich|MiamiHerald.com|01/30/2015

Pew Unveils Pioneering Technology to Help End Illegal Fishing

Live satellite system will monitor waters of Chile and Palau

Washington—The Pew Charitable Trusts launched groundbreaking technology today that will help authorities monitor, detect, and respond to illicit fishing activity across the world’s oceans. The development of Project Eyes on the Seas, as the system is known, furthers a long-term effort by Pew to dramatically reduce illegal or “pirate” fishing.

The system is being developed in partnership with Satellite Applications Catapult, a British company established through a U.K. government initiative. The technology analyzes multiple sources of live satellite tracking data and then links to information about a ship’s ownership history and country of registration, providing a dossier of up-to-the-minute data that can alert officials to suspicious vessel movements.

Experts estimate that up to $23.5 billion worth of fish enter the world market each year from illegal fishing, which averages to approximately 1 in 5 fish caught in the wild. In some regions, as much as 40 percent of the catch is thought to have been caught unlawfully. This theft persists largely because industrial-scale pirate fishers know that nobody is watching them. Project Eyes on the Seas aims to solve that problem by offering authorities for the first time a real-time comprehensive monitoring and analysis system of activity on the water.

“Project Eyes on the Seas is designed to transform the current very expensive and patchy system of information gathering and enforcement into a global system for identifying and tracking illegal fishing vessels that is far more cost effective. This system will enable authorities to share information on those vessels operating outside of the law, build a comprehensive case against them, track them into port or within reach of enforcement vessels, and take action against them,” said Joshua Reichert, executive vice president of The Pew Charitable Trusts, who leads Pew’s environment work.

Project Eyes on the Seas will launch initially with a “Virtual Watch Room” monitoring the waters surrounding Easter Island, a Chilean territory, and the Pacific island nation of Palau. Pew and its partners are working with each nation and island community to establish large, fully protected marine reserves in these waters.

“With Pew’s assistance, we’ve already identified suspicious vessels in our marine zone,” said Palau President Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr. “Now, the Virtual Watch Room’s enhanced features will help ensure that once the Palau National Marine Sanctuary is established, the marine life within our waters will be protected from illegal fishing.”

The Virtual Watch Room is intended to pay immediate dividends in remote ocean areas where governments are considering establishing marine reserves to safeguard some of the planet’s last remaining near-pristine marine habitats. Over the next three years, the plan is for Project Eyes on the Seas to grow in capability and scope as more countries, regional fisheries management organizations, and seafood retail groups commit to using it to guarantee that only legally caught seafood is taken from the ocean and reaches consumers’ plates.

“Satellite data are playing a key role in helping to put an end to illegal fishing,” said Stuart Martin, CEO of Satellite Applications Catapult. “Through the tenacity of The Pew Charitable Trusts and the technological advancements developed by Catapult and industry players, protecting our seas and the livelihood of many villages can now become a reality rather than an idealistic goal. Catapult is delighted to be able to play a part in this.”

Obama Administration Protects Areas of the Arctic Ocean from Oil, Gas Development

On Jan. 27, 2015, President Barack Obama permanently removed 9.8 million acres of ecologically valuable Arctic marine waters from oil and gas leasing through the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. Today’s action removes part of Barrow Canyon, a 25-mile wide corridor in the Chukchi Sea, a shallow shelf known as Hanna Shoal, and two areas offshore from the communities of Barrow and Kaktovik from future oil and gas development.

The Arctic Ocean is home to spectacular wildlife found nowhere else in the United States. Beluga, bowhead, and gray whales; walruses; polar bears; and ice seals, as well as millions of migratory seabirds, shorebirds, and waterfowl use this unique marine ecosystem for migration, feeding, resting, and breeding. Although wildlife is found throughout the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, distinct physical or oceanographic features in some areas create especially rich productivity, biodiversity, and resilience.

A bowhead whale in the Arctic Ocean. Bowheads are incredibly long-lived whales that have been an important part of a subsistence culture and way of life for Arctic communities for thousands of years.

These areas support high concentrations of the plants and animals that form the base of the food chain, attracting higher-level predators such as marine mammals. The abundant wildlife in and around the Chukchi Corridor, Hanna Shoal Area, Barrow Canyon, and the Barrow and Kaktovik Whaling Areas provide subsistence opportunities and are culturally significant to the Inupiat people in coastal communities, who have lived on the bounty of the ocean for many centuries. These areas have long been recognized both within and outside of Alaska as important for wildlife and for subsistence whaling.

Today’s announcement recognizes that these areas face interrelated threats. The Arctic is warming at two to three times the rate of the rest of the planet, and the impacts of climate change, including loss of sea ice and ocean acidification, disproportionately affect this region. The loss of sea ice enables the expansion of oil and gas development, shipping, and other industrial activities, which increase noise, air, and water pollution.

The Pew Charitable Trusts does not oppose offshore drilling but believes a balance must be struck between responsible energy development and protection of the environment. As part of a long-term plan for multiple uses of the Arctic Ocean, protecting especially important areas can help maintain the resilience and health of the larger Arctic marine ecosystem and provide a more certain future for communities, hunters, and industry.

Learn more about why these areas are so important:

Chukchi Corridor (25-mile wide)

The Chukchi Corridor, in the Chukchi Sea, follows the shallow continental shelf from Point Hope to Barrow. This band of ocean is important for marine life and is driven by sea ice leads, large fractures within the ice, which provide openings critical to wildlife. During spring and early summer, bowhead whales, beluga whales, gray whales, ice seals, waterfowl, gulls, seabirds, and other wildlife use the corridor as an essential pathway to move north from the Bering Sea to the Arctic Ocean, making it one of the world’s largest marine mammal migrations. Recurring sea ice leads are also critical from winter through early summer for resident animals, such as bearded and ringed seals and polar bears. And after the ice retreats in the summer, Pacific walruses move through the corridor to the shore at Point Lay, where they haul out en masse.

Hanna Shoal Area

Hanna Shoal, in waters about 100 miles northwest of the northernmost tip of Alaska, rises from the surrounding seafloor to about 65 feet below the surface. About 30 miles wide, the shoal traps and anchors winter sea ice. The shallow shelf diverts warm water flowing from the Bering Strait farther north, allowing sea ice floes to its south to endure longer into the summer. Polynyas, or persistent areas of open water, are found between Hanna Shoal and the coast of Alaska and are important for marine life in winter and spring. Walruses and bearded seals feed on the many seafloor animals on Hanna Shoal, and recent satellite-tracking data demonstrate the shoal’s importance for walrus foraging and resting, especially during summer. Other species that migrate through or are found on Hanna Shoal include ringed and ribbon seals, polar bears, and beluga and bowhead whales.

Barrow Canyon Subsistence Area

Just offshore from Barrow, Alaska, Barrow Canyon lies at the northwestern tip of North America at the juncture between the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. This submarine canyon is about 150 miles long and 15 miles across and descends approximately 1,200 feet below the surrounding seafloor. In Barrow Canyon, nutrient-rich waters flowing east from the narrow Bering Strait through the Chukchi Sea meet the westward current from the Beaufort Sea. The waters around the canyon are extremely productive compared with adjacent areas and with the nutrient-poor deep waters of the Canada Basin.

The canyon’s dynamic waters, together with the area’s abundant spring sunshine, fuel a remarkable population of tiny organisms—plants and animals—that form the foundation of the food chain. The floating plankton, as well as crustaceans and other bottom-dwelling organisms, draw a wide variety of predators, including gray whales that feed here each summer and fall and bearded and ringed seals each spring and winter. Seabirds and waterfowl use Barrow Canyon as a critical passageway for migrating, and high densities of murres, shearwaters, eiders, and loons can be found around the canyon, along with Arctic cod and other fish.

Barrow Whaling Area

The Barrow Subsistence Area is located on the Beaufort Sea side of the Barrow Canyon. In the spring and fall, it is part of the migratory corridor for bowheads, and it is becoming an important feeding area for these whales during ice-free seasons as well. The area is also critical to subsistence hunting for the Inupiaq village of Barrow. 

Kaktovik Whaling Area

The Kaktovik Subsistence Area is located in the eastern Beaufort Sea, near the border with Canada. This area is part of the fall migratory corridor for bowhead whales from the Beaufort to Bering seas. The area lies in an important bowhead feeding and resting spot and has been a critical subsistence hunting area for the Inupiaq village of Kaktovik for thousands of years. The area lies west of the Mackenzie Delta and is second only to Barrow Canyon as a high-productivity region in the Beaufort Sea.

Huge underwater hole planned to get beach sand

A hole the size of eight football fields would be gouged from the ocean floor off Fort Lauderdale under a plan to help save the eroding beaches of southern Broward County.

The Army Corps of Engineers said Broward County has applied for a permit to construct what’s called a sand bypass, a huge cavity in the ocean floor at the north side of the Port Everglades inlet. Its purpose would be to accumulate sand to fatten the shorelines of John U. Lloyd Beach State Park and the cities to south.

Plan to fight South Florida beach erosion

Plan to fight South Florida beach erosion

The south Broward beaches have been losing sand since 1928, when President Calvin Coolidge came to town and pressed a button to detonate explosives that would destroy the final barrier between the ocean and the lake that would become Port Everglades. The button malfunctioned, but the barrier was quickly taken down anyway. Since then, the Port Everglades inlet has blocked the natural flow of sand to the south caused by wind and waves.

Beaches that lose sand to the south gain it back from the north. But since the port inlet cut off the supply, the beaches of Dania Beach, Hollywood and Hallandale Beach have been eroding, saved only by costly projects to replenish them with sand from elsewhere.

Under the $20 million bypass plan, sand that would normally just accumulate north of the inlet would end up in the hole. Every three years or so, the sand would be scooped up, taken south and spread on the beach at John U. Lloyd Beach State Park. From there it would naturally flow south to replenish the other beaches.

“It’s a great way to have a local dedicated sand source for beaches in the area,” said Nicole Sharp, Broward County‘s beach erosion administrator.

But she said it will not eliminate the need to bring in sand from other places.

“It’s a supplement,” she said. “We don’t want people to get the wrong impression.”

It’s a cheaper way to put sand into the system on the southern beaches.- Nicole Sharp, Broward County beach erosion administrator

Throughout South Florida, beaches have been going through various stages of replenishment. The county currently is awaiting a federal permit to begin work on a plan to widen more than five miles of eroded beach from northern Fort Lauderdale to southern Pompano Beach.

Cities south of the inlet strongly support the sand bypass. Hollywood, which has already seen much of the sand from a major renourishment project wash away, would see a more stable beach and less need to spend money obtaining sand.

“We believe it will be a long-term solution for the lack of sand on the southern beaches,” Hollywood spokeswoman Raelin Storey said. “We have done truck hauls to bring in sand in the past three years, but these results are limited because they’re small projects and the sand doesn’t last very long.”

The bypass project would sharply reduce the cost of maintaining beaches. After 15 years, Sharp said, the project would start paying for itself through the elimination of the need to do so many restoration projects.

“It’s a cheaper way to put sand into the system on the southern beaches,” she said.

The Army Corps said the proposed sand bypass project may harm sea turtles, the smalltooth sawfish, staghorn coral and other marine species. The Corps plans to consult other federal agencies on the extent of the harm.

It’s the lesser of two evils. I’ll take the sand bypass over conventional dredging and beach projects.- Dan Clark, Cry of the Water

Conventional beach renourishment projects also have damaged coral reefs. Newly placed sand can wash back into the ocean, burying reefs and clouding the water, preventing sunlight from reaching corals.

Dan Clark, director of Cry of the Water, a Broward environmental group highly critical of beach renourishment, said he supports the sand bypass as the least harmful solution to beach erosion.

“It’s the lesser of two evils,” he said. “I’ll take the sand bypass over conventional dredging and beach projects. It’s part of the solution for the shorelines south of the port. But it needs to be done smartly, so you’re doing as little reef damage as possible.”

The work involves extending the north jetty, clearing submerged rubble and digging a hole nearly 11 acres wide and 29 to 50 feet deep. This is shallower than originally planned to eliminate the need for blasting to crack the underlying limestone. Blasting is adamantly opposed by nearby condominium towers.

Assuming all permits come though on time, construction is expected to begin in mid-2016 and take about six months. After allowing sand to accumulate in the hole for three years, the county will dredge it up and spread it on the park’s beach.

The $20 million cost will be split between the county and state. Sharp said it’s unclear how much the state will pay, but it could be up to 75 percent. After that, the county will seek federal funds to pay the operating costs.

David Fleshler|Sun Sentinel

Eroded South Broward beaches may get new sand

More sand may be on the way for the chronically eroding beaches of southern Broward County, which are retreating at an average rate of six feet per year.

Gov. Rick Scott’s proposed budget includes $496,486 for preliminary work on a major project to widen beaches at John U. Lloyd Beach State Park, Dania Beach, Hollywood and Hallandale Beach.

The work wouldn’t begin until 2018 at the earliest, and many unknowns remain – how much sand would be added, where it would come from and what the project would cost, said Nicole Sharp, Broward County‘s beach erosion administrator.

The Broward County Commission will be presented with options, probably at one of its March meetings, she said.

The project is likely to receive strong support from the coastal cities involved, which depend on the beaches for recreation, tourism and the maintenance of real estate values.

“The city is ecstatic to be included in the governor’s plan to renourish the beaches in southern Broward County,” said Hallandale City Manager Renee Miller. “We are poised and ready to issue any needed permits. The city is eager to work with the state and partners to bring this much-needed project to restore our beaches.”

The last big beach restoration project on this eight-mile stretch of coast took place in 2005 and 2006, when about 1.9 million cubic yards of sand were spread along the coast from John U. Lloyd to the Miami-Dade County line.

As expected, about a quarter of the sand has washed away. The southern Broward County beaches suffer chronic erosion, largely because the Port Everglades inlet cuts off the natural southern flow of sand, denying them a source of replenishment.

Beach restoration work can harm coral reefs as a portion of the sudden, massive deposit of sand washes off the beach, burying corals and clouding the water, blocking the sunlight on which shallow-water corals depend.

Dan Clark, director of Cry of the Water, a Broward environmental group critical of renourishment projects, said the original 2005-06 project harmed 38 acres of reef and the county has still not taken sufficient steps to mitigate that damage.

“We need to resolve the problems with the original project before we do a new one,” he said.

He said the reef off southern Broward County provides shelter to juvenile fish and foraging grounds for young green turtles, which graze on the algae.

Sharp said any damage to the reefs was the fault of storms, not the beach renourishment project. She said the new project would use sand of a sufficiently large grain to avoid getting suspended in the water column and covering up the reef.

A project called a sand bypass is intended to address erosion problem, with an undersea hole dug out by the inlet to collect sand that would be scooped up every few years and taken to the southern Broward beaches. Work on that project is expected to start next year, Sharp said, with the first deliveries of sand taking place possibly in 2019.

David Fleshler|Sun Sentinel|02/04/2015

Wildlife and Habitat

A Dangerous Time for America’s Mustangs & Burros ‏

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) winter roundup season is in full swing. As I write this, BLM helicopters are hunting down wild horses, rounding up every one of the estimated 180 mustangs living in the Humboldt Herd Area on 219,000 acres of public land that has essentially been turned over to private, commercial ranching interests.

Even as the helicopters fly, AWHPC is working tirelessly to change our government’s heartless and costly roundup program. We’re…..

…Waging court battles in four states, defending wild horses from legal attacks by ranchers and their political allies.

…Implementing on-the-range management programs that Keep Wild Horses Wild and prevent removals of wild horses from their homes on the range.

…Growing the grassroots movement and getting more people involved. This is the cornerstone of the effort to save America’s wild horses and burros.

Make no mistake; this is a dangerous time for our national icons. Sworn enemies of wild horses and burros, such as U.S. Representative Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), champion of ranchers, miners, drillers and loggers, are taking the reins of House and Senate committees that oversee public lands management in the West. They’re already gunning for wild horses… scapegoating them for environmental damage caused by massive livestock grazing.

Suzanne Roy|American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign|1/31/2015

Humane Society of the US State Ranking 2014:

Total Scores by State in terms of their animal welfare policies

Rank

State

Percentage Score

45

Alabama

26

42

Alaska

31

9

Arizona

56

39

Arkansas

32

1

California

71

7

Colorado

57

10

Connecticut

55

20

Delaware

46

22

District of Columbia

44

13

Florida

53

30

Georgia

39

29

Hawaii

36

49

Idaho

21

3

Illinois

63

37

Indiana

34

25

Iowa

43

33

Kansas

38

43

Kentucky

30

18

Louisiana

50

16

Maine

51

10

Maryland

55

4

Massachusetts

62

22

Michigan

44

26

Minnesota

41

50

Mississippi

20

39

Missouri

32

39

Montana

32

28

Nebraska

38

22

Nevada

44

14

New Hampshire

52

7

New Jersey

57

33

New Mexico

38

5

New York

58

38

North Carolina

33

48

North Dakota

23

27

Ohio

40

30

Oklahoma

39

2

Oregon

65

16

Pennsylvania

51

52

Puerto Rico

13

19

Rhode Island

49

45

South Carolina

26

51

South Dakota

18

33

Tennessee

38

30

Texas

39

44

Utah

29

15

Vermont

50

5

Virginia

58

12

Washington

56

21

West Virginia

45

36

Wisconsin

36

45

Wyoming

26

Celebrate World Wetlands Day: Call for BP to Take Responsibility ‏

It’s been nearly five years since BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico—but the damage continues.

Cat Island in Louisiana was once abounding with wildlife, overflowing with pelican nests. The image on the left is from 2010.

But the island was badly damaged by the oil spill—The island is literally washing away.

Right now, the final phase of the BP trial is happening. It’s time for them to take full responsibility.

Wetlands are a vital part of America’s ecosystems. They provide habitat for wildlife, improve water quality, and protect us from storms. But in 2010, BP failed to protect them.

Louisiana’s wetlands are especially vulnerable, losing a football field of land every hour. The added stress of the BP oil spill is bringing them to the brink, as oil still washes up on Gulf shores.

But the good news is that—through an Act of Congress—BP’s fines will be directed to coastal restoration, and give those wetlands a much-needed chance to rebuild. It’s time for us to undo the damage this disaster caused.

Join us in celebrating World Wetlands Day. Call for BP to fully accept their responsibilities, and help the Gulf finally heal. [Please sign #1 in “Calls to Action” above.]

Heather Shelby|Action Network Coordinator|EDF.org

Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition Dives into Florida’s Springs

The Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition is three weeks into their 70 day journey. The team is now traversing springs country near the Gulf of Mexico. Florida is said to have the highest concentration of freshwater springs on Earth.

The team plunged into the headsprings of the Chassahowitzka River and followed the river’s five mile journey downstream to the Gulf of Mexico. In 2013, the Southwest Florida Water Management District led a restoration of the headspring that pumped out truckloads of sediment and sand.

A few miles inland, the team ventured into the crystal clear Rainbow River in Rainbow River State Park where the river meets with the Withlacoochee River near the town of Dunnellon. While paddling, the team observed the relatively healthy eel grass which provided a glimpse of what has been lost to algae in the majority of Florida’s springs.

The Expedition also visited Manatee Springs State Park. The springs produce an average of 100 million gallons of water daily and helps to provide water water for manatees during the cold winter months. The loss of eel grass is evident in Manatee Springs where the algae is seeming to choke out all other botanical life.

The team had the privilege to swim with manatees at Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, where record numbers of manatees have been congregating to seek refuge from the cold winter waters of the Gulf. Last week, 797 manatees were observed in the region — an increase of 200 manatees from the previous record in 2012.

Mallory Dimmitt|floridawildlifecorridor.org

Caribou, Bears, Wolves, Whales & More Will Be Protected Under Obama Plan to Create Arctic Wilderness

The coastal plain of America’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is home to some of the world’s most magnificent animals. The coastal plain has also been targeted by companies that would like to drill for oil there, despite the real potential for oil spills and pipeline breaks. For decades, citizens have been lobbying to get the “refuge” converted to federal “wilderness” status, which would protect the region from oil drilling and other development. Now, President Obama has announced that not only does he support the Arctic wilderness movement, but will ask Congress to formally designate the Refuge as Wilderness. He faces an uphill battle, given how many members of the House of Representatives and the Senate are “pro oil.” But citizen support is also loud and enthusiastic, and that could make all the difference.

Like Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon, the Arctic Refuge is one of the most important places for biodiversity, not just in the United States, but in the world. The Refuge contains the most significant land denning habitat for U.S. polar bears in the entire Alaska Arctic. Additional species found in the Refuge include moose, wolverines, golden eagles, and peregrine falcons. Bird species from the Coastal Plain migrate to all 50 states of the U.S. “No matter where you live, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is part of your landscape,” notes the White House.

The Refuge also hosts native human populations. The Gwich’in people have lived in the Refuge region for hundreds of generations. In fact, they call the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge “Iizhik Gwats’an Gwnadaii Goodlit,” which means, “The Sacred Place Where Life Begins.” Their culture and way of life depend completely on the Refuge remaining wild.

The Refuge was first established by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1960. However, refuge status does not protect a place from oil and gas development.  Only federal wilderness designation can achieve that goal.

The U.S. Department of Interior, at Pres. Obama’s direction, has released a Comprehensive Conservation Plan to “sustain and manage the entire Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.” That plan will jumpstart the process of managing the Refuge to meet wilderness values. Still, the Refuge needs to become a designated wilderness to be truly secure.

Many critics of the plan complain that designating the region as wilderness will prevent needed oil drilling in the U.S. However, writing on the White House website, John Podesta, the President’s Counselor, and Mike Boots, head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said, “The United States today is the number-one producer of oil and natural gas in the world, and we import less oil than at any time in almost 30 years. The Obama administration believes that oil and natural gas resources can be developed safely. Unfortunately, accidents and spills can still happen, and the environmental impacts can sometimes be felt for many years.

“The Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge, one of the few remaining places in the country as pristine today as it was when the oldest Alaska Native communities first set eyes on it, is too precious to put at risk. By designating the area as wilderness, Congress could preserve the Coastal Plain in perpetuity — ensuring that this wild, free, beautiful, and bountiful place remains in trust for Alaska Natives and for all Americans.”

Noted President Obama, “We want to make sure that this amazing wonder is preserved for future generations.”

Diane MacEachern|January 31, 2015

Fossils from heart of Amazon provide evidence that South American monkeys came from Africa

The early evolutionary history of monkeys in South America is cloaked in mystery. Long thought to have journeyed from Africa, evidence for this hypothesis was difficult to support without fossil data. A new discovery now unveils a key chapter of their evolutionary saga. The discovery of three new extinct monkeys from eastern Peru hints strongly that South American monkeys have an African ancestry.

For millions of years, South America was an island continent. Geographically isolated from Africa as a result of plate tectonics more than 65 million years ago, this continent witnessed the evolution of many unfamiliar groups of animals and plants. From time to time, animals more familiar to us today — monkeys and rodents among others — managed to arrive to this island landmass, their remains appearing abruptly in the fossil record. Yet, the earliest phases of the evolutionary history of monkeys in South America have remained cloaked in mystery. Long thought to have managed a long transatlantic journey from Africa, evidence for this hypothesis was difficult to support without fossil data.

A new discovery from the heart of the Peruvian Amazon now unveils a key chapter of the evolutionary saga of these animals. In a paper published February 4, 2015 in the scientific journal Nature, the discovery of three new extinct monkeys from eastern Peru hints strongly that South American monkeys have an African ancestry.

Co-author Dr. Ken Campbell, curator at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHM), discovered the first of these fossils in 2010, but because it was so strange to South America, it took an additional two years to realize that it was from a primitive monkey.

Mounting evidence came as a result of further efforts to identify tiny fossils associated with the first find. For many years, Campbell has surveyed remote regions of the Amazon Basin of South America in search for clues to its ancient biological past. “Fossils are scarce and limited to only a few exposed banks along rivers during the dry seasons,” said Campbell. “For much of the year high water levels make paleontological exploration impossible.” In recent years, Campbell has focused his efforts on eastern Peru, working with a team of Argentinian paleontologists expert in the fossils of South America. His goal is to decipher the evolutionary origin of one of the most biologically diverse regions in the world.

The oldest fossil records of New World monkeys (monkeys found in South America and Central America) date back 26 million years. The new fossils indicate that monkeys first arrived in South America at least 36 million years ago. The discovery thus pushes back the colonization of South America by monkeys by approximately 10 million years, and the characteristics of the teeth of these early monkeys provide the first evidence that monkeys actually managed to cross the Atlantic Ocean from Africa.

Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County|February 4, 2015

Forestry

Conservation groups try to stop Lane County timber sale, say it violates federal law

Conservation groups are trying to stop a 259-acre timber sale in Lane County, saying the federal government shut opposition voices out of the approval process and violated environmental law.

A lawsuit filed in federal court by Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild asks that a judge stop the sale, and force the Bureau of Land Management officials to re-do the reports on what impact the logging would have on the Second Show area outside of Springfield, near Shotgun Creek. The sale would be the largest cut on federal land in Lane County in the past 20 years.

The lawsuit says that conservationists voiced their concern from the beginning of the process, when Bureau of Land Management officials gave a tour of the cutting site. But, when Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild tried to file protests and appeals, federal officials said the paperwork wasn’t filed on time — which the conservation groups attribute to problems with the postal service.

Nick Cady of Cascadia Wildlands said the timber sale is fundamentally flawed, though, and would result in essentially a return to clearcutting, hurting the wildlife and water quality of the area.

“This sale could have real and devastating consequences on watershed health, salmon, and clean water for the surrounding communities,” Cady said Wednesday.

The groups claim the Bureau of Land Management approved the sale, despite it conflicting with National Environmental Policy Act standards for water quality and wildlife protection, and want impact statements to be reconsidered.

Many people hike, bike, fish and enjoy other recreational activities on the sale land The lawsuit claims that the 259 acres of proposed cutting contains healthy, old growth trees in an area surrounded by logging roads and other logging sales, contributing to poor ecological health.

“These forests are older than your grandpa and are developing fine habitat if we leave them alone,” said Doug Heiken of Oregon Wild.  “We have worked with BLM for the last decade helping them meet timber targets by thinning dense young forests. Now they are reverting to the destructive clearcutting practices of the past. It feels like a slap in the face.”

BLM spokeswoman Jody Weil said they have received the lawsuit and are reviewing it.

Molly Harbarger|The Oregonian/OregonLive|January 16, 2015

Striking Aerial Images Show How Deforestation Has Changed the Planet

There’s no debating that humans have greatly scarred the Earth. And, there’s no better way to see the extent of that damage than via aerial images.

ee six NASA satellite images that show massive deforestation in many parts of the world here.

According to NASA, the state of Rondônia in western Brazil—once home to 208,000 square kilometers of forest (about 51.4 million acres), an area slightly smaller than the state of Kansas—has become one of the most deforested parts of the Amazon. In the past three decades, clearing and degradation of the state’s forests have been rapid: 4,200 square kilometers cleared by 1978; 30,000 by 1988; and 53,300 by 1998. By 2003, an estimated 67,764 square kilometers of rainforest—an area larger than the state of West Virginia—had been cleared.

Video

Stephanie Spear|EcoWatch|Februiary2. 20015

In the Shadow of Displacement, Forest Tribes Look to Sustainable Farming

CHINTOOR, India, Feb 10 2015 (IPS) – Laxman, a 10-year-old Koya tribal boy, looks admiringly at a fenced-in vegetable patch behind his home in southern India’s Andhra Pradesh state. Velvety-green and laden with vegetables, the half-acre patch is where Laxman’s family gets their daily quota of nutritious food.

But one day soon it will disappear under several feet of water, thanks to the Polavaram multipurpose project – a 45-meter-high, 2.32-km-long mega dam currently under construction on the Godavari, the second-longest river in India after the Ganges.

Experts say nearly 200,000 members of India’s forest-dwelling tribes could be displaced by construction of the Polavaram Dam in the southwestern state of Andhra Pradesh.

A crucial link in the federal government’s river-linking project, the Polavaram dam will submerge at least 276 villages, including Narakonda, where Laxman’s family lives.

Blissfully unaware today, young Laxman will soon be among the nearly 200,000 tribal people who experts say will be displaced en masse by the development project.

Laxman’s parents, Sitamma Rao and Sodi Bhimaiah, know that when the water comes, they will have to pack up and leave their village. The government has expressed its intention to properly compensate those affected but the community here has neither heard of nor seen the results of such promises.

To this day, no government official has visited these villages, where many tribal families earn about 30 Indian rupees (0.50 dollars) each day.

Diversifying crops

They know they must prepare for hard times ahead, but with no advice, support or official assistance forthcoming from the government, tribal villagers have embarked on their own quest for alternative livelihoods.

In dozens of villages along the dam site, in the foothills of the Papi mountain range, the hunter-gather Koya and Kondareddi tribes, both listed as particularly vulnerable tribal communities by the Indian government, are learning sustainable farming to better feed their families – and save what little they can for the dark days to come.

Having dwelt in the Papi hill ranges on either side of the Godavari gorge for generations, practicing small-scale farming and selling minor forest products at nearby markets, the tribes are now looking at more sustainable practices that will increase their yield and perhaps even provide them a surplus of food and income.

Helping them in this quest is Kovel Foundation – a local non-profit that trains forest tribes in entrepreneurial and alternative livelihood skills. Under a three-year project, Kovel is training 2,000 marginal women farmers from 46 villages in the ‘Annapurna Model’ – a multi-crop farming technique – as well as providing them with seeds and financial assistance.

The model was originally conceived by the federal government to help rural women farmers achieve food security and maintain a yearly income of between 50,000 and 100,000 rupees (800 to 1,600 dollars).

Prior to this scheme, tribal communities in the region gathered forest fruits and herbs, and earned a meager monthly salary of between eight and 24 dollars by selling forest products.

Now they are diversifying crops, spreading out their risks and increasing their modest yields.

Hailing from the nearby village of Aligudem, which will also be submerged by the dam, a farmer named Laxamma Raju shows IPS her year-old garden: half an acre of land divided into 15 beds, each of them seven feet wide.

A narrow trench separates the beds, made from rich soil topped with silt, compost and cow dung. Growing on each of these nutrient-filled plots is a different crop: radish, okra, eggplant, carrot, onion, bitter gourd, pumpkin, cow bean, tomatoes, chili and coriander.

There are also banana saplings, planted alongside mango and custard apple trees.

Interspersed among them are yellow marigolds and sunflowers. The bright flowers attract pests, working as organic insect traps, explains Satya Raju, Laxamma’s husband.

The idea of growing and consuming so many crops excites farmers here, who have never before enjoyed such a varied diet.

“Earlier, we grew rice, some millets and chickpeas,” Laxamma tells IPS. “But from last year, we have been growing multiple crops, and harvesting a basket of vegetables every week,” she adds, pointing to a bag of tomatoes that she is going to sell in the market for 15 rupees a kilo. All told, she will take home about 1,200 rupees (about 20 dollars) each month from her multi-crop farm.

These are no small strides for forest tribes, 70 percent of whose population lives below the poverty line according to government data. Few attend school, or learn to read and write. The literacy level among such remote tribes in Andhra Pradesh is estimated at 47 percent.

When development means displacement

One of the major challenges for tribes in this area is the lack of irrigation facilities, says Beera Voina Murali, a Koya tribesman and a trainer with the Kovel Foundation.

“The monsoon is the only source of water,” Murali tells IPS. “Though the department of tribal affairs offers a 50 percent subsidy on diesel-powered pumps, they still cost over a lakh (2,000 dollars) – marginal farmers cannot afford that kind of money.”

And even those who do manage to install these costly devices struggle to pay for the fuel. Laxmamma, for example, spends about 10 dollars every day just to keep the pump going, since it guzzles roughly nine litres of diesel daily.

Meeting this irrigation challenge in the region is one of the stated goals of the Polavaram dam project; with a storing capacity of 551 million cubic metres, the dam promises to irrigate 700,000 acres of land.

But this “solution” represents disaster for over a quarter of a million people in this area, including farmers like Sitamma, who are will be completely inundated once the project is completed.

“Today, we can’t cultivate well because we don’t have water. But tomorrow when the water comes, we will lose our home,” says Edu Konda, another Kovel Foundation trainer who has been actively protesting the construction of the dam, but with little hope of a change in government policy.

Last year, concerned community members met with the project officer in charge of the dam at the department of tribal affairs in Rampachodavaram and made an appeal to save the threatened lands.

“He said, ‘You will be relocated into good, fertile areas,’” Konda recalls, “but the very next month he was transferred out of this district. Now, we are back to level zero,” she tells IPS.

India’s track record of relocating and rehabilitating tribal communities displaced by development projects leaves a lot to be desired. One such example is the Sardar Sarovar dam over the river Narmada in central India that displaced 300,000 tribal people in 2005.

Over a decade later, 40,000 of these people are still waiting to be relocated, or compensated for their lost lands.

A similar controversy unfolded around the site of the Hasdeo Bango dam in central India’s Chhattisgarh state. Construction of the dam that began in 1962 and ended in 2011 affected 52 mostly tribal villages. But they have been poorly relocated and even today have few basic facilities and even fewer livelihood opportunities, according to government data.

Against this backdrop, some community members feel it is futile to adopt new farming techniques when they could soon be landless. The vast majority, however, are convinced that their newly acquired sustainable agricultural practices will serve them well – even if they are forcibly moved to less fertile areas.

By Stella Paul|Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

Global Warming and Climate Change

Watch as Glacier drops calf nearly the size of Manhattan

New Satellite Data Reveals Dramatic Shrinkage of Arctic Ice Cap

An ice cap in the high Arctic has lost what British scientists say is a significant amount of ice in an unusually short time.

It has thinned by more than 50 metres since 2012—about one sixth of its original thickness—and the ice flow is now 25 times faster, accelerating to speeds of several kilometers per year.

Over the last two decades, thinning of the Austfonna ice cap in the Svalbard archipelago—roughly half way between Norway and the North Pole—has spread more than 50km inland, to within 10km of the summit.

A team led by the scientists from the UK Centre for Polar Observation and Modeling (CPOM) at the University of Leeds combined observations from eight satellite missions, including Sentinel-1A and CryoSat, with results from regional climate models, to understand what was happening.

Sea level rise

The study’s lead author, geophysicist Dr. Mal McMillan, a member of the CPOM team, said: “These results provide a clear example of just how quickly ice caps can evolve, and highlight the challenges associated with making projections of their future contribution to sea level rise.”

The study, published in Geophysical Research Letters, is the first to make use of measurements from the European Space Agency’s latest Earth observation satellite, Sentinel-1A.

Dr. McMillan said: “New satellites, such as the Sentinel-1A and CryoSat missions, are essential for enabling us to systematically monitor ice caps and ice sheets, and to better understand these remote polar environments.”

Melting ice caps and glaciers account for about a third of recent global sea level rise. Although scientists predict that they will continue to lose ice in the future, determining the exact amount is difficult, because of a lack of observations and the complex nature of how they interact with the climate around them.

The 20 years of satellite data that the scientists have amassed show some fairly small changes at the start of the study period, but these have since increased.

“Glacier surges, similar to what we have observed, are a well-known phenomenon,” said Professor Andrew Shepherd, the director of CPOM. “What we see here is unusual because it has developed over such a long period of time, and appears to have started when ice began to thin and accelerate at the coast.”

There is evidence that the surrounding ocean temperature has increased in recent years, which may have been the original trigger for the ice cap thinning.

Flow models

Prof. Shepherd said: “Whether or not the warmer ocean water and ice cap behaviour are directly linked remains an unanswered question. Feeding the results into existing ice flow models may help us to shed light on the cause, and also improve predictions of global ice loss and sea level rise in the future.”

The team says long-term observations by satellites are the key to monitoring such climate-related phenomena.

Dr. McMillan told Climate News Network he did not think what was happening in Austfonna suggested any sort of tipping point in the Arctic, which scientists say is warming more than twice as fast as anywhere else on Earth.

He said: “What I take from this work is that we don’t understand well enough what’s caused this sort of behavior—natural variability, ocean temperatures or atmospheric temperatures. It reinforces the complexities and the challenges of the future.”

Alex Kirby|Climate News Network|February 2, 2015

Extreme Weather

Pres.  Obama budget digs in on climate, energy priorities

President Obama’s new spending wish list underscores his plans to plow ahead with ambitious and costly climate, energy and infrastructure policies — and sets the stage for another year of fierce budget battles with congressional Republicans.

Tucked into Obama’s nearly $4 trillion request to fund the federal government in fiscal 2016 are a $4 billion fund to prod states to cut power plants’ greenhouse gas emissions, a proposal to funnel $7.4 billion toward clean energy investments and a plan to shell out nearly $500 billion over six years on infrastructure projects.

Obama’s wish list has already come under attack by his critics on Capitol Hill and will likely bear little resemblance to spending legislation that ultimately emerges from the GOP-led Congress. But it serves as an opening salvo for this year’s spending fight and signals how Obama plans to dig in on climate and energy issues during his last two years in office.

“No challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change,” Obama told Congress in today’s budget request, echoing forceful comments he made during his State of the Union address last month.

“[T]his budget takes action on climate by supporting the Climate Action Plan that I released in 2013 with investments to accelerate carbon pollution reductions, to build on-the-ground partnerships with local communities and help them put in place strategies for greater resilience to climate change impacts, and to support America’s leadership abroad on this important moral and fiscal issue,” Obama said.

The president’s plans to funnel cash toward his top priorities while raising new tax revenues and to blow through spending caps known as “sequestration” instantly came under fire from Republican leaders in Congress.

“Today President Obama laid out a plan for more taxes, more spending, and more of the Washington gridlock that has failed middle-class families. It may be Groundhog Day, but the American people can’t afford a repeat of the same old top-down policies of the past,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said today in a statement.

“While the president’s budget is about the past, our budget will be about the future,” Boehner said. “We will address our government’s spending problem and protect our national security. Our budget will balance, and it will help promote job creation and higher wages, not more government bureaucracy.”

Obama, however, said he plans to work with Congress to replace “mindless austerity” with “smart investments that strengthen America.” Speaking this morning at the Department of Homeland Security, Obama added, “I’m not going to accept a budget that locks in sequestration going forward.”

Climate, energy cash central to Obama agenda

The investments rolled out today include asking Congress to invest in a host of new and ongoing programs to slash greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for the impacts of climate change.

In a proposed “Clean Power State Incentive Fund,” Obama pledged to build on the administration’s forthcoming rule to slash greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. If that rule is finalized in a way that’s similar to U.S. EPA’s proposal, the White House said, states could qualify for cash from the new fund to “go above and beyond” EPA’s guidelines.

Obama’s budget would also offer $7.4 billion for programs to “stimulate the evolution and use of clean energy technologies” at the Energy Department and other agencies, the White House said.

And the administration is calling for the permanent extension of tax incentives for wind and solar technologies, as well as credits for advanced vehicles and efficient buildings. The budget requests would also provide $100 million for permitting renewable energy projects on federal lands and waters.

The White House is also requesting cash for programs to prepare for the effects of climate change both domestically and abroad.

That includes $400 million for a National Flood Insurance Program effort to map flood risks and $200 million for Agriculture Department efforts to help communities prepare for extreme weather events.

The budget also prioritized programs at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Interior Department and USDA aimed at boosting resilience to coastal flooding and droughts. And a $9 million increase to NOAA would aim to improve the agency’s expertise in providing extreme weather outlooks three to four weeks in advance.

Obama’s budget would fund the new Green Climate Fund — a United Nations mechanism to help developing countries cut emissions and improve their resilience to the impacts of climate change — at $500 million. “By reducing the most catastrophic risks of climate change, the GCF will help promote smart, sustainable long-term economic growth and preserve stability and security in fragile regions of strategic importance to the United States,” the White House said of that proposal.

The White House also included a massive $478 billion proposal for a six-year surface transportation reauthorization plan. That plan would repair existing infrastructure while making new investments in highways, transit and rail systems across the country, the White House said. The revenue for those investments would come from corporate tax reform, the White House said (E&E Daily, Feb. 2).

Robin Bravender|&E reporter|February 2, 2015 

Calif. storm does little to ease drought

SAN FRANCISCO Northern California spent Saturday drying out and sweeping up after a storm lashed the region.

The respite will be brief. A second storm is expected to hit Sunday, said Holly Osborne with the National Weather Service in Sacramento.

In the Sierra Nevada Mountains that span California and Nevada, strong winds caused multiple car crashes involving eight vehicles Friday. The wind snapped massive trees, closed ski resorts around Lake Tahoe and knocked out power to nearly 5,000 people near Reno.

Trees knocked down power lines in the San Francisco Bay Area, causing more than 60,000 people to lose power. Most had regained it by Saturday.

San Francisco International Airport saw delays of up to 90 minutes, and about 175 flights were canceled Friday.

Despite a second storm on its way, the wet weather won’t “even put a dent” in the historic drought that is one of the most severe in the history of the state, Osborne said.

Friday’s storm brought between 7 inches and 9 inches of rain along California’s northern coast, which tapered to just an inch or so in the heavily agricultural Central Valley, the National Weather Service reported.

Storms there caused flooding in several areas on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, swamping parts of the town of Brinnon when the Duckabush River overflowed its banks.

In California, the water was welcome after six weeks of almost no precipitation during what should have been wet winter months.

The normal rhythm of the region is that winter storms build up the snowpack, which then melts in the spring, providing needed water throughout the summer.

Instead, January was almost bone-dry. San Francisco had its first January with no rain whatsoever since record keeping began during the California Gold Rush in the 1840s, according to the weather service.

The storm expected Sunday will bring an additional 4 inches of rain.

“That will help,” Osborne said. “We’ll see some increases in our reservoirs, but nothing drastic.”

Elizabeth Weise|USA TODAY

California ski resorts struggle with drought

FRESNO, Calif. With California entering its fourth drought year, even some big resorts with millions of dollars in modern snow-making equipment don’t have all their lifts running. The midsize and family- owned resorts struggling most had hoped to reopen for the Presidents Day holiday, traditionally the year’s biggest weekend for skiing.

A recent winter storm that washed over the state originated in the tropics and dropped more rain than the much-needed snow. California’s 27 resorts — and two in neighboring Nevada — make up the nation’s second-most-popular destination for skiers and snowboarders after Colorado, said Bob Roberts, executive director of t he California Ski Industry Association.

Ski season started strong, with heavy snowfall in December blanketing California’s mountains. Resorts opened before Christmas, earlier than the previous year, with hopes that more snow would follow. But January set records as the driest and second- warmest in recorded history, said Michael Anderson, a climatologist with the state’s Department of Water Resources. The Sierra Nevada received 2percent of its normal precipitation this January, with an average high temperature of 53 degrees, he said. Four of California’s 10 driest Januaries have occurred since 2007, Anders on said, and several recent days at Lake Tahoe have reached the mid-60s.

Scott Smith|Associated Press

NASA Scientists: Future Megadroughts Could Last 30+ Years ‘Thanks to Human-Induced Climate Change’ Video

The drought in California, going into its fourth year, has been in the news, especially since California produces much of the country’s food. But a new NASA study, published this week in the journal Science Advances, suggests that the U.S. could be looking at much worse. It predicts multi-decade “megadroughts” of more than 30 years by the end of the 21st century if we don’t significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“Recent droughts such as the ongoing drought in California or the Southwest, or even historical droughts such as the Dust Bowl in the 1930s, these are naturally occurring droughts that typically last several years or sometimes almost a decade,” said the study’s lead author Ben Cook, a climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “What we’re seeing is that with climate change many of these types of droughts will likely last for 20, 30, sometimes even 40 years.”

How bad these droughts will get is tied to how much greenhouse gas emissions humans generate in future years. Cook and his colleagues say the current risk of a megadrought is 12 percent. If greenhouse gas emissions stop increasing by the mid-21st century, they project the risk at more than 60 percent in the second half of the 21st century. And if they continue to rise at current rates, the researchers say, there is an 80 percent chance of a megadrought in the Southwest and Central Plains between 2050 and 2099. “Alternatively, if the world were to take aggressive actions to reduce emissions, the model still showed drought but the trends would be less severe,” they found.

Cook said this study is more robust than previous research, which used fewer drought indictors and few climate models. This study used 17 different climate models, all of which showed a drier planet “thanks to human-induced climate change,” says NASA.

“What I think really stands out in the paper is the consistency between different metrics of soil moisture and the findings across all the different climate models,” said climate scientist Kevin Anchukaitis of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, who was not involved in the study. “It is rare to see all signs pointing so unwaveringly toward the same result, in this case a highly elevated risk of future megadroughts in the United States.”

This is also the first study to compare future drought projections to droughts over the last 1,000 years, using tree-ring information to estimate droughts beyond the last 150 years. The researchers looked at megadroughts of 30-50 years that occurred in North America between 1100 and 1300 and compared them with projected late 21st-century droughts. They found that whether greenhouse gas emissions stop increasing or continue to increase at the current rate, the likelihood of drier conditions and droughts lasting 30 years or more is greater.

“We can’t really understand the full variability and the full dynamics of drought over western North America by focusing only on the last century or so,” said Cook. “We have to go to the paleoclimate record, looking at these much longer timescales, when much more extreme and extensive drought events happened, to really come up with an appreciation for the full potential drought dynamics in the system.”

Anchukaitis agreed that comparing medieval-era droughts with projected ones is useful.

“Those droughts had profound ramifications for societies living in North America at the time,” he said. “These findings require us to think about how we would adapt if even more severe droughts lasting over a decade were to occur in our future.”

Those adaptations would be more challenging than anything we’ve seen in the past, says Cook.

“The droughts represent events that nobody in the history of the U.S. has ever had to deal with,” he said. “Even in the modern era, droughts such as the ongoing droughts in California and the Southwest, these normal droughts act as major stressors on water resources in the region. So we expect that with these much longer droughts, it’s going to be even more impactful and cause even more problems for agriculture and ecosystems in the region.”

Anastasia Pantsios|February 13, 2015

Genetically Modified Organisms

Outrage Over US Secret Approval of Genetically Engineered Trees

 Groups Condemn US for Bowing to Industry, Ignoring Widespread Public Opposition

New York (29 Jan. 2015) ­Groups from around the world today joined together to denounce the US government for allowing the first genetically engineered tree, a loblolly pine, to be legalized with no government or public oversight, with no assessment of their risks to the public or the environment, and without regard to overwhelming public opposition to GE trees.

A secret letter from the USDA to GE tree company dated last August, was recently exposed by scientist Doug Gurian-Sherman of the Center for Food Safety. In this letter, the USDA made the unprecedented decision to allow ArborGen to pursue unregulated commercial cultivation of a loblolly pine genetically engineered for altered wood composition. These trees could be planted anywhere in the US, without public knowledge or access to information about them.

Gurian-Sherman argues the USDA “is deliberately thumbing its nose at the public” with this decision, pointing out that this is probably the biggest environmental regulatory change in the US since the early 1990s.

Loblolly pines are native across 14 states throughout the US Southeast, and are grown in plantations around the world. Their pollen is known to travel for hundreds of miles.

“If these GE loblolly pines are released on a large scale in the US, there will be no way to stop them from cross contaminating native loblolly pines,” said biologist Dr. Rachel Smolker of Biofuelwatch. “This is deliberate, irreversible and completely irresponsible contamination of the environment with unknown and possibly devastating consequences. Forest ecosystems are barely understood, and the introduction of trees with genes for modified wood characteristics could have all manner of negative impacts on soils, fungi, insects, wildlife, songbirds, and public health. And all this for short term commercial profit.”

Many are also worried about the international implications of this USDA decision. Winnie Overbeek, International Coordinator of the Uruguay-based World Rainforest Movement states, “We are greatly concerned that these unregulated GE pines could be shipped to Brazil or other countries without public, or maybe even government, knowledge, further promoting the expansion of industrial tree plantations in the Global South. This contributes to deforestation and affects indigenous and peasant communities worldwide who depend on forests for survival.”

Global Justice Ecology Project’s Ruddy Turnstone from Florida remarks, “ArborGen and the government may think they have won this round, but there is already a huge anti-GMO movement. There are also forest protection groups, Indigenous Peoples, birders, foresters, scientists, parents, hikers, and many others who do not want the forests contaminated by GE trees. A great many of them will take action to ensure these trees are never planted.”

In 2013, when the USDA called for public comments on another ArborGen request to commercialize a GE Eucalyptus tree (a decision still pending), they received comments at the rate of 10,000 to one opposing the industry request. By simply refusing to regulate this new GE pine, the USDA has cut the public out of the process completely.  In 2013, a conference on Tree Biotechnology in Asheville, NC was disrupted for its entire 5 days by anti-GE tree activists, and there were multiple arrests.

getrees|January 29, 2015 .

“No scientific consensus on GMO safety” statement published in peer-reviewed journal

A statement signed by over 300 scientists and legal experts to the effect that there is “No consensus” on the safety of genetically modified (GM) crops and foods has been published in a peer-reviewed open access journal, Environmental Sciences Europe. It now belongs to the body of open peer-reviewed scientific literature and stands as a citable publication.

Dr Angelika Hilbeck, one of the authors of the published statement and chair of ENSSER, said, “As well as receiving the endorsement of the peer reviewers at the journal, the statement has also been peer-reviewed and transparently endorsed by more than 300 scientists and experts from relevant fields of inquiry, including molecular biologists and biotechnologists.”

The statement was first published in late 2013 in response to claims from the GM industry and some scientists and commentators that there is a “scientific consensus” that GM foods and crops are safe for human and animal health and the environment. The statement calls these claims “misleading”, adding, “The claimed consensus on GMO safety does not exist.”

Nicolas Defarge, also a co-author of the statement and a member of the ENSSER board, said:  “Progress in science occurs through controversial debate involving scientific arguments. Our statement, peer-reviewed and published in the open access literature, is now one of them. The debate about the health effects of the long-term consumption of GMOs and of the residues of pesticides they contain is ongoing. It can only be solved by further studies using accurate protocols enabling the investigation of long-term effects. These must be published in open access journals with the raw data being made available and not kept secret. We should bear in mind that the studies performed by industry to support the release of GMOs on the market are usually not peer-reviewed at the time the GMO is commercialized.”

A signatory of the statement, Dr Belinda Martineau, former member of the Michelmore Lab at the UC Davis Genome Center, University of California, who helped commercialize the world’s first GM whole food, the Flavr Savr tomato, said:

“I wholeheartedly support this thorough, thoughtful and professional statement describing the lack of scientific consensus on the safety of genetically engineered crops and organisms. Society’s debate over how best to utilize the powerful technology of genetic engineering is clearly not over. For its supporters to assume it is, is little more than wishful thinking.” 

Another co-author to the statement, Jack Heinemann, Professor of Genetics and Molecular Biology at the Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety, University of Canterbury, New Zealand, said: “Public confidence in GMOs will not increase as long as some scientists try to keep the public and other scientists from asking legitimate questions about their safety, efficacy and value. Even if all questions about existing GM plants were answered tomorrow, that would not mean that future products should be exempt from questioning and thorough testing. Instead of shouting, ‘Don’t look here, we have a consensus already’, we should address the cause of public mistrust. This is best done by embracing open discussions of GMOs informed from a variety of points of view, acknowledging and including the true diversity of scientific opinions.” 

Nationwide GMO labeling bills have another Groundhog Day

Democrats in the Senate and House Thursday introduced bills to make GMO labeling mandatory across the U.S. These bills are slightly tweaked versions of legislation that died in the last Congress.

This is a Hail Mary at best, and a token gesture at worst. As bill sponsor Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said in a press conference, “A lot of things don’t stand a chance [in Congress], but it doesn’t mean we’re not going to push it.”

The legislation is primarily a project of Democrats, although two Republicans from Alaska, Don Young and Lisa Murkowski, signed on to the previous legislation as co-sponsors. And last time around, as Politico reported, some key Democrats were unenthusiastic about labeling:

[A] handful of key lawmakers from the Democratic party with a reputation for being proactive on food regulation surprisingly expressed concern over the recent push for GMO labeling requirements.

“I’m concerned that mandatory GE labeling could be inherently misleading,” Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said in his opening statement. Given that the FDA has raised no health or safety concerns with GMO foods, a label could unintentionally appear to imply that the foods are somehow less safe than conventional varieties, he argued.

Waxman has since retired, but other conflicted Democrats remain. The larger problem for the bills is that most of the Republican majority seems to favor a different, voluntary labeling bill instead — which would preempt any mandatory labeling laws at the state level. That bill, which also died in the last Congress, will also probably be reintroduced in this session. It might have a slightly better chance with the Republicans now controlling both House and Senate.

I’d like to see either bill pass. Voluntary labeling would give food companies a chance to try GMO labels, and I suspect that they’d find that most people ignore them and the sky fails to fall. Maybe if we got labels we could move on and talk about things that really matter to a healthy diet.

Nathanael Johnson|12 Feb 2015

BREAKING: GMO apples approved ‏

USDA approved the planting and sale of the first genetically engineered apple. Like other GMOs, this apple won’t be labeled and regulators are relying on assurances from the company that made the apple that it’s safe for human consumption and the environment.

If there was ever a time when we need labeling of GMO’s, it’s NOW!

We’ve been fighting for years in states across the country to label GMOs — and this GMO labeling battle is finally coming to Washington D.C., where a bill that would take away states’ right to label GMOs is expected to be re-introduced in Congress any day now.

Will you show your Representatives that their constituents care about our right to know. Join people across the country and flood their offices with calls!

Last year, Rep. Mike Pompeo introduced H.R. 4432 — dubbed by its critics the “DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act.” This terrible bill is backed by Monsanto, Dow Chemical, the Koch Brothers and junk food companies like Pepsi. It would prohibit states from passing their own state-wide GMO labeling laws, and it would continue to allow GMOs to be labeled as “natural.”

The DARK Act would also make the failed voluntary labeling system that we have had in place over the past 13 years permanent. Since this system was put in place in 2001, not a single company has disclosed the presence of GMO ingredients in their products. What’s more, the bill would also prevent the FDA from ever requiring mandatory GMO labeling in the future.

In total, big food and chemical have poured more than $100 million into fighting recent GMO labeling initiatives in California, Washington, Oregon and Colorado since 2012. It’s no surprise that these corporations are doubling down in their efforts to deny states the right to label GMOs.

Fortunately, we have some Members of Congress on our side already. This week, Chef Tom Colicchio joined Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) in announcing the introduction of the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act to make GMO food labeling mandatory across the country.

This common-sense bill directs the FDA to use its authority to enact a federal, mandatory GMO labeling policy that would guarantee all Americans the right to know what is in their foods — something 64 other countries, including the EU, Russia, Japan, Australia, Brazil and China already require.

Lisa Archer|Food and technology program|Friends of the Earth

Energy

 Fossil Fuel Industry tries to Pull the Wool Over Our Eyes

High Speed LNG: Let’s Not Go There ‏

It seems that our friends in Congress have a new strategy to expedite fracking: Approve fracked gas exports faster, and minimize public participation. This week the House passed the “LNG Permitting Certainty and Transparency Act.” Under this law, the Department of Energy would only have 30 days to issue a ruling on the energy and economic merits of facilities to export fracked gas, also known as liquefied natural gas (LNG). To make matters worse, the Senate just held hearings on the exact same legislation.

Make no mistake, this bill is designed to do three things: increase fracking across our country; speed up the permitting process for these climate and community killing facilities; and reduce the ability of the public to challenge certifications by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and other agencies. It’s nothing more than an attempt to fast track the approval of more and more LNG export facilities.The only thing transparent about this bill is the trail of money paved by the oil and gas companies that leads to the members of Congress who voted in favor of it. Nine corporations, among the many involved in financing and operating LNG facilities, have Political Action Committees. These companies include Sempra Energy and Morgan Stanley, who are both known to buy politicians who put their profits before people. In fact, these nine corporations gave 470% more money to Representatives who voted yes on this bill than those who voted no; and spent $84.7 million lobbying Congress.

We can’t allow these companies to buy the Senate the same way they bought the House. If we do, the house known as our environment will be brought down.

Drew Hudson, Environmental Action 1/31/15

EXCLUSIVE – Koch Brothers, Rick Scott And Jeb Bush Exposed In Florida Pipeline Scandal

Florida Attorney Steve Medina has been working on a case, pro bono, to expose the environmental corruption which has been taking place in Tallahassee and Putnam County, Florida.

Tons of toxic waste is being dumped into St. Johns River, daily, by the Koch Brothers company, Georgia-Pacific. Aspects of the deal allowing Georgia Pacific to massively assault the environment, were misleading, sometimes illegal, and unbeknownst to the local citizens. Florida Governor Rick Scott and former Governor (and Republican presidential hopeful), Jeb Bush, are also involved.

Last week, Steve Medina sent me the information below, for Daily Kos to break the story. The corruption evolves and unravels in a complicated and insidious manner and spans for about a decade, so enjoy the read. All of Medina’s reporting is backed up via extensive public records and court documents. With his permission, here is Steve Medina’s story:

We have learned recently that Florida Governor *Rick “Fifth Amendment” Scott is, how shall we say, ethically-challenged. Actually, that has been known for a long time, but who’s counting the past, this is Florida, land of forgiveness, opportunity, and no state income tax! Give them your relaxed, your wealthy, your huddled plutocrats yearning to breathe free. Put your wretched refuse beneath their teaming shores. Send these, the multi-homed, tempest-tossed, to them: Their elected officials snuff out their lamp beside the golden door.

You may know Florida’s immediately past commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement seems to have been given the heave ho by Governor Scott not only for patently political reasons but without particular attention to Florida law. http://www.dailykos.com/… (In Florida, if you are Governor Scott, perhaps you would not want an FDLE commissioner who actually investigates things, especially potential white collar crimes involving public corruption.)

Meanwhile, you probably don’t know that, for the past two years, thanks to Governor Scott, a veritable fountainhead of toxic waste has been directly dumped every day into the heart of “Florida’s American Heritage River,” http://upf.com/… the St. Johns. As discussed below, it is released through what is contended in a legal action to be an illegally-approved pipeline, the circumstances of which Governor Scott, as the current chairperson of Florida’s Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund, refuses to investigate.

To investigate these circumstances would be to investigate the highly questionable actions of yet another state agency, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. These actions in turn reach back into the Jeb Bush administration (1999-2007), when then Governor Bush and the Florida Cabinet, over the objection of then Attorney General Charlie Crist, gave preliminary approval for a Georgia-Pacific pipeline from its Palatka paper mill to the St. Johns River.

Tons of toxic waste travel through the pipe to the heart of the St. Johns River every day. The approval was “finalized” through what Florida citizens and environmental groups are calling a grossly misleading newspaper public notice that aimed to cut-off public challenges to the pipeline easement, which the Trustees’ agent, the FDEP, eventually granted.

Ironically, or maybe not, the benefactors of the spewing are Charles G. and David Koch, the foremost, or at least two of the richest, purveyors of “freedom” according to Ayn Rand. Since late 2005, Koch Industries has owned Georgia-Pacific. It began buying up Georgia-Pacific assets the year before. http://www.nytimes.com/… The Koch Brothers have since been active in educating Georgia-Pacific employees about the right way to vote.http://inthesetimes.com/…
This is the same pair of billionaires who have taken an interest of late into shaping the minds of Florida State University students. http://www.dailykos.com/… Students will presumably be encouraged to learn such definitions as…

Leslie Salzillo|Daily Kos|Feb 03, 2015

[I try to stay away from the political aspects of my postings, but this article from Daily Kos member, Leslie Salzillo, is worth reading. For more information and the sources that back up Salzillo’s report, please click here.]

Drilling in Atlantic raises alarm

As a monster storm roared up the northeastern seaboard last week, the White House announced plans to open a wide swath of offshore waters to gas and oil exploration. Nice timing.

Although drilling is years away, future rigs in the Atlantic would lie in the path not only of fierce winter clippers but also hurricanes, presenting the year-round potential for devastating winds and pounding seas.

The risk doesn’t trouble the oil companies or the governors of Virginia, Georgia and the Carolinas, all eager for a piece of the action.

Already the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe of 2010 is a fading memory, except for the families of the 11 workers who died and the hundreds of thousands of Gulf Coast residents whose lives were upended.

We’re told that the BP disaster was a jarring wake-up for the energy industry. Today the drilling technology is much better, the companies boast, and so are the safety measures.

Trust us, they say. Something that terrible can’t happen again.

Which is what they said after the tanker Exxon Valdez dumped its load in Alaska’s Prince William Sound, polluting a thousand miles of shoreline. Twenty-six years later, there’s still crusted oil on the beaches.

After the BP rig blew up off the Louisiana coast, crude oil gushed for almost three months before the company could cap the pipe. Day after day, underwater video cameras let the whole nauseated country watch the poisoning of the Gulf of Mexico.

Nobody knows how much oil really leaked out, but BP’s early estimates proved absurdly (and predictably) low. The U.S. government says the amount was at least 210 million gallons, much of which is still suspended as a spectral goo somewhere in the depths, according to many experts.

Tar-balled beaches from the Mississippi to the Florida Panhandle have been cleaned, groomed and re-cleaned to make them presentable to tourists, but the Gulf still shows signs of sickness.

In the time since the spill, marine biologists have documented more than 900 dead bottle-nosed dolphins and 500 dead sea turtles — and those are just the corpses that were found. Infant dolphins continue dying at a suspiciously elevated rate.

While some prized species of Gulf fish seem to be rebounding, life-threatening deformities are occurring in the organs of tuna and amberjack. A University of Miami study found that larval and juvenile mahi exposed to Deepwater crude were much weaker, losing up to 37 percent of their swimming strength.

The possibility of a similar calamity along the eastern seaboard hasn’t deterred the Obama administration or politicians in the lower coastal states, but it’s scaring many oceanfront municipalities with economies that rely on clean beaches and healthy, abundant seafood.

And scared they should be. One blowout is all it takes.

Fortunately, Florida was spared from Obama’s offshore-lease plan, thanks to Sen. Bill Nelson and others who don’t suffer from Deepwater Horizon amnesia.

Energy-industry lobbyists insist that oil spills are extremely rare, but that’s not true. According to the Associated Press, at least 73 domestic pipeline-related spills happened in 2014, an 87-percent jump since 2009.

Two weeks ago, a pipeline broke near Glendive, Montana, spewing more than 50,000 gallons of crude into the Yellowstone River and contaminating the public water supply. A similar accident happened less than four years earlier, when an ExxonMobil pipeline ruptured and dumped 63,000 gallons into the Yellowstone near the town of Laurel.

Those spills weren’t on the nightmare scale of Exxon Valdez or the Deepwater Horizon, yet they jolted the rural communities that treasure the Yellowstone and depend on it for irrigation, drinking water and family recreation.

(Boosters of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry foreign-bound Canadian oil through Montana and elsewhere, say recent mishaps demonstrate a need for larger, more modern pipes.)

Major ocean spills don’t happen often, but the damage is long-term and far-reaching. If a major well ruptured off the Atlantic seaboard, the resulting spill could impact millions of residents by killing tourism and destroying vital fisheries.

Obama said the rig platforms must be at least 50 miles from land, not much of a comfort zone. The Deepwater Horizon was about the same distance offshore, and that wasn’t enough to spare the beaches or the marine life.

At the same time the president declared his intention to allow oil leases in the Atlantic and expand exploration of the Gulf, he said he will prohibit drilling in parts of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas in the Arctic Ocean.

These areas, explained Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, “are simply too special to develop.”

That’s another way of admitting that drilling is still very risky.

The shorelines of Virginia, Georgia and the Carolinas evidently aren’t “special” enough to deserve protection.

CARL HIAASEN|01/31/2015

We Have Lots of Coal Left, But We’re Screwed If We Use It

Just three years ago, experts predicted that the world had a little less than one trillion tons of coal remaining. This finite amount is a scary prospect for countries that rely on coal for energy, but even scarier still is the thought of people actually using that remaining coal supply. According to research conducted by the University College London, to avoid a climate catastrophe, the world needs to leave almost all of that coal un-mined.

Scholars used the latest data to calculate how much coal the world can continue to burn while still falling short of the 2 degrees Celsius goal. In order not to exceed a “safe” carbon emission level, the world will have to commit to ignoring 80% of its coal. Moreover, since the United States has the world’s largest supply of coal, it will have to leave 90% of its coal untouched.

Some world leaders have taken the unofficial position that, since coal is a finite resource, we’ll just use it up until it’s gone and then move on to some cleaner energy afterwards. Alas, in order to survive, we can’t afford to burn through most of our coal. The need to stop is more urgent than ever, too. Previous research suggested that humans would have to forego 67% of its coal supply, but the most recent figures stress the need to stop using coal even sooner.

Halting our coal use at 80% is much easier said than done. There are countries, particularly developing nations, that subsist almost entirely on coal as a source of energy, and are not remotely close at having the capabilities to harness cleaner energy in its place. We’d be naïve to expect countries to tank their economies and stop their growth in order to hit a target.

Then there’s the “why should we if they’re not?” excuse. If it looks like giant countries like India and China are still a long way from dropping coal, you can bet other countries, big and small, will feel little to no pressure to pull the plug on coal as well. In a way, it has to be a consensus agreement, yet there are countries that won’t allow this issue to reach a consensus.

Plus, we have big energy corporations that are still raking in profits off the coal industry. Using their money to influence the political system, they have an illicit form of insurance that will insure that they can blow well past the 20% coal goal. Heck, in 2014, energy companies spent $670 billion hunting for more oil, gas, and coal, so clearly they feel pretty confident that they’ll be able to continue utilizing these resources despite the mounting environmental concerns.

All right, so we’ve shot down all of the most plausible solutions for preventing ourselves from dipping too heavily into our existing coal supplies. So how do we fix this problem? That in itself is the problem, really. We know that we’re going to doom ourselves by using coal, yet we’ve developed a society where we need to use far more than the recommended amounts of coal to carry on.

It may not be entirely hopeless, but it’ll probably take a radical shift in priorities for the powers-that-be to leave 80% of the world’s coal sitting in the ground.

Kevin Mathews|February 1, 2015

Did Alberta Just Break a Fracking Earthquake World Record?

Regulator says drilling likely triggered 4.4 temblor.

Hydraulic fracturing, a technology used to crack open difficult oil and gas formations, appears to have set off a swarm of earthquakes near Fox Creek, Alberta, including a record-breaking tremor with a felt magnitude of 4.4 last week.

That would likely make it the largest felt earthquake ever caused by fracking, a development that experts swore couldn’t happen a few years ago.

Fracking operations in British Columbia’s Montney shale generated similar seismic activity of that magnitude last year, and earthquake scientists at Ontario’s Western University are still analyzing the two events to see which is the largest. 

“The location of the earthquake is consistent with being induced by hydraulic fracturing operations,” confirmed Peter Murchland, a spokesman for the Alberta Energy Regulator.

“The AER regards all changes in seismicity that have the potential to indicate an increased risk associated with hydrocarbon production seriously,” Murchland added.

Jeffrey Gu, a physics professor at the University of Alberta, said the Alberta Geological Survey and other agencies were investigating the Fox Creek swarm, which hit about 260 kilometers northwest of Edmonton. But Gu said he could not disclose their findings at this time. He offered no details on the scale or scope of the investigation.

Alberta experienced more than 400 small earthquakes between 1985 and 2010. But according to the Alberta Geological Survey, felt earthquakes are uncommon. “There have been fewer than 15 catalogued events greater than magnitude 3.5 since 1985,” it has stated.

For years industry and fracking experts argued the technology wouldn’t cause quakes that could be felt on the surface.

But specialists in earthquake hazards such as Gail Atkinson, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Induced Seismicity Hazards at Ontario’s Western University, argued the opposite.

“I have consistently maintained this kind of thing can happen,” said Atkinson. “With fracking, the magnitudes have been increasing every year.”

Natural Resources Canada reported a swarm of at least 15 earthquakes this January west of Fox Creek in a region where Encana, Talisman, Apache, Chevron Canada and ExxonMobil intensified the drilling and fracking of two-kilometer-long horizontal wells nearly a year ago.

The companies are cracking rock in the unconventional Duvernay shale at a depth of 3,000 metres in order to extract condensates, a product typically worth more than oil and used to dilute heavy bitumen for pipeline transport.

An investigation by Atkinson last year into a related swarm of 25 small earthquakes in the same area ranging in magnitude from 2.5 to 3.5 between 2013 and 2014 found that the events also corresponded “closely to hydraulic fracture treatments of oil and gas production wells in the immediate vicinity.”

Last Friday’s shaker

Since Dec. 2014, a second swarm of earthquakes has rattled the region within a 50-kilometer radius of the community of Fox Creek, an oil and gas town with a population of 2,000 people in northern Alberta. The community is about 260 kilometers north of Edmonton.

The largest Fox Creek quake registered 4.4 magnitude and caused walls to shake and beds to move. It became the source of constant social chatter on Friday, Jan. 23.

“When we hit a magnitude of 3.8 this month, I’d thought for sure that the industry would stop and take a smoke break to figure out what’s going on,” said 57-year-old Barb Ryan, a Fox Creek resident who has been keeping an eye on resource development. “But they didn’t. Many are in denial here.”

Ryan has pressed for more transparent monitoring over the fracking industry’s growing impacts on water, air and public health, but said she has faced resistance from local authorities. (She also graphed the Fox Creek swarms using coordinates from Natural Resources Canada.)

The earthquakes have mostly taken place in the province’s first “play based regulation pilot,” a geographical area where the regulator has given blanket approval to the development of the formation as opposed to approving one well at a time. The Alberta Energy Regulator says the strategy “results in regulatory efficiencies,” but critics call it a new form of deregulation.

Ryan said that most people in Fox Creek know little to nothing about the first or second earthquake swarm, because there has been no public reporting on the events.

To recognize the risk of earthquake hazards in Alberta might put livelihoods on the line and businesses at risk, she said. “Cognitive dissonance prevents some communities from admitting or even discussing the resource industry’s impacts. The topic is very divisive.”

Many Alberta geologists did not answer Tyee queries on the earthquake swarms.

Based on public data from Natural Resources Canada, Ryan estimates the region around Fox Creek has recorded approximately 94 small quakes since 1990.

“We’ve had more than 70 of those quakes since Dec. 2013,” she said. “We once averaged zero to three quakes a year. Since the initial swarm, we’ve averaged zero to four quakes a day.”

Overwhelming scientific evidence from the U.S. Geological Survey now shows that the fracking industry and its need for huge wastewater disposal wells have fostered unprecedented “man-made earthquakes” in the eastern and central U.S. In the process the industry has rewritten seismic records in Ohio, Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas, Arkansas and Texas. 

Some experts now argue that man-made industry quakes are more dangerous than natural ones. Western University’s Atkinson said that “the hazards may be significant, depending on the proximity of infrastructure, and should be carefully evaluated… the hazard is concentrated close to the activity [within about five kilometers], because the motions die off with distance.”

Added Atkinson: “The earthquake hazard from induced seismicity in places like Alberta where seismicity is being triggered is greater than the natural earthquake hazard… it will take regulators in the United States and Canada a while to figure this out.”

Experimental frack operations typically require up to 18,000 horsepower to pump 18,000 barrels of water and between 100 and 165 tons of rock crack openers, sand or “proppants” as many as 40 times to create fractures along one lateral well.

Alarmed by the industry’s ability to trigger earthquakes, regulators in B.C. and Colorado recently introduced a seismic traffic system. Whenever fracking operations or injection wells activate felt earthquakes greater than a magnitude of 4.0, operations must shut down to prevent more serious shaking.

Alberta has no such policy. Operations that currently generate earthquake swarms can do so with impunity, though that may soon change, according to a spokesman for the province’s energy regulator.

“The AER is developing a scientifically-based protocol for addressing anomalous seismicity that is appropriate for Alberta,” Murchland said.

At one time, industry experts and lobbyists maintained that “seismic activity caused by hydraulic fracturing is not a hazard or nuisance.”

But the complexity of geology has confounded the industry. While inducing micro-earthquakes to open rock pores, a frack job perturbs the stress of the rock. Injected fluids can then find faults and cause slips, resulting in earthquakes.

“We don’t know the magnitude limits for these earthquakes or how big an event can get,” said Atkinson, who has analyzed seismic hazards for dams, buildings and offshore platforms.

“We also don’t know if we can predict in advance the likelihood of triggering such an event, either. And we don’t know if we can image the faults before fracking and avoid them, or how they’ll behave if we hit them.”

Injections reactivate faults: experts

The Alberta Energy Regulator told The Tyee that it is also investigating another swarm of earthquakes that shook up Cardston, Alberta. That incident “was likely induced by hydraulic fracturing,” a spokesperson said.

In 2012, as many as four earthquakes rattled an area near the Blood Indian Reserve, or Kainai Nation. The tremors ranged from 2.4 to 2.7 in magnitude according to data captured by the U.S. Geological Survey in Montana. It shook homes on the reserve where many residents remain opposed to fracking. The province has yet to issue a report on the earthquake swarm. 

Injecting fluids into shales to create fractures can create a chaotic and uncontrollable network of cracks that can connect to fault zones. The reactivation of these faults can then trigger an earthquake, scientists say.

The disposal of toxic wastewater extracted from fracking jobs into deep formations can also cause swarms of earthquakes by the same mechanism.

Injection wells, with names like King Kong and Deep Throat, can trigger earthquakes up to 20 kilometers away. The wells may inject more than 150,000 barrels of waste into the ground a month. Years may pass before the fluids migrate or change rock pressure, activating nearby faults and fractures.

Between 2010 and 2013, the U.S. Midwest, home to extensive fracking, has experienced more than 100 induced and felt earthquakes over a magnitude of 3.0 per year, compared to the normal average of 21.

Oklahoma, once a seismically quiet region, has now become the most earthquake prone jurisdiction in the Lower 48 due to fracking and the injection of its associated wastewater. It now records more earthquake activity than California.

Oklamahoman earthquakes

Due to a 50 per cent increase of quakes greater than a magnitude of 3.0, the U.S. Geological Survey issued residents of the state an unprecedented advisory last year: prepare for “increased hazard” from industry-made quakes.

“Building owners and government officials should have a special concern for older, unreinforced brick structures, which are vulnerable to serious damage during sufficient shaking,” said the warning.

The earthquake swarms have produced lawsuits in Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas alleging that oil and gas companies are responsible for making earthquakes that have caused property damage and personal injury. In Oklahoma, there has been a rush on earthquake insurance.

Due to growing concerns about public health, groundwater contamination and man-made earthquakes, New York state banned the mining of shale basins last year. The governments of the Yukon, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia have placed moratoriums on the technology. A new group in Prince Edward Island is calling for a complete ban.

BC frack quake monitor hired

Industry-made quakes in northern B.C. have become such an ongoing concern that the Induced Seismicity Monitoring Network Consortium, which represents government, industry and regulators, recently hired a seismologist for two years.

The earthquake hazard expert will “monitor induced seismicity from natural gas development in northeast B.C. and study the relationship between fluid injection and potential large-magnitude seismic events.”

To date, B.C. fracking operations have tried to avoid faults by reducing frack stages, or using less proppant to keep cracks open, but to no avail. “The success of these mitigation measures is difficult to ascertain,” stated the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission in its latest earthquake report. 

Unlike other geological agencies on the continent, the Alberta Geological Survey, an arm of the industry-funded Alberta Energy Regulator, does not report on induced seismicity in a timely fashion. There is little data available from 2010 to 2014 when hydraulic fracturing took off in the province.

Residents north of Cochrane claim that seismic activity caused by the fracking of the Cardium oil formation not only cracked foundations and broke windows, but has not been properly investigated.

When a possible earthquake uplifted Ann Craft’s mobile home in 2012 during the fracking of four shallow coal bed methane wells, the province agreed to do a study and then reneged on its promise.

Members of the Alberta Geological Survey say that provincial seismic monitoring is inadequate: “[It] is likely that network coverage in the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin is too sparse to consistently detect” small events caused by injection wells, land subsidence or hydraulic fracturing, said one recent study.   

A 2014 report by the Alberta Energy Regulator concluded that the risk of industry-caused earthquakes was low, but added that its monitoring capacity was not up to the task: “[I]f it becomes necessary to verify or refute a definitive causal correlation, it would be hard to do so with the currently available data. In the areas of concern, more work is needed to expand the array of seismic stations to precisely detect the epicenter and hypocenters of an earthquake.”

‘Minor anomalous seismicity': CAPP

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers describes hydraulic fracturing as a “safe and proven” technology to extract natural gas and oil, even though one recent Alberta fracturing incident broke cap rock and released nearly 12,000 barrels of bitumen into aquifers and the boreal forest at a Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. operation.

But CAPP adds that “certain oil and gas basins, such as the Horn River Basin of British Columbia, have a distinctive geology, and hydraulic fracturing has caused rare and minor anomalous seismicity.”

Earthquake hazard scientists argue the industry has routinely underestimated the complexity of geology for unconventional hydrocarbons everywhere, and is now encountering unknown faults and triggering earthquake swarms by negligent design.

In Australia, one group of scientists at Southern Cross University recently argued that the fracking industry has moved as fast as a hare, while public policy and good baseline science has proceeded with the pace of a tortoise.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF ALBERTA’S MAN-MADE QUAKES

Alberta’s oil and gas industry has caused both small and significant earthquakes throughout the province since the 1960s.

The rapid extraction of sour natural gas from the Strachan pool near Rocky Mountain House set off a 4.0 magnitude quake in 1974 followed by 146 tremors in the 1980s, including a 3.4 magnitude tremor. 

In 1970, the pumping of water into depleted oil fields near Snipe Lake likely triggered a 5.1 magnitude earthquake, perhaps the largest in the province’s history.

A 1990 report by the U.S. Geological Survey noted that this earthquake “is considered to be the first and largest known Canadian example of an earthquake induced by fluid injection in a producing oil field.”

The injection of steam to melt 400-meter deep bitumen formations in Cold Lake can lift and then drop the land by as much as 10 to 30 centimeters over a month. The heaving of the ground creates a constant stream of micro-earthquakes and frequently fractures well casings.

Since 1958, the industry has pumped more than 2 million barrels of water into old oil formations to coax out more petroleum.

In addition, the province has more than 2,500 wastewater disposal wells.

Andrew Nikiforuk|29 Jan 2015

Rover scraps plans for new pipeline; Company will share line in county

St. Clair County residents have been given a pipeline reprieve.

A massive natural gas transmission line proposed to burrow under six townships in the county will instead connect to an existing line.

Rover Pipeline will connect with Vector Pipeline — operated by DTE Energy and Enbridge Energy — eliminating the need to construct a new pipeline through Shiawassee, Genesee, Lapeer, Oakland, Macomb and St. Clair counties.

By transporting natural gas through the Vector Pipeline to Michigan and Canadian markets, Rover will eliminate about 110 miles of pipeline in Michigan.

“Continuing to analyze our proposed route along with that of alternate routes is part of the process that we undertake as part of the FERC pre-filing process,” Vicki Granado, a spokeswoman for Rover Pipeline, said in an email. “This has been an option under consideration for some time.”

The 42-inch pipeline will carry 3.25 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day. It will connect with the Vector line in Livingston County, Granado said.

The Rover pipeline would have burrowed through Berlin, Riley, Columbus, St. Clair, China and East China townships.

China Township Supervisor Linda Schweihofer said she was relieved Rover would be minimizing disruption to the county by using existing lines.

“They’re still going to accomplish their end goal — which is getting more natural gas up here — without disrupting people’s residences and prime farmland,” Schweihofer said.

Columbus Township Supervisor Bruce Christy began spreading word to Columbus residents as soon as he heard about the change of plans Monday.

“I’m very pleased that they came to their senses,” Christy said. “I’ve been saying all along that they should stick to existing pipelines.”

In a statement Monday, Congresswoman Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, applauded the agreement between Rover and Vector. “This is truly a win-win for the local communities in my district that have recently been under a great deal of stress over the potential construction of new pipeline,” Miller said.

In December, DTE Energy officials said Vector Pipeline had plans for an expansion that would affect about eight miles of pipeline through St. Clair County. They said the pipeline would be expanded through “looping,” or installing a secondary pipeline along an existing one to increase capacity.

Erica Donerson, a spokeswoman for DTE, said Vector no longer plans to expand its pipeline.

“Currently, Vector can support the capacity requirements for Rover,” Donerson said.

Granado said the necessary modifications are being made to the proposed Rover route. Rover expects to file the final alignment to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in mid-February.

If it receives federal approvals, the pipeline is expected to be in service from the Marcellus and Utica production areas to the Midwest Hub near Defiance, Ohio, by the end of 2016. It will be in service from the Midwest Hub to the Union Gas Dawn Hub by mid-2017.

Beth LeBlanc|Times Herald

War on Renewables Claims Victory in West Virginia

West Virginia lowered the bar on renewable energy this week when Governor Earl Ray Tomblin signed into law Tuesday the repeal of its Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio, enacted in 2009.

In doing so, West Virginia became the first state of the 29 that currently have renewable energy targets to completely eliminate previously passed standards. The previous low bar was set in Ohio last July, when its legislature passed and Governor John Kasich signed into law a two-year freeze of its standards. It too is looking at revoking them permanently; the legislature has convened a panel, loaded with fossil-fuel advocates, to ponder whether to move ahead on this.

The rejection of its energy future in this coal-dependent state was a bipartisan affair. Governor Tomblin is a Democrat. Its Senate passed the repeal 33-0 after rejecting a Democratic amendment to undertake a study to see if it actually created jobs as its sponsors contend. It passed the House 95-4 after rejecting a similar amendment.

West Virginia’s portfolio, which required that 25 percent of the state’s power be generated by renewable sources by 2025, was initially supported by the same people, including Tomblin, who now pushed for for its repeal. It was even supported by the coal industry at the time.

“In 2009 when the Legislature approved West Virginia’s Alternative Renewable Energy Portfolio, the Act had overwhelming support from business and industry,” Tomblin said. “We understand economic drivers and factors change over time, and the Act as it was passed in 2009 is no longer beneficial for our state.”

According to Inside Climate News, those factors are primarily political. It called the Portfolio “largely symbolic” due to its extremely broad definition of “renewable,” which included natural gas, some forms of coal burning and even burnt tires.

“Because [the 2009 law] was written so broadly, none of the utilities have to actually produce any new renewable energy before 2030,” Jim Kotcon, chairman of the energy committee at West Virginia’s Sierra Club chapter, told Inside Climate News.

But Republicans took over both houses of the West Virginia legislature in November, and the repeal was the first measure they pushed and passed in the new session.

“This whole thing is a charade,” West Virginia citizen-activist Bill Howley told Inside Climate News.”The Republicans had made it a big issue in the elections and they want to be able to say, ‘See, we told you we were going to do something about it and look, here it is.’”

A nationwide push is underway to repeal standards in the states that have them, according to an AP story, which identified the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the far-right fossil-fuel dominated Heartland Institute, as primarily drivers in rejecting renewable energy standards. ALEC has been coordinating the effort to repeal these standards for several years with its “model bill” dubbed the “Electricity Freedom Act.”

Anastasia Pantsios|February 6, 2015

Keystone XL Would Make as Much Greenhouse Gas as 6 Million Cars

According to the EPA’s most recent findings, Keystone XL’s greenhouse gas emissions would be roughly equivalent to those released by 5.7 million cars or 7.8 coal fired plants annually.

The energy it takes to process the Canadian tar sands oil is serious. That’s because tar sands oil is thick and mucky, not like crude oil. The EPA reported that processing the sands will lead to about 1.3 billion more tons of greenhouse gas emissions over the pipeline’s 50-year planned lifespan than if the pipeline was pushing conventional crude oil.

All of these numbers that sit like a punch in the gut for climate change policy advocates were part of the EPA’s report delivered this week to the U.S. State Department. The State Department is regulating the project because it will cross an international border. All federal agencies had until Monday this week to weigh in on if Keystone XL was in the interest of the US.

If it’s built, the XL pipeline would send around 800,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day to refineries in Texas, straight across the States.

Keystone opponents are worried that developing the tar sands would release a reservoir of carbon waiting to make its way into the atmosphere. The release would contribute greatly to the current struggle to prevent the Earth from warming more than 2°C (3.6°F).

The State Department found earlier that Keystone’s emissions would clock in at 17% higher than crude oil processing, but is arguing that if the US doesn’t tap the tar sands for oil, someone, somewhere will. The Department’s assumptions about this were based on high oil prices that have since dropped.

Meanwhile, the EPA says that the project would have an epic impact on climate change.

A study published in Nature Climate Change back in 2014 added that if the project increases global demand for oil, which it likely will, the EPA’s predicted greenhouse emissions numbers would quadruple. Quadruple. That’s the carbon of nearly 24 million cars.

The State Department’s decision on Keystone is being pushed forward more quickly thanks to a bold push by the Senate to make it a reality. Obama is expected to veto their bill when it hits his desk, and with these numbers from the EPA he now has solid evidence to back his move.

Alex|Smith|RYOT|February 7, 2015

Nuclear: Is It Clean and Green?

Nuclear energy has been, and still is, a vital part of the current U.S. energy picture. It has provided a steady baseload energy source for decades, and this may continue — it is projected that U.S. nuclear plants will last another 50+ years. If you’re interested in clean energy generation, then at least nuclear isn’t a dirty fossil fuel like coal, oil or natural gas. Nuclear seems like a viable consideration. Could nuclear be the foundation of clean energy?

Let’s compare nuclear energy generation to benchmarks like renewable energy (RE).

Before we begin, you should know that at my house, I have kids, chickens, a garden and solar panels. I am as biased as anyone working in their respective industry (mine includes RE); however, as most people know, just because someone is biased, doesn’t guarantee they’re wrong. Even a biased person can be both actually and coincidentally correct.

Why the discussion about nuclear and clean energy? Over the last few years, nuclear policy has been discussed along with renewable energy. The message is clear: attract those interested in renewables by showing a mutual disinterest in fossil fuels. Usually, coal is especially highlighted as a point of mutual contention. Supporters of nuclear and renewables can both hate coal, right? And after all, if nuclear is promoted as a clean solution, then it’s almost common sense to go nuclear.

Is nuclear common sense? Of course not.

Is nuclear clean? This question is also the most important. The energy decisions we make today will impact all future generations. If we agree to ditch fossil fuels in favor of “cleaner” energy, then should nuclear be considered as a clean solution?

You might be wondering if nuclear is as clean as benchmark renewables like wind, solar and geothermal. Should we consider nuclear waste? I think that is obvious. What about environmental impact from natural disasters or terrorism? What about the rest of nuclear’s carbon footprint versus wind and solar’s — the materials and construction required?

Here are several points to consider:

  • The resources that go into a 10 year nuclear plant construction project include: 400,000 cubic yards of concrete (amount used to build the Pentagon) and 66,000 tons of steel (amount used to build the Empire State Building). All those materials need to be mined, manufactured and transported.
  • The need to run fossil-fuel burning heavy equipment during the 6 to 10 year construction process for a nuclear plant.
  • Although rare, an accident or a natural disaster can be catastrophic. Currently, Japan’s Fukushima plant is dealing with a cleanup that will include dumping nuclear waste into the ocean starting in 2017. How will that affect Japanese fishing and other jobs, and especially, their ocean? Natural disasters will continue to happen with or without our help.
  • Proposed recycling / reprocessing nuclear waste plants (available in 10 to 20 years) would not reduce overall waste inventories. Recycling / reprocessing nuclear waste creates a 20+ times increase in overall volume. Although less radioactive, it’s a diluted material that must be stored for at least 500 years. That’s 20 generations.
  • Hacking the power grid and crippling a nuclear power plant is a real and growing threat. Iran and South Korea nuclear plants were recently hacked. It is widely believed that many global nuclear plants and power grids may already be infiltrated by foreign interests.
  • Terrorists storming a nuclear power plant or getting their hands on spent fuel are real threats, especially in unstable regions, which are currently expanding in parts of the Middle East. There have been 18 known incidences of theft or loss of uranium and plutonium worldwide and this threat is growing.

No, nuclear is not clean, and distributed nuclear material is not even close to clean. Nuclear has shown the potential to be far worse.

To be fair, nuclear proponents will say that renewables have a supply chain – things like mirrors, PV panels or wind turbines — and that supply chain is not immaculate. Nuclear proponents also talk about the amount of land usage of solar and wind, but they forget about rooftop and canopy solar, and solar plants that are typically located in parts of a desert. Meanwhile, a nuclear plant must be located near a large body of water, and it can negatively affect land prices for miles. If you consider the supply chains of fossil fuels and renewables, then you must consider the nuclear supply chain as well — and that includes nuclear waste. Nuclear waste is not clean for a very, very long time.

Nuclear Economics

What about the economics of nuclear when compared to clean benchmarks like wind and solar? Should we include the costs of nuclear waste storage and environmental impact? I think that is obvious. Should we consider job and economic development?

Here are several considerations:

  • A standard uranium nuclear plant would cost between $6 to $10 billion dollars and take over six years.
  • Of the renewables, the solar industry alone already employs more full-time workers in the U.S. than nuclear, and solar jobs are growing 20 times the national average.*
  • When you add the cost to remove, transport and store radioactive waste, plus the costs of building secure, very long-term storage facilities, nuclear is not nearly as cheap as promoted. These and other costs are typically removed before calculating nuclear’s cost of energy generation.
  • When you consider the real potential for taxpayer-dollar cleanups, nuclear can become quite expensive. Japan’s government will pay over $105 billion USD for one cleanup, and the costs are still rising. Natural disasters will continue to happen with or without our help. 
  • You can build 1,100 MW of power produced by solar plants cheaper and much and faster than 1,100 MW of a nuclear plant. That’s without including the cost of nuclear waste management.
  • Nuclear technologies like SMRs and recycling plants are 10+ years away. Nuclear waste recycling plants could cost $40 billion each, and would require additional tens of billions of taxpayer funds even before construction.
  • It would cost over $100 billion dollars to reprocess / recycle current nuclear waste stockpiles. Then, we would still have to store the “recycled” nuclear waste. Plus, the current 100 nuclear plants would still add to existing stockpiles.

*A side note on jobs: They are important, but in my opinion, they are a desirable byproduct of making responsible energy policies. For example, increasing coal production and building coal fired plants would create more jobs in the coal industry. Should we therefore increase coal production?

The Future of Nuclear

If you get into a discussion about nuclear energy, you will most likely receive responses from nuclear advocates that, on the surface, sound like realistic solutions for nuclear’s future. Recycling or reprocessing nuclear waste, breeder reactors and thorium are some examples. If you’re not a nuclear engineer or in the industry, then you may think these are viable solutions.

You may hear about France and other countries that reprocess their nuclear waste and wonder, why doesn’t the U.S. follow suit? Dig, even just a little, and you’ll find that SMRs, MSRs and thorium are billions of dollars and at least ten or more years away. The real hurdles with these technologies are time and money.

Here are several considerations:

  • Thorium must typically first be converted to thorium dioxide. This is costly and energy intensive.
  • With thorium, uranium or plutonium must still typically be added to the reactor.
  • Recycling/reprocessing nuclear waste creates a 20 times increase in overall waste volume. Although much of the waste is less radioactive, it still needs to be stored for 500+ years. That’s 20 generations and a lot more storage space.
  • Reprocessing nuclear waste for energy costs much more than it’s worth. If the U.S. were to go this route, they would need to spend over $40 billion USD per plant. To recycle 6,000 metric tons of waste per year, the U.S. would need two plants — well over $80 billion USD. Even before construction began, the U.S. would still need to invest tens of billions in research, development, regulatory and policy issues and permitting, just to name a few.
  • Reprocessing plants, if built, would be at least 15 and most likely 20 years away from operation.
  • Reprocessing is more expensive than producing energy from freshly-mined uranium.
  • By the time any of these options are working, they would most likely be even less attractive economically. Trends show that nuclear generation is becoming more expensive (cleanups like Fukushima, plant life extension costs, nuclear waste management are some examples) while costs for renewable generation and storage are decreasing.

While some countries like India are moving forward with new nuclear plants, here in the US and countries like Japan, the future for increasing nuclear energy generation is bleak.

Nuclear: Not Clean or Green

If you’re a fan of nuclear, then so far, you probably don’t like this article – especially because it favors renewables. The reality is that although fans of both nuclear and renewables can pretend to share a hate for coal, renewables are a big threat to nuclear. If you’ve read your nuclear trade publications, then you already know this.

Nuclear isn’t really clean, and the wider economic picture shows that when you consider waste disposal and disasters, nuclear no longer makes economic sense. Plus, it’s risky. With the current nuclear plant inventory lasting another 50+ years, should we discuss building more nuclear plants? Should we consider phasing them out over the next 50 years along with fossil fuels? After all, 50 years is a long time to tweak or invent new ways of generating or harnessing energy, without the byproducts of CO2 and nuclear waste.

Tom DeRosa |February 11, 2015

Alachua County commissioners say no to fracking in Florida

Alachua County leaders sent a clear signal Tuesday that they do not welcome fracking here or anywhere else in Florida.

Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution supporting a statewide ban on the practice. Two bills in the state Legislature would ban fracking.

Fracking is a natural gas-drilling process that sends water, sand or gas deep into the earth to crack shale deposits and free gas below.

While many people have environmental concerns, some believe the practice is helping the United States become more energy independent.

Commissioner Ken Cornell, who pushed for the resolution, said this is one case where he does not favor waiting for science to reach a verdict.

“I say the burden of proof lies with the oil and gas companies, not Floridians,” he said.

Environmentalists say acid fracking — injecting acid under pressure — was used in Collier County in mid-2014. Acid has been used before to loosen limerock, but not under pressurized conditions. State environmental officials tested for groundwater contamination and said there was none, but some remain skeptical.

County Attorney Michele Lieberman is working on a local ordinance that would ban fracking in Alachua County for commissioners to consider in the near future.

Mickie Anderson|Staff writer|Gainesville Sun|February 10, 2015

Dangerous Levels of Chemicals Found in Fluid From California Oil Wells

 A new analysis by the Center for Biological Diversity finds that flowback fluid from fracked oil wells in California commonly contains dangerous levels of cancer-causing chemicals. Benzene levels more than 1,500 times the federal limits for drinking water were found in fracking flowback fluid tests obtained and analyzed by the Center. Benzene in excess of federal limits was found in 320 tests, and chromium-6 was detected 118 times. Both chemicals can cause cancer.

Flowback fluid is a key component of oil-industry wastewater from fracked wells, which is commonly disposed of in injection wells, which in turn often feed into aquifers — including some that could be used for drinking water and irrigation.

“Cancer-causing chemicals are surfacing in fracking flowback fluid just as we learn that the California oil industry is disposing of wastewater in hundreds of illegal disposal wells and open pits,” said the Center’s Hollin Kretzmann. “Gov. Brown needs to shut down all the illegal wells immediately and ban fracking to fight this devastating threat to California’s water supply.”

Read more in the Los Angeles Times

The Cost of Clean Coal

A Mississippi power plant promises to create clean energy from our dirtiest fuel. But it will come at a price.

On December 14, 2006, Barbara Correro was at home drinking tea, reading the paper. She had spent the past five years and most of her savings on a long-cherished retirement dream: a small mobile home on 24 acres of pine and hardwood forest, a large organic garden, and a pack of friendly dogs in rural Kemper County, Miss.

The acres once belonged to her grandmother, who kept cows and chickens, sold the hand-churned butter and eggs, and grew a bale of cotton every year to pay the taxes on the land. “It was hard work, and she was a good woman,” says Correro, a former oncology nurse with bright, quizzical blue eyes, a shock of white hair, and an unflinching voice.

By 2006, she’d built 27 raised beds, and was thinking about apple trees. And then, there it was, on the front page of the Kemper County Messenger: “Gasification plant would be ‘world’s largest’: Coal mine could be in future.”

Mississippi Power, the largest utility in the state and a subsidiary of Southern Company, one of the largest electricity producers in the country, had announced its intentions to build a $1.8 billion power plant fueled by Mississippi lignite coal, dug out of the ground right next to Correro’s homestead. By converting coal into synthetic gas, the plant would be much safer and cleaner than traditional coal-burning power plants. It would also (although this came out later) be designed to capture 65 percent of its carbon emissions.

But to Correro, coal is coal. “I just absolutely did not know what to do with myself,” she says. “Here I’ve spent my whole retirement – I’m having a well dug, I just got electricity, I just built all these raised beds – all this labor! And here is a coal mine? This just can’t be real.”

Over the next eight years, Correro went to every public meeting she could; she organized her own town hall meetings; she regularly showed up at her neighbors’ doors, uninvited, and often shunned. (“If looks could kill,” she says of one encounter with a local man and his wife, “I would have been dead on the spot.”) She teamed up with a cohort of like-minded neighbors to speak, organize, and call elected representatives; she worked hand in glove with the Mississippi chapter of the Sierra Club on its four-year legal battle against the plant; she cooked meals for executives from the U.S. Department of Energy and hosted reporters from all over the globe, offering them sweet tea on her porch and Southern meals in her kitchen.

Correro became the Chicken Little of Kemper County: strident, relentless, passionate. “Just look at West Virginia,” she says, angrily. “Look at the destruction.”

Today, though, it looks like she’s lost her war. Construction is nearly complete, and, despite delays and cost overruns, the facility is slated for a full launch by mid-2016.

Coal-fired power plants are responsible for 44 percent of global carbon emissions. They also produce about 40 percent of the world’s (and the United States’) electricity – and that’s growing, according to an International Energy Agency report released in December 2014.  Because one of the planet’s dirtiest fuel sources is also its cheapest, many industry experts and world leaders – including members of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – say we’ve no choice but to force coal to clean up its act.

And, so far, the plant in Correro’s backyard is as clean as coal comes: Its design meets the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed carbon pollution standards for new power plants, set to be finalized in summer 2015. If the EPA gets its way, every new coal plant in the United States would look a lot like this one.

To Correro, “clean coal” is an oxymoron. To many engineers, politicians, and policymakers across the country and the globe, it’s the best chance we’ve got.

A Grist Special Report by Sara Bernard

We did the math on clean coal, and it doesn’t add up

The Kemper County energy facility in rural Mississippi is a technological wonder: Among other things, it’s the first coal-fired power plant in the United States designed to capture its carbon emissions. But as I discovered during a months-long investigation of the plant, some aspects are less than wondrous. The biggie: There is serious doubt among energy experts that this technology will actually produce a net benefit for the climate.

The Kemper plant’s climate bona fides are built on a what’s known as “carbon capture and sequestration,” or CCS — a highly technical process that scrubs the carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and other industrial sources and stores them deep underground. Keeping carbon dioxide out of the air is critical if we’re going to avoid the worst effects of climate change. That’s why so many world energy leaders are calling for the development of this kind of technology.

But some analysts have called CCS by what seems to be, at least for now, a somewhat more accurate name: “Carbon Capture and Something.” That’s in part because, so far, most CCS power plant projects intend, very openly and explicitly, to sell their captured carbon dioxide to companies that will use it to extract oil. Through an industry practice called “enhanced oil recovery,” or EOR, these companies will “flood” tapped-out oil fields with the captured CO2, forcing out a few more barrels of petroleum.

And that’s where the argument that carbon capture and sequestration is a win for the climate starts to unravel.

A petroleum engineer from Denbury Resources — the company that plans to buy the Kemper facility’s CO2 for use in enhanced oil recovery — estimates that oil companies inject between .52 and .64 metric tons of CO2 into the ground to recover a single barrel of oil. But that barrel, he says, will release .42 metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere when it’s burned. Divide .42 by .64, and you’ll see that at best, the oil cancels out 65 percent of anything we’ve gained for the climate by putting that CO2 in the ground; at worst, we’re losing over 80 percent.

Put another way, by pairing CCS with enhanced oil recovery, we’re getting only 20 to 35 percent of the climate benefits from the carbon capture process, according to the oil industry’s numbers. Combine that with the fact that a CCS coal plant requires about 20 to 30 percent more coal than a traditional plant (capturing and sequestering carbon takes energy, after all), and your gains begin to look pretty slim.

And while Denbury’s numbers are theoretically possible, the research paints a less rosy picture, says Sean McCoy, an energy analyst for the International Energy Agency. McCoy co-authored a 2009 study that analyzed the overall carbon footprint of five different CO2-EOR projects in the U.S. and Canada. (The industry has been doing enhanced oil recovery for decades, using CO2 pumped from natural formations underground.) The study is among the few out there that attempt to account for the carbon footprint of the oil burned as well as other emissions factors. And guess what? If you include enhanced oil recovery in the carbon equation, you actually end up worse off than you were without this whole thing.

Check it. The key paragraph, 4th page, my emphasis:

“We calculated that between 3.7 and 4.7 metric tons of CO2 are emitted for every metric ton of CO2 injected. The fields currently inject and sequester less than 0.2 metric tons of CO2 per [barrel] of oil produced. In order to entirely offset system emissions, e.g., making the net CO2 emissions zero, 0.62 metric tons of CO2 would need to be injected and permanently sequestered for every [barrel] of oil produced.”

Yikes.

Note, however, that if the Denbury Resources engineer cited above is right, and if oil companies can, in fact, inject and sequester .64 metric tons of CO2 for every barrel of oil produced, then even this rather damning analysis suggests we might be out of the red. But just barely. And only if everything goes absolutely perfectly. (As you might imagine, sometimes this process doesn’t go perfectly.)

And one more caveat: The above analysis doesn’t include the head-achingly complex aspect of “displacement.” That is, if we’re talking about the globe here, the real question in terms of an overall carbon footprint is whether or not a CCS-EOR system is taking the place of a more carbon-intensive system, or if it is simply adding another power plant, and its attendant CO2, to the mess.

As Table 5 on page 5 of McCoy’s study suggests, if this kind of system in fact replaced, instead of added to, more carbon-intensive forms of energy production, then it’s possible we’d see an overall net reduction in carbon emissions. But co-author Michael Griffin, a professor of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, argues that this is not how the energy economy has operated to date. The argument in favor of a CCS-EOR system is often that the process “would keep another barrel of oil somewhere else in the world in the ground,” but, Griffin says, “I find that kind of a ludicrous idea. You see it right now: We’re producing oil like crazy and the price goes down. What happens is people use more oil.”

On Mississippi Power’s website, the company claims that the Kemper County energy facility “will increase U.S. oil output by two million barrels per year, playing an important role in reducing Mississippi’s and America’s use of foreign oil.” Increase U.S. output? So we’re in fact capturing carbon dioxide to produce more carbon dioxide than we would have? And even if that reduced America’s use of foreign oil, what effect, if any, does that have on the world’s use of said oil?

“It gets really hard,” says Sean McCoy. When it comes to CCS-EOR life cycle analyses, he says, “very reasonable people can have completely divergent opinions about what’s happening.”

Howard Herzog, a senior research engineer at MIT who probably knows as much or more about this stuff than anybody on earth right now, says he looks at “CCS and EOR as distinct operations” because “oil will get produced anyway.” In other words, we will continue to pump oil from the ground, regardless of whether we’re using CO2 from coal-fired power plants for EOR. What’s more important, he says, is how much CO2 we actually store in the ground.

And that is far from certain. The EPA’s proposed rules for new power plants set a cap of 1,100 pounds of CO2 emitted per megawatt hour of electricity produced, but that cap “is determined exclusively by the tons of CO2 captured,” according to the rules’ text. “The tons of CO2 sequestered … are not part of that calculation.” The EPA also “acknowledges that there can be downstream losses of CO2 after capture, for example during transportation, injection, or storage.”

If we really want the “S” in “CCS” to actually stand for “sequestration,” Herzog says, “we will need much stronger climate policy to drive it.”

In the meantime, the gains — if they even exist — seem terribly minuscule. And the costs? At $6.17 billion and counting, the Kemper facility is among the most expensive power plants ever built in the United States. Other, similar projects have been delayed or canceled due to cost overruns. Surely we could get a far bigger bang for our buck if we invested in something else.

Sara Bernard|12 Feb 2015

Tesla Plans Battery Storage for Emerging Residential Market

SAN FRANCISCO — Tesla Motors Inc., best known for making the all-electric Model S sedan, is using its lithium-ion battery technology to position itself as a frontrunner in the emerging energy storage market that supplements and may ultimately threaten the traditional electric grid.

“We are going to unveil the Tesla home battery, the consumer battery that would be for use in people’s houses or businesses fairly soon,” Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk said during an earnings conference call with analysts Wednesday.

Combining solar panels with large, efficient batteries could allow some homeowners to avoid buying electricity from utilities. Morgan Stanley said last year that Tesla’s energy storage product could be “disruptive” in the U.S. and in Europe as customers seek to avoid utility fees by going “off-grid.” Musk said the product unveiling would occur within the next month or two.

“We have the design done, and it should start going into production in about six months or so,” Musk said. “It’s really great.”

Tesla already offers residential energy-storage units to select customers through SolarCity Corp., the solar-power company that lists Musk as its chairman and biggest shareholder. Tesla’s Fremont, California, factory is also making larger stationary storage systems for businesses and utility clients. The Palo Alto, California-based automaker has installed a storage unit at its Tejon Ranch Supercharger station off Interstate 5 in Southern California and has several other commercial installations in the field.

Utility Clients

But the even larger market may be utility clients.

“A lot of utilities are working in this space and we are talking to almost all of them,” Chief Technology Officer JB Straubel said on the earnings call Wednesday. “This is a business that is gaining an increasing amount of our attention.”

California sees energy storage as a critical tool to better manage the electric grid, integrate a growing amount of solar and wind power, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Utilities like PG&E Corp. are now required to procure about 1.3 gigawatts of energy storage by 2020, enough to supply roughly 1 million homes.

Dana Hull and Mark Chediak|Bloomberg|February 12, 2015

Air Quality

Boston Has a Methane Problem

A team of researchers led by Kathryn McKain of Harvard University has recently discovered that approximately three percent of the natural gas delivered to Boston leaks directly into the atmosphere, taking with it a heavy load of methane, a known greenhouse gas. Their study doesn’t just have significant environmental implications: It’s estimated that the city is losing around $90 million to leaks every year. Correcting leaks is a relatively straightforward task, though it would require some investment in natural gas infrastructure and consumer education. However, these costs would be mitigated by the substantial savings offered if Boston was able to cut down on its methane problem.

Methane contributes to smog and warming trends over time. Cities like Boston often struggle with poor air, especially in the summers, when smog can be intense — and this study indicates that as much as 3.3 percent of the methane in the air over Boston could be coming from leaks in natural gas pipelines. This echoes the findings of a cooperative study in 2013 that teamed up the resources of Google and the Environmental Defense Fund to conduct a survey of Boston’s streets in search of natural gas leaks. The study used sensors to focus specifically on gas pipelines and determined that many of Boston’s aging pipelines were not providing secure transport for natural gas (for those with safety concerns, all leaks were reported to Boston’s energy companies).

In Boston, the wasted natural gas being vented into the atmosphere could fuel 200,000 homes for a year — this in a city where cold conditions over the winter can place a heavy load on heating systems. The majority of the energy loss appears to come from pipeline leaks, indicating that at least some portions of the city’s aging gas infrastructure need to be inspected and replaced. Some come from improperly piped and vented gas appliances, an issue that needs to be addressed by energy companies, plumbers and maintenance personnel who deal directly with natural gas-powered equipment. Finally, some emissions may be the result of appliances that are not set correctly, requiring an inspection by a repairperson to confirm that they’re set up for maximum efficiency.

The research shows that it’s time to take a look at other urban areas to assess their natural gas infrastructure as well. These energy audits, as it were, can be used to direct funding most appropriately to the U.S. cities that need to address natural gas leaks so the nation can do its part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

Everyone stands to benefit from measures to address the leaks. The environment will appreciate the reduction in pollution, while energy companies won’t be hurting as a result of massive financial losses every year. Consumers pay less when their appliances operate more efficiently and energy companies can also pass down savings.

Natural gas has been touted by government agencies as a cleaner fuel, one that runs more efficiently and reduces fewer pollutants. However, it still needs to be refined appropriately, and, as this study illustrates, if it’s not handled properly from refinery to distribution center to endpoint, it can still produce emissions. These findings by no means indicate that we should give up on natural gas, but they do illustrate the importance of making sure it’s used efficiently so we can enjoy the maximum benefits from switching over to cleaner fuels.

s.e. smith|February 2, 2015

Huge Methane Plume over Four Corners

This past fall NASA scientists found a methane plume so big they thought their instruments were broken. But it was no mistake: This was America’s biggest methane cloud — a red blob over the Four Corners spewing climate-killing pollution from the region’s coalbed gas fields.
Now the Bureau of Land Management wants to supersize that plume with an oil pipeline whose capacity could quadruple oil and gas fracking in the region. But in an era of climate crisis, committing our public lands to more fossil fuel development is more than bad public policy — it’s driving off a climate cliff.
And leaked methane isn’t the only problem: The proposal’s 140-mile-long Piñon Pipeline and new fracking rigs would industrialize ancient cultural sites around Chaco Canyon and threaten communities and endangered species like Colorado pikeminnows and least terns with air and water pollution as well as oil spills.

Check the air quality at your specific location 

Go to BreezoMeter and type in your address. I live just west of the Fort Lauderdale Airport, and the air quality at my house is 57, which is barely in the good range.

Transportation

BMW and VW Join Forces to Expand Electric Car Charging Network

Announced this week at the Washington Auto Show is the upcoming team-up of two giant German automakers – BMW and VW – along with another key player, ChargePoint, the biggest charging network for electric vehicles, who are joining forces to fund to build around 100 charging stations for electric cars using the Combined Charging Standards (CCS) protocol. With already over 20,000 existing charging spots in North America, ChargePoint will use its database to identify both gaps and popular charging sites to suggest locations.

Those stations will be positioned particularly in the most heavily-traveled routes along the East and West Coasts. Each charging station will be set no more than 50 miles apart in areas with nearby restaurants, shopping centers, rest stops and other places where people will have something to keep them busy about while waiting for their batteries to get filled up.

Each site will rise 50-kilowatt DC fast chargers or 24-kW DC Combo fast chargers with the SAE Combo connector, as well as 240-volt Level 2 AC charging stations that can be used by all electric cars. A BMW i3 or VW e-Golf can recharge up to 80% at a 50-kW CCS station in about 20 minutes, or 30 minutes from a 24-kW station. The very first station is already being constructed in San Diego which will connect to Los Angeles, San Francisco and Portland. Another one will run from Boston to Washington, D.C. along Interstate 95. The remaining other stations are expected to be installed until end of this year, making road trips possible even in cars with ranges under 100 miles; the new network of stations could also be useful when driving shorter distances and around-town driving.

Callum Newcombe|January 28, 2015

Recycling

Everything You Need to Know About the Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch

There is currently an estimated 3.5 million tons of trash floating around the Pacific Ocean, in what’s called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

It’s believed the patch spans roughly twice the size of the continental US.

Also known as the Pacific Trash Vortex, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is not an island or land mass necessarily visible to the naked eye, like many assume.

Instead, the patch is made up largely of broken down microplastics – small particles of non-biodegradable material drawn together at the convergence of different ocean currents – which appear as a kind of cloudy soup.

There are at least 260 known species which feed on these microplastic particles, confusing them for plankton. These plastics then travel up the food chain, resting in the stomachs of increasingly larger predators, like tuna or mahi-mahi, for instance.

It takes about 600 years for plastic in the ocean to fully break down.

It’s then crucial we keep our plastic and litter out of the oceans, or we’ll be eating our trash for ages to come.

Colin Rabyniuk|January 28, 2015

Is 3-D Printing the Answer to Plastic Waste?

You’ve probably heard a lot about 3D printing in the last few years. “Printing” is sort of a misnomer. Also referred to as “additive manufacturing,” it’s the process of creating an object from a digital file by layering filaments to form the finished product. It’s been hyped as a revolution that will make conventional manufacturing obsolete, allowing people to create the products and tools they need in their own homes.

We’ll see about that. But meanwhile, a company in Rotterdam, Netherlands called Better Future Factory, which launched last year by a team of recent graduates of Delft University of Technology, is promoting 3D printing as the solution to the widespread problem: plastic waste. Their Perpetual Plastic Project proposes that the filaments used in the process be made from recycled plastic bottles, cups and other stuff that too often ends up in landfills.

“Two things are for sure,” says Gaspard Bos, who describes himself as the “navigator” of the Perpetual Plastics Project. “One is that the production of plastics worldwide is increasing and two is that the recovery of plastics worldwide is not increasing at the same rate. Less than 10 percent of plastics gets recycled. The municipalities and local governments decide what to do with the waste and the consumer is almost powerless. We want to empower these consumers in their local communities to do something with their waste.”

“We make an intervention in these economies, radically changing the value of their plastic waste,” he explains. “We use the power of design to change it into something people want. We designed an interactive recycling installation that allows anyone to make really cool things from their plastic trash in a really awesome way.”

The process starts with ordinary plastic cups which are washed, dried and fed into a shredder that reduces them to tiny pieces. Those pieces are fed into an extruder, heated and melted into the filaments used in the 3D printer.

So far, the interactive recycling installation has been used primarily to produce cute little plastic rings with a heart design. That might not make a huge dent in the plastic waste stream but it gives the Perpetual Plastic Project engineers a hook to demonstrate to observers at events the potential of the process and give them something to take away with them to remind them what can be done with stuff that gets thrown away.

“The person that made his own ring has forever changed his mind about plastic products,” says Bos. “Wherever you are in the world and you feel like your waste should be turned into awesomeness, contact us.”

Anastasia Pantsios|EcoWatch|January 31, 2015

Is a Zero-Waste Supermarket Possible? This Store Hopes So

I don’t make a habit of walking up to complete strangers in grocery stores and sparking up conversations, but earlier today there was a woman filling up a giant jar with olive oil at Rainbow Grocery, our local food cooperative, and I just had to ask her something.

Clearly the bottle had been filled before; it looked slightly sticky, and based on the other items in her shopping basket, I quickly surmised that this woman was a seasoned BYOCer (Bring-Your-Own-Container).

She was in the bulk food section, where shoppers fill reusable containers from home with various edibles; everything from cooking oil, honey, and granola to peanut butter, coffee, spices, flours and grains.

“I don’t mean to bother you, but I see that you’re filling up that bottle with olive oil, and I’m wondering if I can ask you something,” I said to her.

“Oh, hmm, sure,” she startled back.

Then my question; “Do you think it’s possible to have a zero-packaging grocery store?”

And with that, our conversation began, while the olive oil slowly dispensed.

I explained that I was working on an article about a “zero-waste” supermarket in Berlin that got rid of all its food packaging. I wanted to know whether she thought it was possible for such a market to succeed today.

The market is called Original Unverpackt (“Original Unpackaged”), and unlike typical grocery stores, it offers no disposable packaged-products. Rather, it dispenses its 350-some food products out of containers from which shoppers fill their own reusable containers.

To my question, Judith, a young 70-something, was quick to reply “Yes,” but after talking through her answer a bit, she seemed to veer more towards, “It depends.”

She continued filling the giant jar while we chatted. (The olive oil flowed in a trickle.)

We both agreed, the idea had its merits.

During our conversation, Judith figured out that there are certain products she is and isn’t comfortable buying unpackaged — it has to do with two factors, she decided — freshness and trust.

Judith has been shopping at Rainbow Grocery, a worker-owned grocery cooperative in San Francisco, since 1977. She brings her containers from home to fill up on certain products, because she trusts the labels on Rainbow’s products. She believes that Rainbow is hygienic and that the products she’s buying are fresh and thus, healthy to consume.

To the question of the hour, Judith shares, “I think it’s realistic to have a packaging-free grocery store, but not universally realistic, because I wouldn’t trust every grocery store.”

During her time in a small village in Europe, Judith was comfortable buying food sold sans packaging, including cheese, fish and poultry, because she knew it was fresh and local.

At Rainbow she knows where the products come from, thanks to clear labeling in-store. She buys all of her pasta, oils, nuts, olives, and most recently, honey, all without packaging.

Judith admits something else that is rarely spoken out loud but my guess is, a significant amount of people behave similarly — she chooses to take some products home in disposable bags specifically so she can use the bags on walks to clean up after her pets. Luckily, the ones at Rainbow are compostable.

Back to Berlin, Sara Wolf and Milena Glimbovski from Original Unpackaged worked closely with health authorities while developing their store concept. Here they are talking about their store:

The idea of a packaging-free store has been tried before, with less-than-stellar results. Treehugger explains:

In London in 2007 a group of intrepid eco-conscious entrepreneurs tried to create a supermarket where packaging was at a minimum. The Unpackaged store inspired lots of Londoners, but in spite of the massive press, Unpackaged couldn’t make it. In Austin, a grocery store called in.gredients also eschews packaging, and though tiny (1,300 square feet), the store is currently thriving — the owners told Entrepreneur they get twice the customers they expected but those customers tend to buy half what the business model predicted.

A packaging-free supermarket in concept sounds great, but for better or worse, attempts at the store concept thus far seem focused on organic, higher-priced items, which cuts out budget-conscious shoppers.

To be clear: packaging-free grocery stores like Original Unverpackt will never be 100% packaging-free.

Let me explain. My first job out of college was at a Whole Foods, so I’ve gotten a behind-the-scenes taste of how things work in a grocery store. In the bulk section, there were (and still are) big food dispensers where customers fill up from, but food is not funneled into them from some master pipeline stemming from the food source. No, employees fill those bins from large boxes or bags or other containers that are shipped in by the pallet.

What I’m getting at here is that there’s still packaging involved in the process of getting food from source to your plate, whether the customer sees it or not.

This certainly does not negate the fact that there’s way too much packaging in today’s food industry, and wherever packaging can be minimized can only serve to help the environment. It seems logical to assume that the farther food travels to get to your plate the more packaging is required to keep it safe, clean, fresh. Chalk it up to one more reason to buy local food.

Is it even legal in the U.S. to sell food without packaging? Absolutely, just look to the bulk food sections of your local food coop or Whole Foods, though of course stringent labeling laws still apply.

It’s interesting how reusable grocery bags garner so much attention, like California’s recent ban on plastic bags. But for every 1 grocery bag, say there are 10 products inside. What about the packaging of those products? That’s a lot more potential waste to consider when looking out for the best interest of our environment.

In a time when all signs point to ‘less is more’, new landfill-clogging products continue to enter the market. When will people learn? All of the stuff that we humans create, consume and dispose of has to end up somewhere, in the end. There is no magic vortex that sucks it all away. Simply put: there is no such thing as throwing it ‘away.’

As Treehugger points out, “Convenience is still king in our approach to life and to shopping. But there’s one inconvenient fact — even if we have enough landfills for generations, our oceans are filling up and dying due to our penchant for single-use plastic packaging.”

Perhaps one of the worst examples of excessive packaging lately are K-Cups, those single-brew, single-serving coffee packs known for their convenience. K-Cup’s multi-layer structure makes them unrecyclable. In 2013 alone, enough K-Cups were used to circle the earth ten and a half times, so last year Care2 listed 5 reasons K-Cups aren’t okay for the environment.

It’s clear when it comes to food packaging which direction we should be heading in: away from disposable products like K-Cups and towards stores like Original Unverpackt.

Whether Original Unverpackt is able to stay afloat or not, Wolf and Glimbovski are right about one thing – their project will send a signal to the food industry that different ways of operating are possible, even if there are still kinks to work out.

Given the current state of our worldwide environment, I would add, necessary.

Tex Dworkin|February 2, 2015

This Water Treatment Company is so Confident in Their Process, They’ve Started Brewing Beer out of Sewage

The people of Oregon – the state known for putting birds on things and being so hipster it hurts – now wants to take their craft beer revolution and make it more eco-friendly – by brewing beer from wastewater.

Yes, you read that right.

Just when we thought craft beer, with its quirky names and funny little covers, couldn’t get any zanier, it did.

Hold on to your seats! (TOILET seats, that is!)

The High-Purity Treatment System

According to Clean Water Services of Hillsboro, OR they have an extremely advanced treatment process that can turn sewage into drinking water, a claim they want to show off using beer as their medium.

The company runs four wastewater treatment plants in the Portland metro area and believe that the stunt will show off its “high-purity” system by turning recycled wastewater into beer.

The treatment process has three different methods:

  1. Ultra-filtration Filtering the water through very small pores.
  2. Reverse osmosis Where the water is sent through a membrane that blocks chemicals from passing through.
  3. Enhanced oxidation Using an oxidizing chemical and ultra-violet light to break down contaminants.

Clean Water Services spokesman Mark Jockers says of the project:

“What we’re really trying to do here is start a conversation about the nature of water, and there’s no better way to start a conversation than over a beer. When people think about it enough it makes sense, although the initial knee-jerk reaction might be ‘yuck.’ We want to start having this conversation now before we get into the drought situation that California and Texas and Australia have gotten into, so we can get the rules and safeguards in place that will allow greater use of this resource.”

Jockers says that the company isn’t planning to supply the world with its own unique beer, but instead use the demonstration to show that it’s possible to treat wastewater to very high standards.

However, the project has yet to get permission from the state.

You see, even though water shortages have forced other communities to get comfortable with drinking recycled water, the state of Oregon doesn’t technically allow anyone to drink wastewater. And while the Oregon Health Authority has approved the company’s request, the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission has yet to sign off on it.

But we don’t have long to wait.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality will be holding a public hearing on the matter on February 12. If approved, Oregon will officially become the Poo Beer State and we’ll all drink wastewater and be merry about it.

Not really.

Luckily, it’s not quite that easy to get permission to feed people wastewater. Clean Water Services will still need additional state approvals for an amended Recycled Water Reuse Plan before the – hopefully delicious and non-toxic – beer is cleared for human consumption.

The stunt, while not completely new, is the first of its scale. A Wisconsin home brewer and wastewater engineer, Theera Ratarasarn, beat them to the mark with his “Activated Sludge Wheat Ale” made from “purified Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District wastewater plant effluent.”

In the end, Jockers says that the idea is ultimately to expand the use of recycled water in Oregon, but also to change the way people think about wastewater. Logic that I don’t think many of us can fault. Here’s hoping that our stomachs will agree.

Sarah Burke|February 3, 2015

[Provokes some new thoughts on recycling.]

How much plastic is entering the ocean?

An important article has come out in Science Magazine. This is the first scientific study to systematically estimate the amount of plastic going into the ocean from land. It also highlights the geographies that contribute the most and provides insights into the relative impact of different mitigation strategies.

One thing we have learned from this article is the estimated amount of plastic going into the ocean is far greater than most previous estimates. Yet, overwhelming amount of plastic going into the ocean today pales in comparison to what scientists estimate for the future. I have been studying this area for 15 years and it’s gone up by two orders of magnitude – it is approximately one hundred times worse than what I measured in 1999. This article is stating they expect an increase of ten in the next ten years.

Habitats are normally damaged by removing valuables from them, such as animals, plants and minerals. In a complete turnaround, we are destroying our ocean habitat by inserting our valuable polymer plastics. This leads us to a clear understanding of why the status quo HAS to change by adopting a zero waste circular economy—if we don’t, it will be ten times worse than it is now, or a thousand times worse than I found it in 1999.

Plastic consumption in developing countries is increasing and because many of these countries do not have sufficient waste collection, more plastic is entering our ocean each day. We keep hearing Mismanaged Waste. That implies that burning waste in an incineration or burying it in a landfill is properly managed waste, but it’s not. We believe in Zero Waste. This so-called managed waste is composed of precious resources that need to be recovered.

The quantity of plastic in the global ocean’s five accumulator gyres has reached a level that is destroying their fragile ecosystems. It is reasonable that plastic manufacturers, who profit from externalizing the cost of dealing with their products that become waste, take some responsibility for the destruction of gyre habitat and help remove some of the tonnage of plastic causing the damage. Additionally, this would incentivize manufacturers of plastic products to design them to be easy to recycle and help create the infrastructure to process the collected plastics.

In 2013 International Coastal Cleanup Day had 648,015 volunteers from 92 countries combing coastlines around the world. In one day they gathered about 12.3 million pounds (about 6,000 tons) of trash, much of which was plastic. Even if it was all plastic, it would only be a third of what goes into the ocean each day, based on a mid-range estimate from the Jenna study. We would have to have a worldwide clean up 3 times a day, every day of the year to clean up what is ending up in the ocean, although much of the world’s coastal areas were not covered by the volunteers.

In the North Pacific Gyre this summer, Algalita researchers took plankton samples from 10 meters below the surface. In our lab, we found that every spoonful of plankton looked at under a microscope had tiny plastic fibers in it. Gyres were pristine areas where virtually nothing floated for long. The creatures there think anything floating is something to eat. The plastic is being consumed in high quantities, has no nutritional value, and is toxic. On top of all this, floating garbage in the pristine ocean is UGLY and constitutes an aesthetic. An ugly world, poisoned by our waste, is not a world we want to live in, and bequeath to our progeny.

What can we do? Single use disposables are the biggest culprit. Targeting waste from “use once and toss” plastics is the key. We can’t solve the ocean plastic problem at scale without addressing waste management in developing countries. We can change habits and behavior. People are rational if they are given rational reasons for changing their habits.

As members of the Trash Free Seas Alliance, Algalita is happy to see that this information has been made available through Science Magazine. This is an important study and we must act on the information it provides, or we will see the status quo based prediction of exponential increase in marine plastic pollution by 2025 come true.

Captain Charles Moore|Algalita Marine Research

This supermarket sells your food waste back to you in raccoon form

The Los Angeles Department of Public Health is investigating a local Asian market that’s selling raccoons — dead ones! Not alive! Although I’m not sure which the average reader would find more alarming.

But as it turns out, it’s perfectly legal to sell raccoon meat because it’s considered a “game animal” in California, according to San Jose Mercury News. The L.A. health officials are merely making sure that it came from a licensed trapper, of course.

The disgusted customer who reported the raccoon-selling to the DPH apparently does not know that meat is dead animals. “The way it’s packaged in the store, it’s so real, and it’s so fresh, and you don’t see chickens with their feathers and blood all over them, and their expression, with their tongue hanging out,” she told CBS Los Angeles.

I personally haven’t tried it — although some consider it to be pretty standard dinner fare — but raccoon meat strikes me as a brilliant way to reduce food waste. You get to eat the food you tried to throw out, because that’s what raccoons are made of! Think of the critters as little processing plants that steal your veggie trimmings and chicken bones out of the trash and transform them into edible animal protein and fat.

The Mercury News story reports that at $9.99 per pound, these treats weren’t exactly flying off store shelves, which isn’t surprising at all. Why buy the ’coon when you can get the meat for free?

[I guess you could call this recycling.]

23-Year-Old Hasn’t Produced Any Garbage in Two Years

Like most young people today, Lauren Singer is aware of her environmental impact. She pursued environmental studies at New York University and took a job as a sustainability manager for the New York City Department of Agriculture. But Singer, 23, has gone far beyond most when it comes to sustainable living. She has adopted a zero-waste lifestyle. For the last two years, Singer has amassed only a mason jar’s worth of trash.

Singer has documented her zero-waste living, which requires eschewing anything that will end up in a landfill or can’t be composted, on her blog, Trash is for Tossers. She felt like a hypocrite sitting in her environmental classes listening to professors talk about the “importance of living your values” and it made her question her own environmental impact, according to her blog. Then, she learned about a family in California calling themselves the Zero Waste Home and she thought if they can do it, so can she.

Her blog documents her “zero waste journey” and she hopes it will “show that leading a zero waste lifestyle is simple, cost-effective, timely, fun and entirely possible for everyone and anyone,” she said on her blog. “If I can do it, anyone can!”

But the young post-grad doesn’t just go without common household products like toothpaste or deodorant. She makes her own. Her blog offers recipes on everything from toothpaste to drain cleaner to cold brew coffee. She also offers suggestions of alternative products for everything you could imagine from personal care products to kitchen supplies. She lays out the problem with disposable, chemical-leaden plastic products and recommends items to buy that are reusable and compostable.

When she goes to the store, she brings reusable bags, but also organic cotton drawstring bags and mason jars which she uses to avoid plastic packaging. She recently challenged her friend, Lee Tilghman, dubbed the ‘Smoothie Bowl Queen’ by Free People, to make a zero-waste smoothie bowl. She documented the experience on her blog and the smoothie bowl looks delicious.

Her lifestyle is a testament to the fact that sustainable living doesn’t have to be super challenging or mean you live a boring, sad life. “You don’t have to be a stereotype of anything to live a sustainable lifestyle. My style is the same. My taste is the same. I enjoy the same things. I just don’t make trash,” Singer told AOL.

And she says it doesn’t have to be expensive. “It’s so funny how that narrative caught on that living sustainably is like a ‘rich white people thing,’” she said to AOL. “It’s not the case at all. I spend like $20 to $25 a week now on everything that I need from the farmer’s market.”

The young New Yorker has quit her job at the Department of Agriculture and launched The Simply Co. She created a sustainable cleaning product line for people who want the products that she makes, but who don’t feel they have the time to make these products themselves. She surpassed her $10,000 Kickstarter goal by $31,000 and she now has 1,000 orders of natural three-ingredient laundry powder to fill.

“It’s not the typical business model, but I kind of wish that everyone would make their products, which is to say that I wish that my business model didn’t have to exist,” she told AOL. “Ultimately, my goal is for people to realize that you don’t need toxic chemicals to clean your home.” She acknowledges not everyone will adopt a zero waste lifestyle, but she says everyone can waste less. “It is possible to not produce trash. It’s definitely possible to produce less trash. Living sustainably is so stigmatized in a negative way—but this is everybody’s Earth.”

Singer recently launched her own YouTube channel, where she provides “DIY recipes, Zero Waste tips and sustainability tricks in order to live a waste-free or low-waste life.”

Cole Mellino|February 12, 2015

Miscellaneous

Top 10 Reasons to Stop Using Pesticides

Whether it’s the proven harmful effects on our health and ecosystems or the lack of regulatory oversight, there are just too many reasons to not stop using pesticides.

Top 10 Reasons:

1) Pesticides don’t solve pest problems.

If they did, we wouldn’t repeatedly use them, now would we?  Americans use more than a billion pounds of pesticides each year to combat pests on farm crops, in homes, places of business, schools, parks, hospitals, and other public places. YUCK! Instead, it would be wise to change the conditions that make pests thrive.

2) Pesticides are hazardous to our health.

Imagine, some people don’t believe this! According to the Environmental Protection Agency (who regularly sleeps with all of the pharmaceutical companies), adverse effects of pesticide exposure range from mild symptoms of dizziness and nausea to serious, long-term neurological, developmental, and reproductive disorders.

For instance, Glyphosate, better known as Roundup, damages genes and causes birth defects. And it’s the most widely used herbicide in the United States; we use almost 200 million pounds a year.

3) Pesticides cause special problems for children.

Let’s remember that for their size, children drink more water and eat more food and than adults, and both of these can be (and often are) contaminated with pesticides. Their play increases their potential exposure. Imagine, for instance, your child playing on turf or on a grassy lawn or park treated with pesticides.

As Dr. Lynn Goldman wrote while she was an assistant administrator at EPA, “As a pediatrician, I know that children can be more vulnerable to environmental contaminants.”

4) Pesticides contaminate our food.

Even after peeling and washing fruits and veggies, about 60 percent of our produce still contains more than one pesticide, says the USDA.

5) Pesticides are particularly hazardous for farmers, farm workers, and people who live near them.

There are no comprehensive systems for keeping track of the number and type of pesticide illnesses in the U.S., but research shows that farmers and farmworkers face risks of acute poisoning and long-term illness.

Because agricultural pesticides account for over 75 percent of total U.S. pesticide use, farmers and farmworkers are often exposed to large amounts of pesticides. The EPA has estimated that between 10 and 20 thousand pesticide-related illnesses occur among farmers and farmworkers every year, but the agency believes that these large numbers are actually serious underestimates.

Mothers, meanwhile, who live near farms and are exposed to insecticides are more likely to have children with ADHD.

6) Pesticides are dangerous to pets.

Pesticide poisoning of pets is common. For example, in 1990 the American Association of Poison Control Centers received over 11,000 calls regarding pesticide-poisoned pets. Only antifreeze causes more pet poisoning deaths than rodent control pesticides and organophosphate insecticides.

Exposure to herbicide-treated lawns and gardens increases the risk of bladder cancer by four to seven times in Scottish Terriers, according to a study by Purdue University veterinary researchers. Since when do canines get cancer?

7) Pesticides contaminate our water.

According to a national study, 90 percent of our nation’s urban streams are contaminated with pesticides.

8)  Pesticides are not good for fish and birds.

When pesticides contaminate water they can be particularly toxic to fish. In addition to fish, other marine or freshwater animals are endangered by pesticide contamination. A pesticide’s capacity to harm fish and aquatic animals is largely a function of its (1) toxicity, (2) exposure time, (3) dose rate, and (4) persistence in the environment.

It is clear that some chemicals have the potential to affect entire food chains. Routine environmental use of neonicotinoids, for instance, perpetuates the propensity for runoff, groundwater infiltration, and the cumulative and largely irreversible damage to invertebrates, all of which raise significant environmental concerns.

9) Pesticide “Health & Safety Testing” is conducted by chemical companies.

As we mention in Vanishing of the Bees, this is a bad case of the fox guarding the hen house. The Environmental Protection Agency does not conduct independent studies. They rely on the chemical companies to do due diligence. And my oh my, what a surprise that they find all the poisons relatively safe. Well, be certain that doesn’t mean a thang!

10) Pesticides just have too many secrets.

Where are pesticides used? When? How much? What’s in them? We almost never have good answers to these questions. But we do know many persist in the environment and that they synergize when combined. And inactive ingredients are really not inactive at all.

Maryam Heinen|Honey Colony|January 31, 2015

Sea Shepherd to Build “Game Changing” Ship Thanks to Huge Donation

The battle against illegal whaling just took a turn for the good guys. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS), longtime warriors against the illegal slaughter of marine animals, just got an incredible donation. It will use the money to fund a new ship for its fleet. Better, stronger, faster — Sea Shepherd is finally getting its “dream ship.”

Illegal whalers, watch your butts.

The money — a whopping $12 million — comes from the National Postcode Lottery, a Dutch charity that runs lotteries and gives half the proceeds to charities each year. Past recipients include Amnesty International, Greenpeace, UNICEF, and the World Food Program, just to name a few.

Sea Shepherd’s proposal, Stop Illegal Fishing in the Southern Ocean, impressed lottery officials so much it won this year’s donation.

“That money will be used exclusively to construct a vessel that is faster and has a longer range and is stronger than any of the Japanese harpoon vessels,” Sea Shepherd founder Captain Paul Watson told the Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC). “That has been our biggest handicap in the Southern Ocean is not being able to outrun those harpoon vessels. This vessel will enable us to do just that.”

For the First Time, the Need for Speed Won’t Stop the Sea Shepherd

Never before has the SSCS been able to custom design the exact ship it wants. Since 2002, SSCS has been lucky to receive and re-purpose a fleet of existing ships to meet its needs. Unfortunately, the ships are getting older and they’re simply not fast enough.

“Sea Shepherd will now be able to have a custom-designed ship built, capable of achieving speeds that far exceed any of the vessels in our current fleet,” said Sea Shepherd Global’s CEO, Alex Cornelissen, in a press release. “After researching possible ship builders for the last two years, negotiations with Dutch ship builder Damen has resulted in a blueprint of our ideal ship.”

It’s an impressive vessel indeed. Here’s the designer’s conceptual artwork:

“The ship will be a game-changer due to its speed and technology,” a Sea Shepherd spokesperson told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Japan: The Only Country Still Whaling in International Waters

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) adopted a resolution in 2014 designed to narrow an exception to its 1986 commercial whaling ban. For years, Japan has exploited the exception that allows the taking of whales for “scientific research” purposes. The new rules make it harder to demonstrate that taking of whales is necessary for research purposes.

Japan doesn’t care, apparently. After a year off, it announced in September 2014 that it intends to resume whaling, perhaps as early as 2015. In fact, Japan wants to “harvest” an appalling 4,000 minke whales over the course of the next 12 years. Japan has asked the IWC for permission for these takes, calling their intended slaughter a “scientific research” program. Japan’s not fooling anyone with that label and Sea Shepherd intends to be there to stop the whaling fleet.

“The easiest way to stop whaling is to simply place a large vessel on the stern slipway of [Japan’s] Nisshin Maru and prevent them from loading whales. If they can’t load whales they can’t kill whales,” Watson told ABC. Sea Shepherd needed to be fast enough to accomplish this positioning, and now it will be. Yes, it’ll be a game changer indeed.

Of course, the SSCS defends more than whales. Its takes action against the horrifying Japanese dolphin drive hunt at Taiji Cove, which kills hundreds and even thousands of dolphins every year. Most recently, it spent 22 days relentlessly pursuing Nigerian poachers who were illegally fishing for the endangered Patagonian toothfish in the Indian Ocean.

The Sea Shepherd dream ship, under construction in Vietnam, is anticipated to be ready for duty in 2016. Help can’t come soon enough for the world’s endangered marine species.

Susan Bird|February 3, 2015

It’s Your Right to Know: The Toxics Release Inventory National Analysis

In order to make the products on which we depend, like pharmaceuticals, clothing, and other manufactured goods, companies across the U.S. use thousands of chemicals in their normal operations. Many of the chemicals necessary to these economic activities are toxic. While most are managed so that they will not harm the environment, some releases of toxic chemicals occur.  You have a right to know what chemicals are being used and released in your community.

A “release” refers to the emission, discharge, or disposal of chemicals by industrial facilities operating under permits designed to protect human health and the environment. Only a very small portion of annual release totals involve accidental releases such as chemical spills. The Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) gives people access to data on these chemical releases as well as pollution prevention activities at industrial facilities across the country. I use this data to learn about industrial releases near my home or in a city I’m visiting. I also explore what facilities are doing to prevent pollution and reduce their releases, and how they compare to similar facilities across the US.

Each year, we take a close look at how facilities are managing toxic chemicals, and publish a report called the TRI National Analysis. In addition to providing a printable version of the report, this year we’ve completely redesigned the National Analysis website. You’ll find interlinked chapters that make it easier to navigate between topics, interactive graphics that tell the story of the TRI data, and links to EPA tools and resources that will help you explore EPA’s other environmental information.

I’m most excited about the new “Where You Live” feature, which provides information about chemical releases at local levels as well as national snapshots of releases to air, water, and land in all states. You can also explore analyses of U.S. metropolitan areas, major watersheds, and TRI facilities on Tribal lands. Do you want to know how industrial releases in your city compare to the rest of the country? Are you thinking of moving, and want to check out what facilities might be near your new neighborhood? The interactive maps in the “Where You Live” section can give you these answers.

I hope that you check out the new TRI National Analysis, and use these interactive analyses to find out what chemicals are being released in areas that you care about and what’s being done to prevent releases – because it’s your right to know.

Caitlin Briere|2015 February 6

Ice Cream Giant Announces Plans to Stop Using Milk From Cows Treated With Artificial Hormone rBST

The ice cream giant Breyers announced yesterday it will stop using milk from cows treated with the controversial hormone rBST. The artificial growth hormone, which stands for recombinant bovine somatotropin, is a genetically engineered hormone that farmers inject into cows to increase milk production. It’s controversial because it’s been linked to a slew of health problems in cows, and consequently, humans who drink the cows’ milk.

Bovine somatotropin (BST) is a protein hormone naturally produced in the pituitary glands of cows. Monsanto and other companies developed a recombinant version, rBST, by using a genetically engineered E. coli bacteria, according to Organic Valley. The hormone has been banned in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Israel and the European Union.

Many U.S. companies, such as Ben & Jerry’s, also owned by Unilever, went rBST-free long ago. The conscientious ice cream company made the move back in 1989. Other socially conscious companies like Chipotle have opted to go rBST-free, as well as Wal-Mart, Haagen Dazs, Yoplait and Dannon yogurts that only source milk from farmers whose cows are hormone free.

Breyers plans to have most of its milk rBST-free by March. In addition to sourcing non-rBST milk, Breyers will only purchase vanilla that is certified by the Rainforest Alliance, ensuring it meets the rigorous standards of the Sustainable Agriculture Network and the Forest Stewardship Council.

Breyers’ parent company Unilever plans to have other brands, including Fruttare, Good Humor, Klondike, Magnum and Popsicle, follow suit in the next few years. This initiative will make the conglomerate the largest ice cream manufacturer in the world to source hormone-free milk and sustainable vanilla.

“Breyers has a long-standing history of offering frozen treats with high-quality ingredients that moms feel good about,” said Alessandra Bellini, vice president of brand development at Unilever North America. “These industry-leading changes are the latest in our commitment to do right by parents and the environment.”

Cole Mellino|February 5, 2015

Environmental Links

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