ConsRep 1506 D

“You have to stand up for some things in this world.” — Marjory Stoneman Douglas

 

Announcements

Corps to host meeting on water operations field test June 30

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District will host a Project Delivery Team (PDT) meeting to discuss the first increment of the G-3273 and S-356 Pump Station Field Test,

a water operations field test aimed at increasing flows to Everglades National Park.

The meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, June 30 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. at the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Miami Field Station, 9001 NW 58th Street, in Miami, Fla.

PDT meetings enable federal, state and local agencies and tribal governments to provide their input into the first increment of the field test.

Members of the public may attend the PDT meeting and provide public comment both during and at the end of the meeting.

“The first increment of this field test is a critical step forward in evaluating how we will ultimately send additional water south to Everglades National Park,” said Donna George, Jacksonville District project manager.

“At the meeting, we will discuss how the first increment of the field test will be implemented, the data we will be collecting and what we are planning to do in future increments as well.”

The first increment of the field test will evaluate the raising or removing of the G-3273 constraint of 6.8 feet while holding the L-29 Canal

stage at 7.5 feet to enable increased water deliveries to Northeast Shark River Slough in Everglades National Park.

This is the first step in the incremental approach to develop the final operating plan for the Modified Water Deliveries to Everglades National Park and C-111 South Dade projects.

The meeting will also be available via teleconference and Web meeting, and can be accessed at:

Call-in number:
USA Toll-Free: (877) 848-7030
Access Code: 3753824
Security Code: 1234
Web Meeting Address:
https://www.webmeeting.att.com
Meeting Number: (877) 848-7030
Access Code: 3753824
Security Code: 1234

* The first time you use the Web Meeting Service, you will need to download the client software.

Web Meeting HELP & Software Downloads can be found at: https://www.webmeeting.att.com *

Additional information on the first increment of the G-3273 and S-356 Pump Station Field Test available on the project fact sheet (http://1.usa.gov/1SHnlRq)

and on the project Web page: http://bit.ly/MWD_FieldTest

Free Children’s Nature Tour & Video Shoot ‏

Children’s Nature Tour & Video Shoot

When?! Wednesday, July 8th from 10:00 am to 12:00 pm

Where?! Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge

The Marshall Foundation is creating an educational video library which includes examples of the field trips we provide free to Palm Beach County schools.

Therefore we need families to come out for a free morning field trip and video shoot.

All adults are welcome but we will only be videotaping the kids’ tour. We need 20 children aged 6-15 to simply enjoy a fun walk

in nature while learning about the Everglades, its plants animals, birds and importance to South Florida.

If this sounds exciting to you sign up at Meetup!

Click Here to RSVP!

Of Interest to All

No Fishing one foe Biscayne National Park

South Florida Wildlands Association recently received word from the National Park Service that one of our longstanding campaigns – the future of Biscayne National Park – had been resolved 

While awaiting the decision, we considered the importance of the most visited marine park in our nation and its outstanding natural resources, including dozens of federally listed species and the only coral reef in the continental U.S. located inside a National Park.  We also reflected on ­­­the multi-year campaign South Florida Wildlands and our allies waged to protect this unique park through the adoption of a new General Management Plan – a plan we hoped would restore dwindling fish populations; protect and restore seagrass beds and coral reefs damaged by boat propellers, fishing debris, anchors, and groundings; prevent disturbances to nesting birds along the park’s fragile shorelines – known to abandon nests in the presence of loud motors; and reduce or eliminate powerboat collisions – often fatal – with endangered manatees, sea turtles and other marine wildlife.

We’re happy to say that this time the National Park Service got it exactly right.  Biscayne National Park has announced it will be implementing a 10,502 acre marine reserve (a “no fishing zone”) over the heart of the park’s coral reef in addition to no combustion motor, no wake, and slow speed zones surrounding many of the park’s sensitive shorelines.   Not only will the elimination of recreational and commercial fishing inside the reserve allow more and bigger fish to survive and reproduce (and spill out to the vast majority of the park which remains open to fishing), but it will also greatly reduce anchor damage, groundings, and fishing debris from impacting the park’s very special reef tract.  Regulations on motoring will benefit seagrass beds, manatees and other wildlife as well as nesting birds.  And human visitors who enjoy paddling, diving, glass bottom boat viewing, bird watching, and fishing will have the opportunity to experience a quieter and healthier park ecosystem with a more natural abundance of the fish and wildlife that draw visitors to Biscayne National Park from throughout the world.

The finalizing of a new General Management Plan for a national park is a strenuous effort for all involved.  In almost every case, desires for “access and use” compete with the mission of the National Park Service as expressed in the Organic Act written nearly 100 years ago – “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”  A big thanks to all who stood up for this important conservation mandate.

Matthew Schwartz|Executive Director|South Florida Wildlands Association

Mosaic Co. announces ‘Leading with Purpose’ report, renewed sustainability goals

As businesses worldwide begin taking a closer look at sustainability — in energy, materials, and waste – one major company in Florida is taking the lead in environmental responsibility.

On Tuesday, The Mosaic Company released its 2014 Sustainability Report, titled “Leading with Purpose.” In it, the Polk County-based company, one of the world’s leading producers of agricultural nutrients, outlined both last year’s past progress in sustainability and set new goals for 2020.

The Report addresses several Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) indicators, which govern activities such as freshwater and energy use, and greenhouse emissions. It is Mosaic’s sixth such report since 2009.

GRI, an independent global organization, helps corporations, governments and organizations worldwide understand the impact of business on sustainability issues such as climate change, human rights, corruption and others. The independent organization, founded in the late 1990s, develops a series of reporting guidelines on various issues called G4 Core Sustainability Reporting. Groups provide data to GRI on water, waste, energy and greenhouse gas emissions, which is verified by third-party reviewers.

Through the most recent set of GRI guidelines, Mosaic renewed its commitment to materiality – the use, waste and conservation of physical material.

“No element of our company’s progress shines more brightly than our commitment to sustainability,” said Mosaic CEO Jim Prokopanko, “We are leading with purpose. We’re growing our value to shareholders while achieving measurable and meaningful environmental and social progress,”

In helping Mosaic identify areas of improvement, Prokopanko credits its employees – the company employs about 4,000 Floridians — for “delivering industry-leading sustainability performance.”

Among Mosaic’s strategic 2020 objectives: Reduce freshwater use by 10 percent per ton of product produced; avoiding the use of approximately 30 million gigajoules of energy; and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent per ton of product produced.

“As global demand for food, water, and precious natural resources increases, we are driven to improve how we operate and produce crop nutrients,” said Mosaic COO Joc O’Rourke, slated to become Mosaic’s Chief Executive Officer in August. “These water, energy and emissions targets build on our existing business strategy, and position us to stretch our environmental responsibility efforts even further.”

In 2014, Mosaic officials say they received a 99 out of 100 carbon disclosure score, with a grade of “A” for climate performance. In addition, 7 million gigajoules of electricity produced in Mosaic’s North America operations through cogeneration, which converts waste heat to energy.

As for environmental stewardship, Mosaic’s phosphate business unit planted 2 million trees in its effort to reclaim approximately 6,000 acres of land in Central Florida. Those efforts landed Mosaic its fifth consecutive year on Corporate Responsibility Magazine’s 100 Best Corporate Citizens list, named No. 40 in 2015.

The full Mosaic Company’s Sustainability Report is available at www.mosaicco.com, as well as the GRI G4 Content Index and a How We Lead infographic.

Phil Ammann|June 24, 2015

EPA to Analyze Impacts of Roundup, Atrazine on 1,500 Species

In a historic agreement, the Environmental Protection Agency this week finally agreed to analyze the effects of atrazine and glyphosate — the two most commonly used pesticides in the United States — on 1,500 endangered plants and animals across the country. The agreement is part of a settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity in litigation seeking to protect wildlife from dangerous pesticides.

Up to 80 million pounds of atrazine are used in the United States each year. In addition to causing severe harm to endangered species, the chemical may be linked to increased risks of thyroid cancer and birth defects in people. It’s the second most commonly used pesticide after glyphosate, more commonly known as Monsanto’s Roundup, which has been linked to massive declines in monarch butterflies.

The EPA has, for decades, continued to register and allow the use of pesticides without considering their impacts on endangered species. The Center has filed a series of lawsuits to force the agency to conduct those analyses and better understand how these chemicals affect everything from Florida panthers to California tiger salamanders.

“This settlement is the first step to reining in the widespread use of dangerous pesticides that are harming both wildlife and people,” said the Center’s Brett Hartl.

Read more in our press release and consider giving to our Pollinator Protection Fund.

Pope Francis offers hopeful perspective on global crises

Earth has existed for 4.5 billion years, humans for somewhere around 150,000. But in my brief lifetime — less than 80 years — human populations have exploded exponentially, from two billion to more than seven billion. In that short time, we’ve created consumer societies and decimated the planet’s natural systems, used up resources, filled oceans with plastic and pollution, altered water cycles, and upset the Earth’s carbon cycle, disrupting global climate systems.

Our impacts on this small blue planet have been so rapid, widespread and profound that many scientists call this the Anthropocene Epoch. Much of it has coincided with the discovery and exploitation of fossil fuels, which showed great promise when I was a child. They were abundant and we didn’t understand the consequences of recklessly burning them. Cars were designed to use lots of gas and propel oil industry profits, not to conserve energy. Factories were built to create products and increase distribution efficiencies.

No longer confined to growing food and providing agricultural services, people moved to cities and, freed from the constraints of limited access to resources, grew rapidly in number, dramatically increasing consumption.

Because our technological prowess has grown faster than our knowledge, wisdom and foresight, much of what we’ve created is now crashing down around us — battered by pollution, ecosystem collapse, species extinction, resource scarcity, inequality, climate change and overpopulation.

Pope Francis recently put humanity’s situation in context — and offered hope for the future. Regardless of how you feel about religion or the Catholic Church, or even some ideas in the Pope’s encyclical, there’s no denying it contains a powerful, scientifically and morally valid call for radical change that will reach an audience far beyond the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.

In his June 18 address, the Pope called on the world — not just Catholics — to recognize the need for change in the face of ecological crises such as human-caused global warming and the failure of growth-fuelled market economics to facilitate human survival, happiness and prosperity. “Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years,” he said.

In his wide-ranging address, Pope Francis spoke about pollution, climate change, water, biodiversity, inequality, poverty, economics, consumerism and spirituality. “The pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes, such as those which even now periodically occur in different areas of the world,” he said. “The effects of the present imbalance can only be reduced by our decisive action, here and now.”

He also called out those stalling or preventing action to confront environmental problems, especially global warming: “Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions.”

Connecting the dots between environmental degradation and inequality, he urged people to “integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”

Although parts of the address are bleak, the Pope argued that open conversation and changes in thinking, acting and governing could bring about positive change, even for the economy: “Productive diversification offers the fullest possibilities to human ingenuity to create and innovate, while at the same time protecting the environment and creating more sources of employment.”

And, he noted, “Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start, despite their mental and social conditioning.”

The Pope joins a diverse global chorus of people calling for changes in our destructive lifestyle to confront crises such as climate change and the ever-growing gap between poor and rich.

These expanding and increasingly urgent calls to confront our hubris for the sake of humanity’s future represent a necessary shift in a way of thinking that has propelled us along what is, after all, just a recent and brief destructive course in our history. As Pope Francis said, “We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it.”

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington

 

Calls to Action

  1. Tell your elected leaders to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund – here
  2. Don’t Put Gas Pipelines in National Parks – here

  3. Tell your Representatives to oppose the doomsday amendments to the Interior Appropriations Bill – here

  4. Tell the US Fish and Wildlife Service to deny the Florida Wildlife Commission’s efforts to delist Florida panthers – here

  5. Tell President Obama and his agency chiefs to take a stand against illegal logging – here

  6. Protect Bryce Canyon National Park From a Dirty Coal Strip Mine – here

Birds and Butterflies

Flamingo adjusts to new life with prosthetic limb after a fracture and infection resulted in its leg being amputated
Read more

Rio Grande Levee Lawsuit Expanded to Protect Imperiled Cuckoo

Corps’ plan threatens to destroy habitat to cut costs

Santa Fe, N.M.—WildEarth Guardians today amended its lawsuit targeting a mammoth, river-choking levee project under construction by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in central New Mexico with new claims to protect the yellow-billed cuckoo and its habitat along the Rio Grande.

Earlier this year, the group filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Corps seeking to stop the construction of 43 miles of engineered levees along the Rio Grande (from the San Acacia Diversion Dam to Elephant Butte Reservoir) to prevent destruction of the river ecosystem and the loss of hundreds of acres of key habitat for the Rio Grande silvery minnow and Southwestern willow flycatcher.

“The Rio Grande is an oasis in the desert that is critical to the survival of birds, fish and wildlife as well as the local economy,” said Jen Pelz, Wild Rivers Program Director at WildEarth Guardians. “Pushing through a traditional flood control project in the 21st century without evaluating more environmentally sound ways to provide the same benefits is simply irresponsible.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the cuckoo as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act on October 3, 2014 and proposed critical habitat that includes the section of the Rio Grande from Cochiti Dam to Elephant Butte Reservoir. The Corps, however, never opened discussions with the Service regarding the impacts of the project on the cuckoo and its critical habitat despite the clear mandate of the Endangered Species Act.

The group amended its original lawsuit to compel the Corps to evaluate the impacts of the project on the yellow-billed cuckoo and ensure that the cuckoo is not harmed by the permanent habitat destruction resulting from the project.  

Guardians also informed the Corps that it will seek an order from the court to enjoin any deposition of earthen material into an environmentally critical region called the Tiffany Basin because such activity will permanently alter key flycatcher and cuckoo habitat.

The Corps plans to deposit approximately 1.6 million cubic yards (the equivalent of 800,000 full sized pick up trucks) of earthen material from existing levees into the Tiffany Basin, which is designated critical habitat of the flycatcher and proposed habitat of the cuckoo. The excavated material will cover 300 acres of the Tiffany Basin at a depth of 6.5 feet deep, essentially converting riparian habitat of the birds to upland habitat and destroying its value to the species.

“The Corps’ plan to dump a massive amount of spoil in protected critical habitat of imperiled birds is not necessary to protect the safety and health of the local communities,” said Pelz. “It is this type of a short-cut taken by the Corps to lower the cost of the project at the expense of the river that we believe needs reconsideration. A proper environmental analysis by the Corps, as required by environmental laws, could yield environmentally sound alternatives that do not compromise such an important bosque restoration site.”

This is the latest action in WildEarth Guardians’ campaign to protect and restore the Rio Grande, America’s third longest and one of its most iconic rivers.

Contact: Jen Pelz 303-884-2702

Bittern populations back from the brink of extinction in the UK

After facing near-extinction, the Bittern is back in numbers in our reedbeds

Bittern were extinct in the UK by the end of the 19th century and was absent as a breeding bird between the 1870s and 1911, when the first breeding male was recorded.

The bird returned to peak numbers in the 1950s with around 80 breeding males.

From that time the decline began again, attributable to habitat loss. By 1997 there were only 11 breeding males recorded in England.

Concern over a second UK extinction led to a concerted conservation program which is driving the current recovery.

Scientists count bitterns by listening for the male’s foghorn-like booming song, and this year over 150 males have been recorded in England and Wales.

During the breeding season, the bittern prefers sizeable tracts of wet reedbed – a habitat which, two decades ago, in the UK had become scarce and under managed.

Simon Wotton, an RSPB conservation scientist, comments: “In the late 1990s, the bittern was heading towards a second extinction in the UK, largely because its preferred habitat – wet reedbed – was drying out and required intensive management, restoration and habitat recreation.

“Thanks to efforts to improve the habitat, combined with significant funding from two projects under the European Union Life Program, the bittern was saved, and we’re delighted that its success keeps going from strength to strength.”

Martin Harper, the RSPB’s conservation director, adds: “The bittern is a species which proves that conservation can be successful, especially when you can identify the reason behind its decline and bring in measures and funding to aid its recovery.”

Over the last 25 years there have been several significant habitat-restoration projects, some of which are now RSPB nature reserves, including:

· Ham Wall, in Somerset, which was created from old peat workings from 1995.  The bittern has been booming regularly from 2008 with first nesting in that year.  In 2015, 17 boomers have been recorded at the site.

· Lakenheath, in Suffolk. This wetland site was converted from carrot fields from 1995. Bitterns were first recorded booming here in 2006 and the first confirmed nesting was recorded in 2009.  This year six booming males are being recorded on site.

· Ouse Fen, in Cambridgeshire. This partnership project with Hanson has seen wetland creation former mineral workings, which started around 10 years ago.  In time, it will be the largest reedbed in the UK. The first confirmed booming was in 2012, with 10 recorded in 2015.

According to this year’s figures, the top UK county for bitterns is Somerset, with over 40 booming males.

Following the restoration and extensive creation of large wetlands in the Avalon Marshes, at Ham Wall (RSPB), Shapwick Heath (Natural England) and Westhay Moor (Somerset Wildlife Trust), bitterns became re-established in Somerset in 2008.

East Anglia with over 80 booming male bitterns remains the bittern’s regional stronghold in the UK, particularly in traditional sites on the Suffolk Coast, and in the Norfolk Broads but also increasingly in the Fens, particularly at newly created habitat.

Over half (over 59 per cent) of the booming males are on sites protected under international law, namely the European Union’s Birds and Habitat’s Directives.

These sites, referred to as Special Protection Areas or Special Areas of Conservation, are collectively known as Natura 2000 sites.

Martin Harper adds: “These sites have been vital to the conservation of the bittern and other key species in the UK.

“However, the European Union is consulting on the future of the Birds and Habitats Directives. And we fear this may lead to a weakening of the directives, with potentially disastrous consequences for many threatened species.”

The RSPB is working in partnership with a range of organisations across Europe and across the UK which are encouraging people to take part in a European Commission-led consultation on the Birds and Habitats Directives.

Click here for more information.

 Florida Panthers

FWC discusses strategic priorities for panther conservation

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) at its meeting June 23 in Sarasota discussed a draft position paper outlining strategic priorities for panther conservation.

The Commissioners agreed that the Florida panther is a conservation success story but acknowledged that with this success comes new challenges.

The draft paper presented at the meeting calls for focusing strong conservation efforts on the panther’s core range in south Florida, effective ways to address human-panther conflicts, and building support among private landowners whose properties provide essential panther habitat.

“This position paper does not call for a change to the panther’s protected status. It’s intended to help us consider the next steps in this tremendous success,” said Commissioner Liesa Priddy.

After hearing substantial public testimony, FWC Commissioners agreed to provide additional input to staff to finalize the draft position paper for further consideration.

The FWC also continues to place emphasis on assisting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in updating the federal panther recovery plan to better reflect current knowledge of panthers and set more realistic and meaningful conservation objectives and criteria. The draft panther position paper is available by going to www.MyFWC.com/Commission and clicking on “Commission Meetings” then “Agenda” for this meeting.

  Invasive species

Greatest Threat to the Everglades? Maybe Not Pythons

A deceptively deadly force is slithering its way through the Florida Everglades. Sinuous and stealthy, this invasive species is one of the greatest threats to the ecosystem. And it’s not a python.

Old World climbing fern, Lygodium microphyllum, is arguably the worst of many invasive species in the Everglades.

“It grows quickly, spreads easily, and is changing the entire ecosystem,” says Kristina Serbesoff-King, the associate director of conservation for the Conservancy’s Florida chapter.

Pythons may get all the press, but this little fern has some serious destructive potential.

What is So Bad About a Fern?

Old World Climbing Fern 

Old World Climbing Fern

Native to Africa, Australia, and southeast Asia, Old World climbing fern (OWCF) was introduced to Florida as an ornamental garden plant and was first found in the wild in the 1960s.

This situation is typical of non-native species — 90 percent of the problem of invasive plants in Florida is that they were brought in on purpose, says Serbesoff-King, typically as ornamental or forage plants. Pythons were intentionally brought to the state, too, and today’s wild population is descended from both escaped and purposefully released pets.

But OWCF isn’t you’re average garden plant — it’s a highly invasive, insidious fern that’s adaptable, fast-growing, difficult to control, excellent at colonizing remote areas, and hard to kill. As far as invasives go, it’s a quadruple-whammy.

OWCF’s destructive power lies in sheer mass — it slinks its way up, over, and around native plants. Eventually the fern completely covers their leaves, blocking sunlight and literally smothering them. Native plant and animal species decline, and the fern takes over.

Plant vs. Python

South Florida has no shortage of invasive species — according to estimates from the South Florida Water Management District, more than 130 of the animals in the greater Everglades ecosystem are non-natives, and about 26 percent of the mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish in all of South Florida are non-native.

Pythons are certainly among the worst — they’re devouring mammals, birds, and bird eggs at destructive rates, having a direct impact on Everglades wildlife. So how can a plant be as problematic as a python?

The Everglades ecosystem is the emblematic river of grass, dotted with hardwood tree islands, or hammocks. Hammocks are a critical habitat for Everglades animals, providing dry ground, refuge, and a place to find food and breed.

But hammocks are no match for OWCF, which buries the islands under so much plant matter that they literally collapse. “They look like a massive green crater,” says Serbesoff-King, “because the outside rim of trees is still standing, but [the] middle has collapsed in on itself.”

OWCF also makes tree islands vulnerable to fire, says LeRoy Rodgers, a lead scientist with the South Florida Water Management District. The fern’s tendrils act like a bridge, transporting fire from the marsh grasses onto the islands.

“The fern is literally changing the landscape and the processes that make this habitat unique,” he says.

Restoration in Peril

If changing the very ecosystem wasn’t bad enough, OWCF may also jeopardize Everglades restoration efforts.

Rodgers explains that OWCF is not widespread across the Everglades ecosystem — yet. Most of the infestation is concentrated in Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, where good management spared many of the tree islands from destruction.

Restoration efforts are expected to increase the number of tree islands, which just so happen to be the fern’s favorite habitat. “The better we make the habitat, the more likely it is to be invaded by the fern,” says Rodgers.

He worries that OWCF could thwart billion-dollar restoration efforts to fix the historic flow of water across the state to the Everglades. “Even if we fix the water,” he says “it’s not going to be the Everglades anymore if we don’t remove plants like melaleuca and climbing fern.”

Fighting Back

For melaleuca — the poster-child of invasive species in south Florida — machetes and poison are the tools of the trade. But manual removal can actually make an OWCF infestation worse, says Serbesoff-King. The slightest yank to a vine sends millions of minuscule spores billowing into the air — and onto the clothes, vehicles, and tools of the people trying to remove it.

“Some people try to pull up the fern, load it into truck beds, and drive it off their property,” she says. “The next year, the entire roadway they drove past is covered in the fern.”

Herbicides are the best weapon, but mass application isn’t an option because OWCF fern grows on plants, and a heavy hand will end up killing native plants, too. And it takes more than one treatment to finish the job.

“When you treat an invasive plant the first year, all you do is make it angry,” says Serbesoff-King. “The plant’s reaction is to release as many seeds or spores as possible because it knows it’s dying.”

But land managers have one final weapon. Like other invasive species, OWCF has few or no predators, parasites, or pathogens, so there’s little to stop it from spreading — unless you import a fern nemesis from its native range.

This tactic, known as biological control, has proved successful in controlling other species, including melaleuca. Between 2004 and 2009, the U.S. Department of Agriculture introduced two species of lygodium moth and one species of lygodium gall mite, all of which harm the fern by either feeding on its leaves or causing leaf deformities. So far, only one of the moth species is prospering in the wild.

Front Line of the Fern Fight

An invisible line runs across the Florida peninsula, from northern Tampa, through Ocala National Forest, and to Daytona Beach. It’s the northward range of OWCF, and the conservancy and other partners are doing everything they can to hold the front line.

Cheryl Millett, a biologist with the Florida chapter, helps run a monitoring and treatment network called the Central Florida Lygodium Strategy. Using a combination of aerial surveys and boots-on-the-ground monitoring, Millet and her partners in the local, state, and federal government monitor a network of 130 sites along the invisible boundary.

Anytime the fern pops, up they coordinate rapid herbicide treatments to prevent further spread. The conservancy also treats infestations on private lands, where the fern might otherwise go unnoticed.

“We are holding the line,” says Millett, “while we wait for the biological controls to help us out.”

Aside from manning the boundaries, the conservancy is also looking ahead. Using existing invasive plants as an example, Doria Gordon, the Florida chapter’s director of conservation, and her colleagues at the University of Florida tested a Weed Risk Assessment for the state to identify whether it would accurately predict if a non-native plant species will turn into an all-out menace.

“With Old World climbing fern, we realized that we could have predicted its spread,” says Gordon. “We’re learning from this lesson and working preventatively to identify the next big invader.”

And in Florida, the “next big invader” is never far away.

Justine E. Hausheer|The Nature Conservancy|June 21, 2015

USFWS Injurious Wildlife Listing ‏

On March 6, 2015 the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) declared four reptiles as “injurious” (reticulated python, DeShauensee’s anaconda, green anaconda, and Beni anaconda) under the Lacey Act. Please see the attached memo below regarding these changes. If you have any questions please feel free to give the Captive Wildlife Office a call at (850)488-6253 or write to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Division of Law Enforcement, Captive Wildlife Office, 620 South Meridian Street, Tallahassee, Florida 32399-1600.

New Guinea Flatworm, One Of The World’s ‘Worst’ Invasive Species, Found In Florida

A worm called one of the world’s “worst” invasive species by conservationists has been found in the United States for the first time, an international team of researchers announced on Tuesday.

The Platydemus manokwari, also called the New Guinea flatworm, poses a major threat to the planet’s snail biodiversity, according to an article published in the scientific journal PeerJ. “It is considered a danger to endemic snails wherever it has been introduced,” the report states.

The flatworm is thought to originate in New Guinea, but researchers say it has spread to Florida, New Caledonia, Puerto Rico, Singapore, the Solomon Islands, and the Wallis and Futuna Islands. Jean-Lou Justine, who led the research team, said that scientists had previously found the animal in other Pacific islands and in France.

“Once the New Guinea flatworm arrives in a new territory, and providing the conditions are right, it reproduces quickly,” Justine said in an email to The Huffington Post. “It quickly adapts itself to predate on local snails and other invertebrates.”

The International Union for Conservation of Nature included the worm on its most recent list of the 100 worst invasive alien species. The USDA classifies invasive species as plants, animals or pathogens that are non-native to an ecosystem, “whose introduction causes or is likely to cause harm.”

Human activity is the main reason for the spread of invasive species. Justine said the New Guinea flatworm typically moves no more than a few hundred yards a year on its own, but it has spread rapidly thanks to international trade in living plants.

The species has already been found in several gardens in Miami, Justine said, and it is likely to disseminate throughout Florida and parts of the South through soil, potted plants and garden waste.

The U.S. has strict rules on the import of agricultural and plant products to help curb the spread of invasive species. But once they’re on the U.S. mainland, regulations aren’t as stringent. “There are no customs or quarantine restrictions between Florida and the other U.S. states,” Justine said. “From Florida, the flatworm can be inadvertently spread to all states in the southern part of the U.S. From [there], it can be transported to Mexico and to the rest of the Americas.”

The creature caused a minor uproar in the French culinary world after some scientists said it had the potential to decimate populations of snails traditionally used in escargot, The Guardian reported last year.

“All snails in Europe could be wiped out,” Justine told the outlet at the time. “It may seem ironic, but it’s worth pointing out the effect that this will have on French cooking.”

Nick Visser|The Huffington Post|06/23/2015

4 Times Humans Used an Invasive Species to Defeat Another Invasive Species

The forests of Denver, Colo., are currently under attack by an invasive insect species from Asia (see #4). So what is the scientists’ plan to stop this assault on trees? They’re going with the controversial move of introducing a second invasive species to destroy the first one.

If it sounds like that children’s song about the old lady who swallowed the spider to catch the fly, that’s because it basically is. Unleashing a second non-native species might help to eradicate the first species, but it can also unleash a series of other consequences. Previous experiments in this invasive species vs. invasive species tactic have worked out with various degrees of success, as these four examples will show:

1. Ash Whiteflies vs. Wasps

In the late 1980s, ash whiteflies started taking over southern California. The pests are known to devastate fruit crops, and once their population grew, they took a real toll on the region’s citrus production.

Initially, scientists thought the whiteflies had no natural predators, until researchers discovered that certain wasps loved to feast on the whiteflies larvae. Accordingly, entomologists released hundreds of wasps throughout the area to prevent so many whiteflies from hatching. Research published in the California Agriculture journal later deemed the experiment a “success” since it helped to decrease the populations of four (out of eight) species of whiteflies that were dominating in southern California.

2. Rabbits vs. Ferrets and Weasels

In the 1800s, New Zealand decided to intentionally import rabbits to its country from England. The idea was to have a new animal for people to eat and hunt, but the rabbits soon bred like… well, rabbits, and the population was out of control.

With too many bunnies destroying their crops, farmers advocated shipping in predators of the rabbits to keep the population in check. In the UK, ferrets and weasels naturally preyed on rabbits, so they brought in many of them. Unfortunately, this new invasive species didn’t do a good job of taking out the first invasive species. Instead, the ferrets and weasels found easier meals in the native New Zealand birds, many of which are flightless.

Now, New Zealand has a bunch of non-native species wiping out the native species. The country has set up a lot of traps to catch these animals in an effort to spare the actual New Zealand creatures. If they’re smart, they’ll stick to the traps and not try introducing any new animals. I bet tigers would eat weasels!

3. Cane Toads vs. Lungworms

Like New Zealand, Australia – a once isolated continent – is especially prone to invasive species. That’s precisely what happened when cane toads made their way to Australia during the first half of the twentieth century. The toads preyed on vulnerable native species and took over their habitats.

Biologists have tried all sorts of measures to reduce the cane toad population, including sterilization, genetic modification and relocating them. Still, one of the zanier approaches was to introduce lungworms to the habitats. These invasive parasites would enter cane toads through their eyeballs and ravage their insides.

According to a study by the University of Sydney, the results were mixed. The lungworms did put a dent in the cane toad population, but they also had health consequences for the native frog species residing in the same area (the very creatures the plot to get rid of cane toads was designed to help). While some frogs could withstand the worms with minimal illness, magnificent tree frogs died from this exposure. It goes to show that you can’t always limit what types of lives a new invasive species attack.

4. Emerald Ash Borers vs. Wasps

… Which leads us to the upcoming experiment in Denver. Certainly something needs to be done about emerald ash borers, since they are destroying entire forests in a matter of years. These Asian insects, which were first accidentally introduced to America back in 2002, place heir larvae underneath tree bark and, as the Smithsonian reports, “kill the tree from the inside out.”

In Asia, there are natural predators and stronger trees that keep these beetles in check. Since those are not the conditions here, Colorado scientists hope that the oobius agrili wasp could do the trick. The wasps lay their eggs right by the beetle eggs. If all goes according to plan, the wasp larvae will eat the beetle larvae before they can wreak havoc on the tree.

Kevin Mathews|June 24, 2015

‘Giant’ Goldfish and the Problem of Invasive Aquatic Species

Canadian officials are warning people not to release their pet goldfish into local lakes because those fish are surviving and are reproducing in increasing numbers in the wild, with the potential to cause considerable environmental damage.

CBC news reports that large goldfish are regularly being spotted in lakes across Alberta, with others getting into storm water ponds:

Goldfish, some the size of dinner plates, are being found from Lethbridge to Fort McMurray, the province says.

“It’s quite a surprise how large we’re finding them and the sheer number,” said Kate Wilson, aquatic invasive species coordinator at Alberta Environment and Parks.

“That’s really scary because it means they’re reproducing in the wild, they are getting quite large and they are surviving the winters that far north,” said Wilson.

This has prompted officials to begin the “Don’t Let it Loose” campaign which aims to warn people of the environmental and economic dangers of letting non-native pet species loose into local lakes. The problem with goldfish in particular is that, like other species of carp, they are limited by the size of tank they are kept in. Once in open water however, they will grow and get surprisingly large, which means they will eat more and be that much harder for native species to live with. There’s another issue too. As the Washington Post reports, goldfish feces may (the research is ongoing) encourage algae which in turn can further disrupt the underwater environment.

The report also cites a number of other species that Alberta’s officials are battling against, not all of them strictly pets but still a problem. These include Dreissenid mussels which can attach themselves to the bottom of boats, or may be brought back by people going out into open water. These mussels are aggressive and out-compete many native species, to the point that they can actually be quite devastating to local ecosystems. (Click through to page 16 of the report for “before” and “after” pictures of what invasive species can do.)

As Care2 blogger Susan Bird reported a few weeks ago, this isn’t a problem confined to Canada either. Wildlife officials in Colorado were recently dealing with a non-native population of some 3,000 to 4,000 goldfish in Teller Lake, likely as a result of pet owners releasing their goldfish. You can read more about that story here.

As touched on above, it’s not just goldfish that are a problem, either. Canadian officials are saying that they are seeing fish species that are even more disruptive, such as the Prussian carp which are proving hard to manage. In fact, a large percentage of invasive water species not just in Canada but across the U.S. too are as the result of pets being released or people intentionally releasing species in the hope of fishing them once those fish have established a strong presence in a particular lake. The latter practice is illegal and incredibly damaging because it often involves introducing species that are highly aggressive and which may prey on other fish that previously had few predators and therefore are not adapted to deal with this new threat.

Another issue with dumping fish is that this often involves dumping the water that the pet fish were in. That can come with a pretty hefty dose of things like chemicals and parasites to which wild fish are not accustomed, and while goldfish and other so-called ornamental fish may be relatively robust and can live in poorer water conditions, other species will not deal with that influx of foreign parasites and substances as easily, further disadvantaging local species.

It is true that the goldfish population is likely to, of itself, be largely benign, but the very fact that they are surviving Canada’s winters has shocked experts. As global temperatures rise, we may see other released pet species that would have otherwise died off begin to flourish, and while that may be good for them in the short term, in the long term the imbalance this could cause may prove costly not just for individual native species, but whole swathes of fish because, as has become elsewhere, once the food chain is interrupted, it has knock-on effects that can impact not just fish but the animals that feed on them like birds and aquatic mammals.

So if you know someone who’s considering dumping a pet goldfish, remind them firstly that the goldfish is a living creature that they promised to take care of, and secondly that by dumping it they might be doing a whole lot of harm not just to the fish, but to other fish and the habitats other animals live in, too.

Steve Williams|June 28, 2015

Endangered Species

Bees feeding on fungicide-dosed flowers develop health issues, studies say

While insecticides are a known deadly threat, two studies find that bees exposed to fungicides are smaller, sickly and declining in ‘chemical cocktail’ farmlands

While the relationship between insecticides and bees has made headlines – and controversy – for years, two recent studies have shown that another class of agricultural chemicals, little-appreciated but used in ever-increasing amounts, may also pose a threat to pollinators.

The new studies have raised concerns about fungicides: in one, foraging on fungicide-dosed flowers harmed bumblebees. Colonies were smaller, their workers tinier, their queens seemed sickly, it found. In the other, exposures were linked to declines in wild bees living in agriculture-intensive areas. They are only two studies, and far from conclusive, but the findings fit with a growing body of research on fungicides once thought innocuous.

“It’s a group of pesticides that hasn’t been looked at too closely,” said entomologist Hannah Gaines-Day of the University of Wisconsin, whose bumblebee study appeared in the June issue of Insects. “Insecticides are meant to kill insects, so people have been really interested in how insecticides kill beneficial insects. But fungicides are not meant to kill insects, so they’ve been passed over.”

Gaines-Day and her colleagues conducted their study after being asked by local farmers whether it was safe to spray fungicides on crops while they bloomed, and while bees forage on the flowers. For insecticides, usually neonicotinoids, that’s obviously bad news: bees would feed on insect poison. But blossom-spraying is still customary with fungicides, said Gaines-Day, and early safety studies suggested the chemicals were safe. Yet those studies were limited.

They involved only honeybees, ignoring the many species of wild bees that also provide pollination, both to crops and to landscapes at large. They also focused on obvious, flagrant harm, such as bees dropping dead within a day or two, and generally ignored subtle but important effects evident over longer periods of time: whether fungicides affected bee behavior or immune systems, for example, and thus long-term health and reproduction.

Those methods came under criticism even as fungicides became steadily more popular around the world, with sales rising from $8bn in 2005 to a predicted $21bn in 2017. Fungicide pollution has been detected across the US; exposures are routine in bees, and some researchers have started to wonder whether they might contribute to declines in both honeybees and in wild, native bees.

Gaines-Day cautioned that her team’s study, which involved five bumblebee colonies kept in field enclosures where flowers were sprayed with field-realistic doses of chlorothalonil, a common fungicide, was small. The resulting diminishing in bumblebee colony size and health can’t be translated immediately to real-world colonies.

The findings also raise obvious methodological questions. Bees within the tents couldn’t feed anywhere else, but free-ranging bees can feed on non-treated flowers. That’s an important caveat, noted Gaines-Day. It also fits with patterns observed in another new study, published in the June Proceedings of the Royal Society B by researchers led by Mia Park, a pollinator ecologist at the University of North Dakota.

Park’s team found bees in New York orchards to be healthier on farms located within nature-rich areas rather than agriculture-intensive habitats. In the latter there were fewer bees, and fewer different species. Fungicides made “a significant contribution” to pesticide effects, wrote Park and colleagues, suggesting “deleterious properties of a class of pesticides that was, until recently, considered benign to bees”.

Wild bees were affected much more than honeybees and avoiding sprays during blooms didn’t seem to help. “Our findings suggest that heavy use of conventional pesticides, even some traditionally viewed as benign, can render our crops net sinks for bee populations,” wrote the researchers. In layman’s terms, crops can kill more bees than they sustain.

David Goulson, a bee biologist at the University of Sussex, said the new studies “suggest that the fungicides may be having more profound effects on bees than would have been expected from the standard lab toxicity studies”. The Park study in particular, said Goulson, “demonstrates very clearly how the cocktail of chemicals used in modern farming makes farmland an inhospitable place for bees”.

Neither of the research groups investigated precisely how fungicides could harm bees, but one possible mechanism is described in a 2013 study by US department of agriculture researchers, who found that fungicides rendered honeybees more vulnerable to parasites. Their immune systems seemed to be weakened.

Also concerning is fungicide interaction with other chemicals. Fungicides like those used in Gaines-Day’s experiment can short-circuit bees’ natural ability to detoxify some pesticides. “A quick look at a fungicide bottle might show minimal risks,” said Aimee Code, pesticide program coordinator at Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, “but if mixed with some insecticides, the synergistic effects can be staggering.”

Gaines-Day and colleagues think fungicides might compromise bee microbiomes: the communities of beneficial microbes, including fungi, that are so important to the health of all animals. “Fungal diseases are a huge problem and can destroy a farmer’s crop,” said Gaines-Day, “but we don’t think, ‘What about the good microbes that can be helping a beneficial insect?’”

Brandon Keim|New York|18 June 2015

NY Blood Center “Abandoning” Research Chimps 

It’s a nonprofit organization that New Yorkers normally associate with helping people, but the outcry is growing against the New York Blood Center for allegedly abandoning 66 of its former research chimpanzees.

Anthropologist Brian Hare, an assistant professor at Duke University, says the NYBC made plenty of money from experiments conducted on the chimps in Liberia. He has started a petition drive on change.org that now has more than 125,000 people calling on the Blood Center to reinstate promised funding for lifetime care for the chimps. “They’ve made over $400 million in profits off of the patents that the chimpanzees were involved in,” Hare points out. “And they just left them to die, literally to starve or dehydrate.”

The New York Blood Center reportedly stopped funding the chimps’ care in March.

The NYBC did not respond to our request for comment. Hare says the chimps’ care costs a little over $300,000 a year, while the Blood Center’s income equals about a quarter of the gross national product of Liberia. Kathleen Conlee, vice president of animal research issues with The Humane Society of the United States, says the 66 former research chimpanzees are scattered on six different, Liberian islands. “They have to have food taken out to them by boat,” she says. “Thankfully, a number of organizations have stepped up and people have been donating to the cause and we’ve gotten them to the point where they are getting fresh water, and we’re making other improvements to their care.” Hare says he has never seen a major organization simply leave its former research subjects to die. “I think, they’re kidding themselves if they think this is a problem that is going to go away,” he says. “

Chimpanzees live for decades, and we’ll have plenty of opportunities to remind everyone again and again, what they’ve done here, if they fail to do the right thing and be part of a positive solution.” The cause is active on social media with both the petition drive and a Go-Fund-Me campaign to provide temporary support for the chimps.

Mike Clifford|Public News Service – NY|June 15, 2015 

Japan to resume whale hunt in Antarctic this year

Tokyo intends to resume whale hunting in the waters of the Southern Ocean this year, despite disapproval recently voiced by the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

Japan’s chief whaling negotiator Joji Morishita said that the international debate over whether the country should be killing whales has moved from science into politics, AFP reported on Monday.

It comes despite a Friday report by the scientific committee of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) that stated that the country failed to provide a proper explanation for the reason behind the scheduled killing of almost 4,000 minke whales over the next 12 years in the Antarctic.

As the global whaling moratorium allows killing for research, Japan has been hunting the mammals under that guise. Yet their meat is processed into food, and the country backs the plan for the so-called sustainable whaling.

“There is no definite conclusion in the report itself… which is not so surprising in the IWC, because as we know very well the IWC is a divided organization. Because of this division, even the scientific committee is always having difficulty in coming up with some kind of a conclusion,” Morishita said, according to AFP.

“Still … we will try to provide as much scientific research as possible and try to get approval from the scientific committee for their go-ahead. But this could be a never-ending story. Well this has been a never-ending story,” he added.

Morishita also stated that the official position to hunt in the Antarctic later this year hasn’t changed, however. “Without finishing those additional analyses, I don’t think it is appropriate to say whether we will start our research activity from this winter or not.”

Tokyo has accused environmentalists of being emotional on the matter, and it actually doesn’t need any permission from the IWC for whaling on scientific grounds.

Morishita said that the logic behind killing one animal instead of another was “strange”.

“If you keep on like this, I worry that a country which has international political power could impose its standards and ethics on others,” he said, calling it “environmental imperialism”.

“For example, if India becomes the world’s number one power and starts to say ‘Don’t eat beef’, what shall we do?”  

Last year, the International Court of Justice, the highest court of the United Nations, called the annual Southern Ocean expedition a “charade” – a commercial hunt under a scientific mask destined to side step the international moratorium.

Back in 1986, the IWC first banned commercial whaling, but Japan continued the practice, backed by large amounts of tax money which funded the operations.

However, in recent year the country’s actual catch has decreased due to a decline in domestic demand for whale meat, as well as because of actions by the protest group Sea Shepherd.

FWC approves comprehensive bear management rules

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) continued its long-standing, proactive approach to bear management at its meeting in Sarasota on June 24. FWC Commissioners approved several bear-related rules that address a wide variety of tools to manage bears.

In summary, Commissioners approved changes to strengthen the wildlife feeding rule. Commissioners also approved changes to the bear conservation rule, which include a permit program to authorize landowners to remove a bear causing property damage under certain circumstances. These changes also allow the public and trained security personnel to scare bears with less-than-lethal methods in appropriate situations without a permit. As a small part of FWC’s management of bears, Commissioners also approved a very limited bear hunting season in limited locations.

The Commissioners asked staff to continue focusing on educating people about the repercussions of feeding bears and how to co-exist with bears to minimize conflicts.

“Education is key. We know that bear feeding is an issue, so we need to continue to be proactive and responsive with our efforts,” said FWC Chairman Richard Corbett. “Properly securing garbage and other attractants is the single most important action for reducing conflict situations with bears.”

The Commissioners signed a Waste Management Resolution and approved a policy paper, explaining the need for comprehensive waste management to address human-bear conflicts and improve public safety.

“The FWC will continue to perform its role to educate the public, provide technical assistance, remove conflict bears, manage bear populations and enforce feeding prohibitions,” said Dr. Thomas Eason, director of the Division of Habitat and Species Conservation. “The problem of unsecured waste needs to be addressed by bringing together local officials, along with waste service companies, to work together with FWC to resolve this problem in a cost-effective manner.”

The Commission also passed final rules to establish a bear hunting season in late October within four of the state’s seven Bear Management Units (BMUs). The units that will have a hunting season contain the largest bear populations and include all three national forests as well as southern Florida.

The purpose of reinstating a hunting season is to help control the growth of expanding bear populations, as one part of FWC’s overall approach to managing bears. Bear conservation in recent decades has been a success story, and now FWC’s approach must include a means for managing bear population size. As other states have shown, hunting is the most effective and responsible method for managing the growth of bear populations.

This year, Florida’s bear hunting season will open Oct. 24 and will last at least through Oct. 25, but could run as long as seven days ending on Oct. 30, depending on if and when a BMU’s bear harvest objective is met.

Bear hunting permits will cost $100 for residents and $300 for nonresidents. Hunters will be limited to buying only one permit, which will allow the harvest of one bear per permit.

The same methods of take and shooting hours for deer will also apply to bears, but hunting bears with dogs or over bait is not allowed. On private property, game feeding stations may continue to be used as long as the feed is what is typically used for deer or hogs. To harvest a bear on private land, both the hunter and bear must be more than 100 yards away from any game feeding station.

Hunters will be required to take harvested bears to an FWC check station within 12 hours. Information will be collected at the check stations from each bear that will be used to inform the FWC about the local bear population .The new rule also makes it illegal to sell any parts of a bear or its hide.

MyFWC.com/Bear provides 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).

Plan to conserve dozens of imperiled species updated

Florida’s Imperiled Species Management Plan (ISMP), a combination of species-specific actions and broader conservation strategies, is being updated to reflect both new scientific knowledge and significant input from the public.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) at its meeting June 24 in Sarasota heard about changes to the draft ISMP, which is the FWC’s first comprehensive approach to managing multiple listed species. The newly drafted ISMP can be viewed at MyFWC.com by clicking on “Wildlife and Habitats,” then “Imperiled Species” and looking for “Read, Review, and Comment” in the right-hand column.

“This work goes back more than a decade and focuses on safeguarding Florida’s state listed species,” said FWC Vice Chairman Brian Yablonski.

Earlier this year, the FWC received over 500 comments on the original draft of the Imperiled Species Management Plan.

“That level of interest and expertise from our partners, stakeholders and the public has been invaluable,” said Laura Barrett, the FWC’s Imperiled Species Management Plan coordinator. “The latest draft of the ISMP reflects their thoughtful input, as well as changing conditions for wildlife out in the natural world.”

While a full presentation of the ISMP will occur at a later Commission meeting, FWC staff today presented the following key changes to the plan:

  • Three species federally listed since the ISMP was first developed were removed from the plan: Atlantic sturgeon, Florida bonneted bat and pillar coral. 
  • New information led to re-evaluation of the status of two species: the Eastern chipmunk and alligator snapping turtle. Eastern chipmunk was preliminarily recommended for removal from the list, pending peer review. Staff also recommended maintaining Species of Special Concern status for the alligator snapping turtle until a Biological Review Group can assess new studies  indicating there may be three species of alligator snapping turtle in Florida and determine if they warrant listing.
  • Species guidelines are being prepared for all 57 species in the ISMP and will include conservation measures and permitting standards when applicable.

[How can they, in one breath, say they are championing scientific knowledge and public input, while in another they approve bear hunting and in still another, call for eliminating regulation of the Florida Panther, our State Animal? Whose input are they really considering?]

The World’s Smallest and Rarest Porpoise Could Disappear in a Few Year

Conservationists have been concerned with the future of the the world’s smallest and rarest porpoise for decades, but an alarming new report has raised concerns that they’re doing even worse than we thought.

The tiny porpoise at the center of concern is known as the vaquita, who can be found only in a small area of the Gulf of California, off the coast of Mexico.

Despite past efforts to protect them, including the creation of a refuge in 2005, their population was recently believed to have dwindled to fewer than 100 individuals just a year ago.

Unfortunately, according to a recent report released by the International Whaling Commission (IWC), that brought to light new information from the Mexico-based International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA) that was collected through its acoustic monitoring program, which records the number of vocalizations heard in the Gulf.

Between 2011 and 2013 scientists believed their numbers were dropping at an average rate of 18.5 percent each year, but now it’s up to 30 percent. Between 2013 and 2014 alone they declined by a staggering 42 percent.

Now scientists believe there are only 50 or fewer individuals left in existence, and at the rate they’re declining, they’ll be gone forever in as little as three years.

“It’s horrifying to witness, in real time, the extinction of an animal right in front of our eyes,” said Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Without drastic help, vaquitas could vanish completely in just a few years. We need the world to wake up and help save these incredible porpoises.”

One of their main threats is being killed as bycatch after getting entangled in gillnets used to catch shrimp and other fish, but they’re also suffering as a result of illegal fishing targeting endangered totoaba for its swim bladder, which is used in Chinese medicine and is also considered a delicacy.

A recent undercover investigation conducted by Greenpeace found the black market that brings dried bladders from Mexico, through the U.S. to China is alive and well, bringing in prices as high as $645,000.

In response to pressure to act, Mexico announced a two-year ban on gillnet fishing in the northern Gulf in April, in addition to increasing monitoring and enforcement of the ban in the area and compensating fishermen for their lost catches.

While the effort was applauded as a step in the right direction, CIRVA and conservation organizations including the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Center for Biological Diversity believe the only thing that will save the vaquita from extinction now is to make the temporary ban on gillnets permanent throughout the vaquita’s entire range.

Now, in addition to calling for a permanent ban, conservation organizations are encouraging a number of actions that could potentially help them recover from asking the Obama administration to impose trade sanctions on Mexico in an effort to stop illegal fishing and urging authorities to increase customs enforcement to stop the trade in totoaba.

They’re also petitioning the World Heritage Committee to designate more than 6,900 square miles of ocean and islands in northern Mexico as “in danger,” which they hope will raise both awareness about the plights of the vaquita and the totoaba, in addition to raising funds for conservation efforts.

Alicia Graef|June 24, 2015

The Tallest Mammal In the World Is Silently Going Extinct. Does Anyone Care?

When you think of endangered animals in Africa, the classic elephants and rhinos probably come to your mind first. Yet there is another iconic African animal which has been flying under the radar for years when it comes to population decline, and which needs our help.

In 1999, there were around 140,000 giraffes in Africa. Today, the population has plummeted to an estimated 80,000 giraffes left in Africa. That’s a 40% drop in just the last 15 years – but no one is talking about it.

The Silent Extinction

As the human population grows, the population of the world’s tallest mammal declines almost by default. A stronger human presence means more settlements, roads, and destruction of the giraffe’s natural habitat and main source of food, the acacia tree. A large portion of giraffe habitat is now being used for agricultural purposes, depriving these gentle giants of even their homes.

Poaching also remains a huge problem for giraffes in Africa, as well as other endangered species, and despite efforts to contain it.  Because giraffes are so easily killed, they are a popular target for poachers looking for a quick reward.  Many are killed for this reason, as well as for the meat and hides, which are lucrative but require little effort needed to obtain them. The tail of a giraffe, which is used to make bracelets, fly whisks, and thread, is a prized commodity for many African cultures.  People in Tanzania actually believe that consuming giraffe brains and bone marrow acts as a cure for HIV, adding to the giraffe’s value for poachers, who can get up to $140 per piece.

There is widespread misconception that giraffes are roaming everywhere in Africa, but that is simply not true. Giraffes are subject to the same poaching and habitat fragmentation that all African wildlife is exposed to, yet they get so little attention in the media. We all know the plight of the elephant and rhino; isn’t it time to focus on the giraffe before it’s too late?

Alli B|6/27/15

14 More Species Moved to the “Critically Endangered” List

In the most recent update of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List, 14 species have been moved from the “endangered” category to the “critically endangered (possibly extinct)” category. The update illustrates the worldwide crisis facing many species around the globe in the face of habitat loss and degradation.

The IUCN’s Red List compiles data and evidence from researchers from all around the world. The list now includes information about 77,340 different species, of which 22,784 are threatened with extinction.

The list of species considered critically endangered now includes ten species of orchids found only in Madagascar, which are threatened by forest loss and illegal collection. Another species is a Magnolia tree, Magnolia emarginata, found only in Haiti, and has lost an estimated 97 percent of its forest habitat in the past century.

Two species of crabs are now considered critically endangered, Karstama balicum and Karstama emdi, which are only found in a single cave in Bali. The crabs are threatened by human activity in the cave, such as tourism and frequent religious ceremonies.

While many species are in dramatic decline, no species have been moved into the “extinct” category. However, this may be due in part to the difficulty of gathering sufficient evidence to prove an species has in fact disappeared. “It takes a long time of gathering negative evidenced before we can say, ‘ok, that species has gone’,” Craig Hilton-Taylor, head of the IUCN’s Red List told New Scientist.

The update does come with a few glimmers of good news. A few species that were once on the brink of extinction now have growing populations, such as the Iberian Lynx, which is no longer considered critically endangered thanks to conservation efforts.

Jane Smart, Director, IUCN’s Global Species Program, said in a press statement that while seeing the populations of several endangered species improving, we are still a risk of losing many species overall. “We must act now to develop stronger policy and on-the-ground conservation programs to protect species and halt their declines.”

Margaret Badore|TreeHugger|June 26, 2015

 

Everglades

Corps releases comprehensive study on Aquifer Storage & Recovery capabilities

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District has released a comprehensive study on research related to the use of Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR), an Everglades restoration component proposed as part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) to recharge, store and recover water underground for ecological restoration uses.

The ASR Regional Study was developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) to reduce uncertainties of ASR implementation on hydrological, ecological, and geotechnical conditions in the Greater Everglades.

“The ASR Regional Study documents the results of over a decade’s worth of scientific and engineering investigations,” said April Patterson, Jacksonville District project manager for the study. “The results of the report will serve as a technical guide when considering ASR implementation as part of future Everglades restoration efforts.”

As part of the CERP, it was estimated that up to 333 wells could store water underground for the Everglades and natural systems. These wells, known as Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) wells, would be part of a system to take surplus fresh surface water, treat it as required for permit compliance, and then store it in the Floridan Aquifer System (FAS) for subsequent recovery during dry periods. ASR technology offers the potential to store and supply large volumes of water beneath a relatively small surface footprint.

The study investigates the feasibility of regional-scale ASR, using state-of-the-art methods and models. Investigations were performed in collaboration with the SFWMD, U.S. Geological Survey, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

View the key findings of the study: http://1.usa.gov/1G00CYQ

The ASR Regional Study and additional information available at: http://bit.ly/ASR_RegionalStudy.

Press Release|17 Jun 2015

SFWMD Readies Storage for Wet Season

Efforts continue to identify storage opportunities

Fort Myers, FL – South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) engineers have made thousands of acres of land available for water storage this wet season to benefit the Caloosahatchee River and Estuary.

“Critical planning and engineering during the past dry season allowed the District to prepare an array of options to store excess wet season water that would otherwise flow to the river,” said SFWMD Governing Board member Mitch Hutchcraft. “And we continue to work toward bringing more storage online to increase flexibility going forward.”

Throughout the watershed, several new storage projects have come online since the last rainy season, including:

Operational/Available to Store Water:

* Nicodemus Slough – 34,000 acre-feet: The District began operations in January, and has successfully utilized the site in Glades County to store water and also provide water supply to the river and local agriculture.

* Boma Property – 1,500 acre-feet: Three new electric pumps have been installed and improvements have increased storage capability.  The site in Glades County was tested and utilized for water storage in the spring.

* North Six Mile Cypress Slough – 1,400 acre-feet: Through a partnership with Lee County, construction was recently completed to store water and redirect historic water flows to Six Mile Cypress Slough.

* Mudge Ranch – 396 acre-feet: The site located just north of the Caloosahatchee River in Glades County recently came online to store water.

Planned:

* Alico Ranch — 91,944 acre-feet dispersed storage: Located in Hendry County, the project has been contracted and is under design.

* Babcock Ranch – 1,214 acre-feet: The site in Charlotte County is contracted and is under design.

Additionally, the District has coordinated with local West Coast drainage districts to hold as much water as possible within their facilities, including:

· East County Water Control District – About 1,000 acre-feet of storage is being made available at Mirror Lakes/Halfway Pond.

· Barron Water Control District – About 5,000 acre-feet is being made available through weir and operational improvements at the C-2.

Click here to download your free copy of Audubon’s comprehensive biannual report on the River of Grass

Water Quality Issues

Governor Dries Up Funding For Water Farming

Governor Rick Scott is getting mixed reviews for pulling the plug on so-called “water farming.” Scott vetoed more than $31 million that paid landowners to pull up their crops and store polluted runoff.

Gov. Rick Scott vetoed more than $30 million in funding for so-called “water farming.” The money pays growers and ranchers to set aside land for water storage.

Audubon of Florida executive director Eric Draper doesn’t want to see money for the program dry up. But he agrees with Scott that the funding should flow from local agencies.

“The Legislature expanded the program and put a huge amount of money into it and it probably grew too fast.”

Draper says the program is an important part of a decades-long attempt to divert dirty water from Lake Okeechobee. Overflow from the lake winds up in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers, feeding toxic algae blooms further downstream.

Florida Farm Bureau lobbyist Adam Basford says the industry will work hard next year to change Scott’s mind.

“That’s an important program as we in Florida try to spread the water pie. Alternative sources of water are important as we have a lot of competing interests.”

The program hasn’t won universal praise.

A recent audit from the South Florida Water Management District found taxpayers could save significant money by using public land.

But Stan Bronson, executive director of the Florida Earth Foundation, says part of the idea is to pay back private landowners for becoming better environmental stewards.

“The issue always is, ‘show me the money.’ And so, from my perspective, it seems as though it’s only fair to compensate landowners for taking land out of production.”

The program began in 2005 as an experiment with eight South Florida farmers and ranchers. It grew to include mega landowner Alico of Southwest Florida.

Jim Ash|Jun 25, 2015

 

Offshore & Ocean

Toxic algae bloom off West Coast most prolific ever

A team of ocean researchers has set off to comb the Pacific from Southern California to Canada for signs of dangerous algae blooms that can cause confusion, gastrointestinal problems and, if eaten, death.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s fisheries service sent the team out last week on the nearly three-month mission after two major fisheries were shut down because so many animals got severe domoic acid poisoning after eating neurotoxins embedded in the unusually large bloom of this naturally occurring algae.

The lucrative coastal Dungeness crab fishery in Washington closed, forcing fishers to try to find the shellfish further offshore or to land other species. Razor clams also are off limits in Washington and Oregon.

Shellfish and coastal fin species such as sardines and anchovies have been found with domoic acid levels more than five times the limit for human consumption in California, Oregon and Washington. Alaskan researchers are investigating whether nine recent fin whale deaths are related to the poisonous plankton.

Californians have been advised to steer clear of all anchovies and sardines, as well as recreationally harvested mussels and clams fished in Monterey or Santa Cruz counties. The internal organs of crabs — also known as “crab butter” — should be avoided, according to the state Department of Public Health.

The West Coast is in the midst of the most prolific toxic algal outbreak ever recorded, said Vera Trainer, manager of the Marine Biotoxin Program at NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center.

“We saw the first sea lion having seizures because of this toxin a couple weeks ago on a Washington beach,” Trainer said. “All the signs are pointing to this being a really unusual event that is very widespread. That’s the reason we sent folks on the National Marine Fisheries cruise to document the offshore occurrences” of the toxins.

So far, Southern California hasn’t been hit as hard as northern coastal communities by the outbreak, but researchers say this event spread faster and has lasted longer than any others previously.

The toxins seem to be following unusual currents of warm water that have brought tropical fish species to the coast and dramatically restructured ecosystems. The so-called “warm blob,” a vast pool of warmer water that formed in 2014 in the northeastern Pacific Ocean, and the increasing influx of warm El Nino waters, are major suspects in this algal event, scientists say.

“It really seems like this algal bloom is lurking offshore, not getting dissipated by storms and weather,” Trainer said. “So it looks like it will stay like this. But it’s still too early to say that it’s linked to warm water, though it does look like it could be linked and that this is a window of things to come” with the increased ocean warming of climate change.

What makes it even more unusual is that other debilitating toxins have been found alongside it — in some cases infecting the same animals hurt from domoic poisoning.

Domoic acid can cause amnesic poisoning symptoms such as memory loss and gastrointestinal problems, while the other toxins cause paralytic poisoning like loss of muscle control and death.

A major domoic acid event four years ago caused hundreds of sea lion deaths along Southern California beaches. Disoriented, dazed pelicans, sea lions and other marine species suffering from the neurotoxin were rescued from sidewalks, in parking lots and other unusual locations.

While infected marine animals are found in small numbers year-round, large domoic algal blooms in 2005 and 2011 filled the Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro to overflowing.

What ocean conditions must exist for these toxic microscopic plants to thrive in such large numbers that massive die-offs occur?

“It’s more like a process of nutrients coming at all the right times and a series of events that happens in just the right sequence allowing (a large algal bloom) to take place,” Trainer said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if this has influence over our entire coastline, with varying intensity at different parts.”

Sandy Mazza|Daily Breeze |06/21/15

Update: The green monster ‘blob’ taking over California’s oceans: Largest algae bloom ever seen is turning seafood toxic

  • Outbreak is the worst toxic algal bloom in more than a decade
  • Stretches from California’s Central Coast to Washington
  • Toxin accumulates in shellfish and small fish such as anchovies

A massive toxic bloom off the coast of California could grow to become the biggest of its type ever seen, researchers have warned.

The large blooms of toxin-producing algae in Monterey Bay, raising concerns about potential effects on marine mammals and seabirds. 

The bloom, which researchers have nicknamed ‘the blob’, involves microscopic algae called Pseudo-nitzschia (a type of diatom), which produce a potent neurotoxin called domoic acid. 

Massive blooms of Pseudo-nitzschia, a type of single-celled algae, have been seen off the California coast. It can produce the neurotoxin domoic acid under certain conditions.

IS SEAFOOD SAFE TO EAT?

Periodic blooms of toxin-producing Pseudo-nitzschia diatoms have been documented for over 25 years in Monterey Bay and elsewhere along the U.S. west coast. 

During large blooms, the toxin accumulates in shellfish and small fish such as anchovies and sardines that feed on algae, forcing the closure of some fisheries and poisoning marine mammals and birds that feed on contaminated fish. 

All of Washington’s razor clamming beaches are currently closed, and the southern coast of Washington has the largest-ever closure of our state’s Dungeness crab fishery.

“The current bloom of Pseudo-nitzschia spp., the diatom responsible for domoic acid and amnesic shellfish poisoning, appears to be the biggest spatially we have ever observed,” Antony Odell of the University of Washington said. 

“It has also lasted for an incredibly long time — months, instead of the usual week or two.” 

It began earlier this year and shut down several shellfish fisheries along the West Coast 

The toxin was first detected in early May, and by the end of the month researchers had detected some of the highest concentrations of domoic acid ever observed in Monterey Bay.

The current outbreak is the worst toxic algal bloom in more than a decade, stretching from California’s Central Coast to Washington, and possibly to Alaska, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

The algae is producing toxins in unprecedented amounts in some ‘hot spots’ along the coast, officials say.

‘Researchers in both the Monterey Bay and the Central Oregon Coast have found some of the highest concentrations of domoic acid that they’ve ever seen,’ NOAA Fisheries spokesman Michael Milstein said.

‘It’s a pretty massive bloom,’ said Raphael Kudela, professor of ocean sciences and Ida Benson Lynn Chair of Ocean Health at UC Santa Cruz.

‘The domoic acid levels are extremely high right now in Monterey Bay, and the event is occurring as far north as Washington state. 

‘So it appears this will be one of the most toxic and spatially largest events we’ve had in at least a decade,’

Periodic blooms of toxin-producing Pseudo-nitzschia diatoms have been documented for over 25 years in Monterey Bay and elsewhere along the U.S. west coast. 

During large blooms, the toxin accumulates in shellfish and small fish such as anchovies and sardines that feed on algae, forcing the closure of some fisheries and poisoning marine mammals and birds that feed on contaminated fish. 

Blooms such as the current event typically last for several weeks to a month. ‘Often, if we have a big event in the spring, it will go away during the summer and come back in the autumn,’ Kudela said. 

‘This event may be related to the unusually warm water conditions we’ve been having, and this year that warm water has spread all along the west coast, from Washington to southern California.’

Kudela’s lab conducts weekly sampling of water and mussels at the Santa Cruz Wharf and works closely with the California Department of Public Health and other organizations. 

Although Pseudo-nitzschia blooms often affect wildlife, careful monitoring and fishery closures ensure that commercial seafood remains safe to eat.

Raphael Kudela leads a team of researchers studying a large bloom of toxic algae along the west coast.

During the May 2015 event, researchers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) measured concentrations of both Pseudo-nitzschia cells and domoic acid in the bay using robotic instruments called Environmental Sample Processors (ESPs), which are deployed on ocean moorings and can detect algal cells and toxins and send the results back to shore within an hour.

Complementing the data from the ESPs, Kudela’s lab analyzed water and animals collected from the bay for Pseudo-nitzschia cells and domoic acid, and UCSC has two robotic gliders collecting data from the surface to a depth of 200 meters in the bay.  

‘We have confirmed domoic acid at very high levels in mussels and anchovy,’ Kudela said. 

His lab also found very high levels of the toxin in samples from a dead pelican found on the beach in Moss Landing, and testing of sea lion samples is under way. 

‘Domoic acid has clearly worked its way into the food web,’ he said. 

Clarissa Anderson, who was a postdoctoral researcher in Kudela’s lab and is now a research scientist with the UCSC Institute of Marine Sciences, has been leading the work on predictive modeling. 

When the current domoic acid event began in Monterey Bay in May, the model was also predicting a bloom in coastal waters near Humboldt Bay in Northern California. 

Anderson, who happened to be up there to give a talk, got local researchers to collect samples for testing, and Kudela’s lab was able to confirm the presence of domoic acid.

‘We’re now developing a model specifically for the shellfish growers in Humboldt Bay,’ Kudela said.

‘We know users are paying attention to it. 

‘In addition to shellfish growers, the Marine Mammal Center is also using it to keep an eye on spatial patterns and whether toxin levels are going up or down, so they know where and when to expect strandings.’

See Video

Mark Prigg|Dailymail.com|26 June 2015

6 Signs of Hope For Our Blue World

Diving in the clear blue waters of the Caribbean in March, I saw why the obituary for the Caribbean’s ocean health has been written multiple times.
Society Islands, French Polynesia

Invasive lionfish are overpopulating and preying upon native fishes. Overfishing and pollution have enabled algae to devastate coral reefs. Those corals lucky enough to escape the algae are being bleached by rising ocean temperatures due to the continuing advance of climate change.

The Caribbean isn’t alone — all of our oceans are under assault from human activities, threatening the benefits we receive from them.

There is no doubt: We need significant action to secure ocean health and prosperity for the people that depend on it. Several recent developments make me confident that we can put oceans on a path to recovery:

1. The number and size of marine protected areas are increasing.

Protected areas are not new: Since the creation of Yellowstone National Park in 1872, hundreds of thousands have been established around the world. It took longer for the concept to be applied to the ocean, in the form of marine protected areas (MPAs), and only 3% of the ocean — an area larger than the United States — is covered by MPAs. This kind of marine management is catching on, though.

The United States, for example, added more than 1 million square kilometers (400,000 square miles) to the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument in October 2014. And the nation of Kiribati closed its Phoenix Islands Protected Area to commercial fishing at the start of this year.
More marine protected area coverage will keep ecosystems intact, shelter biodiversity (including important commercial species) and boost coastal economies through tourism.

2. Signs of fisheries recovery are growing.

It has been a while since we have had any objectively good news about fisheries. In 1974, 10% of global fish stocks were overexploited. By 2011, that percentage rose to 29%. This is alarming because fisheries are a source of essential nutrition for people — worldwide more than 3 billion people get much of their protein from fish.

For years, warnings about overfishing were ignored due to short-term economic and political interests, but in some parts of the world that trend has shifted.

The number of overfished stocks in the U.S. declined from 31% of known fish stocks in 1997 down to 16% in 2014. Nations such as Iceland and New Zealand, which have enforced catch limits and created incentives for fisheries recovery, also report that overfishing has stopped and that some stocks are recovering.

Chronic overfishing remains a problem, especially in countries with weak governance and large populations of small-scale fishers with few economic alternatives. Showing that properly managed fish stocks can recover, though, is a great sign.

3. New technology increases monitoring and enforcement.

Technology has helped accelerate ocean exploitation: Better boats, fish-finding technology and fishing gear enable fishers to go farther and deeper, and on the high seas, it’s easier to pursue destructive activities without concerns about environmental impacts.

Technology, however, can also keep an eye on distant waters. Several systems now use GPS information from vessel transmitters to track a boat’s actions at sea. By applying algorithms to vessel movement patterns, it is possible to identify vessels fishing illegally.

Captains that don’t use transmitters are not beyond detection — vessels can be spotted via satellite imagery. There is no better way to make sure people behave than to let them know that someone is watching.

4. Ocean health is becoming an everyday concern.

Ocean conservation — viewed as a luxury few countries could afford when busily pursuing economic development and poverty alleviation — is changing as more countries realize their people depend on healthy oceans for nutrition, livelihoods, protection from storms and other benefits.

Increased awareness and desire for action is manifesting itself through adoption of the Ocean Health Index, which defines ocean health in terms of its ability to provide a range of benefits to people. Since its launch in 2012, 15 countries are using the Index to set priorities and to take action for ocean health.

5. There is a growing appetite for global action on oceans.

I have spent the last quarter-century working on marine conservation and have seen support for global action to conserve our oceans grow substantially in recent years. Heads of state, ministers, CEOs and development organizations have realized their constituents and businesses depend on oceans, and that our impacts need to be brought under control.

The draft set of Sustainable Development Goals, to be finalized this September, includes one dedicated to oceans, which is receiving outspoken support from country delegations and CEOs. Earlier this year, countries agreed to begin discussions on how to better manage areas beyond national jurisdiction, where weak governance currently threatens sustainability. The reason for my visit to the Caribbean in March was to attend a meeting of the Global Blue Growth Network, a group of countries and organizations working to build capacity and guidelines for sustainable blue growth.

6. Conservation actions are recovering endangered species.

On my eye-opening Caribbean dive, I saw a ray of hope: the shadow of a green sea turtle in the distance.

Green and hawksbill turtles were once a much-valued source of tortoiseshell and of meat for turtle soup. So many turtles were taken, however, that numbers plummeted and the species became endangered.

Their numbers have been rising since the 1970s, thanks to improved legislation and trade regulation; awareness campaigns by environmental groups; and alternative livelihood options for coastal inhabitants — they can make more money from taking tourists to see live turtles than they ever could have made from killing them.

In Barbados, thousands of hawksbill nests are now laid each year; in Costa Rica, nesting numbers of green turtles have increased exponentially in a few decades. The revival of these turtles shows that through concerted actions, we can recover the health of our oceans.

Dr. Sebastian Troeng|SVP & Managing Director|Moore Center for Science & Oceans

Detergents damaging ocean beyond repair

Two top Cape Town scientists believe the City of Cape Town’s dirty habit of pumping some of its waste water into the sea could have nasty consequences.

“The council doesn’t even know what is going out of the pipes now,” said University of the Western Cape chemistry department’s Professor Leslie Petrik.

“They haven’t been monitoring what has been going out.”

Petrik, a specialist in water treatment, said waste water contained thousands of potentially harmful chemical compounds.

Of particular concern are so-called “endocrine disruptor” chemicals which are contained in many household detergents and are known to cause hormonal changes in animals.

These compounds do not decompose in the ocean.

She said the diluting waste water did not remedy the situation.

“Dilution is no solution. Once you’ve released those compounds into the ocean you can’t get them back,” Petrik said.

Her concern is shared by University of Cape Town’s Professor Charles Griffiths, who said there was a lack of independent monitoring of ocean “outfalls”.

“There isn’t anybody in South Africa who is working on this type of thing in a holistic way,” he said.

Ironically, South Africa’s water treatment is relatively advanced, if not always properly implemented.

Waste water can even be treated to the point of drinking quality.

“From an engineering point of view it is totally possible,” Griffiths said. “It is a matter of how much we are prepared to invest in purifying our water, given the limited budget.”

Cape Town’s ocean discharge policy has come under fire in recent weeks following the publication of photographs showing what appear to be large plumes of waste water drifting not far from well-known beaches.

Petrik said it was strange that Cape Town should not be held to the same standards as other South African cities.

“Why is it that the city is willing to properly treat the effluent of about 80% of its population, but refuses to properly treat the 20% sitting along the Atlantic seaboard? Every other city is obliged to treat its effluent properly,” she said.

Department of Environmental Affairs spokesman Zolile Nqayi said the department was currently reviewing all waste water discharges, which will assist in its decision to “either prohibit or authorize the discharge with specific conditions”.

Bobby Jordan|22 June, 2015

Wildlife and Habitat

Anti-wildlife provisions quickly advancing! ‏

Leaving behind any shred of decency or moderation, Congress has taken their war on wildlife to a new and frightening level – and it’s moving forward at an alarming pace!

In particular, the spending bill for the Interior Department is loaded with a toxic array of riders – with even more amendments attacking wildlife expected this week. Together they amount to a wholesale retreat from this nation’s commitment to protect and restore wildlife and wild habitats.

Just how bad is it? Judge for yourself. Here’s just a sampling:

A cascade of anti-wildlife fervor. The bill already contains language that undermines the Endangered Species Act (ESA), weakens efforts to protect elephants from ivory poachers and weakens safeguards for wildlife. And we expect another round of attacks during what could well be an amendment free-for-all later this week.

More dead wolves. One rider forces gray wolves in Wyoming and the Great Lakes off the Endangered Species List. That’s a veritable death sentence for hundreds, if not thousands of wolves. In the last year alone, more than 700 wolves were killed in these states.

Just say yes to elephant poaching. An African elephant dies every 15 minutes at the hands of ivory poachers. But that hasn’t stopped the National Rifle Association (NRA) and its allies from inserting a rider to block tougher restrictions on the importation and domestic sale of ivory. This proposal benefits elephant poachers and ivory smugglers at the cost of elephant lives.

A savage attack on the ESA. Yet another provision would prohibit a potential listing of the greater sage-grouse. Additional amendments may be offered on the House floor that would prevent overdue listings of imperiled species or remove protections for species such as the lesser prairie chicken, the American burying beetle or others that still need ESA protection.

Make no mistake – this is not what Americans want. These provisions are the handiwork of special interests who have effectively taken control of one and maybe both Houses of Congress. They can be stopped. And it’s up to all of us to stop them. Please sign #3 in “Calls to Action” above.

Laurie Macdonald|Defenders of Wildlife|6/23/15

What’s going on with bears in Florida?

In August 2012, the Florida Black Bear Management Plan Adobe PDF was put into place as a comprehensive document to guide how Florida’s bears should be managed over the next 10 years.

The plan creates Bear Management Units (BMU) based on the seven geographically distinct bear subpopulations in Florida. BMUs give people an opportunity to play an active role in efforts to manage and conserve bears in their local community. Which BMU are you?

In June 2015, the FWC Commissioners approved a limited bear hunt Adobe PDF to take place in October 2015 in four of the seven BMUs Adobe PDF.  Permits will be made available for purchase starting on or around August 3, 2015 through licensed vendors and the online permitting system, RLIS.  We will continue to update these pages as more details are finalized.

Do you want to help FWC update the map of where bears are in Florida?

Have you seen a bear or their tracks while hiking, camping, bird watching, or paddling? FWC would like to specifically ask hikers, hunters, and all others who recreate in wild lands for their bear observations External Website.

If you would like to help support bear conservation in Florida, please visit the Wildlife Foundation of Florida External Website to learn more.

If you would like to learn more about the Florida black bear, please view this 15 minute FWC video External Website. Thank you!

Living with Florida Black Bears. 2009. 15 minute video discussing Florida black bear ecology, conservation efforts, and how to avoid conflicts.

Oslo builds its bees a highway of flowers

Oslo is transforming a strip through the city into a series of bee pastures — parks, and green roofs, and balcony flower beds — each a short flight from the next. I like to imagine that from the air you could look down and see ribbon of blossoms, stretching from one side of the city to the other.

Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at 10.51.28 AMpolli.no

According to the Guardian:

Oslo’s “bee highway” aims to give the insects a safe passage through the city, lined with relays providing food and shelter – the first such system in the world, according to the organizers.

Participants in the project – state bodies, companies, associations and private individuals – are invited to post their contribution on a website (polli.no), which maps out the bees’ route across the city.

Like many living creatures, insects are struggling to survive in the world that humans have altered and shaped. (I’ve been writing about bees’ troubles.) But it’s also within our power to alter the landscapes we’ve transformed — and invite the wild things back in.

Nathanael Johnson|26 Jun 2015

300+ Wildfires Rage in Alaska

Thousands of firefighters are working to put out wildfires in Alaska as they blaze across the state. The Alaska Division of Forestry reported that as of today there are 317 wildfires burning in the Last Frontier. On Wednesday alone, there were 40 new fires and Thursday saw an additional 28 new fires, bringing the total acreage burned to 624,496 acres.

Alaska is no stranger to wildfires, but climate change has drastically increased the frequency of wildfires. On Wednesday, Todd Sanford, a climate scientist at Climate Central, released a report on how Alaska is entering a new era for wildfires.

This map shows the current active fires in Alaska. Photo credit: Alaska Interagency Coordination Center

This map shows the current active fires in Alaska. That’s a lot of fires. Photo credit: Alaska Interagency Coordination Center

The report says:

In the past 60 years, Alaska has warmed more than twice as fast as the rest of the country, with average temperatures up by nearly three degrees Fahrenheit. By 2050, temperatures are projected to climb an additional two to four degrees, with the Arctic region seeing the most dramatic increases. These rising temperatures are expected to increase wildfire risks in Alaska, just as they have in the rest of the western U.S.

The report found a nearly 10-fold increase in the number of large fires in the Arctic region in the 2000s compared to the 1950s and 1960s. And the total area that these large fires are burning is increasing every year. “In just two years, 2004 and 2005, wildfires burned a larger area than in the 15 years from 1950-1964 combined,” says the report.

Photo credit: Climate Central

The report found a nearly 10-fold increase in the number of large fires in the Arctic region in the 2000s compared to the 1950s and 1960s. Photo credit: Climate Central

Wildfires are starting earlier and earlier in the year and the last wildfire of the season is occurring later and later each year. And that’s not just the findings for Alaska, but the entire West. With the West in the midst of an epic drought, experts are predicting the worst fire season yet for the U.S. Unsurprisingly, the report found the years with the hottest May to July temperatures also tend to be years with the most fires and the greatest area burned. Alaska just saw a record warm May with a heat wave that saw temperatures top the daily highs for Phoenix, Arizona.

The impacts of Alaska’s wildfires should not be underestimated. The report finds that along with destroying vast swaths of Alaska’s ecosystems, they are “releasing a significant amount of carbon into the atmosphere, further contributing to global warming” and threatening air quality in Alaska and beyond.

And the Washington Post points out the fires often burn more than just trees, shrubs, grasses and wildlife. “They can burn away soils as well and threaten permafrost, frozen soil beneath the ground, and so potentially help to trigger additional release of carbon to the atmosphere,” says the Washington Post.

“One major concern about wildfires becoming more frequent in permafrost areas is the potential to put the vast amounts of carbon stored there at increased risk of being emitted and further amplify warming,” Sanford told the Washington Post.

Bernie Sanders has called Alaska the canary in the coal mine when it comes to climate change. If you haven’t seen him grill Alaskan leaders for failing to address climate change in a Senate hearing, you’ve got to check it out:

A report last week found that Alaskan glaciers have lost 75 billion metric tons of ice every year from 1994 through 2013. That’s enough to cover the entire state in a one-foot thick layer of water every seven years. That rapid glacial loss is bad enough for Alaska’s ecosystems, but Alaska’s melting glaciers are “punching far above their weight” when it comes to contributing to global sea level rise, CBS News′s Michael Casey pointed out. Alaska only holds one percent of the Earth’s glacial ice volume (the vast majority is in Greenland and Antarctica), but losses in Alaska were one third of the total loss from the ice sheet during 2005-2010.

Cole Mellino|June 27, 2015

Global Warming and Climate Change

In ‘climate change’ controversy, a tale of two agencies

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has a steering committee to address climate change. The commission maintains computer modeling programs that show how climate change will affect water and land crucial to wildlife. It holds regular seminars to educate staff on the latest climate science.

On its website, the commission has a “Climate Change 101” page that addresses key challenges the state faces.

Eight miles from the state commission’s Tallahassee headquarters, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which bills itself as the state’s “lead agency for environmental management and stewardship,” states that it is only monitoring sea-level rise. That is its sole effort to address climate change.

As Florida Center for Investigative Reporting first reported, the emphasis on “climate change” within the DEP has declined over the past five years during Gov. Rick Scott’s tenure in office. For instance, a Web page titled “Climate Change and Coral Reefs” hasn’t been updated since Nov. 18, 2011 — the year Scott took office. That was also the year a DEP spokesperson told the Tampa Bay Times that “DEP is not pursuing any programs or projects regarding climate change.”

One likely explanation for the different priorities at the two agencies is that FWC, created by voters in 1999 as an independent commission and run by an autonomous board, does not answer to the governor. The DEP, on the other hand, does report to the governor’s office.

Prior to Scott’s election, DEP was aggressively studying climate change. When Scott, a climate change skeptic, took office in 2011, the terms “climate change” and “global warming” began to disappear from DEP reports, according to a previous analysis by FCIR. Former DEP employees recounted to FCIR meetings where they were ordered not to use the terms. In emails, DEP officials instructed employees and volunteers to stay away from the subject.

Scott and DEP officials have denied the existence of any policy prohibiting the terms, but they have never attempted to explain or dispute FCIR’s findings.

In contrast, FWC’s freedom to tackle the subject indicates a degree of independence from Tallahassee politics and shows how effective a state agency can be when freed to do its job.

“We’ve been working on climate change for a while,” said Thomas Eason, director of FWC’s division on habitat and species conservation.

He acknowledges that it hasn’t always been an easy subject to address.

“We learned pretty early on that using the phrase ‘climate change’ just created such friction, and got in the way of getting the work done,” Eason said. “So early on we experimented with using different terms, like ‘climate variability,’ then settled in to ‘adaptation to climate.’ ”

A review of the commission’s literature found the term climate change still widely used.

“We started to dig in heavily in 2007,” Eason said, when the FWC hosted a summit titled “Florida’s Wildlife: On the Front Line of Climate Change” and created a climate change coordinator position.

“The FWC was, and still is, doing cutting-edge work on adaptation planning,” said Doug Parsons, the commission’s first climate change coordinator who held the position for four years. He left in 2011 to work as climate change liaison for the National Park Service. Today, he works for the Society for Conservation Biology as the North American policy director.

“They [FWC] are regularly invited to share their work nationally,” he said. “They’ve been very effective in working with local partners too, since a lot of interesting things are happening at the city and county level in Florida.”

In addition to ongoing seminars to familiarize staff with the latest climate science, FWC modified a computer simulation program to examine the impact of water rise in wetlands in the Keys. The Sea Level Affecting Marshes Model, known by the acronym SLAMM, is available to communities as they take climate change into account in future development.

“We’re using it within the planning process,” said Jason Evans, an environmental scientist with Stetson University in DeLand, who is helping Monroe County develop a climate and sustainability plan. “It has proved useful.” Evans said that “FWC is at the forefront” when it comes to state agencies providing helpful science to communities.

With 2,100 employees and a $364 million budget, FWC is much smaller than DEP, which has 3,100 employees and a $1.6 billion budget. Its scope of duties is also narrower. FWC is charged with protecting and managing Florida’s wildlife and their habitats, while DEP regulates environmental policies, monitors air, land and water quality, and is in charge of “ecosystem restoration.”

When FCIR asked DEP officials for current climate change initiatives, the department cited ongoing monitoring of sea-level rise, including a sea-level rise working group, a sea-level rise pilot project monitoring two communities, and the inclusion of sea-level rise estimates in a 20-year projection of community water needs. The department declined to make anyone available for comment.

But the effects of climate change in Florida will amount to more than rising water. Increased temperatures will make people more vulnerable to heat stroke and asthma-related illnesses. Precipitation may become more infrequent but intense, and as different animal and insect populations change, new pest control issues will arise.

“In an area like the Keys, FWC’s data and tools have been critical,” said Erin Deady, an environmental lawyer who consults with local governments on climate change. “We don’t have the resources the state has, so we’re hoping to keep building partnerships with state agencies as they wrap their arms around this issue.”

Tristram Korten|Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

$ 40 billion of national parks at risk from sea rise

Sea-level rise puts at high risk more than $40 billion in park infrastructure and historic and cultural resources, including almost $90 million in assets at the Canaveral National Seashore, according to a federal report released Tuesday.

The report by scientists from the National Park Service and Western Carolina University is based on a study of 40 parks, including Canaveral National Seashore.

Sea-level rise threatens structures and other resources at Canaveral that have a replacement value of $88.4 million, according to the report. The park’s 167 listed assets in the report all are considered at high risk of damage from sea-level rise because of the overall low elevation of the park and extreme vulnerability to tropical storms.

Assets at risk at Canaveral include the $1 million headquarters, parking lots, and maintenance and administrative buildings.

“Climate change is visible at national parks across the country, but this report underscores the economic importance of cutting carbon pollution and making public lands more resilient to its dangerous impacts,” U.S. Secretary of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, said in a release. “Through sound science and collaboration, we will use this research to help protect some of America’s most iconic places — from the Statue of Liberty to Golden Gate and from the Redwoods to Cape Hatteras — that are at risk from climate change.”

The report examined LiDAR data flown in 2007. LiDAR is akin to radar, measuring elevations with a laser and analyzing the reflected light.

Secretary Jewell released the report in advance of the two-year anniversary of President Obama’s Climate Action plan.

Sea-level rise projects vary by place and time, but scientists expect a 1 meter rise in the next 100-150 years. In some areas of Alaska, however, relative sea-level is decreasing because as land-based glaciers and ice sheets melt, land is rising faster than sea levels, according to the report.

“Many coastal parks already deal with threats from sea-level rise and from storms that damage roads, bridges, docks, water systems and parking lots,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “This infrastructure is essential to day-to-day park operations, but the historical and cultural resources such as lighthouses, fortifications and archaeological sites that visitors come to see are also at risk of damage or loss.”

Authors of Adapting to Climate Change in Coastal Parks: Estimating the Exposure of Park Assets to 1 m of Sea-Level Rise, examined 40 of the 118 national parks considered at risk from sea-level rise. They used data from U.S. Geological Survey Coastal Vulnerability Index.

Recent assessments by NASA found that sea level at the Kennedy Space Center — just south of Canaveral National Seashore — could rise from 6 to 25 inches by the 2050s and 10 to 49 inches by the 2080s.

The parks service study also included urban areas such as Gateway National Recreation Area in New York City and Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco, two of the most visited parks in the country.

Results from analysis of an additional 30 coastal parks will be released later this summer.

Called “assets,” the infrastructure and historic sites, museum collections and other cultural resources of the 40 parks were categorized as at high- or limited-exposure based on exposure to risk of damage from 1 meter of sea-level rise.

About 40% of assets in the 40 parks, valued at more than $40 billion, are in the high-exposure category. Low-lying barrier island parks in the parks service’s Southeast Region, such as Canaveral National Seashore, account for the majority of the high-exposure assets.

At Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina, for example, the cost to rebuild lighthouses, visitor center exhibits, historic structures and other areas would be almost $1.2 billion, the report says. That does not include the potential billions for loss of lands and tourism.

More than one-third of assets in the parks service’s Northeast Region are in the high-exposure category, including the Statue of Liberty in New York and the landmark structures at Boston National Historic Park and Fort McHenry in Baltimore.

Many national park areas in the Northeast already were damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The storm shuttered the Statue of Liberty for eight months and forced National Park Service to remove much of the Ellis Island museum collection after the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system flooded with sea water.

Although 1 meter of sea level rise may not seem like a lot, Jarvis explained that amount would create a cascade of ill effects.

“Coupled with sea level rise, big storms have that extra volume of water that can damage or destroy roads, bridges and buildings, and we saw what that looks like — again — with Hurricane Sandy in 2012,” the NPS director said.

Rebecca Beavers, NPS’s lead scientist on coastal geology, said that considering Hurricane Sandy, the new report probably was too conservative with the assets it deemed “high exposure.”

“Although reality may deal even more harsh circumstances as Sandy illustrated, information from this report provides a useful way to help determine priorities for planning within coastal parks,” Beavers said.

The authors hope to bring attention to the need for “broader guidance related to climate change adaptation, not only at the park level, but also by the NPS regional and national levels,” they wrote in the report.

Jim Waymer|Florida Today|June 24, 2015

BREAKING: Bill gutting climate action passes the House ‏

This is not the leadership we need.

Over the past two days, you and 21,842 of your fellow EDF Activists from all 50 states stood up against Rep. Whitfield’s assault on the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, telling your members of Congress NOT to vote for this dangerous bill that allows states to simply opt out of climate action.

I couldn’t be more grateful for your efforts. But unfortunately, a majority of lawmakers didn’t listen, and the bill just passed the House, with 247 (239 Republicans and 8 Democrats) voting for the bill and 180 (4 Republicans and 176 Democrats) voting against. The companion bill has already been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Capito, and we’ll keep you updated on how you can help in that fight.

In the meantime, there’s good news: The White House has announced, unequivocally, that President Obama will veto this bill when it gets to his desk. And those 247 “yes” votes are short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto. We may have lost this vote, but we will continue to fight to make sure that this bill does not become law.

We know you want to know how your Representatives voted, and we’re gathering that information as we speak—we’ll be in touch soon as we launch our accountability efforts, and we’ll let you know who voted to let power plants keep emitting unlimited amounts of dangerous, climate-altering pollution.

Heather Shelby, Environmental Defense Fund|6/24/15

Groundbreaking Court Ruling Says State Must Address Climate Change, Thanks to Teen Lawsuit

In an unprecedented decision, a judge in Washington State has ruled in favor of a group of young people who filed a lawsuit last year asking that the state be required to develop a science-based plan for limiting carbon emissions in order to protect the climate for future generations.

The lawsuit, Zoe & Stella Frazier v. Washington Department of Ecology, was brought last year by eight teens and preteens, the youngest nine years old, who filed a petition last June with the Department of Ecology, requesting that it develop a rule “to recommend to the legislature an effective emissions reduction trajectory that is based on best available climate science and will achieve safe atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide by 2100.”

“Youth petitioners hereby submit this petition for rulemaking on behalf of themselves, the citizens of the State of Washington, and present and future generations of children,” it said.

Last August, the Department of Ecology denied the petition although it did not deny the scientific basis for it. The petitioners filed an appeal, arguing that they had a right to grow up in a healthy environment. King County Superior Court Judge Hollis Hill agreed with them and ordered the Department of Ecology to reconsider their petition and report back to the court by July 8 whether it will consider the science necessary to climate recovery.

“Washington State’s existing statutory limits should be adjusted to better reflect the current science,” wrote Hill in her decision. “The limits need to be more aggressive in order for Washington to do its part to address climate risks.”

The plaintiffs’ attorney, Andrea Rodgers of the Western Environmental Law Center, pointed to the groundbreaking nature of the decision.

“The effect of this decision is that for the first time in the U.S., a court of law has ordered a state agency to consider the most current and best available climate science when deciding to regulate carbon dioxide emissions,” she said. “The court directed Ecology to apply the agency’s own findings that climate change presents an imminent threat to Washington and demands immediate action. The ball is now in Ecology’s court to do the right thing and protect our children and future generations.”

In a footnote to her order, Judge Hill explained why she rejected the Department of Ecology’s plan to delay acting on emissions.

“Ecology suggests no change in greenhouse gas reduction standards until after an international climate conference scheduled in Paris in December 2015, thus delaying action for at least a year from the date of the report or one year and five months after the report’s original due date,” she wrote. “Neither in its briefing nor in oral argument of this appeal did the department seek to justify this suggested delay. The report itself states that after the Paris conference Washington would be better informed how the state’s limits should be adjusted.”

The organization Our Children’s Trust is spearheading such actions around the country, filing lawsuits on behalf of youth plaintiffs in every state. It also joined with two nonprofits to file a federal lawsuit but the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case. And it was unsuccessful in Oregon recently where a judge ruled in May that the state has no responsibility to care for the natural environment or the atmosphere for future generations in a case brought by teenagers Kelsey Juliana and Olivia Chernaik.

“If this judge is right that the sustainability of our atmosphere is merely a question for political debate and disagreement, rather than an inherent constitutional right of all citizens and future generations, then we are in real trouble,” said Juliana. “This opinion sends a devastating message to all citizens that none of the three branches of government can be trusted to ensure our future. The courts must enforce our right to a healthy atmosphere and stable climate for all future generations.”

That decision is being appealed while the Washington victors celebrate the first of what advocates like Our Children’s Trust hope will be a string of wins.

“Kids understand the threats climate change will have on our future,” said 13-year-old plaintiff  Zoe Foster. “I’m not going to sit by and watch my government do nothing. We don’t have time to waste. I’m pushing my government to take real action on climate, and I won’t stop until change is made.”

Anastasia Pantsios|June 25, 2015

Extreme Weather

South Florida swelters from lack of rain

South Florida has seen a lot more hot sun and blue skies than cooling rain and clouds lately.

Most of South Florida has received 4 to 6 inches less rain than normal since June 1.

This likely will end up being one of the driest Junes on record

Although the weather service predicted the beginning of rainy season would be wetter than normal, it’s been anything but.

With most of the region seeing four to six inches less rainfall than normal in the past three weeks, this likely will end up being one of the driest Junes on record, the National Weather Service said Tuesday.

Blame the dearth of rain on an area of persistent high pressure over the western Atlantic. It is creating a stiff easterly sea breeze, which is pushing all the showers and storms far inland or to the state’s west coast.

“Sometimes these weather systems get kind of stuck over an area, and that’s what we’re seeing here,” said meteorologist Robert Molleda.

The lack of rain also is making the afternoons feel unbearably hot because instead of cooling clouds and rains, the sky has been mostly sunny and blue.

“The temperatures really aren’t that much above normal,” Molleda said. “But with the sun beating down, readings of 90 to 92 are persisting later into the afternoon.”

Mix in humidity, which makes temperatures feel even hotter, and South Florida has transformed into a dry sauna, going back to May.

Normally, June is South Florida’s wettest month, with more than 9 inches of rainfall. Since June 1, Fort Lauderdale has received 6.48 inches less rain than normal; Miami, 5 inches less and West Palm Beach 3.88 inches.

The rain chance increases over the weekend, when a low-pressure area might weaken the high-pressure system. But that likely will be temporary, forecasters said.

Because the region has received close to 10 inches less rain than normal since Nov. 1, severe drought conditions have spread into central Miami-Dade County, moderate drought conditions in Broward County and abnormally dry conditions in Palm Beach County.

The main ramification for now is the chance of wildfire increases.

The South Florida Water Management District isn’t considering tightening water restrictions at this point, said spokesman Randy Smith.

That’s because Lake Okeechobee, the region’s backup water supply, remains healthy. It’s level on Tuesday was 12.4 feet, slightly higher than its historical average of 12.09 feet on June 23.

However, residents are urged to conserve water and adhere to year-round restrictions, which limits lawn watering to two days a week in most cities, Smith said..

“We want to make sure all conservation efforts are in place,” he said.

Sarah Dussault|Ken Kaye|Sun Sentinel

Waterlogged fields spell trouble for crops

Farm rep: ‘What we’re trying to battle here is Mother Nature’

Gray clouds are looming for farmers struggling to plant a crop during a soggy spring.

Jerry Schweihofer, an owner of Schweihofer Farms LLC in China Township, estimates about eight inches of rain have fallen on his crops in the past few weeks.

The constant showers have made planting a field difficult and keeping it healthy harder.

“I’ve been farming for 55 years and I’ve never seen anything like this, not this bad, not this late,” said Jerry Schweihofer, who owns the farm with his wife, Linda, son, Ryan, and daughter-in-law, Jeannine.

The China Township man isn’t the only farmer feeling waterlogged.

“It’s pretty widespread throughout the state,” said Kate Krepps, associate field crops specialist for the Michigan Farm Bureau.

“What we’re trying to battle here is Mother Nature — and they call farmers the ultimate risk takers for a reason.”

Phil Kaatz, forages and field crops educator for Michigan State University Extension, said about 35 percent of soybeans in St. Clair County remain un­planted. He said counties south of St. Clair County also are having trouble getting crops planted.

“It seems like there’s a line — roughly from the I-69 corridor south — that has had a lot more trouble getting soybeans planted,” Kaatz said.

“For every day they delay planting, you’re looking at roughly a third of a bushel reduction in yield.”

Ryan Schweihofer said the family farms about 1,200 acres of corn, soybeans, and wheat.

On Monday, about 300 acres of waterlogged fields remained unplanted, and some crops already planted were struggling to grow.

Ryan Schweihofer estimated an acre that would usually produce 180 to 200 bushels of corn likely will produce 100 to 140 bushels this year.

An acre of soybeans that usually would produce 45 to 50 bushels likely will produce 25 to 30.

Krepps said persistent rain has caused trouble for many farmers, but it was too early to say what kind of toll the precipitation would take at harvest.

“Overall, water isn’t good in mass amounts any time,” Krepps said. “It’s even worse if we have mass amounts of water in a short amount of time because the plant can’t get a chance to breathe.”

Krepps said persistent water coverage also could lead to root rot or damage to seedlings.

Jim Domagalski is encountering similar challenges in Columbus Township.

About a quarter of his approximately 500 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat remain unplanted at Domagalski Farms.

“I can’t remember a year like this,” Domagalski said.

“I’m trying to salvage that first field but it’s going to be tough. It not going to be a bumper crop this year, no way.”

Domagalski said corn seems to be hit the hardest but, with more rain forecast for this week, the other crops could be affected as well.

The Columbus Township farmer said he’s not alone.

Erie. “Every one of my neighbors has got idle fields,” Domagalski said.

The Schweihofers and Domagalski have some insurance on their crops but, in most instances, coverage decreases the longer farmers wait to plant. Jim Reid said he was spared some damage to his crops in Grant Township due to drainage systems in his fields and the fact that much of the rain was focused south of Interstate 69 in lower St. C lair and Macomb counties.

“Every other day we get rain so the crops are showing some evidence of damage, but I was able to get them in,” Reid said.

Reid farms about 1,000 acres of corn, soybeans and alfalfa in Grant Township.

“We don’t have100 percent of the fields tiled,” Reid said. “But there was a window of opportunity right around Memorial Day and we were able to get all the non-tiled fields.”

Todd Hulett, an owner of Hulett Farm Market in Port Huron, said the soggy weather hasn’t affected his crops in Capac.

Hulett said he farms about 230 acres of soybeans and 70 acres of vegetables. About 45 of those 70 acres is sweet corn grown for the Pine Grove Avenue market.

“Everything should be the same, normal,” Hulett said. “We’re all tiled ground and well-drained.”

Krepps said farmers can replant, but the time window for doing so is narrowing and seeds may be hard to come by. Farmers also need a break in the rain to have any c hance to replant.

“At the start of the season things were looking really bright, now we just need Mother Nature to give us a break and turn off the faucet,” Krepps said.

BETH LEBLANC|TIMES HERALD

[The two above stories illustrate the vagaries of climate change – one area has  unnatural flooding while another has unnatural drought.]

Tornado rips through Michigan’s Sanilac County

Dairy farm wiped out, 21 homes also affected in straight, 20-mile swath

Bill Gilboe heard a sound like a roaring train and, just like that, a Sandusky straw barn collapsed and a mobile home was destroyed.

Jerry Coburn heard a sound like a clap of thunder and, just like that, his Moore Township home was in splinters and half of a semi-trailer was lifted into a cornfield. The other half was carried two miles away.

Henk de Vor got a phone call and, just like that, learned that his farm of 3,500 dairy cows was all but destroyed.

A long track tornado carved through the lives of Sanilac County residents Monday night, the National Weather Service confirmed late Tuesday.

The tornado started four miles northwest of Decker and traveled to two miles southeast of Deckerville — a total of about 20 miles. The tornado was about 250 yards wide and reached peak winds of 95 mph.

Sanilac County emergency manager Todd Hillman said the destruction in the wake of the tornado was significant.

“You’re talking 20-some miles of straight line debris — everything’s in a straight line from M-53 to Carsonville,” Hillman said. Hillman said emergency management heard reports of an unconfirmed tornado shortly after 10 p.m. Monday.

“We had one phone call into Central Dispatch about a quarter after 10 basically giving us a head’s up that there’s a tornado and it’s a big one,” Hillman said.

Hillman estimated at least 21 homes or pieces of property were affected by the storm. He said emergency management doesn’t yet have a cost estimate on the damage.

No one was injured in the tornado.

The storm largely followed Downington Road from just north of Decker east. At M-19, the storm skipped a little south and followed Nicol Road east to about Maple Grove Road in Carsonville.

De Vor Dairy Farm was one of the first areas the tornado hit on its path east through Sanilac County.

Henk de Vor estimated fewer than 40 of his 3,500 cows were killed in the storm. About a dozen buildings were destroyed.

Dead or trapped cows lay among the debris late Tuesday morning. Hundreds of cows waited to be milked under barns torn in half.

“It’s a terrible mess,” he said.

De Vor said the majority of cows were transferred to neighboring farms where they could be milked.

Volunteers and workers from the surrounding areas worked at the farm from about 10:30 p.m. through the night and long into the day Tuesday.

“We live in a terrific neighborhood so everyone’s helping,” de Vor said.

Lance Walker, an animal nutritionist from North Branch, worked hurriedly with dozens of others to cover a mountain of feed at the farm.

Walker said he heard about the farm’s plight through a Facebook post early Tuesday morning.

“It’s a fairly tight-knit community here,” Walker said. “Everybody pitches in when they need a hand.

“…You don’t see FEMA here. It’s just neighbors helping neighbors.”

Doug Link, a veterinarian from Vassar, traveled to the farm Tuesday morning to help amid the piles of rubble and flooded stalls.

“This is why small towns are small towns,” Link said. “This why we keep going.”

A little way from the farm, the Leslies’ yard was covered in branches and siding. The garage had budged from its foundation and a shed was damaged heavily by a fallen branch.

Dawn Leslie said the tornado passed by the home in about 15 seconds.

“I went from the back of the house to the front and it hit,” Leslie said. “You know when you take off in a plane and your ears start hurting and popping? That’s what it was like.”

Further east, in Moore Township, Jerry Coburn and his father Jim picked through the debris that once was Jerry’s home.

Jerry Coburn said his wife received an alert on her phone Monday night and the family ran to the neighbor’s home across the street.

As they were running, Jerry heard what sounded like a thunder clap. In moments, the Coburns’ home was lifted from its location and slammed into the ground.

All that remained were boards, glass, couches, and family mementos scattered across the lawn. The family chickens wandered through the rubble.

A semi-trailer used for storage was ripped apart — half of it landing in a corn field behind the home, the other half carried two miles away, Jerry Coburn said.

Jim Coburn picked through the wreckage Tuesday, pulling out a firefighter’s jacket, boots and an oxygen tank from his years with the Carsonville Fire Department.

“How can that stuff go so far away?” he said, shaking h is head.

Bill Gilboe said his family was in the basement of his Sandusky home when he heard a sound like a train.

The tornado hit. It collapsed a straw barn, removed the roof from a shed and lifted a mobile home from the ground. It crashed and splintered into the ground 20 yards away.

Pieces of wood were driven into the grass like spikes.

“The wind was coming from the east and the west at the same time,” Gilboe said. “It was unbelievable.”

BETH LEBLANC|TIMES HERALD|6/24/15

Tornados, high winds damage homes as storms hit Michigan

MANCHESTER, Mich. — A series of severe thunderstorms that pushed damaging winds and tornados into several parts of Michigan wrecked homes and knocked out power to thousands of people, officials said Tuesday.

From Monday afternoon through early Tuesday, the National Weather Service said tornados struck in the Ionia County community of Portland as well as in Washtenaw, Sanilac and Tuscola counties. State police reported storm damage that could be from tornados in Calhoun, Jackson, Kalamazoo counties.

“Our thoughts go out to all of the people across our state affected by Monday’s severe weather,” Gov. Rick Snyder said in a statement. “Our communities pull together after great challenges.”

The National Weather Service said one tornado hit about 1:30 a.m. Tuesday just outside of Manchester, southwest of Ann Arbor. Garrett Macomber told The Ann Arbor News that his farm was among those damaged.

“Half the roof is gone, it ripped out the trees, and I don’t even know about our fence,” Macomber said as he surveyed the Washtenaw County property. “The roof is all the way out in the hay field.”

Macomber said he jumped out of bed and ran to get everyone into the basement of his home as quickly as possible. The four people who live at the farm were accounted for, as were two dogs, 10 horses and a goat.

“It was a ridiculous amount of wind,” he said. “It felt like the whole house was lifting off its foundation.”

The most damage was reported in Portland, near Lansing, where five people were rescued from buildings after a tornado packing winds of about 100 mph hit Monday. The American Red Cross has opened a shelter for residents as cleanup takes place and Ionia County has declared a local state of emergency. More than 50 homes were damaged, officials said.

Heavy rain also caused flooding that slowed traffic on Detroit-area freeways and prompted flood warnings.

Late Monday, a tornado touched down about 5 miles from Decker in Sanilac County, destroying a large dairy farm. No injuries were reported.

Shortly afterward, about 5 miles from Millington in Tuscola County, another tornado was confirmed. A fire official said at least four houses were damaged and a few people were treated for minor injuries.

Some other damage was attributed to high winds. Storms overturned a recreational vehicle and downed trees in Saginaw County. In the Jackson area, authorities said at least four homes sustained extensive damage.

ASSOCIATED PRESS|6/24/15

6 Devastating Heat Waves Hitting the Planet

Need proof that we’re having the hottest year on record? Scorching heat is searing parts of the world, sparking wildfires and claiming lives due to heat stroke and dehydration.

1. India. The relentless heat since mid-April has claimed about 2,330 lives, overwhelming hospitals and devastating the country. As we previously reported, officials have blamed the heat on global warming.

“It’s not just another unusually hot summer—it is climate change,” said Dr. Harsh Vardhan, India’s Minister of Science and Technology and Earth Sciences. “Let us not fool ourselves that there is no connection between the unusual number of deaths from the ongoing heatwave and the certainty of another failed monsoon.”

Temperatures have neared 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius), causing roads to literally melt in New Delhi.

2. Pakistan. India’s neighboring country is also suffering from the horrible heat, with the city of Karachi experiencing temperatures of 113 degrees Fahrenheit (45 degrees Celsius). According to BBC News, the weather has led to the deaths of nearly 700 people, mostly poor and elderly.

Making matters worse, with Pakistanis observing the holy month of Ramadan and fasting during daylight hours, an increased use of electricity for air conditioning has caused outages on their already-unstable grid.

3. The U.S. Southeast. Over on our shores, temperatures in the American South are about 5-15 degrees higher than usual with temperatures ranging between 100 and 115 degrees Fahrenheit, AccuWeather noted. Southerners, especially in southern Georgia and Florida, are also sweltering in the extreme humidity (in the upper 60s and 70s), making it feel even hotter, Weather.com reported.

Those on the West Coast should also brace for extreme heat and wildfires later this month, due to a shift in the jet stream pattern.

4. Alaska. Not only are glaciers rapidly melting, the northernmost U.S. state experienced record heat at the end of May where parts of Alaska recorded temperatures higher than in Arizona.

Unseasonably high temperatures, unpredictable winds and low humidity have been the perfect storm for wildfires to break out in the state, and as of last Sunday, more than 100 new fires have ignited across the state.

5. Israel. Temperatures recently reached 113 degrees Fahrenheit (45 degrees Celsius) in some parts of the country, causing fires to break out.

In the photo below, animals kept in Israeli zoos are being fed frozen treats to help cool off.

Last month, a 20-year-old tourist from Florida died after taking a fall while hiking the desert fortress of Masada on one of the hottest days of the year. The scary part? According to the Associated Press, she didn’t die from injuries from the fall, but from dehydration.

6. Japan. The East Asian country has been shattering their temperature records. According to the Weather Channel, in the city of Otsu in Hokkaido, its April high of 89.4 degrees Fahrenheit (31.9 degrees Celsius) smashed the usual high of 50.9 degrees Fahrenheit (10.5 degrees Celsius). And just this month, roughly 780 people across the country were admitted into hospitals due to a heat wave, Sputnik reported. So far, two people have been reported dead due to the heat.

While the current rainfall must be a welcome reprieve, several prefectures have issued warnings of possible landslides and flooding, according to Sputnik.

Lorraine Chow|June 23, 2015

With Groundwater Pumping, California Sinks At Unseen Rate

In the summer of 2014, U.S. Geological Survey scientists studying soil levels in California found that the state was sinking at its most extreme rate in 50 years, according to Grist. The cause, they say, is the depletion of groundwater supplies as the state grapples with long-term drought.

That type of massive sinkage has not been seen since the 1970s, which was around the time that groundwater depletion was first discovered as the reason for sinking California farmland. But as groundwater has come to supply nearly 60 percent of the state’s water in the current drought, the extreme sinking has made a comeback.

The USGS researchers have reached out to government agencies, as well as private businesses, to inform them of the sinkage and see how they are dealing with it. Many simply haven’t been aware of the subsidence and few track repairs associated with it. Managing the issue is further complicated by a lack of restrictions on groundwater amounts that farmers can pump, as well as current regulations that keep information private on those pumping it.

Daniel Kelly|June 24, 2015

Lake Mead Hits Historic Low

Lake Mead hit a record low last night by falling below 1,075 feet in elevation at 1,074.98 feet, which would trigger a water-supply shortage if the reservoir doesn’t recover by January. The threshold for mandatory cuts was set in a 2007 agreement as part of the U.S. Department of Interior’s Colorado River Interim Guidelines. These cuts would be the first set of mandatory water delivery curtailments to Lake Mead. Should the water levels continue to drop, as they are expected to, more cuts would be required.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will announce a 2016 shortage this August if its projections show that Lake Mead will still be below 1,075 feet in January. Photo credit: Shutterstock

“Water managers expect the lake’s elevation level to rebound enough to ward off a 2016 shortage thanks to a wetter-than-expected spring,” says The Arizona Republic. However, Rose Davis, a Bureau of Reclamation spokeswoman, told The Arizona Republic, “We still need a lot more water.”

The U.S. had the wettest month ever recorded in May—”the wettest places were parts of Arizona, Southern California, Northern Utah, a tiny spot in Nevada and a small spot on the border of Texas and Oklahoma, where precipitation was at least 500 percent of average,” said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Still, the recent rains were not enough to end the Southwest’s 15-year drought.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will announce a 2016 shortage this August if its projections show that Lake Mead will still be below 1,075 feet in January. The elevation, which is recorded hourly, climbed to 1,075.05 feet this morning. Davis says the agency is expecting several more drops below 1,075 feet in the coming weeks, but they estimate the lake level will rise by the end of the year to about 1,081 feet, according to CBS News. Still, many water policy experts are pushing for long-term solutions.

“Drought or no drought, the river is over-allocated,” Drew Beckwith, water policy manager with the Western Resource Advocates, a non-profit environmental law and policy organization, told The Arizona Republic. “Lower-basin states take more than the river system can sustain. The upper basin hasn’t used its full allocation for years, which has kept the problem at bay because the excess is sent to Lake Mead. But that setup won’t last.”

The entire Colorado River system has been over-allocated for decades, according to water experts like Beckwith. “The drought has just hastened that reality,” he said.

“The Colorado River has been cut to death—all 5 trillion gallons a year drained, depleted, dried up,” says Gary Wockner, executive director of the nonprofit Save the Colorado. “The dams have devastated the river’s health and the former 2-million acre wetland in the Colorado River Delta is now a sand-duned wasteland.”

“The dropping water levels in Lake Mead are the condor in the coal mine—we must hear its voice,” says Wockner. “The health of the river and water supplies across the Southwest U.S. are continuing to decline. People are literally draining everything.”

There is serious concern that as water becomes increasingly scarce in the drought-stricken West, cooperation will break down and “lower-basin states would have to do a ‘call on the river,’ where the lower basin will have to legally demand that the water is sent down river,” says Wockner.

For now, Western states are working together to address the problem. “Major river users agreed last year to leave hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of water in Lake Mead by 2017 that they would otherwise take,” reports The Arizona Republic.

Lake Mead 1-Week Daily Elevation ProjectionsLake Mead 1-Week Daily Elevation Projections

Las Vegas and Phoenix, among other desert cities, have already made major cutbacks in their water use with Las Vegas decreasing water use by 30 percent in 10 years and Phoenix having reduced its overall water consumption by 27 percent in 20 years, despite both cities having some of the fastest growing populations in the U.S. Still, the two cities could be seeing even more curtailments since Arizona and Southern Nevada would get the biggest mandatory cuts should the Bureau of Reclamation announce a 2016 water shortage.

Cole Mellino|June 24, 2015

Record-breaking heat set to scorch Northwest

The first heat wave of the year is forecast to hit much of the northwestern U.S. this weekend, and many cities across the region will see 100degree temperatures for the first time this season, Accu­Weather predicts.

Record-high temperatures were expected to be challenged or broken in cities such as Seattle; Portland, Oregon; Boise, Idaho; Reno, Nevada; and Salt Lake City.

In addition to topping daily record highs, this heat wave might also threaten record highs for the entire month of June or, in a few locations, all-time record highs, the Weather Channel forecast.

Heat advisories were in place in several states, including Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana. Excessive heat warnings — the highest level of heat warning issued by the National Weather Service — were in place in Seattle and Portland.

The blistering heat was also likely to make life miserable for firefighters battling the region’s numerous wildfires. As of Friday, 15 large wildfires were raging across the West, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise.

USA TODAY|6//27/15

Genetically Modified Organisms

Could these piglets become Britain’s first commercially viable GM animals?

Pigs ‘edited’ with a warthog gene to resist African swine fever could help spawn GM animal farms in the UK

Bruce Whitelaw Professor of Animal Biotechnology with super pigs at The Roslin Institute. These pigs are first animals in UK to have been created using new "gene editing" tools that are far more efficient that original GM methods and overcome some of the objections.

These piglets were created by using a gene-editing technique to make them resistant to certain diseases. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod for The Guardian

On an isolated farm outside Edinburgh, pigs grunt eagerly as their food arrives. The barn has a typical farmyard whiff, and a litter of tiny piglets, born just hours earlier, lie with trotters outstretched and eyes sealed, as helpless as any newborns. Only the occasional fluorescent snout or trotter reveals that the building is home to one of the world’s most advanced genetic modification projects.

“These are happy animals. They have a lovely sheen on them, their tails are wagging away,” said Prof Bruce Whitelaw, head of developmental biology at the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute, which is responsible for the pigs.

Prof Whitelaw believes the newborn piglets, which are designed to be resistant to the disease African swine fever, could be among the first commercially viable GM animals to have been created in Britain. The piglets are indistinguishable from other Large White variety pigs – except one letter of their genetic code has been flipped to make their immune system slightly closer to a warthog’s.

Within weeks, the piglets will be transported to a high security laboratory in Surrey where they will enter a trial to see if this modification protects them against the tick-borne disease, which is currently sweeping through eastern Europe and could affect British farms in the future.

“We need these animals to deliver something that could be a product,” said Whitelaw. “If these pigs show resilience, we will go to the regulators. The limitations are no longer technical, they’re legal.”

The African swine fever-resistant pigs live alongside others engineered to have enhanced immunity to swine flu (the fluorescent ones), and the pig respiratory disease, PRRS. Whitelaw believes that such animals could be commercially available within five to 10 years.

The breakthrough, he said, has been the development of new “ultra precise” gene editing tools that introduce changes in a way that is indistinguishable from naturally occurring mutations. The new techniques also overcome three major objections to GM in the past: the use of viruses to “carry” genetic changes into the pigs’ cells, the need to use antibiotic resistance genes in the modification process, which has been seen as an environmental threat, and the need for cloning.

“There are no markers, no vectors,” said Whitelaw. “People are absolutely not going to want to eat animals with fluorescent snouts.”

The welfare aspect of creating disease resistant animals may also prove more acceptable to the public than simply trying to create bigger, meatier farm animals, he argues.

“We’re not trying to make huge pigs, we’re trying to make healthier ones,” he said. “I’d be staggered if anyone said ‘No, I don’t want my animal to be healthier’.”

Farmers have also welcomed the focus on disease resistance, because unlike size and fertility, resilience to new diseases is almost impossible to breed in using traditional methods.

At a recent industry talk Whitelaw gave on the African swine fever trial, the first question, from a Lithuanian farmer was “When can I get these animals?” he said. “Farmers are ready.”

This month, around 6,000 pigs are expected to be culled in Poland, after outbreaks on farms, and the disease is known to have spread to neighbouring countries.

The trial, due to begin later this summer at either the Pirbright Institute or the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency in Weybridge, will involve exposing 12 “edited” pigs and 12 normal animals to the virus and testing mortality and transmission rates in the two groups to assess whether the modified pigs fare better.

The gene-editing technique works by taking a fertilized egg and using molecular scissors to snip the pig genome at the target site – in this case an immune gene called RELA. The cell’s natural repair process introduces a minor error, making the gene slightly less active than the normal version, producing a gentler immune response closer to that seen in warthogs. Scientists think this should confer resistance to African swine fever, because the disease causes the pig immune system to go into overdrive. “The immune system grossly overreacts to something that itself isn’t that harmful,” said Simon Lillico, a senior researcher at Roslin. “Warthogs still get infected, they just don’t drop dead.”

The scientists have also created pigs with the exact warthog version of the gene and the first three of these pigs are now entering a breeding program ahead of a second trial due to begin next year.

By contrast, conventional GM techniques start by taking skin cells from an animal. These are then modified, but because the modifications are successful in only a small fraction of cells, scientists include an antibiotic resistant gene tag that allows them to weed unsuccessful cells with drugs.

The nucleus of the modified skin cell is then inserted into an egg, which is grown in culture and transplanted into a “foster” animal to produce a modified clone, but many cloning pregnancies fail.

Other previous genetic modification experiments have involved using viruses to insert genetic changes into cells at a random location on the genome, but this risks so-called “off target” effects.

If the African swine fever trial is a success – the scientists will know the results by autumn – they are likely to apply to the US Food and Drug Administration for commercial approval.

While the FDA has approved several GM crops, until now it has stopped short of declaring farm animals created using the technology safe to eat. A GM salmon designed to grow twice as fast as normal fish could be the first to be approved.

Elsewhere, other GM animals being developed include “double muscled” pigs, designed to be larger than normal, cows that produce milk without beta-lactoglobulin, which causes allergies and dairy cows that do not grow horns, which can cause injuries.

Hannah Devlin|23 June 2015

Roundup Herbicide 125 Times More Toxic Than Regulators Say

Highly concerning new research reveals chemicals used in industrial agriculture are up to 1,000 times more toxic than the regulatory system presently states.

A highly concerning new study published in the journal Biomedical Research International reveals that despite the still relatively benign reputation of agrochemicals such as Roundup herbicide, many chemical formulations upon which the modern agricultural system depend are far more toxic than present regulatory tests performed on them reveal. Roundup herbicide, for instance, was found to be 125 times more toxic than its active ingredient glyphosate studied in isolation.

Titled, “Major pesticides are more toxic to human cells than their declared active principles,” the study evaluated to what extent the active principle (AP) and the so-called ‘inert ingredients,’ i.e. adjuvants, in globally popular formulations account for the toxicity of 9 major pesticides: 3 herbicides, 3 insecticides, and 3 fungicides.

The Deceptive Semantics of Pesticide Formulations And Their Regulation

The paper describes how the agrochemical industry conceals the true toxicity of their chemical formulations by focusing on the health risks associated with only one so-called ‘active principle’ (AP) in their complex formulations, and sets the public up for mass poisoning through the determination of an ‘acceptable level of harm’ via the calculation of the so-called ‘acceptable daily intake (ADI)’ based on the toxicological risk profile of only a single ingredient:

“Pesticides are used throughout the world as mixtures called formulations. They contain adjuvants, which are often kept confidential and are called inerts by the manufacturing companies, plus a declared active principle (AP), which is the only one tested in the longest toxicological regulatory tests performed on mammals. This allows the calculation of the acceptable daily intake (ADI)—the level of exposure that is claimed to be safe for humans over the long term—and justifies the presence of residues of these pesticides at “admissible” levels in the environment and organisms. Only the AP and one metabolite are used as markers, but this does not exclude the presence of adjuvants, which are cell penetrants.”

The problem of underestimated toxicological risk is so severe that the researchers describe previous research which found unexpected toxicity in so-called ‘inert’ adjuvants that were up to 10,000 times more toxic than the so-called active principle glyphosate itself, revealing them to be a greater source for secondary side effects than the main ingredient itself. [i] They also note that this ‘synergistic toxicity’ may explain the results of previous long-term animal research where glyphosate-based formulations showed toxicity in the parts-per-trillion range (.1 part per billion) that could not be explained by glyphosate alone.[ii] [iii]

Dr. Kelly Brogan, MD, commented on this phenomena in connection with the study recently on her blog: “Similar to the non-placebo-controlled trials on vaccines, adjuvants and preservatives are considered innocent bystanders in the consideration of risk profile.” According to Dr. Brogan, an understanding of “Toxicant synergy has exploded the simplistic notion of “the dose makes the poison.””

The Test Method and Results

In order to ascertain the toxicity of various chemical formulations and their ingredients, the researchers used embryonic (HEK293), placental (JEG3), and hepatic (HepG2) human cell lines, “because they are well characterized and validated as useful models to test toxicities of pesticides, corresponding to what is observed on fresh tissue or primary cells.”  They noted, “these cells lines are even in some instances less sensitive than primary cells, and therefore do not overestimate cellular toxicity.”

The researchers describe the their method of determining toxicity:

We assayed their mitochondrial succinate dehydrogenase (SD) activity (MTT assay) after 24h pesticide exposure, which is one of the most accurate cytotoxicity assays for measuring the toxicity of pesticide adjuvants such as surfactants [26]. Cytotoxicity was confirmed by the measurement of apoptosis and necrosis, respectively, by caspases 3/7 activation [27] and adenylate kinase leakage after membrane alterations [28]

The results of the study were clear. Except for one pesticide (Matin), “All formulations were cytotoxic and far more toxic than their APs [active principles].”

Key findings included:

  • On human cells, among the tested products, fungicides were the most toxic (Figure 1), being cytotoxic from doses 300–600 times lower than agricultural dilutions, followed by herbicides (except Matin) and then insecticides.
  • In all cell types, fungicides were the most toxic (mean LC50 12ppm).
  • The herbicide Roundup (LC50 63ppm) was next in toxicity to fungicides, twice as toxic as Starane, and more than 10 times as toxic as the 3 insecticides, which represent the less toxic group (mean LC50 720ppm).

Discussion

The researchers noted that theirs was the first study to test all these formulated pesticides on human cells at concentrations well below agricultural dilutions – indicating the relevance of their results to every day human exposures.

The researchers noted that in the present study, the cells were exposed to the chemicals for no longer than 48 hours, but in previous research they observed increased toxicity with time (i.e. “time-amplifying effect”), such that, “the differential toxicity between the AP [active principle] glyphosate and Roundup is increased by 5 times in 72h.”

The study discussion also addressed the profound problem in semantics indicated by the use of the term “inert” to describe chemical adjuvants that amplify the toxicity of the active principle (AP) in a herbicidal formulation by up t 1,000 times:

“Adjuvants in pesticides are generally declared as inerts, and for this reason they are not tested in long-term regulatory experiments. It is thus very surprising that they amplify up to 1000 times the toxicity of their APs in 100% of the cases where they are indicated to be present by the manufacturer (Table 1). In fact, the differential toxicity between formulations of pesticides and their APs now appears to be a general feature of pesticides toxicology. As we have seen, the role of adjuvants is to increase AP solubility and to protect it from degradation, increasing its half-life, helping cell penetration, and thus enhancing its pesticidal activity [32] and consequently side effects. They can even add their own toxicity [1]. The definition of adjuvants as “inerts” is thus nonsense; even if the US Environmental Protection Agency has recently changed the appellation for “other ingredients,” pesticide adjuvants should be considered as toxic “active” compounds.

According to the researchers, Roundup herbicide is emblematic of the cognitive dissonance between scientific fact and industrial claim to the still widely held belief that many of the chemicals routinely applied to our food and feed crops are relative safety:

It is commonly believed that Roundup is among the safest pesticides. This idea is spread by manufacturers, mostly in the reviews they promote [39, 40], which are often cited in toxicological evaluations of glyphosate-based herbicides. However, Roundup was found in this experiment to be 125 times more toxic than glyphosate. Moreover, despite its reputation, Roundup was by far the most toxic among the herbicides and insecticides tested. This inconsistency between scientific fact and industrial claim may be attributed to huge economic interests, which have been found to falsify health risk assessments and delay health policy decisions [41].

The researchers conclude their study by proposing their experimental results challenge the ultimate relevance of the acceptable daily intake (ADI), “because it is calculated today from the toxicity of the AP alone in vivo.” They go further and suggest that the ADI’s should be revised taking into account an “adjuvant factor,” which would require a reduction by at least 100 be applied to ADIs, especially if their preliminary cell research is confirmed through future animal studies. This would mean that the present ADI for glyphosate which is .3 ppm should be reduced to 3 parts per billion or less. They note, however, that this will not replace direct study of the commercial formulation with its adjuvants in regulatory tests. They conclude the study with the following remarks:

“[A]n exposure to a single formulated pesticide must be considered as co-exposure to an active principle and the adjuvants. In addition, the study of combinatorial effects of several APs together may be very secondary if the toxicity of the combinations of each AP with its adjuvants is neglected or unknown. Even if all these factors were known and taken into account in the regulatory process, this would not exclude an endocrine-disrupting effect below the toxicity threshold. The chronic tests of pesticides may not reflect relevant environmental exposures if only one ingredient is tested alone.

Clearly, research like this represents a paradigm shift in the way we look at agrochemical toxicity and the risk of exposure. If the harm’s associated with pesticidal or herbicidal contamination of our food, water, or air, are up to 1,000 times higher than the present regulatory system believes, we can no longer label as ‘an acceptable level of harm’ the mass poisoning we are experiencing at the hands of the industrial, biotech and chemical-industry driven agricultural system.

Sayer Ji|Founder|April 14th 2014

Sunshine Coast Council Follows France’s Lead in Phasing out Weedkiller

Spraying weeds with synthetic chemicals could be a thing of the past in a few years if the Sunshine Coast Council has its way.

It is phasing out the use of controversial pesticide glyphosate – the active ingredient in Round Up – and introducing natural ways to control weeds, even though regulators from the State Government and CSIRO do not require them to.

Parks manager Mark Presswell says council is concerned that research has shown glyphosate is a health hazard and harmful to the environment

He says they have reduced usage of the chemical by 20 per cent in the last two years.

“We were using around 560 litres a year, we’re around the 400 mark now,” he said.

“We’ve had no advice from our government or from the CSIRO in regard to any potential problems with glyphosate, but we’re just being cautious and careful so we’re just trying to limit the use and eventually phase it out.”

Mr Presswell says council has taken it lead from a World Health Organisation report that states glyphosate is probably carcinogenic to humans.

This week France joined other countries like the Netherlands, Russia, Mexico and Sri Lanka in banning its sale from garden centers.

But an Australian toxicologist, Dr Ian Musgrave says glyphosate is a fairly non-toxic chemical to humans, and is ranked lower than alcoholic beverages and formaldehyde as carcinogens.

Mr Presswell says even though using Round Up is the most cost effective means of controlling weeds for council, his teams are phasing in more natural techniques.

“Some of those areas that traditionally had weeds we now mulch, compost mulch and plant plants in there,” he said.
“That way we get a much more attractive region and we also control weeds.”

Mr Presswell says council also endeavors to shade out weed growth with larger plants where possible.

“Planting out areas is our best form of control – shading weeds out,” he said.

“You could plant a wallum for instance, then handpick the weeds till they disappear.”

Mr Presswell says council has trialed another natural control technique using steam to kill weeds but it was too expensive and the weeds recovered too quickly.

He is unsure when the use of glyphosate by the council will be phased out completely.

“It will depend on how effective our natural control measures are; we want to phase it out as fast as possible,” he said.

Source: http://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2015/06/22/4259440.htm

Energy

Cancer-Causing Chemicals Found in Drinking Water Near Texas Fracking Sites

On June 4, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a report on how fracking for oil and gas can impact access to safe drinking water. Although the report claims not to have found any “widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States,” a new study in Texas provides more evidence that contamination of drinking water from fracking might be occurring.

A research team at the University of Texas at Arlington has published a peer-reviewed study, A Comprehensive Analysis of Groundwater Quality in the Barnett Shale Region, in Environmental Science & Technology, a journal of the American Chemical Society. The heavily fracked Barnett shale region, with more than 20,000 wells, covers a swath of counties in north Texas surrounding the populous Dallas-Fort Worth area. It also sits beneath two major aquifers.

“The exploration of unconventional shale energy reserves and the extensive use of hydraulic fracturing during well stimulation have raised concerns about the potential effects of unconventional oil and gas extraction (UOG) on the environment,” the authors write. “Most accounts of groundwater contamination have focused primarily on the compositional analysis of dissolved gases to address whether UOG activities have had deleterious effects on overlying aquifers. Here, we present an analysis of 550 groundwater samples collected from private and public supply water wells drawing from aquifers overlying the Barnett shale formation of Texas.”

The team, led by UT Arlington chemistry professor Kevin Schug, found elevated levels of 10 metals and 19 chemicals as well as high levels of ethanol and methanol. The chemical compounds found included benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene and xylenes, which have been associated with a range of negative health impacts including cancer. Schug said that his team’s work was “the most comprehensive groundwater study in connection to this whole process.”

“The University of Texas, working independent of the oil and gas industry, found evidence of widespread groundwater pollution connected to fracking,” said Earthworks policy director Lauren Pagel. “The EPA, working for years with the oil and gas industry to study the same issue, managed not to find that evidence in its study released earlier this month. Perhaps that’s because President Obama’s ‘all of the above’ energy policy requires favoring oil and gas over the clean, renewable energy our communities and water really need.”

In Texas, the battle over fracking is particularly heated. In response to the city of Denton, which is located in the Barnett shale region just north of Dallas/Fort Worth, voting to ban new fracking operations in last November’s election, the state passed legislation outlawing such bans.

“Fracking water pollution isn’t a surprise to people living with fracking,” said Earthworks Texas organizer Sharon Wilson. “But it must be a surprise to Texas regulators, who claim to have never found any. Denton was forced to repeal its ban last night. Now Denton and all Texas communities are in the hands of state government, which seems bound and determined to protect the oil and gas industry, not the public. What this study really shows is why communities must have local control to protect their own health and safety.”

While the UT study cautions that the presence of these chemicals cannot be definitively linked to fracking, they are known to be used in the process.

“I hope our data can serve as a springboard for studies that use detailed chemical signatures to pinpoint the impact of various aspects of unconventional drilling processes on groundwater quality,” said Schug.

Anastasia Pantsios|June 22, 2015

Aging Nuclear Power Plant Must Close Before It Closes Us

We must face facts regarding the Indian Point nuclear plant. It’s infrastructure is aging, its safety is dubious and most everyone knows it. What many people don’t know is that it can be replaced at little cost to ratepayers—and energy technologies taking its place would create new economic opportunities for New York.

Indian Point—just 38 miles north of New York City—is vulnerable to terrorism, has 2,000 tons of radioactive waste packed into leaking pools and relies on an unworkable evacuation plan. While some argue that transformer accidents—such as the one that occurred last month—can happen at any power facility, they happen with astonishing frequency at Indian Point. Its age is problematic: You wouldn’t rely on a 40-year-old appliance, why extend this trust to a nuclear plant? Moreover, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) says Indian Point 3 has the highest risk of earthquake damage of all the nation’s reactors. About 20 million people live within 50 miles of Indian Point. If a catastrophic accident occurred, the consequences would be unimaginable.

The NRC permits Indian Point to evade its own safety standards requiring that electrical cables controlling emergency reactor shutdowns have insulation that lasts 60 minutes in a fire. When the NRC found that the plant’s insulation lasted just 27 minutes, it gave Indian Point an exemption. Your own home likely has more insulation on its electrical cables than does the plant.

Entergy and nuclear-industry groups make spurious claims that skyrocketing energy costs would result from Indian Point’s closure. Actually, it can be retired without undermining the state’s electric grid. Planning is under way for better efficiencies and cleaner energy sources. The cost to ratepayers will be minimal when compared to the risks, and homeowners could actually see savings in a few years—especially if they make their homes more energy efficient.

Right now, three efficient transmission projects could potentially save as much as 600 megawatts, and combining hydropower, wind, solar and other renewables could eventually make up the difference.

Closing Indian Point was pronounced doable by New York state in 2013, and it would bring economic opportunities and create jobs. SolarCity’s manufacturing plans in Buffalo are just one signal of the potential.

And then there’s the slaughter of Hudson River fish to consider: Indian Point kills more than a billion fish eggs and larvae each year through its cooling systems. The radiological contamination it leaks violates the Clean Water Act and has devastating effects on the river’s ecology. Closing it would be a step toward restoration of species in decline.

It’s no longer a question of whether Indian Point can be shut down, it certainly can. This aging nuclear power plant in a densely populated and ecologically fragile region is inherently problematic, threatening river life and human life. It no longer has a place in New York’s energy landscape.We must close it before it closes us.

Paul Gallay|June 22, 2015

[How much of this can also be said of Turkey Point?]

Hawaii Enacts Nation’s First 100% Renewable Energy Standard

Hawaii enacted a law this week that mandates that all of the state’s electricity comes from renewable sources no later than 2045. The bill makes Hawaii the first U.S. state to adopt such a standard. This renewable energy standard is being hailed as “the most aggressive clean energy goal in the country.”

“Hawaii is making history, not only for the islands, but for the planet,” said Jeff Mikulina, executive director of the Blue Planet Foundation. “We are making a promise to future generations that their lives will be powered not by climate-changing fossil fuel, but by clean, local and sustainable sources of energy.”

The legislation was drafted by Blue Planet Foundation, whose mission is “to clear the path for 100 percent clean energy.” Many believe Hawaii can reach the goal well before 2045 because the islands are already a renewable energy leader. “Analyses from the utility and elsewhere show that 100 percent renewable energy can be achieved even earlier than 2045, by 2030,” says Blue Planet Foundation. “Hawaii’s renewable energy use has doubled in the past five years, with the islands currently generating about 22 percent of their electricity from wind, solar, geothermal and other renewable energy resources.”

Hawaii's renewable energy use has doubled in the past five years. Photo credit: Blue Planet FoundationHawaii’s renewable energy use has doubled in the past five years. Photo credit: Blue Planet Foundation

To make sure the Aloha state stays on track to meet its requirement, the bill has an interim requirement of at least 30 percent renewable electricity by 2020 and 70 percent by 2040. If Hawaii utilities fail to reach that target, it could cost them two cents for each kilowatt hour of excess fossil fuel electricity, according to Blue Planet Foundation.

“This week we put an expiration date on fossil fuel use,” said Henk Rogers, president of Blue Planet Foundation. “Hawaii is sending a signal to the world that 100 percent renewable energy isn’t just a vision, it’s a commitment.”

Cole Mellino|June 11, 2015

Rolling Stone: ‘What’s Killing the Babies of Vernal, Utah?’

In January, the Los Angeles Times ran a story on the fracking boomtown of Vernal, Utah. It described how a midwife named Donna Young was attacked and demonized for drawing attention to an increase in stillbirths in the town and its resistance to the idea that the industry that provides half its annual budget could be responsible.

Now Rolling Stone Magazine has done a deeper dive into Vernal’s story, as well as the political story behind its story, exploring how formerly rural areas came to be fracking hubs and how that’s impacted their residents, in a piece, “What’s Killing the Babies of Vernal, Utah?”

It describes how Young has lost most of her clients, received death threats and uncovered an attempt to poison her livestock after raising questions about whether Vernal’s booming oil industry had caused the wave of stillbirths, miscarriages and birth defects it’s seen in the last several years.

“In most places, detecting a grave risk to children would inspire people to name a street for you,” writes reporter Paul Solotaroff. “But in Vernal, a town literally built by oil, raising questions about the safety of fracking will brand you a traitor and a target.”

Two years ago, Young discovered that at least 10 babies had died in 2013 alone, a high number for a town of 10,000. She brought the issue to the attention of TriCounty health director Joe Shaffer. The department undertook a study but Young says it was a half-hearted attempt to uncover the cause of the epidemic, a deliberate attempt to evade the truth. As Rolling Stone describes it:

The county merely counted up infant deaths and brushed aside the facts about Vernal air pollution: ozone readings that rivaled the worst days of summer in New York, Los Angeles or Salt Lake City; particulate matter as bad as Mexico City; and ground air fraught with carcinogenic gases like benzene, rogue emissions from oil and gas drilling. Indeed, pollution was so bad in this rural bowl that it broke new ground in climate science. The Basin, which is bound on all four sides by mountains, is a perfectly formed bowl for winter inversions, in which 20-below weather clamps down on the valley and is sealed there by warmer air above it. During those spells, when the haze is visible and the air in one’s lungs is a cold chisel, the sun’s rays reflect off the snow on the ground and cook the volatile gases into ozone. The worst such period in the Basin’s recent history was the winter of 2012-13, when nearly all the Utah mothers whose babies died were pregnant.

When the study was released, the deaths were called “statistically insignificant.” The epidemiologist who conducted the study told citizens passed off the blame for the deaths on the mothers’ health issues including smoking, diabetes and prenatal neglect.

Rolling Stone responds:

Which raises a question you might ask in a state whose legislature is so rabid for oil and gas money that it set aside millions to sue the federal government for the right to drill near Moab and Desolation Canyon, some of the state’s most sacrosanct places: How many dead infants does it take before you’ll accept that there’s a problem?

While the deliberate, angry denial of Vernal’s citizens whose livelihoods depend on the fracking industry is understandable, what will anger readers is the background Rolling Stone provides on the Wild West fracking boom that put oil and gas exploration ahead of infant lives. It reaches back to the early days of the Bush/Cheney administration, describing once again for those who have forgotten, the closed-door meetings helmed by Cheney in which fossil fuel barons essentially rewrote U.S. energy law to benefit themselves, massively expanding drilling on public lands and exempting themselves from environmental regulations.

In essence, Cheney’s program turned the Department of the Interior into a boiler-room broker for Big Oil, and undercut the power of the Environmental Protection Agency. Cheney’s plan was such a transparent coup for Big Oil that it took four years, two elections and the Republican capture of both houses of Congress to make it to Bush’s desk as legislation. Along the way, the bill gained a crucial addendum, known today as the “Halliburton loophole”: a carte-blanche exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act for an emergent technique called fracking.

The impact of these sweeping changes affected the daily lives of people in towns like Vernal.

“Fracking moved the oil patch to people’s backyards, significantly increasing the pollution they breathed in small towns,” Amy Mall, a senior policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Rolling Stone. “Basically, it industrialized rural regions and brought them many of the related health problems we were used to seeing in cities.”

And Rolling Stone describes the official silence on the growing health problems as extending far beyond Vernal, as wells in formerly pristine areas leaked, blew out and emitted methane flares, and rather than responding, the state of Texas tied its citizens’ hands, passing a bill forbidding them from regulating the growth of fracking in their towns.

Rolling Stone says:

Whatever Cheney’s doing now, he must look upon his handiwork and smile. OPEC has lost its whip hand over oil prices, SUVs are selling off the lot again, and Obama takes victory laps because we now produce more oil than we import. Glad tidings for all—except the people in more than 30 states who wake up to the thump of fracking rigs. To them, the message from Washington has been tacit but final: You folks are on your own out there.

After four of her five clients had miscarriages recently, Donna Young has the water in their homes tested. Rolling Stone reports:

Most of the batches tested were positive for extreme toxicity from hydrogen sulfide, H2S, one of the most deadly of the gases released by drilling. Exposure to it has killed a number of rig workers over the past few decades. In high enough concentration, just one breath is enough. In much smaller amounts, H2S can cause miscarriages—and the amounts Young says she found were more than 7,000 times the EPA threshold for safety.

“I know I have to call somebody, but who?” Young told Rolling Stone. “Who is there to trust in this town?”

Anastasia Pantsios|June 23, 2015

Earthquakes Tied to Fracking Boom, Two New Studies Confirm

Oklahoma was never big earthquake country, but in the last six years their numbers have surged, going from an average of two a year over 3.0 magnitude to 538 last year, surpassing California as the U.S.’s most seismically active state. Regions in Texas and Ohio that rarely felt an earthquake are now seeing wave after wave of them; eight states overall have seen big increases.

Clusters of earthquakes in Oklahoma have occurred in the areas with multiple injection wells. Image credit: Science Advances

Clusters of earthquakes in Oklahoma have occurred in the areas with multiple injection wells. Image credit: Science Advances

Studies keep showing that the earthquakes start happening when wastewater from fracking is injected underground. Scientists say it’s because those large quantities of water, forced underground by heavy pressure, activate dormant fault lines. Now two more such studies have been added to the pile of evidence.

One of the studies, published in the journal Science, comes from a team of scientists from the University of Colorado at Boulder and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The largest study to date, they analyzed information on earthquakes and 180,000 injection wells from Colorado to the east coast. They tied 18,000 of the wells, primarily in Colorado and Oklahoma, to earthquakes.

“This is the first study to look at correlations between injection wells and earthquakes on a broad, nearly national scale,” said University of Colorado doctoral student Matthew Weingarten, the study’s lead author. “We saw an enormous increase in earthquakes associated with these high-rate injection wells, especially since 2009, and we think the evidence is convincing that the earthquakes we are seeing near injection sites are induced by oil and gas activity.”

They found that “high-rate” injection wells, which pumped more than 300,000 gallons of water a month underground, were more likely to cause tremors than low-rate wells and that wastewater injection wells were more likely to cause earthquakes than so-called “oil recovery” wells which inject fluid to push remaining oil out of depleted wells. They also found that injection wells were tied to earthquakes ranging from 4.7 to 5.6 magnitude in Arkansas, Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas in 2011 and 2012.

“People can’t control the geology of a region or the scale of seismic stress,” said Weingarten. “But managing rates of fluid injection may help decrease the likelihood of induced earthquakes in the future.”

The second study, published last week in the journal Science Advances, was done by a pair of geologists at Stanford University. They looked specifically at the increased seismicity in certain areas of Oklahoma that rarely saw earthquakes before 2009—”no state has experienced a more significant increase in seismicity in recent years than Oklahoma,” they said. They  found that it followed big increases in wastewater water from drilling operations that was injected into underground wells nearby.

“The number of small- to moderate-sized earthquakes in much of the central and eastern United States began to increase markedly around 2009,” the study noted. “Some of this seismicity appears to be associated with increases in saltwater disposal that originates as ‘flow-back’ water after multistage hydraulic fracturing operations. Over the past five years, parts of Oklahoma have experienced marked increases in the number of small- to moderate-sized earthquakes. In three study areas that encompass the vast majority of the recent seismicity, we show that the increases in seismicity follow five- to 10-fold increases in the rates of saltwater disposal. Adjacent areas where there has been relatively little saltwater disposal have had comparatively few recent earthquakes.”

In Oklahoma in particular, there has been pushback from the state’s powerful oil and gas sector, which has tried to silence scientists speaking out about the tremors. State seismologist Austin Holland was called into a meeting with oil and gas billionaire Harold Hamm, head of Oklahoma City-based Continental Resources; Hamm is frequently referred to as the founding father of fracking.

“Holland had been studying possible links between a rise in seismic activity in Oklahoma and the rapid increase in oil and gas production, the state’s largest industry,” reported Bloomberg. “Hamm requested that Holland be careful when publicly discussing the possible connection between oil and gas operations and a big jump in the number of earthquakes, which geological researchers were increasingly tying to the underground disposal of oil and gas wastewater, a byproduct of the fracking boom that Continental has helped pioneer.”

Holland said that the Stanford study was a major factor in the recent statement issued by the Oklahoma Geological Survey, for which Holland works, saying it was “very likely” that the earthquakes there are due to the injection of water into deep injection wells.

“The Stanford scientists’ findings were carefully considered before we issued the statement, and contributed to the scientific credibility of the statement,” said Holland.

“We’ve been waiting for exactly this type of study,” said Oklahoma’s Secretary of Energy & Environment Michael Teague. “These findings help us understand the case better so that we can evaluate options that we can take to go forward in finding ways to reduce the quakes.”

Anastasia Pantsios|June 23, 2015

World’s Largest Offshore Wind Turbine Unveiled in Fukushima

Japan officially unveiled today its 7 megawatt (MW) wind turbine, the world’s largest offshore turbine to date. It is slated to be operational by September.

The Fukushima Wind Project, located about 12 miles off the coast of Fukushima, installed a 2 MW wind turbine in November 2013. The turbines are part of a pilot project led by Marubeni Co. and funded by the Japanese government with research and support from several public and private organizations, including the University of Tokyo and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

The new turbine, which will tower 220 meters above the sea, will transmit electricity to the grid via submarine cable, according to The Japan Times. The government has allocated 50 billion yen ($405 million) for the project, which allows turbines to float in areas that are “too deep for traditional towers fixed to the seafloor,” says Bloomberg News. There are plans to add a third floating turbine with a generating capacity of 5 MW later in the year, which will bring the total output capacity of the project to 14 MW.

Offshore turbines, which have garnered a lot of support in Japan after the Fukushima disaster, “enjoy the benefit of more stable wind than onshore models, and are more efficient because they are not hampered by the constraints posed by land and transportation,” says The Japan Times.

“Countries are exploring floating offshore wind technology and Japan is in a sense at the same level with Norway and Portugal,” which have about 2 MW of offshore wind generating capacity, Yasuhiro Matsuyama, a trade ministry official in charge of clean energy projects, told Bloomberg News.

In the U.S., Deepwater Wind broke ground (or should I say broke water) this spring on the country’s first offshore wind farm off the coast of Rhode Island. When it is finished, the five turbines will have a generating capacity of 30 MW.

Cole Mellino|June 22, 2015

Gulf Power to move toxic coal ash from Apalachicola River

The company on Wednesday settled a federal lawsuit over its storage of coal ash near the river.

Gulf Power has settled a federal lawsuit brought by three conservation groups over the company’s storage of toxic coal ash at its power plant in Sneads near the Apalachicola River.

Last year, the Apalachicola Riverkeeper, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and the Waterkeeper Alliance filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee alleging that hundreds of thousands of tons of coal ash were leaking from unlined waste lagoons on a bluff overlooking the river.

The nonprofit, public-interest law firm Earthjustice, working on behalf of the groups, sued Gulf Power after water samples showed pollutants were leaking from the lagoons into the river, in violation of the federal Clean Water Act.

Under terms of the settlement, Gulf Power agreed to dry out and remove the coal ash from the lagoons and move it to a new landfill located upland at the Scholtz Generating Plant, said Bradley Marshall, an attorney for Earthjustice. An underground wall will be built to make sure the coal ash can’t seep out and groundwater can’t get in, he said.

“What’s really important here is protecting the Apalachicola River, which is one of the most biologically diverse waterways in the country,” Marshall said.

Gulf Power agreed to try to obtain necessary permits with a year and try to complete construction within three years after that, Marshall said. The company will monitor groundwater after construction is done to make sure pollutants aren’t getting into the river. The 62-year-old power plant closed in April.

Jeff Rogers, a spokesman for Gulf Power, said the company has had groundwater monitoring in place at the plant since the mid-1980s and has always been in compliance. While he called the litigation “an unnecessary lawsuit,” he said the settlement allows Gulf Power to move ahead with permanent closure of the ash ponds as part of the plant’s retirement.

“Gulf Power will be working with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection on a plan to ensure the ponds are properly closed,” he said.

The conservation groups were concerned that earthen berms surrounding the coal ash could collapse and cause a major spill, harming the river and the estuary downstream, they said in a news release. Major environmental damage occurred in a coal-ash spill last year at the Dan River in North Carolina and in 2008 in Kingston, Tennessee.

“What we have here is 40 acres of coal ash sitting next to the Apalachicola River,” Marshall said. “And what we don’t want happening is a catastrophic spill like we saw in North Carolina and Kingston. And here Gulf has agreed to do the responsible thing and move the ash back away from the river.”

Jeff Burlew|Tallahassee Democrat|June 24, 2015

Owl Wings Inspire Quieter Wind Turbine Blades

One of the most commonly heard complaints about wind turbines is that they’re loud. Wind farms are usually built a far enough distance away from communities that the noise is negligible, but a new biomimetic technology inspired by the stealthy flight of owls could lead to wind turbines, planes and even computer fans that are virtually silent.

This is significant because not only would quieter turbines make communities more open to having them nearby, but because wind turbines are currently heavily braked in order to keep noise to a minimum, having a way to make them operate quietly could mean that the bladed could run at much higher speeds and produce more energy. In fact, average-sized wind farms could add several megawatts to their capacity.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge, have come up with a prototype coating for wind turbine blades that could make them a lot quieter and they owe the advancement to one of nature’s greatest hunters, the owl. Owls don’t only have great eyesight and sharp talons, they also employ some pretty amazing engineering in their wings that allows them to fly and dive for prey in silence.

“No other bird has this sort of intricate wing structure,” said Professor Nigel Peake of Cambridge’s Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, who led the research. “Much of the noise caused by a wing – whether it’s attached to a bird, a plane or a fan – originates at the trailing edge where the air passing over the wing surface is turbulent. The structure of an owl’s wing serves to reduce noise by smoothing the passage of air as it passes over the wing – scattering the sound so their prey can’t hear them coming.”

Peake, along with a team from Virginia Tech, Lehigh and Florida Atlantic Universities, studied owls’ flight feathers under high resolution microscopes and discovered that the wings are covered with a downy covering that resembles a forest canopy from above, a flexible comb of bristles on the leading edge, and most importantly, a porous and elastic fringe of feathers at the trailing edge that dampens sound.

The researchers then started to develop a coating that could replicate the effect of the fringe that scatters sound. They came up with a porous coating made of 3D-printed plastic. In wind tunnel tests, the coating reduced the noise generated by a wind turbine blade by 10 decibels, without affecting aerodynamics

The researchers plan to next test the coating on operational wind turbines to see if they improve the power output while keeping the noise down.

This post originally appeared on TreeHugger.

Megan Treacy|TreeHugger|June 24, 2015

Renewable Energy Responsible for First Ever Carbon Emissions Stabilization

For the first time ever, the world’s energy consumption has increased without causing an equivalent spike in carbon dioxide emissions.

Carbon emissions in 2014 remained at the previous year’s levels of 32.3 billion metric tons — a milestone that points to the impact worldwide renewable energy investment is having in the face of a 1.5 percent annual increase in global energy consumption, according to a new report from REN21. The tenth annual Renewables 2015 Global Status Report cites “increased penetration of renewable energy” and improvements in energy efficiency as the chief reasons for the noted emissions stabilization.

Renewables Capacity Beats Out Coal and Gas Combined

Among numerous findings, the report also states that renewable energy sources accounted for 59 percent of net global power capacity additions in 2014, which was more than coal and gas combined.

A total of 135 gigawatts (GW) of renewable capacity was added in 2014, bringing the running total of worldwide installed capacity to 1,712 GW. This figure represents an 8.5 percent increase over 2013 and is more than twice the capacity that existed 10 years ago. Also up is the number of countries that now have renewable energy policies in place: 164, which is 20 more countries than in 2013. In 2004, that number was only 48.

Top Global Renewable Rankings

According to the report, the top five countries with the greatest annual investment in renewable power and fuels were China, the U.S., Japan, the U.K. and Germany.

Burundi was noted as the country with the greatest per-unit GDP investment in renewable power and fuels. China ranked first in hydropower, wind power, solar PV and solar water heating capacity. The U.S. took first in CSP capacity, biodiesel and fuel ethanol production. Kenya was ranked first in geothermal power capacity.

The countries with the greatest renewable power generation in 2014 were China, the U.S., Brazil, Germany and Canada.

Global Investment Up 17 Percent

Additionally, the report shows global investment in renewable power and fuels (not counting hydropower greater than 50 megawatts) rose 17 percent between 2013 and 2014, to USD $270.2 billion. In 2004, that figure was $45 billion. The report notes the greatest spending increase occurred in China, where total renewable power and fuels buy-in made up for nearly two-thirds of all developing country investment. Solar power, with significant emphasis on solar PV, accounted for 55 percent of new investment.

A Call for an End to Fossil and Nuclear Subsidies

Not just a celebratory observance of the great gains made in recent years by renewable energy, the report also calls out continued annual subsidies for fossil fuel and nuclear energy as factors that may be stunting even greater renewable growth.

Christine Lins, Executive Secretary for REN21, stated that eliminating fossil fuel and nuclear energy subsidies would “strengthen the development and use of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies” and “make it evident that renewables are the cheapest energy option.”

The REN21 Renewables 2015 Global Status Report, which provides an in-depth look at international renewable energy investment rankings and global market trends, is available online now.

Vince Font|Contributing Editor|June 17, 2015

Judge blocks US fracking rules after petroleum groups and states object

Wyoming court suspends regulations that were due to take effect on Wednesday governing hydraulic fracturing for gas exploration on public lands

A US district judge in Wyoming has granted a request by four states and several energy industry groups to temporarily block new federal rules governing fracking on public lands.

The interior department rules due to come into force on Wednesday would require companies to provide data on chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, and to take steps to prevent leakage from oil and gas wells on federally owned land.

But on Tuesday Judge Scott Skavdahl granted a stay to the new rules until 22 July, according to the Independent Petroleum Association of America, which said the judge’s decision on a preliminary injunction sought by IPAA and other opponents of the rules was now expected in mid-August.

IPAA and the Western Energy Alliance were joined by Colorado, Wyoming, North Dakota and Utah in seeking to stop the new rules from taking effect.

“We are pleased the court agreed that the new BLM regulations present serious and difficult questions that justified a stay of these rules’ effective date,” Colorado attorney general Cynthia Coffman said.

Fracking involves injection of large amounts of water, sand and chemicals underground at high pressure to extract gas. Environmental groups and some living near wells have linked the practice to water pollution and increased earthquake activity.

Industry and states producing gas and oil have long opposed federal rules on fracking. Preferring to keep regulation in state hands, IPAA and the Western Energy Alliance filed a lawsuit in the US district court in Wyoming challenging the rules minutes after they were issued in March.

The groups said the rules were “arbitrary and unnecessary”.

Wyoming and Colorado soon followed with their own lawsuit, arguing that the rules would infringe upon their sovereign authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing. North Dakota also intervened in the case against the regulations.

The groups and the states argue that allowing the rules to move forward before the resolution of the legal challenges would harm industry and waste state resources.

The interior department was not immediately available for comment on the judge’s decision.

In its brief opposing the injunction, the department argued that companies would only be affected by the rules if they chose to engage in fracking on federal lands.

Reuters in Wyoming|24 June 2015

More Floridians use solar to generate own electricity, power grid

More Floridians than ever are using renewable energy, such as solar panels to generate electricity. Customer-owned renewable energy grew 28 percent in 2014 to 8,571 systems statewide, from 6,697 in 2013, the Florida Public Service Commission said Wednesday.

Statewide, electric generation capacity from customer renewable energy systems reached 79,797 kilowatts, an increase of approximately 33 percent since last year. These are systems where a homeowner or business owner installs renewable energy equipment to meet all or part of their electricity needs, rather than purchase it from a utility.

eFlorida Power & Light Co. had 3,241 customers, including 339 in Palm Beach County, with renewable generation interconnections as of Dec 31, up from 2,565 in 2013. All of the FPL customers in Palm Beach County have solar photovoltaic systems, with two of them owning wind turbines as well.

FPL spokeswoman Alys Daly said through net-metering, customers who generate electricity into the grid are given a credit on their bill at the retail rate. At the end of the year, customers are paid at the wholesale rate for electricity they generated beyond what they used.

“Net metering was created as an energy efficiency measure so people would generate the amount of solar energy that they need as opposed to receiving a big payment at the end of the year,” Daly said. “They still have to purchase electricity from us at night or when it is cloudy.”

In 2014 FPL paid $41,458 to interconnected customers who owned renewable generation. The total paid since 2008 amounts to $120,185.

The PSC amended its rules in 2008 to promote development of customer-owned renewable generation. By making it easier and more affordable for customers to interconnect an otherwise uneconomic system with their utility’s grid, the PSC’s rules have encouraged customer use of clean renewable generation that also lowers their utility bills.

“The PSC’s commitment to energy efficiency and renewables have given important momentum to renewables in Florida,” said PSC Chairman Art Graham.

Solar photovoltaic panels continue to be the most popular renewable choice; however, use of wind turbines is also increasing.

FPL and the state’s other investor-owned utilities required to offer an expedited interconnection agreement process so that homeowners and businesses interested in generating their own energy can do so quickly.

Every Florida municipal and cooperative that sells electricity at retail is required, by statute, to provide a standardized interconnection agreement and net metering program for customer-owned renewable generation systems.

Susan Salisbury|Staff Writer|Palm Beach Post|June 25, 2015

Solar Thermal Desalination Now Underway in Water-hungry California

As droughts continue to worsen worldwide, a project in California is using solar power to bring water to desperate agricultural lands.

Regional droughts are being exacerbated by climate change, which is mostly caused by what is tasked with bailing them out — fossil fuels. Israel, Australia, and now southern California have all turned to expensive energy-guzzling seawater desalination projects after historic droughts.

The controversial Carlsbad desalination project’s latest projected cost is now $1 billion. It will suck in 100 million gallons of San Diego’s seawater a day and force it through a series of filters to produce 50 million gallons of water a day using high-pressure reverse osmosis.

A modest solar thermal desalination alternative now quietly undergoing permitting inland would produce 5 million gallons of water, about one tenth of that of Carlsbad, but at a much lower cost of just $30 million, using a solar distillation process.

WaterFX will use a 24-MW trough-type solar thermal field supplied by NREL-collaborator SkyFuel to create direct steam from the sun to run multi-effect distillation, desalinating enough agricultural water for reuse to keep 2,000 acres of farmland irrigated each year.

Agricultural Desalination

WaterFX Chairman Aaron Mandell, who previously founded Oasys Water, a Massachusetts provider of desalination and water-treatment technologies, said he focused on reusing agricultural drainage water because agriculture is California’s biggest water user. Selenium and other natural agricultural salts build up in soil, eventually making farming impossible.

“The agricultural sector uses about 80 percent of all the water in California,” Mandell explained. “If only 20 percent of the water is being used for municipalities, and you reduce that water consumption by 50 percent, you’ve only made a 10 percent impact overall. Reducing agricultural use has a much bigger impact.”

Last year WaterFX completed a six-month demonstration project that convinced the Panoche Water District to go ahead with the commercial plant. “The water district has been monitoring the pilot project and they’re very happy with the results,” Mandell said.

WaterFX founders initially leveraged their extensive backgrounds in water treatment engineering to build a demo of their Concentrated Solar Still.

Once permitted and built in 2016, Panoche Water District will purchase the water by the acre-foot to sell to the parched farms both in its own and neighbouring water districts. WaterFX proved in its performance test that it can produce desalinated water competitively priced against the cost of surface water.

It will produce 2 million gallons a day in the first phase, then extend the solar field to to produce enough steam to supply 5 million gallons a day.

Desalination Technology

WaterFX uses thermal desalination, which leaves only about 7 gallons of highly concentrated brine per 100 gallons of intake water. 

The Central Valley has ancient seafloor containing minerals and metals that are in the ground naturally, but as the fresh water is being used up, the sediment is concentrated.

This semi-solid brine of naturally occurring salts, which includes gypsum that is used in construction, boron, and selenium that is used in semiconductors, is worth millions, according to Mandell.

“We can actually separate and refine certain components for resale,” he says.

Thermal desalination is an ideal application for concentrated solar power (CSP), which turns sunlight to thermal energy. Unlike most CSP, which is used to ultimately drive a steam turbine to generate electricity, in solar desalination the steam is used directly in a solar still to simply evaporate out the waste.

WaterFX contracted with SkyFuel, the manufacturer of the SkyTrough, to supply both the tracking system and the half-megawatt parabolic trough solar collectors.

SkyFuel manufactures their own lightweight flexible mirror film on 5-ft wide rolls that can slide into position in their 20-ft wide lightweight parabolic trough frame units. Their patented film (ReflecTech) is much lighter and cheaper than the heavy segmented glass mirrors used in parabolic trough CSP, but is equally efficient. A thin layer of pure silver on the flexible aluminum sheet is protected from the sun by layers of polymers.

The solar collecting area and desalination plant would occupy about 1 acre for each 40 acres of farmland it can supply with irrigation.

Distributed Solar Desalination for a Drier Future

By contracting with water districts for a series of smaller and less expensive distributed solar desalination projects, Mandell sees a faster path through permitting than Carlsbad’s, once his initial 24-MW project is approved.

“Solar thermal desalination has really never been done before and we are going through right now exactly what permits are required as first-of-its-kind,” Mandell said.

There are also some special approvals required to produce extra water and put it into the California aqueduct system. But, once the first solar thermal desalination facility is operating, the inland empire contains no shortage of customers for the future. California is the fruit basket for the nation. Climate scientists have long predicted a drier future over the longer term for the region.

“We deal with farmers who have suffered substantial yield losses just due to the low quality of the groundwater, and they have to pump from deeper and deeper depths as the water table gets drawn down,” Mandell said. “They are in pretty dire straits. They are now having their second year in history of zero water allocation.”

WaterFX expects its second solar thermal desalination plant to be approved this year and operate in 2016.

Susan Kraemer|Correspondent|June 23, 2015

Land Conservation

Who is Protecting Florida’s State Parks?

The people of Florida take great pride in their state parks. They are the heart of what makes Florida special.

The Florida Park Service has managed Florida’s state parks for 80 years. The agency is directed “to acquire typical portions of the original domain of such character as to emblemize the state’s natural values and conserve those values — for all time.” (62D FAC) This is interpreted to mean that representative examples of original natural Florida will be restored and managed as they appeared when Europeans arrived in 1513, to the extent possible.

Thanks to the vision and dedication of our park rangers and biologists, Floridians can observe what Florida looked like when the state’s history was being made. They can visit Ichetucknee Springs State Park, near Lake City, to experience the springs as Hernando DeSoto did when he was there in 1539. At Manatee Spring State Park, near Chiefland, they can see the natural landscape that naturalist William Bartram described in 1774, and they can visit Torreya State Park, in Liberty County, to witness the natural conditions that General Andrew Jackson experienced there in 1818 during the First Seminole War. No other state has managed their state parks with this extraordinary vision.

Men and women of foresight restored these parks in decades past that were enjoyed by over 27 million Floridians and tourists last year. This is the premier state park system in the United States having won the national state parks Gold Medal Award on three occasions. If there was ever a case of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” this is a prime example.

The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) which oversees the Florida Park Service is responsible for the protection of Florida’s state parks. The state parks have been a single-use agency for 80 years but now DEP intends to manage the parks under a multiple-use philosophy which means practically any activity is permissible as long as it generates more revenue. This includes such activities as logging and livestock grazing. This will be the most significant change affecting our state parks since the state park system was established in 1935. DEP plans to convert 10 square miles of Myakka River State Park into a cattle ranch. Privatization and multiple-use in one of Florida’s oldest and most popular state parks. Who will protect our state parks from such ill-conceived uses?

Florida’s state parks are to Florida what the national parks are to the nation. No one would think of cutting forests or grazing livestock in a national park. It is equally unthinkable that natural forests would be cut in a Florida state park so as to increase revenue. Thankfully, we do not expect public schools, public health and art and history museums to pay their own way. State Parks are living natural museums where we can experience remnants of Florida as they were when the Seminoles lived here. The parks provide 77% of their costs— the most ever. Is that not enough? The DEP secretary told a senate committee that he intends to make the parks 100% self-supporting. Our state parks are special places of importance to thousands of Floridians and they react strongly when their parks are threatened by special interests. It is foolish for DEP to slap this hornet’s nest.

There is no other natural landscape like Florida; however, DEP executives would alter our parks for profit, making them merely Anyplace Else USA. Park rangers and biologists have been sensitively restoring and managing state parks for decades for the enjoyment of Floridians and tourists but not to have them damaged by heavy equipment, chain saws and cattle hooves. Such practices would demonstrate a complete lack of sensitivity to the values of our state parks. Tree stumps, logging truck roads, manure and cell towers may be deemed acceptable on other state lands but they are not acceptable in our state parks. If you have a favorite state park, prepare to fight for it because It is at risk.

It is hypocritical to boast of eliminating thousands of state employees and then criticizing state agencies for not getting their job done? Government designed to fail. Two of the finest springs in the world, Silver Springs and Weeki Wachee Spring, were degraded into honky-tonk tourist attractions by corporations in pursuit of profits. Now they are state parks and the Florida Park Service is left with the task of removing dilapidated structures, acres of asphalt and healing the wounds from decades of abuse, the result of managing our natural treasures like a business.

There is also a myth that some of our state park lands are locked-up denying public access. The park service is very experienced at balancing recreation and preservation. Lands that are not protected from unsupervised use will be seriously degraded. Florida’s state land managers are among the best in the nation. The governor and cabinet have presented the Resource Manager of the Year Award to 22 state park land managers during the past 22 years to commend their good work.

The people of Florida expect the governor and legislature to support the Florida Park Service in doing what it does best, the sensitive, professional management of our state parks—–the Real Florida.

Jim A. Stevenson|Chief Naturalist of Florida’s state parks, 1969-1989|Retired DEP Senior Biologist.

Environmentalists sue state over Amendment 1 conservation spending

Environmental group Earthjustice is suing the Florida Legislature and its leaders over their budget’s use of money set aside for conservation by Amendment 1.

The lawsuit filed in Leon County on Monday against Senate President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli alleges that almost half of the Amendment 1 money in the budget is being used for purposes that aren’t permitted under state law.

“The Legislature did not do what the amendment requires,” Florida Wildlife Federation president Manley Fuller said in a statement. “Seventy-five percent of Florida voters approved this amendment last November, and they were clear that they want the state to buy conservation land. Instead, the Legislature took the money and used it for things it should not be spent on. This is a slap in the face to Florida voters, and it should not stand.”

The issue has drawn significant controversy since 75 percent of voters supported Amendment 1 last November. The amendment directs more than $700 million to be spent on conservation.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Florida Wildlife Federation, the St. Johns Riverkeeper, and the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida.

Michael Auslen, Staff Writer|Tampa Bay Times|June 22, 2015

5 new national parks for the Bahamas

Five new National Parks have been established in the Bahamas as part of an expansion of the Bahamas National Protected Area System.The new parks, situated on San Salvador island, encompass 8,500 ha of pristine land and seascapes, including all or part of the island’s four Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs). Two of the five new parks are recognised as Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) due to the occurrence of a threatened endemic iguana species.

San Salvador is well-known for its birdlife, and in particular, its abundance and high diversity of seabirds. The island hosts 14 of the 17 seabird species that breed in the Bahamas, the largest diversity of breeding seabirds in this area. It is also home to a number of globally threatened species, including the Endangered San Salvador Rock Iguana, endemic to the island and with fewer than 600 individuals remaining. An endemic (and threatened) race of the West Indian Woodpecker is found only here and on Abaco island.

Due to the island’s small size and isolation, the key habitats of San Salvador are extremely vulnerable to man-made influences. However, large areas of these habitats are now contained by the five new parks. Graham’s Harbour Iguana and Seabird National Park and the Southern Great Lake National Park are internationally recognized as IBAs and KBAs, and between them embrace an extensive mangrove system, important nesting seabird populations and  populations of the San Salvador rock iguana, in addition to healthy reef systems and seagrass beds. The three other new parks also protect key habitats, including tidal creeks, and a reef system home to the Critically Endangered hawksbill turtle, and a migratory route for humpback whales. It is hoped that the designation of these five new parks will help to prevent habitat and animal disturbance, and wildlife trafficking of threatened species.

“We are especially pleased with the tremendous amount of expressed and documented community support for these parks,” said Eric Carey, Executive Director of the Bahamas National Trust. “We are thrilled to see the results of all of our joint efforts, including that of other NGOs, come to fruition through this momentous declaration by the government.”

Grand Canyon joins list of endangered historic places

Each year, the National Trust for Historic Preservation names its 11 most-endangered historic places in America, often selecting neighborhoods, landmarks and even sports arenas. But for 2015, one of the nation’s most iconic natural attractions, the Grand Canyon, makes the list. Citing development pressures from tourism and mining, the National Trust deemed the Grand Canyon to be “at risk of destruction or irreparable damage.”

The nonprofit National Trust, which has been doing the list since 1988, says the “designation has been a powerful tool for raising awareness and rallying resources to save endangered sites.”

America’s11 most-endangered historic places for 2015:

­A.G. Gaston Motel — Birmingham, Alabama. Now vacant and badly deteriorating, this motel played host to Martin Luther King Jr. and served as a “war room” for leaders of the Civil Rights Movement.

­ Carrollton Courthouse — New Orleans.

Built to serve Jefferson Parish before the city of Carrollton was annexed by New Orleans in 1874, this is one of the most significant landmarks outside of the French Quarter. After decades of use as a school building, it is now vacant and for sale with no preservation protections in place.

­Chautauqua Amphitheater — Chautauqua, New York. A beloved National Historic Landmark that has occupied a special place in American culture for well over 100 years, the “Amp” is threatened by the Chautauqua Institution’s plans to demolish it.

­ East Point Historic Civic Block — East Point, Georgia. East Point City Hall, City Auditorium, City Library and Victory Park form a contiguous block that has been the heart of downtown East Point since the 1930s, but is suffering a potential fate of demolition by neglect.

­Fort Worth Stockyards — Fort Worth. This district attracts millions of visitors each year to experience Fort Worth’s emergence as a center of the American livestock industry. A large redevelopment project would forever alter its character.

­ The Grand Canyon — Arizona. A beloved international icon and a sacred place for several Native American tribes, the Grand Canyon is threatened by development proposals ranging from tourist resorts to mining.

­ Little Havana — Miami. A symbol of the immigrant experience, Little Havana is threatened by zoning changes and lack of protection for its many historic buildings.

­ Oak Flat — Superior, Arizona. A sacred site to several Native American tribes, Oak Flat is threatened because of a land exchange provision included in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015 that would open the site up to mining.

­ Old U.S. Mint — San Francisco. A National Historic Landmark built in 1874 and one of the very few downtown buildings to survive the 1906 earthquake and fire, the Old U.S. Mint is increasingly at risk from decades of neglect.

­ South Street Seaport — New York.

The South Street Seaport features some of the oldest architecture in the city. A tower and other development proposals threaten to dramatically alter a historic neighborhood.

­ The Factory — West Hollywood, California. The Factory was built in 1929 to house the Mitchell Camera Corp. After being adapted to serve many other uses, The Factory re-opened in 1974 as Studio One, an influential disco for gay men that became a hotbed for celebrity performances and AIDS activism. It is threatened by a development proposal.

BEN ABRAMSON|USA TODAY

 Perspective: How much land to protect?

Bluehead Ranch, one of the many currently unprotected Florida Forever projects, is important for protecting the headwaters of Fisheating Creek, the health of Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades, habitat for Florida panther and Florida black bear. It is one of the largest remaining private expanses of dry prairie, an endangered ecosystem supporting many listed species, left in Florida.

When it comes to conserving Florida’s natural and rural lands, a simple question arises – how much is enough? How much land needs to be protected to save Florida’s ecosystems?

The short answer? More than is currently protected. The long answer? It’s complicated, so keep reading.

The issue takes on added importance as the Legislature decides how to spend Amendment 1 money. Supporters of the measure, which passed with 75 percent of the vote, say they intended that the money from documentary stamp revenue would be used to acquire important conservation land (or its development rights) to protect it from development.

But some politicians claim that Florida already has enough conservation land or that there isn’t a plan for additional protection needs. They are wrong on both counts.

Florida currently has about 10 million acres, or 29 percent, of its land in protected public and private lands managed compatibly with conservation, with the majority of it in vast acreages of wetlands and federal lands including Everglades National Park and Florida’s many military reservations.

Protecting almost all Florida Forever lands on the current project list would add an additional 2 million acres and raise the protected percentage to approximately 35 percent. But Florida’s extensive research on conservation priorities makes it very clear that additional land protection beyond current Florida Forever projects is essential for achieving our conservation goals.

These are not wild-eyed guesses. For more than three decades, Florida has led the nation in science-based conservation planning regarding identifying the areas most important for protecting Florida’s biodiversity and ecosystems.

Floridians and our political leaders need to keep in mind that protecting our green infrastructure is just as important as providing and maintaining our gray infrastructure, that is, our transportation, residential, commercial and industrial land uses and systems. Green infrastructure is a collective term encompassing the knowledge that biodiversity produces services including clean and sufficient surface water, water recharge, storm protection, flood control, clean air, food and fiber, fish and shellfish production, and nature-based recreation worth billions of dollars every year.

Through cooperative efforts among state universities, state agencies, conservation organizations and private landowners, we have engaged in a series of scientific assessments over the years to identify Florida’s biodiversity and ecosystem conservation priorities. This conservation science and planning coincided with both the start of Florida’s growth management efforts and Florida’s two land conservation programs, Preservation 2000 and Florida Forever. Both programs were heavily influenced by Florida’s wealth of conservation science expertise and collectively protected more than 2 million acres of land from 1990 until 2009.

Though those acres represent very important progress toward achieving the goal of protecting Florida’s conservation priority areas, the science makes clear that there are still many unprotected acres essential for conservation and to sustain human populations. This includes the 2 million acres of land still waiting on the Florida Forever list, and many additional high-priority areas identified as essential for wildlife habitat, wildlife corridors and natural resources including our water supply.

So where does this put us regarding the future of Florida conservation and the claim that Florida already has “enough” conservation lands? And how does it relate to scientific estimates of land needed to effectively protect biodiversity and ecosystem services? Or, in other words, “How much is enough”? Scientists have been investigating this question for at least the last half-century, and the research and discussion continue to be better informed as conservation science continues to advance.

“How much is enough?” depends on a number of factors including geography, climate, habitat diversity, endemism (species found only within a specified region and not anywhere else, and parts of Florida are important centers of endemism), and level of conversion to development.

In short, the answer could be any where from 25 percent to 75 percent of a state or region, though this collective body of work has also suggested that approximately 50 percent of a region’s land in conservation (this includes a range of lands from natural to working landscapes such as ranches and silviculture) is a general benchmark for sufficient protection of our natural resources and to sustain human populations.

As a starting point, we need to use Amendment 1 to revitalize the funding of our landmark Florida Forever program. There is no legitimate, science-based or economic argument against returning Florida Forever to a minimum annual funding of $300 million a year. At current land prices and $300 million a year, Florida Forever might protect approximately 750,000 acres per decade, though protected acres would diminish as land prices continue to increase. That means we have many decades ahead of conservation land protection to achieve our science-based conservation goals.

In addition, the majority of our future conservation land protection can be done using conservation easements (selling development rights), which keeps the land in private hands where the landowner is responsible for management. And Florida Forever is a willing seller program, which means instead of attempting to rely on regulations to protect ecosystems, landowners voluntarily agree to sell their land or the development rights on their land to protect its conservation values.

Florida Forever and similar programs like the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program are by far the most effective tools we have to ensure functional ecosystems are protected. This is especially true now that Florida’s growth management program has been largely dismantled, while Florida is now again growing at the rate of over 350,000 people per year and losing at least 75,000 acres of rural land to new intensive development per year.

The overwhelming message from Floridian voters’ approval of Amendment 1 is that they see these same trends and want a very strong conservation land protection effort to ensure that Florida’s most important lands for conservation are protected before they are lost to development. Now the Legislature needs to listen and act accordingly.

Tom Hoctor|special to the Tampa Bay Times|April 23, 2015

Air Quality

Modifications to Settlement with Alabama Power Company Will Reduce Harmful Air Pollution

WASHINGTON — EPA and the U.S. Department of Justice today lodged in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama a proposed modification of a prior 2006 consent decree with Alabama Power Company that will secure further reductions of harmful air pollutants, primarily sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx), from three of the company’s coal-fired power plants in Alabama. The proposed modifications, if entered by the court, will resolve the remaining claims in a long-running case that alleged violations of the Clean Air Act’s New Source Review program.

The pollution reductions will be achieved through operation of state-of-the-art pollution control devices, the conversion of four units from the use of coal to natural gas, and the retirement of three other units.  Among other requirements, the company must meet specified emission rates. Alabama Power will also pay a $100,000 penalty and will spend at least $1.5 million on providing electrical charging infrastructure for electric airport service vehicles and passenger cars. This settlement is part of EPA’s national enforcement initiative to control harmful emissions from large sources of pollution, which includes coal-fired power plants, under the Clean Air Act’s Prevention of Significant Deterioration requirements.

“This action secures reductions of harmful air pollution at Alabama Power Company’s coal-fired power plants across the state,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “This is important progress toward our commitment to cut emissions from the largest sources, and means cleaner air and improved public health for communities across Alabama.”

For more information about EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance:

http://www2.epa.gov/aboutepa/about-office-enforcement-and-compliance-assurance-oeca

Recycling

Plastic garbage in the ocean is mysteriously disappearing

Scientists theorize that the plastic is being broken down into tiny, undetectable particles or that it is being carried into the deep ocean.

A vast amount of the plastic garbage littering the surface of the ocean may be disappearing, a new study suggests.

Exactly what is happening to this ocean debris is a mystery, though the researchers hypothesize that the trash could be breaking down into tiny, undetectable pieces. Alternatively, the garbage may be traveling deep into the ocean’s interior.

“The deep ocean is a great unknown,” study co-author Andrés Cózar, an ecologist at the University of Cadiz in Spain, said in an email. “Sadly, the accumulation of plastic in the deep ocean would be modifying this mysterious ecosystem – the largest of the world – before we can know it.”

Researchers drew their conclusion about the disappearing trash by analyzing the amount of plastic debris floating in the ocean, as well as global plastic production and disposal rates. [Photos: Trash Litters Deep Ocean]

Age of plastic

The modern period has been dubbed the Plastic Age. As society produces more and more of the material, storm water runoff carries more and more of the detritus of modern life into the ocean. Ocean currents, acting as giant conveyer belts, then carry the plastic into several subtropical regions, such as the infamous Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch.

In the 1970s, the National Academy of Sciences estimated that about 45,000 tons of plastic reaches the oceans every year. Since then, the world’s production of plastic has quintupled.

Missing mass

Cózar and his colleagues wanted to understand the size and extent of the ocean’s garbage problem. The researchers circumnavigated the globe in a ship called the Malaspina in 2010, collecting surface water samples and measuring plastic concentrations. The team also analyzed data from several other expeditions, looking at a total of 3,070 samples.

What they found was strange. Despite the drastic increase in plastic produced since the 1970s, the researchers estimated there were between 7,000 and 35,000 tons of plastic in the oceans. Based on crude calculations, there should have been millions of tons of garbage in the oceans.

Because each large piece of plastic can break down into many additional, smaller pieces of plastic, the researchers expected to find more tiny pieces of debris. But the vast majority of the small plastic pieces, measuring less than 0.2 inches (5 millimeters) in size, were missing, Cózar said.

Unknown impact

So what exactly is happening to the debris?

One possibility is that it is being broken down into tiny, undetectable particles, whose impact on the ocean is unknown. Another possibility is that it is being carried into the deep ocean.

Whether that’s good or bad isn’t clear.

Less trash at the surface may mean less wildlife comes into contact with plastic.

“The plastic pollution in surface waters can more easily interact with the ocean life, because the surface layer of the ocean hosts most of the marine organisms,” Cózar said.

On the other hand, small fish – particularly lanternfishes – may be eating some of these small plastic pieces, dubbed microplastics, and breaking them down even more. Because small fish are the ecological link between plankton and small vertebrates, and because commercial fish such as swordfish and tuna eat these small fish, it’s important to understand whether the absorption of toxins from the plastic will impact these animals’  health, he said.

The findings were published on June 30 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Tia Ghose|LiveScience 

4 Reasons Recycling Is Getting More Expensive (and Why it Matters)

The Washington Post printed a great article this past weekend alerting readers to a frightening trend: recycling is getting more expensive. Whereas recycling companies used to earn notable profits from their businesses, most of them are currently operating at a loss, even with some assistance from local tax dollars. What’s changed? Here are four big issues that have made recycling more expensive:

1. Going Rates for Recyclables Are Down

Recycling companies used to make a good amount of profit by selling recycled goods to manufacturers. The demand for these products has shrunk, however, as have the prices. Paper, for example, sold to China for $1,000 per metric ton five years ago. China is only willing to pay $400 for the same amount now. Not only that, but it can afford to be more selective in the product it chooses to buy. By demanding a pure product, that puts more burden on recycling companies to sort out all the extra stuff, thereby increasing costs to run the business all the while making less off of it.

With recycling companies selling recycled goods for roughly half the cost they did a few years ago, that’s leaving a lot of companies losing money.

2. There’s No Need to Sort

In the early days of recycling, Americans had to compartmentalize their recycling. I can recall my mother setting out separate containers for newspapers, cans and plastics. Nowadays, however, I’m able to throw all of those things into my one recycling bin. The reason for this shift is the notion that people will recycle more if it’s easier for them to do so. Recycling centers correctly wagered they’d get more product if they agreed to take over sorting duties.

The process and machinery necessary to sort recyclables is expensive. When prices for these items were higher, it made sense for the companies to eat the cost of sorting. Now that the prices are down, though, recycling companies make less money while still paying the same lofty amount to do the sorting. In the long run, this method will not prove profitable and, consequently, Americans might be asked to resume sorting duties again somewhere down the line.

3. The Bin Is Too Large

In addition to ditching sorting requirements, the bin also has grown significantly larger over the years. Again, recycling companies correctly figured they’d get more recyclables when they gave Americans more space in which to put it, but that has also introduced a new set of problems.

For starters, Americans rarely break down larger items like cardboard boxes like they used to. With all that extra space, boxes and the like fit easily into the bin without the effort. Unfortunately, that means the recycling companies have to take on that additional labor once it arrives, adding to their costs.

Secondly, large bins have ultimately encouraged a lot of “experimentation” on the part of consumers. With limited space, recyclers would put what they know for sure belongs in the recycling, while ample room has prompted many recyclers to put things in that really don’t belong in there “just in case.” Recycling companies must then take on the costs of sorting out the unusable trash.

4. Products Are Getting Thinner

To cut costs of their own, manufacturers have found ways to make their packaging smaller, lighter and thinner. From tin cans to cardboard boxes, just about everything is a little more compact than it was before the turn of the decade.

All of that is actually a boon for the environment overall. Not only does this require less resources to product, lighter products require less oil (and ultimately release less carbon emissions) to ship around the world. Nevertheless, recycling companies still come out the loser in this situation. Since they sell recycled goods to company by weight, lighter products means less of it to sell. When harvesting plastic, recycling companies now need 36 water bottles to get the same weight of plastic it got from just 22 bottles not too many years ago.

It’s worth noting that these downsides are all about the immediate financial hardships on recycling companies. Considering the bigger picture, recycling is a still a smart investment in the environment, and the long-term costs of not conserving resources and unnecessarily overfilling landfills will be immeasurable.

Still, it’s important to recognize that recycling companies are having difficulty making ends meet. Since immediate financial concerns often take precedent over what’s good for the planet decades from now, we’re likely to see recycling plants close unless things turn around. That’s unfortunate because, no matter the cost, what we really can’t afford is to not be good at recycling at this stage in human consumption.

Kevin Mathews|June 23, 2015

Miscellaneous

Palau Authorities Burn Vietnamese Illegal Fishing Boats Saying ‘We Will Not Tolerate Poachers in Our Ocean’

According to the Office of the President, today Palau authorities burned four Vietnamese “Blue Boat” vessels that were caught fishing illegally off of Kayangel Island. The unauthorized boats were discovered in a protected area with over 8 metric tons of sea cucumbers and reef fish on board. The fishing crew of 77 men will be loaded onto two unburned Blue Boats with enough fuel and provisions to get back to Vietnam. Since 2014, 15 Blue Boats from Vietnam have been captured stealing more than 25 metric tons of Palau’s marine species for the black market in Asia.

pew6501Palau authorities burned four Vietnamese “Blue Boat” vessels that were caught fishing illegally off of Kayangel Island. Photo credit: Jeff Barabe

“We have a simple message for those who try to steal Palau’s marine resources: We will not tolerate poachers in our ocean. Palau is working with our military, diplomacy, and NGO partners from around the world to get tough on illegal fishers and protect our food security,” said President Tommy E. Remengesau Jr. “When the Palau National Marine Sanctuary becomes law, it will be even easier to deter, detect, and interdict pirate fishing. Palau is simply no longer an option when it comes to poaching. This message goes to the captain and crews of these vessels. Palau guarantees, you will return with nothing. Captains will be prosecuted and jailed. Boats will be burned. Nothing will be gained from poaching in Palau. From one fisherman to another, respect Palau.”

“Illegal fishing is a major threat to Palau, given its location as a critical gateway to the Pacific,” said Seth Horstmeyer of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Global Ocean Legacy program. “With a no-tolerance policy and growing enforcement capabilities, illegal fishing will be stopped in Palau.”

As the new enforcement strategy is implemented, Palau will continue to strengthen its response to illegal fishing regardless of scale. On Jan. 26, Palau Marine Law Enforcement, in partnership with Pew, used Automatic Identification System (AIS) tracking to successfully apprehend a Taiwanese longline vessel suspected of unauthorized fishing activity. The vessel was found with 304 shark carcasses and several hundred shark fins on board, and was required to pay a $100,000 fine. Penalties will become significantly higher and punishment more strict when the Palau National Marine Sanctuary is launched.

Worldwide, Pew estimates that illegal fishers steal up to 108,000 pounds of fish from the ocean every minute, which averages to approximately 1 in 5 fish caught in the wild. These activities threaten the health of the ocean, the livelihoods of legitimate fishers and food security for island nations.

The Pew Charitable Trusts|June 12, 2015

In Memoriam

Donald Featherstone, the New England artist who unleashed the national icon otherwise known as the (plastic) pink flamingo on the world in 1957, has passed away following a long illness. He was 79.

Garamba Park ranger, Jean-Marie Kpionyeslinani, and two members of the Congolese armed forces who were assisting with anti-poaching patrols in the park; Corporal Kambale Musubao and Lieutenant Moise Mospado.

Dr. Mar Cano, conservation hero and one of Sahara Conservation Fund’s founding members.

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 1506 C

When a man throws an empty cigarette package from an automobile, he is liable to a fine of $50. When a man throws a billboard across a view, he is richly rewarded. ~Pat Brown

Announcements

National Nature Photography Day

Today is the 10th annual celebration of National Wildlife Federation’s National Nature Photography Day.

This day is dedicated to celebrating nature photography and its role in furthering wildlife conservation efforts.

Each entry into the National Wildlife® Photo Contest—open until July 1—helps expand this celebration beyond a single day,

and each photo you submit has the chance to win prizes, recognition, and publication in National Wildlife® magazine.

Picture your photo on our cover, bringing nature to life for more than one million readers.

Imagine your entry included in our annual wall calendar, reminding people daily what wildlife we cherish and protect when we act together.

Every day can be Nature Photography Day!

By submitting—and perhaps even donating—your images, you help support wildlife and make a positive impact on conservation.

So please enter your photos today to help National Wildlife Federation continue to protect wildlife—and so others can see your beautiful work.

Lisa Moore|Editorial Director|National Wildlife®

Don’t Miss PBS Summer Special Featuring NPCA’s work to Protect Buffalo National River ‏

This summer, the PBS series This American Land will feature NPCA’s fight to protect the Buffalo National River in northwest Arkansas.

We invite you to tune in to your local PBS affiliate to catch episode 502 of the series, called “Hogs on the Buffalo.”

You’ll learn about NPCA’s efforts with our local partners and community advocates to protect the once-pristine Buffalo National River

watershed from an ill-sited, Cargill-backed concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO).

Buffalo National River was established by Congress in 1972 as America’s first national river, and is managed by the National Park Service.

Last year, the Buffalo River welcomed more than 1.3 million visitors who spent $56.6 million in the gateway communities surrounding the park.

The PBS show highlights the many environmental and health concerns associated with this large-scale industrial hog farm

while also detailing the important impact this national park unit has on the local economy.

Please tell your friends and tune in for this special PBS airing of “Hogs on the Buffalo”!

Event Details

WHAT: PBS series This American Land episode featuring NPCA’s work on the Buffalo National River

WHEN: Episode airs nationwide on June 18, 2015 and throughout the summer.

Check your local PBS listings and tune in to episode 502 of This American Land to catch “Hogs on the Buffalo”

WHO: This episode features representatives from NPCA, Arkansas Canoe Club, Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, and The Ozark Society

WHERE: Find your local PBS station here (AETN in Arkansas)

QUESTIONS: Contact me with any questions at 865-329-2424 ext. 26 or ejones@npca.org

Don’t miss learning about the Buffalo National River on This American Land this summer!

Emily Jones|Senior Program Manager|Southeast Region|NPCA

Help plan the future of Dinner Island Ranch Wildlife Management Area

A 10-year plan for the Dinner Island Ranch Wildlife Management Area will be presented at a Tuesday, June 30, public hearing in Hendry County.

People are invited to the 7 p.m. public hearing at the John Boy Auditorium, 1200 South W.C. Owen Ave. in Clewiston.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) staff will present the draft land management plan for the FWC-managed Dinner Island Ranch WMA,

and people will be encouraged to comment and ask questions.

For more information on the upcoming local public hearing, go to MyFWC.com/Conservation and select “Terrestrial Programs” then “Management Plans.”

Dinner Island Ranch WMA, encompassing almost 22,000 acres near Lake Okeechobee, gives its visitors a sense of the wide open spaces of south Florida

that once were plentiful. Outdoor recreation opportunities include hiking, camping, hunting, wildlife viewing, biking and horseback riding – and it’s a great place for a scenic drive.

“Dinner Island Ranch WMA was purchased to conserve and restore cultural resources, landscapes, forest, water resources, biological diversity and

other elements important to ecosystem functions,” said Peter Vandeburgt, FWC land conservation planner. “This draft plan will specify how we intend to do that.”

All lands purchased with public funds must have a management plan that ensures the property will be managed in a manner consistent

with the intended purposes of the purchase. Hunting and fishing regulations are not included in this plan or meeting; those are addressed through a separate public process.

To obtain a copy of the draft land management prospectus for Dinner Island Ranch WMA, call Dylan Imlah at 850-487-7063 or email Dylan.Imlah@MyFWC.com.

For more information and background on management plans and their goals, visit MyFWC.com/Conservation and select “Terrestrial Conservation Programs”

then “Management Plans.” For more on the Dinner Island Ranch WMA, go to MyFWC.com and select “Wildlife Viewing” then “Wildlife Management Areas.”

Photos available on FWC’s Flickr site: https://flic.kr/s/aHskannXNd

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

FGCU Professor Wins International Award For Everglades Work

William J. Mitsch, the director of Florida Gulf Coast University’s Everglades Wetland Research Park in Naples is once again an international award winner.

Mitsch received the 2015 Merit Award for advancing knowledge and understanding of the world’s wetlands.

The award was given at a meeting of nations that uphold the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.

The meeting was held on June 3 in Uruguay.

The Ramsar Convention is an intergovernmental treaty that provides a worldwide framework for wetland conservation and use.

More than 160 countries have signed on to the treaty since 1971.

Mitsch serves as chairman of the U.S. National Ramsar Committee.

“As a lifetime wetland scientist, it is a distinct honor for me to receive this Merit Award,” Mitsch said.

“Ramsar has become the chief political forces in the world for saving the world’s wetlands and aquatic resources from destruction and pollution.

I hope I will be able, in some small way, to assist them in that mission.”

The ecologist is also the winner of the Stockholm Water Prize for contributions to the conservation and protection of

water resources and a Lifetime Achievement Award winner from the Society of Wetland Scientists.

Mitsch began his work at FGCU in 2012 as the Juliet C. Sproul Chair for Southwest Florida Habitat Restoration and Management.

He currently researches the restoration of large ecosystems such as the Florida Everglades.

Some of his other work includes co-writing a textbook that is considered the definitive textbook on wetlands ecology.

It was published in 1986 and is currently in its fifth edition.

Currently he is serving as editor-in-chief ‘Ecological Engineering’, an international journal.

He also designed and managed the Olentangy River Wetland Research Park while working at Ohio State University,

this park has become a model for new research sites and is one of Ramsar’s “Wetlands of International Important”.

“This award is a wonderful recognition of the outstanding contributions that Dr. Mitsch has made to wetlands research during his career,” said Robert Gregerson, dean of FGCU’s College of Arts and Sciences.

“His work to restore and repair wetland ecosystems is very much in line with FGCU’s sustainability focus,

and our students benefit from the opportunity to learn from a scientist with a worldwide reputation in his field.”

Amanda Jackson|Jun 19, 2015

Of Interest to All

Naples: Rare ghost orchid blooms at Corkscrew

NAPLES — Corkscrew Sanctuary could be hosting lots of orchid fans again during summer 2015, as its rare “super” ghost orchid produced its first bloom of the season on June 13.

The ghost orchid was made famous by the  2002 film Adaptation starring Meryl Streep and the best-selling Orchid Thief, by Susan Orlean.

In 2007, a volunteer spotted a ghost orchid in bloom along the boardwalk, prompting a spike in visitors and attention. The orchid had more blooms than any ghost  orchid previously spotted and thus became known as a super-ghost.

The drama returned each summer when it bloomed. One year, the blooms disappeared overnight, the victim of hungry insects. Last year, a second smaller ghost orchid was spotted.

During the 2014 season, the super ghost orchid produced more than 40 blooms.

Here’s Corkscrew’s statement:

June 13, 2015:      One flower has opened up on the Super Ghost Orchid!  This is the third flower of the year!  On Jan, 25, 2015, the first flower of the year bloomed. It was a new record for the ghost orchid, blooming in January, the earliest in the year it had bloomed previously was late March of 2010!  This first flower lasted almost two weeks.  Then on Feb. 8 another flower opened, but that one only lasted a couple of days.  The Corkscrew “Super Ghost Orchid” typically produces flowers on and off throughout the summer and sometimes at other times of the year.

The super ghost is 50 feet in the air, 100 feet off the boardwalk. Visitors have to walk about a mile down the boardwalk to reach it. When it blooms, the sanctuary posts a sign and keeps a telescope there. (They recommend you bring binoculars.)

During past ghost-orchid blooms, many folks braved the heat for a summer visit. (I visited the sanctuary in June and there were no mosquitoes, only a few deer fly.  Carrying plenty of water and prepared to sweat, I thought it was a lovely visit, so don’t be afraid of summer at Corkscrew.)

In previous years, the ghost orchid blooms were visible for several weeks in July and into August.

The woman who originally spotted the ghost orchid was looking for owls, according to the Audubon Society article.   To make sure she could find the orchid again, she left her shoes to mark the spot while she searched for another witness.

Here’s a previous Florida Rambler story on the exquisite sanctuary.

Bonnie Gross|6/16/15

Environmental activism works, study shows

The environmental movement is making a difference — nudging greenhouse gas emissions down in states with strong green voices, according to a study. Scientists have found a way to tell if a state jumping on the environmental bandwagon can mitigate other human factors — population growth and economic affluence — known to hurt the environment.

The environmental movement is making a difference — nudging greenhouse gas emissions down in states with strong green voices, according to a Michigan State University (MSU) study.

Social scientist Thomas Dietz and Kenneth Frank, MSU Foundation professor of sociometrics, have teamed up to find a way to tell if a state jumping on the environmental bandwagon can mitigate other human factors — population growth and economic affluence — known to hurt the environment.

“We’ve used new methods developed over the years and new innovations Ken has developed to add in the politics — and find that politics and environmentalism can mediate some environmental impact,” Dietz said. “Environmentalism seems to influence policies and how well policies that are in place are actually implemented and it also influences individual behavior and the choices people make.”

The study, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows a state-level win for environmental activism that hasn’t been apparent on a national scale.

The authors compared greenhouse gas emissions between all 50 U.S. states and within each state over time going back to 1990, and determined how emissions correlated with population, gross state product per capita, employment rate, and environmentalism. They calculated environmentalism by the environmental voting record of a state’s congressional delegation, as rated by the League of Conservation Voters.

The combined influences of population and affluence have been regarded as the core of environmental stress — and have tended to guarantee an annual increase in carbon dioxide emissions. But the paper “Political influences on greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. states” adds what the MSU researchers say is an important layer to understanding human impact on climate change. They show that a 1 percent increase in environmentalism tends to reduce emissions by more than enough to compensate for the typical annual increase in emissions.

“Efforts to mitigate emissions take a variety of forms at the state and local level and may have substantial impact even in the absence of a unified national policy,” the paper notes. “Existing regulations can be applied strictly or less stringently, and programs can be pursued enthusiastically or given a low priority. Even without formal policy and programs, the importance of reducing emissions can be widely accepted by individuals and organizations and result in actions that have substantial impact.”

This breakdown showed that certain states, such as New York for example, that would expected to see its increasing population and affluence bring along significantly higher carbon dioxide emissions instead saw those emissions fall thanks to politics that favored environmental protections.

Dietz and Frank offer a new way of understanding what drives humans’ impact on the environment, one that both see as a first step at turning up the sensitivity of understanding how people are players in the environment’s health.

Frank’s sensitivity analysis parceled out whether variables comparable to a state’s liberal or conservative leanings, political affiliation or number of women in the legislature, could be tipping the scales they were attributing to environmental activism.

“When doing this sensitivity analysis, we ask what it would it take to knock our results over — a feather, an arm or a sledgehammer, and these are pretty close to sledgehammer results,” Frank said. “We’re finding that 44 percent of our data would have to be due to bias to shake this.”

Dietz notes that understanding activism is a strong first step to understanding many kinds of environmental stresses, such as air pollution.

“We’ve always said this is laying the groundwork for more study. Ken came in with subtle ways to look at how the world works,” Dietz said. “This is just the start of a conversation.”

Michigan State University|June 15, 2015

[For those that still think their voices won’t be heard, I assure you , there can be positive results.]

Hunt for oil in Big Cypress back in play

A Texas oil company hoping to hunt for crude in the Big Cypress National Preserve has applied for a permit for a seismic survey of 110 square miles of wilderness.

On Wednesday, the National Park Service posted a plan from Burnett Oil that proposes using massive “thumper” trucks to send vibrations deep into the earth to detect oil and gas. The park service is seeking public comment on the request through July 17 and will use responses in crafting a study on the environmental impacts of the operation.

The latest request from Burnett Oil covers less then a third of an earlier one, which sought to search 366 square miles during the dry season over four years — an application that raised objections from Big Cypress managers and environmentalists. The new application, though significantly downsized, also immediately raised concern from conservation groups fighting expanded drilling and exploration in the Southwest Florida preserve.

“It’s an industrial operation,” said Matthew Schwartz, executive director of the South Florida Wildlands Association. “This is the heart of the Big Cypress National Preserve. It’s the most important ground for panthers and 30 other species and plants go off the scale.”

Drilling for oil in the preserve, a refuge for endangered panthers, wood storks and other disappearing wildlife, has been going on for decades. When the preserve was created in 1974, the park service agreed to let the Collier family, which owned much of the land, continue operating existing drilling leases at Bear Island, just north of Alligator Alley and east of what is now the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge.

Four years later, oil was discovered to the southeast, at Raccoon Point, said Don Hargrove, the preserve’s environmental specialist. New wells went in but on existing pads and no new land has been opened up for drilling. Today the family owns rights on about 800,000 acres and continues to pump oil from the two locations.

Environmentalists grudgingly accept existing operations that include acres of concrete pads and miles of pipe but have fought repeated expansion efforts over the years.

“It’s not as though Congress has decided that it’s an incongruous use, however the scope of the project is a little troubling,” said Jaclyn Lopez, an attorney and Florida director for the Center for Biological Diversity.

The Collier family sought surveys in 2001 and 2006, but never submitted formal requests, Hargrove said. The last survey done was in 1999, but covered just a small area near Raccoon Point, where the new wells were added in 2010. The land targeted for the survey sits between the existing drilling sites.

At Raccoon Point, five concrete pads, some the size of several football fields, are filled with equipment and machinery needed to extract oil. Pipes from the wells run across the preserve to a truck depot off Alligator Alley. Environmentalists say even surveying, which requires heavy trucks to go off-road in a grid pattern, can damage fragile wetlands and open pathways for invasive species like Brazilian pepper.

Environmentalists see the survey request as a first step toward opening up sensitive land to further drilling. Drilling in Southwest Florida picked up in 2013 as oil prices escalated. Companies quietly spent between $10 million and $20 million to purchase mineral rights. But efforts seemed to fade as the price of gas plummeted. Outcry over fracking, a process deployed out west on tough shale to flush oil using high-powered water guns, has also intensified. But fracking has never been tried in South Florida’s brittle limestone.

The last time a major exploration was suggested more than a decade ago, the park service considered buying the mineral rights from the family, said preserve spokesman Bob DeGross. But disputes over the value of the rights caused the deal to fall apart.

Public comment on the proposal will close in 30 days if no extensions are granted. If the park service’s environmental study finds no significant damage to wildlife and the surveys are approved, the surveys would commence. For this survey, no explosives will be used. Instead, vibrations created by plates attached to the bottom of thumper trucks will move along a grid, sending seismic acoustical signals. The vibrations, DeGross said, will not cause ground disturbances.

If the surveys show oil, Burnett would then submit a drilling program to the park service, which would go through another round of public comment.

“We’d go through the same process again,” said Hargrove, who expects the environmental study to be completed sometime in August or early September.

Jenny Staletovich|MiamiHerald.com|6/18/15

Two Billion People Are Running out of Water

Scientists find that the world’s groundwater basins are being rapidly depleted.

Forget about peak oil—we should be worrying about peak water: Groundwater basins that supply 2 billion people are being rapidly depleted, according to a new study. Worse: No one knows how long those reserves will last.

A research team led by scientists at the University of California, Irvine, examined the world’s 37 largest aquifers between 2003 and 2013 and found that one-third of them were “stressed,” meaning more water was being removed than replenished, according to one of two studies published Tuesday in the journal Water Resources Research.

The eight worst-off aquifers, labeled “overstressed,” had virtually no natural replenishment to offset human consumption.

The scientists determined the Northwest Sahara Aquifer System, which supplies water to 60 million people, to be the most overstressed. The Indus Basin aquifer of northwestern India and Pakistan is the second-most overstressed, followed by the Murzuk-Djado Basin in northern Africa. California’s Central Valley is “suffering rapid depletion” and was classified as highly stressed, according to the study.

The findings are alarming, especially as humans increasingly pump groundwater during times of drought.

So, Why You Should Care? As lakes and rivers diminish owing to climate change, aquifers become “an increasingly important water supply source globally,” the study said. “Understanding the amount of groundwater used versus the volume available is crucial to evaluate future water availability.”

The authors analyzed data from two NASA satellites that detect dips and bumps in the earth’s gravity, which is affected by the weight of groundwater.

Even that state-of-the-art technology cannot determine how much water remains beneath the surface.

There is a severe shortage of data on global groundwater availability, making it almost impossible to estimate how long an aquifer will last given its current rate of depletion and replenishment, scientists concluded in the second study.

The researchers found wildly ranging projections for “time to depletion.”

“Available physical and chemical measurements are simply insufficient,” study author Jay Famiglietti, a UCI professor who is also the senior water scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement. “Given how quickly we are consuming the world’s groundwater reserves, we need a coordinated global effort to determine how much is left.”

If underground water is so important to human survival, why the knowledge gap?

“It is expensive and time consuming to study groundwater,” Alexandra Richey, a study coauthor and a UCI doctoral student in civil engineering, said in an email.

That’s because researchers must drill deep beneath the surface to test aquifer levels, which can vary from place to place, depending on how much pore space there is in the soil, among other factors.

“As a result, many measurements need to be taken across the whole aquifer area instead of just being able to look at the level of a lake or reservoir,” Richey said.

Even so, she added, such painstaking research will be critical for the world to manage whatever groundwater resources it has left.

“[It] is not going to happen overnight,” Richey said. “It will be a long, coordinated project that ideally will connect researchers and decision makers to build the science into management plans.”

The city of Irvine, California, for example, has extensively studied its aquifer. “They know how low they can let the aquifer go before needing to either stop pumping or to supplement supply,” Richey said. “There’s a paper that says basically you can’t manage what you don’t know and right now we aren’t really managing groundwater well, if at all.”

Lance Larson, a science center fellow at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said that it’s critical to monitor whatever groundwater is left.

“These studies clearly demonstrate that there are significant issues with groundwater management in the U.S. and we think more can be done to protect this limited resource,” Larson said in an email. “Protecting groundwater supplies is a key piece to the puzzle of ensuring that future generations have access to fresh water.”

“When these aquifers dry up,” he said, “they are gone forever.”

David Kirby|Jun 17, 2015

Days are numbered for cat colony at Hollywood beach

Cat Pals rescue group needs to find homes for the community cats at Hollywood’s North Beach Park by January 2017.

Cat colony at Hollywood beach has fans, critics

Cocksure, cat after cat prowls Surf Road like it’s home.

Because, for the most part, it is.

For more than 20 years, hundreds of felines, tame or otherwise, have lounged and loitered along Hollywood’s North Beach.

For just as long, homeowners, bird lovers and government types have been trying to get rid of them.

Now, after two decades, Broward parks officials say that goal is in sight.

By January 2017, they promise, the blocks-long stretch along Surf Road will be feline-free.

It’s part of a long-term goal to eradicate cat colonies from parks countywide — including Everglades Holiday Park near Weston and TY Park in central Hollywood.

County parks officials have teamed up with Cat Pals, a rescue group that’s been feeding and tending to the North Beach cats since 1994, when the colony was 300 strong.

Over the years, North Beach came to be known as “drop-off heaven,” said John Passalacqua, president of the North Beach Association.

Neighborhood opponents were glad to hear their streets may eventually reach a zero-cat zone, he said.

“The program started in the 1990s,” he said. “It’s now 2015. At some point, the program needs to have an end date. It can’t be forever.”

To help the county meet its goal, Cat Pals is working on finding homes for adoptable cats and plans to build a shelter for those that aren’t.

In the past six months, the colony’s numbers have gone from 84 to 65 as some animals have perished or been moved to foster homes.

The cats range in age from 18 years old to under a year. The oldest, Callie, died in early June. She was 20.

“All of the cats recognize us,” said Hollywood resident Tracey Paige, president of Cat Pals. “If we were not here to spay and neuter these cats, they would multiply at an alarming rate. Some cats were dropped off here. Some were born here.”

Abandoning a pet is against state law and carries a maximum fine of $5,000 and jail time of up to one year.

“We hope to turn the tide so people learn they can’t drop cats there,” said Cherise Williams, parks security manager for Broward County. “It’s been a dumping ground for cats. I guess there’s a mindset that the cats can live happily ever after on the beach.”

A house cat dropped at a park has little chance of surviving.

Bewildered and confused, they are usually attacked by the very cats whose colony they try to join. Many end up dead on the road, hit by cars while trying to find their way home.

Neighbor Pamela Bassing sympathizes with the cats and their rescuers.

“There are cat haters and cat lovers,” said Bassing, who lives in a condo on Surf Road. “I love all creatures.”

Her husband Dave, however, thinks the cats are a bother. But, he said, so are the raccoons that poop in their pool.

Not everyone takes such a laissez-faire approach.

Hollywood resident Justin Freedman spent years pushing for elimination of the cat colony. He compares the cats to pythons released into the wild.

“They should be treated no differently,” he said. “But they are [because] they are cute and cuddly.”

The state’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recommends cats be kept indoors to protect native wildlife. State officials say feral cats can prey on rabbits, squirrels, mice, lizards, snakes and many species of wild birds. They claim one free-roaming cat can kill 100 or more birds and mammals in a year.

Critics of Hollywood’s cat colony complain about the smell factor.

“We want to see them gone,” said Thomas Wielenga, a Hollywood resident who is building a new home along Surf Road. “There’s cats everywhere. They are around your house, whether you like them or not.”

A former vice president of the South Florida Audubon Society, Freedman was alarmed to see dozens of cats being fed along Surf Road. That was in 2008.

“It’s taken so long to get to the point where we’re at,” he said of the county’s 2017 goal. “Before I get too excited, I need to see it happen. I will believe it when I see it.”

One recent morning, a green-eyed black cat, dubbed Fluffy by her feeders, lounged in the driveway at Surf Road and Forrest Street. Languid and graceful, she strolled over to greet a stranger, then plopped down for a grooming session.

“We don’t just feed,” said Ray Paige, Tracey’s husband. “We spay and neuter and provide medical care and adoption, in that order. Food and water are just part of their daily care. We take attendance every week and report the numbers. So we know who’s missing, who’s not missing.”

The couple are among 30 volunteers who help feed the cats every day.

On Thursday, six cats — Oreo, Apple, High Top, LBK, Stormy and Melinda — caught sight of the Paiges and gathered around a feeding station near Forrest Street.

“We use plates,” Ray Paige said. “We wait till they’re done eating, then we remove them. We don’t want the raccoons thinking this is a buffet.”

Melinda, a black-haired beauty, gets picked up for a quick cuddle. Stormy, a gray-haired male with tiger swirls, showed up a year ago after being dumped.

“He could be someone’s cat in a heartbeat,” said Tracey Paige, whose brood of four cats includes Noche, a black kitty she rescued from the North Beach cat colony seven years ago.

Alley Cat Allies, a national nonprofit based in Maryland, advocates leaving cat colonies in place while focusing on trap-neuter-return programs and adoption efforts.

“We believe it’s in the best interests of the cats to remain outside,” said Hannah Shaw, spokeswoman for the group. “Removing the cats won’t work. It just opens up that area for an influx of new cats. We’ve seen that over and over again.”

For that reason, Paige doubts the county will ever realize its zero-cat goal.

“They are never going to get to zero cats,” she said. “People talk about the vacuum effect. You remove our cats, there are going to be new cats that move in. And the county is going to be right back where it was in 1994.”

Susannah Bryan|Sun Sentinel|6/20/15

Feds want input on seismic testing in Big Cypress

The federal government is seeking input on a proposed seismic oil and gas exploration project that’s being proposed on 70,000 acres in or near Big Cypress National Preserve.

Burnett Oil Co., along with the Collier family, filed down-scaled plans last year to test lands from just east of Highway 29 in Collier County to the Broward County border in four phases over four years during the dry season.

The Colliers own gas and mineral rights to about 800,000 acres in South Florida.

The company plans to use small, portable seismic receivers and recording devices to map out subsurface geological features, according to the Department of Interior.

“No explosives will be used to create the vibrations or seismic acoustical signals, and there will be no ground disturbances from detonations,” a Department of Interior report reads. “Instead, vibrations will be created using mobile plates attached to special off-road vehicles which are placed against the ground, vibrated, and then moved on to the next location.”

The plan was finalized in December, and the National Park Service has opened public comment through July 17.

Environmental groups have fought for years to keep oil and gas exploration out of South Florida, but oil companies have increasingly targeted this region. Many of Florida’s most endangered and threatened species — including the Florida panther — live in Big Cypress, and there are fears that using heavy equipment on the area’s soft limestone could damage drinking water sources as well.

The testing area is referred to as the Sunniland Oil Trend, and different companies have for decades drilled testing sites in this area. The larger property (all four phases) stretches from north of Interstate 75 south to within about a mile of the Tamiami Trail.

Comments can be made online at https://federalregister.gov/a/2015-14425, or by calling the park service at (239) 695-1150. Written comments can be sent to the Office of the Superintendent, Big Cypress National Preserve, 33100 Tamiami Trail East Ochopee, FL 34141.

Aquifer pumps still possible for Everglades

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released a report this week that says a technique called aquifer storage and recovery could be a feasible solution to storing water in some parts of the historic Everglades.

The technology involves pumping large volumes of water beneath the surface, storing that water over time and then pumping the water out during dry periods. The idea was considered years ago for the Caloosahatchee reservoir but has since been abandoned for that site.

The state and federal government had considered 333 of these wells for the Everglades restoration but is now recommending that number be scaled back to 131 wells to avoid adverse impacts to drinking water and irrigation stores.

Holding water on the landscape — instead of pushing it out to the ocean as fast as possible — is one of the major goals of the restoration.

“Testing of recovered water from the ASR pilot projects did not reveal geochemical reactions that would degrade surface water quality on recovery,” the report reads. “Arsenic mobilization was observed during early cycle testing; however, it attenuated over time as the storage zone was conditioned.”

CHAD GILLIS|NEWS-PRESS.COM|June 18, 2015

Calls to Action

  1. Tell the EPA to prohibit fracking wastewater from being sent to Publicly Owned Treatment Works – here
  2. Support projects to protect bluefin tuna and sea turtles – here
  3. Urge Congress to make conservation funding for America’s great outdoors a priority – here
  4. TELL EPA TO PASS STRONG NEW REGULATIONS ON OIL DISPERSANTS – here
  5. Don’t let Peabody coal stick us with its billion dollar toxic mine cleanup bill – here
  6. Don’t let Monsanto and Junk Food lobbyists kill GMO labeling – here
  7. Help Protect Our Last Honeybees – here
  8. Urge NOAA to Protect Our Oceans From An Increased Risk of Overfishing  – here
  9. Vote NO on Fast Track –  here
  10. Support Healthy Oceans and Marine Life – here

Birds and Butterflies

Five Top Spots for Birding in Florida 

Here in Florida, birding and wildlife viewing is a big deal – even bigger than you might imagine.

In fact, birding is second only to beach-related activities as a form of outdoor recreation for both visitors and residents. The trend is still on the rise, so count on seeing more and more people carrying binoculars and spotting scopes around the Sunshine State.

If you’re already into birding, you probably know that Florida is considered one of the best places in the world for the activity. Here are five of the top spots you don’t want to miss:

*   Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge – For Titusville, having one of the state’s most diverse wildlife habitats on your doorstep is a good thing. In January, the area hosts the annual Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival, which is the largest of its kind in the country. Birders flock to the area en masse to get a look at migrating waterfowl and all manner of shorebirds along Black Point Wildlife Drive, a 7-mile loop around salt marsh impoundments. Whether you’re visiting for a day or a week, you’re sure to check a few species off your life list here.

*   Everglades National Park – When wildlife lovers dream, they more than likely dream about the Everglades. Not only is it a National Park, it’s also designated as an International Biosphere Reserve for its ecological importance. Residents of Everglades National Park include the Florida panther, American crocodile, the rare Ghost orchid, manatees and much more. For a good day trip, check out the Anhinga Trail and the Shark Valley tram. www.nps.gov/ever

Dry Tortugas National Park –  Located about 70 miles west of Key West in the Gulf of Mexico, Dry Tortugas National Park is a little difficult to reach, but the reward is well worth the effort. Catch a ride on the Yankee Freedom Ferry, a high-speed catamaran that can get you there in just a couple of hours. Go in the spring and you’ll be rewarded with the rare sight of thousands of Sooty terns and Brown noddies nesting on Bush Key. www.nps.gov/drto

*   J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge – Year-round birding and wildlife viewing is terrific on Sanibel Island. At “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, you can drive around the 4-mile Wildlife Drive and get looks at Roseate spoonbills and Gray kingbirds. Take a walk on the Indigo Trail in the summer months, where Mangrove cuckoos can be found. www.fws.gov/dingdarling

*   STA5/Lake Okeechobee – It’s not a National Park or a National Wildlife Refuge, but STA-5 is one of the best birding spots in South Florida. Stormwater treatment areas are designed to filter out excess nutrients that would otherwise flow to the Everglades, but they also turn out to be excellent places for birding. To access STA-5, you’ll need to register a visit with one of the local Audubon Society chapters. The birding is fantastic year-round, and you’ll definitely add a few life-listers at STA-5. www.hendrygladesaudubon.org

If five locations aren’t enough, don’t worry. The Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail covers the entire state, with 514 official sites to explore. Check out www.floridabirdingtrail.com for more information.

Scientists Look to Baby Eagles to Determine How Contaminated Our Environment Is

Scientists in Wisconsin have hit on a new way to determine how exposed we humans are to toxic chemicals in the environment: They’re asking baby eagles.

Well, “asking” may put too nice a spin on it. Biologists at Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) are retrieving bald eaglets from their nests for a few minutes so they can collect feather and blood samples. They then analyze the samples to determine what pollutants and heavy metals they contain. Through this toxic monitoring program, the researchers hope to figure out how much contamination is present and how widespread it is.

Why eagles? Studies show that birds that nest near metropolitan areas have higher concentrations of mercury, lead and other chemicals in their bodies, reports the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. It is impractical to sample all fish and bird species, says Jim Woodford, the coordinator of the DNR’s bald eagle survey program. But eagles eat at the top of the food chain, where contaminants are generally more concentrated. As a result, the raptor serves as “kind of an early warning,” says Woodford.

Among the contaminants the scientists are finding in the eaglets’ blood and feathers are pesticides, PCBs, mercury, lead, flame retardants, and stain- and water-resistant chemicals. Most of these compounds are what scientists call “persistent.” Rather than break down and disappear, they persist in the air or on the ground and eventually filter into streams, tributaries, lakes and rivers. Eagles eat fish and other critters that also eat fish, compounding their exposure.

Over time, the scientists hope to monitor the same birds they’re sampling now so they can determine if their levels of contamination are increasing or decreasing.

Some chemicals, like the pesticide DDT, have already been banned because they were linked to declining bird populations, as well as cancer in people. While it’s unlikely that other pollutants will be banned any time soon, as the saying goes, being forewarned is being forearmed. The more information scientists can gather, the stronger the argument they can make to phase out the chemicals that pose the greatest threat.

In the meantime, you can do your part to keep eagles — and yourself — safe, by choosing organically grown food, minimizing the pesticides you apply to your own lawn and garden, and using mercury-free thermometers. Save energy and shift to solar and wind, as well. Generating electricity by coal-fired power plants is one of our largest sources of mercury, so using electricity much more efficiently can put a dent in the amount of mercury that ends up in the eagles’ food chain – and ours.

Diane MacEachern|June 17, 2015

Large numbers of turbines are being built in important bird habitats.

PORT AUSTIN, Mich. – The sky above a tabletop-flat expanse of eastern Michigan farmland near Lake Huron is a well-traveled pathway for migratory birds journeying between summer nesting areas in Canada’s boreal forests and wintering grounds to the south. Thanks to reliably brisk winds, the ground below is dotted with hundreds of electricity-generating turbines.

Federal guidelines from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service urge wind energy developers to locate turbines with special care in places such as the “Thumb” region of Michigan’s mitten-shaped Lower Peninsula – or avoid them altogether, to prevent fatal collisions between birds and the towers’ whirring blades. But an advocacy group says the government’s voluntary approach is allowing too many wind farms to be built or planned for construction in important nesting areas and flight paths across large sections of the nation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The record year for new wind energy was 2012, when about 6,750 turbines were installed, Vinson said, so companies would have to continue putting up turbines at that rate for more than 14 years to match the number in the FAA database – a highly optimistic scenario for an industry dependent on federal tax credits with shaky prospects in Congress.

The wind industry also said some of the high-risk areas are too broadly defined, and said some migrating birds fly high enough not to be endangered by turbines. The flyway of the endangered whooping crane is a swath of the nation’s midsection up to 200 miles wide extending from the Texas Gulf coast to the North Dakota-Canada border.

Mike Parr, the conservancy’s chief conservation officer, said birds fly at different altitudes depending on circumstances such as weather, often dipping low enough to encounter turbines.

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

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

More than 6,000 existing turbines and more than 20,000 planned ones are in areas with federal designations such as national wildlife refuges, critical habitat for endangered and threatened species and core areas for the greater sage grouse, the analysis says. Of those, about 90 percent are within the whooping crane corridor.

The Fish and Wildlife Service’s voluntary guidelines, issued in 2012, urge companies to consider risk to birds and other species when choosing turbine locations and say some areas “may be inappropriate for development because they have been recognized as having high wildlife value based on their ecological rarity and intactness.”

The government said it can regulate wind development only on lands it administers, such as national wildlife refuges. Elsewhere, it can threaten legal action against companies whose turbines kill species protected under federal law, such as bald and golden eagles. The government has charged and reached settlements with only two wind energy companies for such kills. Spokesman Gavin Shire said the Fish and Wildlife Service is investigating 16 other cases of bird deaths at wind facilities, five of which have been referred to the Department of Justice for possible prosecution.

AP data analyst Michelle Minkoff contributed to this report.

Endangered Species

Man arrested for killing Key deer

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) officers arrested a man for killing a Key deer, an endangered species.

Grant Wilson (DOB 09/24/81) of Big Pine Key was arrested Saturday, June 13, for killing a Key deer. Wilson shot the deer with a pellet gun and hid the carcass in mangroves just outside of his property.

Witnesses reported the incident to the FWC, and officers were able to use the information provided to locate the dead deer and make contact with Wilson. Wilson admitted to killing the animal the day before and officers placed him under arrest. Officers seized two pellet guns owned by Wilson and the deer carcass as evidence.

“We are responsible for conserving Florida’s natural resources, and for such a precious species to be taken illegally is deeply unsettling,” said FWC Maj. Alfredo Escanio. “To have this act committed by a resident of the Florida Keys is even more troubling. Acts like this will not be tolerated.”

The Key deer is a federally designated endangered species only found in the Florida Keys. This animal is the smallest subspecies of white-tailed deer, with males reaching around a mere 30 inches in height. They cannot be hunted.

Wilson was charged with a third-degree felony. Penalties could include up to five years in prison and/or a fine of up to $5,000.

Anyone suspecting a fish, wildlife, boating or environmental law violation should  report it to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Reward Program by texting or emailing Tip@MyFWC.com or calling 888-404-FWCC (3922).

Zoo animals roam free in capital after flooding

TBILISI, Georgia — Severe flooding in the Georgian capital left at least 12 people dead Sunday and triggered a big game hunt across the city for lions, tigers, a hippopotamus and other dangerous animals that escaped from Tbilisi’s ravaged zoo.

Residents were warned to stay indoors, but fear deepened as night fell on the city of 1.1 million with some of the animals still on the loose.

“The daytime wasn’t bad,” said resident Khariton Gabashvili, “but tonight everyone has to be very careful because all the beasts haven’t been captured. They haven’t been fed, and in their hungry state they might attack people.”

Heavy rain turned a normally pleasant city stream into a fierce torrent that destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes. Officials said 12 people were known to have died and about two dozen others were missing.

There were no immediate reports that any of the dead were killed by the animals, which ran off after the floodwaters destroyed their enclosures. Among the beasts that escaped were bears, wolves and monkeys.

A hippopotamus — an extremely aggressive animal with the ability to run faster than humans in short bursts — was spotted lumbering through a flooded square not far from the zoo and was shot with a tranquilizer dart. Other animals were hunted down and killed.
The carcasses of a lion, a boar and a tiger were seen, and zoo authorities said six wolves were also dead.

Zoo spokeswoman Mzia Sharashidze said a count of the escaped animals was not immediately possible because so many of the zoo’s enclosures were under water. But she said five lions were unaccounted for and many monkeys had escaped.

Three zoo workers were found dead on its grounds.

The floodwaters gouged huge chunks out of roads and swamped numerous homes. Helicopters circled the city, and volunteers and rescue workers labored to help residents despite the danger from the escaped animals.

“On this small street there are five dead, three houses completely washed out and everyone is affected,” said Lamara Zumburidze, a resident of the hardest- hit section of the city.

MISHA DZHINDZHIKHASHVILI|ASSOCIATED PRESS|6/15/15

Victory! Captive Chimps Listed as Endangered

In a victory for chimpanzees, wildlife officials have announced that both wild and captive chimpanzees will be protected equally as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Even though wild and captive chimpanzees are obviously members of the same species, until now they were protected differently depending on where they lived.

Populations of wild chimpanzees, who once numbered in the millions, have severely declined over the years and they continue to face a number of threats ranging from habitat loss and fragmentation to disease and poaching for meat and the pet trade.

They were protected in the wild as endangered under the ESA in 1990, but their captive counterparts were listed as threatened, which exempted them from the same protection that their free-living relatives received.

In 2010, a status review was prompted by a petition filed by several organizations seeking to have captive chimpanzees reclassified. In response, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) just announced it has finalized a rule that will upgrade them to endangered ending the unique “split-listing” that has divided them.

Now advocates for this species are applauding the change and are hopeful that it will bring much needed awareness to their plight, in addition to restricting actions that harm them.

“This change shows that many people are finally beginning to understand that it is not appropriate to subject our closest relatives to disrespectful, stressful or harmful procedures, whether as pets, in advertising or other forms of entertainment, or medical research. That we are beginning to realize our responsibilities towards these sentient, sapient beings, and that the government is listening,” said Jane Goodall, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute, which was one of the co-petitioners.

Less protection for captive chimpanzees has allowed us to continue to exploit them in entertainment, as pets and in biomedical research.

Their continued uses have made it seem like they weren’t in trouble, and even though some believed increasing numbers in captivity would help, many others believe it has only backfired.

“At the time we thought it was important to encourage breeding of captive chimps to expand their numbers,” FWS Director Dan Ashe told the New York Times.” But we expanded a culture of treating these animals as a commodity for research, sale, import and export, and entertainment. That has undermined the conservation of chimpanzees in the wild.”

While the change won’t end private ownership, it will impact how chimpanzees are used and treated by requiring permits for interstate sales and the import and export into and out of the U.S., in addition to requiring permits for anything that could constitute “take” under the ESA, which means anything that could cause them stress, harm or death.

When it comes to research, permits would only be issued for projects that are intended to directly benefit chimps, such as habitat restoration, researching wild chimps to contribute to improved management or recovery or studying diseases that specifically affect them.

While the agency says it will now focus efforts on protecting chimpanzees in the wild, the Humane Society of the United States, another one of the co-petitioners, says it is now going to work on creating more sanctuary space for more than 700 publicly and privately owned chimpanzees who are waiting to be retired from research facilities.

Alicia Graef|June 15, 2015

Rare Alaskan Wolves Nearly Eradicated in a Year

A wolf population survey in Alaska’s Alexander Island Archipelago has revealed startling results: The rare species of wolf found only on these islands has declined radically. From an estimated number of 221 wolves, there are only 60 left, and they skew about 75 percent male. This could represent a conservation crisis and possible point of no return for the unique island species, but shockingly, Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game hasn’t ruled out a “harvest” for this year — open season for hunting wolves, in more blunt terms. The circumstances faced by Alexander Archipelago wolves aren’t unfamiliar to many species under the gun, sometimes literally, and the slowness to act on the part of individual states is troubling — in this case, it may be time for Big Brother’s interference.

These wolves split off from mainland gray wolves thousands of years ago, and are their own distinct subspecies. They tend to be smaller and darker than gray wolves, with some having nearly black coats, and they live almost exclusively on the Sitka black-tailed deer that also roam the islands, with some fish to supplement their diet. There’s a strong interconnection between wolf and deer populations on the island chain, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the number of Sitka black-tailed deer is also shrinking according to population studies.

The reasons why the wolf population is in decline are still under consideration. One is a lack of prey animals. The Alexander Island Archipelago is under more development than it was historically, in addition to being clear cut for timber, and it’s a popular destination for hunters. Development pushes deer out of their natural habitat, while clearcutting also creates ecological imbalances, creating an environment where deer can’t live. Hunting also cuts populations down, especially as hunters often select large, healthy animals, taking reproductive age males and females out of the gene pool and making it difficult for deer to reproduce.

Without this vital source of food, Alexander Archipelago wolves are left out in the cold, but they face another problem. Humans view them both as a threat to deer hunting, and as a big game animal in their own right. Wolves are legally shot and trapped during hunting season, but evidence suggests they are also hunted out of season. This means that in addition to the reported kills known to Fish and Game, even more wolves are disappearing in the off season.

Officials have also floated the possibility of disease, although there’s no clear evidence of illness in the wolf population. Additionally, the same clearcutting affecting the deer is also causing problems for the wolves, who no longer have a safe space to make dens. Without secure living spaces, the wolves are less likely to reproduce, and pack dynamics can be disrupted as well.

With the population shrinking and drifting male, there’s another conservation challenge, with not enough female wolves to keep the population going. In conservation terms, it’s critical to have enough animals to maintain a diverse gene pool in order to rebuild stocks of a species and keep those stocks healthy. While Alexander Island wolves might not be at the point of no return yet, they could be close, and conservationists are asking for an immediate stop to hunting and a push to protected status to create penalties for killing wolves.

Alaskan officials are slow to act, which may be due to the fact that the state trends conservative and administrators dislike interference. If they don’t move to protect the wolves, they could die out — island species in particular are incredibly vulnerable to extinction thanks to their limited geographic range and the fragility of the ecosystems they rely on. Once one block — like forests — is removed, the entire tower can collapse. These issues are a sound argument for intervention on the part of federal officials to step in. In fact, the wolves are under review, but authorities haven’t issued a policy statement yet; they’d better hurry up, or any formal comments or reclassifications will be theoretical.

s.e. smith|June 15, 2015

Bees are worth billions to farmers across the globe, study suggests

Pollination by wild bees contributes an average $3,251 per hectare per year to crop production, researchers find

 

Wild bees provide crop pollination services worth more than $3,250 per hectare per year, a study reported on Tuesday.

Their value to the food system is “in the billions, globally,” its authors wrote in the journal Nature Communications.

Over three years, researchers followed the activities of nearly 74,000 bees from more than 780 species. The team looked at 90 projects to monitor bee pollination at 1,394 crop fields around the world.

They found that on average, wild bees contribute $3,251 a hectare to crop production, ahead of managed honeybee colonies, which were worth $2,913 a hectare.

The study adds to attempts to place a dollar figure on “ecosystem services” – the natural resources that feed us – to discourage environmental plundering.

Amazingly, 2% of wild bee species – the most common types – fertilize about 80% of bee-pollinated crops worldwide, the team found.

The rest, while crucial for the ecosystem, are less so for agriculture – so conservationists may undermine their own argument by promoting a purely economic argument for the protection of bee biodiversity, the authors said.

“Rare and threatened species may play a less significant role economically than common species but this does not mean their protection is less important,” said David Kleijn, a professor at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, who led the study.

A healthy diversity of bee species was essential, given major fluctuations in populations, he added.

Honeybees in many parts of the world are suffering a catastrophic decline, variously blamed on pesticides, mites, viruses or fungus. Last month US watchdogs reported that US beekeepers had lost 42% of their colonies from the previous year, a level deemed too high to be sustainable.

“This study shows us that wild bees provide enormous economic benefits but reaffirms that the justification for protecting species cannot always be economic,” said a co-author, Taylor Ricketts of the University of Vermont.

“We still have to agree that protecting biodiversity is the right thing to do.”

According to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation, about 80% of flowering plant species are pollinated by insects, as well as by birds and bats.

At least a third of the world’s agricultural crops depend on these unpaid workers, the UN agency says on its website. Crops that require pollination include coffee, cocoa and many fruit and vegetable types.

The economic value of pollination was estimated in a 2005 study at €153bn, accounting for 9.5% of farm production for human food.

Commentators not involved in the study said it may play an invaluable part in the campaign to save bees.

“Crucially, the commonest wild bees are the most important, which gives us the ‘win-win’ situation where relatively cheap and easy conservation measures can support these and give maximum benefit for the crops,” said Pat Willmer, a professor of biology at Scotland’s University of St Andrews.

“For example, planting wildflowers with wider grassy margins around crops, as well as less intensive or more organic farming, all enhance abundance of the key crop-visiting bees,” she told Britain’s Science Media Centre.

Agence France-Presse|16 June 2015

Pacific Fisher One Step Closer to California Protection

In response to a petition and lawsuit by the Center, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has recommended state Endangered Species Act protection for a rare forest carnivore — the Pacific fisher — in the southern Sierra Nevada part of its range.

This cat-like member of the weasel family is small, smart and tough enough to be the only mammal that regularly preys on porcupines. It was once wide-ranging, but today it exists only in two naturally occurring populations: one in the southern Sierra and another (for which the state has not proposed protection) in Northern California. All Pacific fishers have long been threatened by logging and are now also in danger from toxic chemicals used by illegal marijuana growers; the state’s Fish and Game Commission will vote in August on whether to finalize protection for one or both populations.

“All California’s fishers deserve full protection under the state’s Endangered Species Act,” said Center attorney Justin Augustine. “We hope the commission will recognize the numerous threats this species faces throughout California and protect both populations.”

Read more in our press release.

[Could there still be hope for a critical habitat designation for the Florida Panther?]

Eastern Puma Declared Officially Extinct

The eastern puma — a subspecies of the animal also known as cougar or mountain lion, which still lives across the West — is officially extinct. The Fish and Wildlife Service this week removed the animal from its list of protected wildlife and plants under the Endangered Species Act.

In fact, the eastern cougar was extinct well before it was protected under the Act, as was the case with eight of the other 10 species that have been delisted for extinction.

Eastern pumas were driven into smaller and smaller areas between the 1790s and 1890s due to human persecution — along with the extirpation, through hunting, of their primary prey, white-tailed deer. The last three eastern pumas were killed in 1930 in Tennessee, 1932 in New Brunswick and 1938 in Maine.

Pumas were once the most widely distributed mammal in the Americas, extending from the Yukon in Canada to the southern tip of South America.

Read more in our press release.

Can You Put a Price On Bees? Scientists Have, and it’s Staggering

What are bees worth to our economy? A group of researchers have attempted to do the math, and the result shows exactly why we need to protect our pollinating bees but also why we can’t rely on economic worth alone to make our arguments for saving threatened species.

It may sound slightly abhorrent to put a price on a living creature–and, to an extent, it is. But calculating the monetary worth of wildlife and, in particular, their place in the overall economy has become a useful way for researchers to communicate to governments and even businesses that they need to take a closer look at preventing species die-out. When it comes to bees however, researchers have found an interesting fact that they say shows the worth and the shortcomings of this approach.

Publishing in the journal Nature Communications, researchers detail how they set about this task by following data from nearly 74,000 bees across 780 bee species that was collected as part of over 90 research projects that are investigating the way bees pollinate and interact with crop fields.

What they found was that the bulk of pollination was actually done by just two percent of bee species in the study, and that they contributed up to around 80 percent of the overall pollinating activity.

In total, the researchers calculated that for agricultural security as well as the central task of pollinating crops, wild bees may be worth as much as $3,250 per hectare per year. As the Guardian points out, that’s more than managed honeybee colonies which still account for an impressive but lower $2,913 a hectare.

As the researchers point out, the figure is so attractive that we can’t help but highlight it, but it throws up an important topic: talking purely in terms of economic worth, there appears little reason to preserve the other bee species, and currently many governments focus only on the primary pollinators as part of their environment management strategy.

However, researchers say that is a mistake. Professor Simon Potts of the University of Reading, which was involved in this study, is quoted as saying that it would be an error to think that we can just invest in certain bee populations and that protecting other species doesn’t matter: “It is critical to protect a wide range of bees and other insects now so that […] we can call on the pollinating species which are best suited to the task. We can’t just rely on our current starting line-up of pollinators. We need a large and diverse group of species on the substitutes’ bench, ready to join the game as soon as they are needed, if we are to ensure food production remains stable.”

The researchers in the above study say that their work demonstrates that when we talk about conservation, we need to look at not just the short term benefits that species bring but the long term need to protect diversity. As such, we need to target our conservation efforts not just at the species that are most common or those we deem most useful right now, but also those that might appear less productive but are no less important for long term agricultural security.

This research comes at a time when the UK’s Conservative government, which as part of the previous coalition government proved hostile to many environmental policies, is considering whether to give its backing to farmers who want to start using neonicotinoids again, a substance that until relatively recently was part of many insecticides. It has been identified as one of the reasons behind colony collapse disorder and other problems that wild bees have faced in recent years that have seen bee numbers fall, sometimes dramatically, across the globe, and so was banned by the Europe.

The UK government’s stance has previously been that the European wide ban is not backed by overly convincing science despite a consensus emerging that insecticides are at least playing a part in bee die-off, and now environmental campaigners are concerned that the Conservative government may snub what science actually shows and instead cave to farmers and the big agricultural businesses that have previously offered to bring business to the UK.

As the above research shows though, this would be incredibly short-sighted and could pose a real risk to agricultural security.

Steve Williams|June 20, 2015

Mass extinction underway, researchers say

Study: 477 species of vertebrates have vanished since 1900

The Earth’s sixth mass extinction is underway, and humans are the driving force behind it, a study says.

“Recent extinction rates are unprecedented in human history and highly unusual in Earth’s history,” according to a study published Friday in the journal Science Advances. “Our global society has started to destroy species of other organisms at an accelerating rate, initiating a mass extinction episode unparalleled for 65 million years.”

Researchers used “extremely conservative assumptions” to determine extinction rates that prevailed in the past five annihilation events. Still, they found that the average rate of vertebrate species lost in the past century was much higher than normal.

About 477 vertebrate species have gone extinct since 1900, the study says. Based on previous extinctions, only nine species would have been expected to die off in the same time frame had it not been for human involvement.

“The number of species that have gone extinct in the last century would have taken … between 800 and 10,000 years to disappear,” the study says. “These estimates reveal an exceptionally rapid loss of biodiversity over the last few centuries, indicating that a sixth mass extinction is already under way.”

The previous five mass extinctions happened well before mankind walked the Earth and are believed to have been caused mainly by natural disasters, such as asteroid impacts and volcanic eruptions.

The last mass extinction happened 65 million years ago, killing off the dinosaurs.

Overall, each mass extinction event rid the planet of up to 96 percent of its species each time.

In the past few decades, several animal species have been labeled extinct, including the Chinese paddlefish, Yangtze River dolphin, Pyrenean ibex and western black rhinoceros.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has said it will push for the extinct eastern cougar to be removed from the endangered species list.

The big cat likely vanished about 70 years ago, the agency said.

Its disappearance is largely linked to over-hunting and loss of habitat from European immigrants dating back to the 1800s.

Among the World Wildlife Fund’s critically endangered species — those the most at risk of going extinct today — are the Amur leopard, black rhino, leatherback turtle, Sumatran tiger and western lowland gorilla.

Katharine Lackey|USA TODAY|6/21/15

Everglades

U.S. House Appropriations Approves $150 Million for Everglades Restoration

U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., showcased his pride in federal funding for the Everglades contained in the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill passed Tuesday by the U.S. House Appropriations Committee.

Said Diaz-Balart, “As founder and co-chairman of the Everglades Caucus, I am very pleased with the Everglades funding levels in the Interior Appropriations bill for FY 16. Everglades National Park is a natural treasure that we must preserve and protect for future generations. I have worked diligently with my colleagues on the Appropriations Committee to ensure that the Everglades restoration and operations programs were adequately funded.”

The South Florida congressman pointed to almost $140 million from National Park Services funds that would go to restore the Everglades at the following national parks: Big Cypress, Biscayne, Everglades and Dry Tortugas.

Democrats call it too little.

Diaz-Balart noted the federal government would send $4.8 million to ensure the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) is finished on schedule, while almost $4 million will go to the Critical Ecosystems Studies Initiative (CESI) and $1.9 million for the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force.

Pointing to the  Energy and Water Appropriations bill which the House passed last month, Diaz-Balart said it contains $64 million to repair the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee and $130 million for Army Corps of Engineer projects in the Everglades..

“Restoration is crucial to protect our state’s ecosystem and provides for our drinking water supply,” Diaz-Balart said on Tuesday. “Furthermore, restoration and operations funds can result in a boost to our state’s economy. I look forward to continue working with my colleagues to ensure that the Everglades may flourish for many years to come.”
The House Appropriations Committee approved the $30.17 billion bill on a 30-21 vote on Tuesday, almost $250 million below last year’s appropriations bill and $3 billion less than what President Barack Obama asked for.

“This bill supports important Department of Interior and environment programs that protect and promote our natural resources within a responsible, sustainable budget,” said U.S. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., on Tuesday. “The bill also preserves the role of the federal government — making sure that the government is doing its job well, while ensuring that it is not harmful or intrusive into the lives of the American people or our economy.”

Democrats pushed back at the bill, noting that it leaves the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with around $720 million less than last year.

“The air every American breathes, the water every American drinks, are all at risk because of the funding cuts and policy attacks in this bill,” said U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., the ranking Democrat on the U.S. House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee.

Earlier this week, the White House said it opposed the Republican appropriations plan.

Kevin Derby|June 16, 2015

Audubon’s Dr. Paul Gray Presents at Ramsar International Wetland Ecology Conference in Uruguay

Audubon’s Dr. Paul Gray just returned from Uruguay and the 12th meeting of the Conference of Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar COP12). Dr. Gray presented an overview of the Everglades as an “Important Bird Area in Danger.

The Everglades, along sites like Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, is designated a Ramsar “Wetland of International Importance.”

Click here to read more here about Audubon’s participation in this important international conference.

From Audubon “Restore”

Working with Private Landowners to Protect the Everglades Headwaters

Audubon has been working with landowners in the Northern Everglades since the 1960s to protect habitat and clean and store freshwater. These are good stewards of the land that serves as the headwaters to Lake Okeechobee and the Greater Everglades.

To learn more about how ranchers and other private landowners are working with Audubon to protect the Northern Everglades, click here view this updated video.

From Audubon “Restore”

Water Quality Issues

Corps releases comprehensive study on Aquifer Storage & Recovery capabilities

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District has released a comprehensive study on research related to the use of Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR), an Everglades restoration component proposed as part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) to recharge, store and recover water underground for ecological restoration uses.

The ASR Regional Study was developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) to reduce uncertainties of ASR implementation on hydrological, ecological, and geotechnical conditions in the Greater Everglades.

“The ASR Regional Study documents the results of over a decade’s worth of scientific and engineering investigations,” said April Patterson, Jacksonville District project manager for the study. “The results of the report will serve as a technical guide when considering ASR implementation as part of future Everglades restoration efforts.”

As part of the CERP, it was estimated that up to 333 wells could store water underground for the Everglades and natural systems. These wells, known as Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) wells, would be part of a system to take surplus fresh surface water, treat it as required for permit compliance, and then store it in the Floridan Aquifer System (FAS) for subsequent recovery during dry periods. ASR technology offers the potential to store and supply large volumes of water beneath a relatively small surface footprint.

The study investigates the feasibility of regional-scale ASR, using state-of-the-art methods and models. Investigations were performed in collaboration with the SFWMD, U.S. Geological Survey, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

View the key findings of the study: http://1.usa.gov/1G00CYQ

The ASR Regional Study and additional information available at: http://bit.ly/ASR_RegionalStudy

NASA Study: More Than One-Third of Earth’s Largest Aquifers Are Being Rapidly Depleted

Think the water situation is bad in California? Freshwater is depleting at alarming and unsustainable rates in major underground aquifers around the globe, according to NASA satellite images.

Researchers from the University of California, Irvine (UCI) used data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites and discovered that one third of the Earth’s largest groundwater basins are rapidly depleting due to human consumption, and will only get worse with the changing climate. The research was published in two complimentary studies in the Water Resources Research journal.

These aquifers are a crucial source of fresh water for 35 percent of the human population. That’s more than 2 billion people.

What’s most alarming, according to one of the studies, is how there’s insufficient accurate information on how much water remains in the basins, which means “significant segments of Earth’s population are consuming groundwater quickly without knowing when it might run out,” the researchers concluded in a news release.

“Available physical and chemical measurements are simply insufficient,” UCI professor and principal investigator Jay Famiglietti, who is also the senior water scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California said in the release. “Given how quickly we are consuming the world’s groundwater reserves, we need a coordinated global effort to determine how much is left.”

The world’s driest areas contain the most overburdened aquifers. The Arabian Aquifer System, the Indus Basin aquifer of northwestern India and Pakistan, and the Murzuk-Djado Basin in northern Africa are the top three most overstressed aquifers in the world.

In the U.S., California’s Central Valley Aquifer—which is being sucked up for agricultural uses—is the most troubled aquifer in the country. While it is fairing slightly better than the aforementioned aquifers, the researchers still consider it “highly stressed.” The water-pinched Golden State is wringing its groundwater more than ever due to the historic and ongoing drought.

“As we’re seeing in California right now, we rely much more heavily on groundwater during drought,” said Famiglietti. “When examining the sustainability of a region’s water resources, we absolutely must account for that dependence.”

Washington Post reporter Todd C. Frankel noted from one of the studies that 21 of the 37 largest aquifers in the world, “have passed their sustainability tipping points,” meaning that more water is being used than replenished.

“Aquifers can take thousands of years to fill up and only slowly recharge with water from snowmelt and rains,” Frankel wrote. “Now, as drilling for water has taken off across the globe, the hidden water reservoirs are being stressed.”

Here’s the takeaway: The world’s water woes will only get worse as dependence on underground water increases. Climate change and population growth will only exacerbate the problem, researchers pointed out.

“What happens when a highly stressed aquifer is located in a region with socioeconomic or political tensions that can’t supplement declining water supplies fast enough?” said Alexandra Richey, the lead author on both studies, in the news release. “We’re trying to raise red flags now to pinpoint where active management today could protect future lives and livelihoods.”

Lorraine Chow|June 17, 2015

Offshore & Ocean

Lagoon health hinges on canal project

PALM BAY – Storms send thousands of gallons per second of cloudy, contaminated water careening down Canal 1, south of Port Malabar Road, toward the fragile Indian River Lagoon.

This 8-mile, 100-foot-wide canal was cut in the 1920s, draining more than 100 square miles of historic St. Johns River floodplain so its fertile soils could be farmed.

But the canal — also called C-1 — linking the St. Johns to the Indian River Lagoon, often pushes too much fresh water, too quickly into the lagoon.

That lowers the lagoon’s salt content and kills marine life. The cloudy water blocks sunlight that seagrass needs to grow.

But ongoing improvements to the South Brevard canal system are reversing the water’s flow and hopefully the lagoon’s ill fortunes, curing chronic ecological sins of the past.

What went wrong in the Indian River Lagoon?

Canals like C-1 are widespread throughout the lagoon basin, acting as artificial arteries that drain freshwater lakes and rivers to coastal waters. So water managers say the so-called C-1 rediversion project and other improvements to the Melbourne-Tillman Water Control District could become a model for how to manager large canal systems that drain to the lagoon or other fragile coastal waters. But what flows from our yards to our canals also will determine the lagoon’s fate, officials say.

“I want everybody who’s anybody to know what the problem is out here,” Dan Anderson, director of the Melbourne-Tillman Water Control District, said recently aboard an airboat traveling the C-1. “All the agencies have to work together.”

Reversing the C-1’s flow has long been a goal of the Melbourne-Tillman district’s main partner — the St. Johns River Water Management District.

The C-1 rediversion has created thousands of acres of water-storage areas west of Palm Bay to restore the river’s historic flow to the north. The $40 million project already has reversed about 30 percent of the C-1’s flow to the lagoon and plans soon to make that more than 50 percent.

More fish, clams and crabs in the lagoon should soon follow.

Many other means of keeping foul canal water and muck from the lagoon are in the works. This year, the St. Johns district plans a $1.4 million project to firm up and reshape the C-1’s banks to prevent soil erosion along 2.2 miles of the canal, from Interstate 95 east to the main dam structure. And they’ll ultimately also build several sediment traps along feeder canals to capture soils before they can flow to the C-1, Turkey Creek and the lagoon.

St. Johns and the Melbourne-Tillman districts are working on agreements for those projects. Another proposal would buy a $250,000 harvester to extract invasive hydrilla that now grows worse since the two districts began holding back more water in the C-1 from flowing to the lagoon.

But steep challenges and delicate balances remain.

Storms that push water east up the canals continually threaten to flood Palm Bay neighborhoods. And when water managers discharge C-1 water to Turkey Creek to avert flooding, they must also weigh whether one bad slug of too much water can undo months of careful water management to improve the lagoon’s water quality.

Hydrilla worsens after more water is held back

One unintended consequence of the C-1 rediversion project, however, has been a worsening of an aggressive, invading plant that can grow several inches per day.

The stringy Hydrilla nuisance plant clogs the C-1 and its feeder canals, increasing flood risks. The invasive plant has grown worse in Melbourne-Tillman’s canals since 2011, when a new dam structure went in as part of efforts to hold back nutrient-rich fresh water from flowing to the lagoon. That created a hydrilla haven.

Man-made items also clog the canal system, Anderson says. Among those items are shopping carts, garbage cans, trampolines, lawn furniture and whatever else homeowners leave outside or near the canal banks.

Fertilizers from yards runs into the canals, and septic tank drainfields seep nitrogen and phosphorus-laden water into groundwater that oozes into the C-1 and its feeder canals, helping to fuel toxic algae blooms that can kill fish and other wildlife in the lagoon.

Clear for now, but not for long

Wildlife thrive in the C-1.

Egrets dash in front of the airboat this day as it races down the canal.

Anderson eases up on the throttle, bringing the boat to slow drift.

Bass and bottom plants are easily seen through a sun-glittered surface.

“It’s a rarity to see this kind of clarity,” Anderson says about the canal water, which one rain can foul. “It’s amazing how it will change to chocolate milk just like that.”

Farther south, along the Brevard-Indian River county line, the C-54 canal once sent similar surges of cloudy, fertilizer-laden fresh water from the 6,500-acre St. Johns River Water Management Area into the St. Sebastian River, which empties into the Indian River Lagoon.

During some bad storms, such as the 2004 hurricanes and Tropical Storm Fay in 2008, the district released billions of gallons to prevent flooding.

Small amounts can sometimes top dam structures, but new storage areas to the west have made such large-scale discharges a thing of the past.

The lagoon also reaped benefits from the St. Johns district’s $250 million, 20-year upper basin project, which has brought the marshy river’s flow closer to what it was before farmers drained it to grow crops, mostly to help feed troops during World War II.

And dredging of the St. Sebastian River, Crane Creek and Turkey Creek in recent years removed much of the sediment that washed from the St. Johns basin into the lagoon.

Brevard plans to dredge muck from Indian River Lagoon

The state is also beginning a program to remove muck from from waterways leading to the lagoon.

Muck — rotted plant matter, clays and soils from construction sites — has been likened to “black mayonnaise.” It blocks sunlight to seagrass and contributes to bacterial decay, which consumes oxygen, potentially causing fish kills.

Florida Tech scientists estimate 5-7 million cubic yards of muck blankets the northern lagoon, enough to fill a football field 1,000 yards high.

But the key to the lagoon’s future is keeping muck out in the first place, water managers say.

So people must help to temper what’s running off the streets and their yards, Anderson says.

“I think people need to realize where their stormwater goes and the impacts it creates,” he said.

Jim Waymer|FLORIDA TODAY|June 13, 2015

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warmer Oceans

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

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

Diablo Canyon

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

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

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

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

Fish Farms

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

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

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

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

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

Ben Sharples|Melbourne|bloomberg.net

Council OKs release of money for lagoon dredge

Project to connect the Intracoastal Waterway channels to residents’ private docks.

Permitting is nearly complete for a public-private dredging project that will give boat owners in three areas of town better access to the Intracoastal Waterway. The three channels will allow larger boats to reach private docks at low tide.

Property owner John Scarpa, head of organizing group Palm Beach Intracoastal Neighbors, called the progress a “wonderful thing.

“And it will certainly help with the real estate values along the Intracoastal where the dredging will take place,” he said Thursday.

On Tuesday, the Town Council approved paying $34,549 to engineering firm Applied Technology & Management Inc., known as ATM, for the Lake Worth Lagoon Waterways project. The total cost of the project has been estimated at $1.3 million to $1.5 million.

The town’s Public Works Department is facilitating the privately funded improvements. The money will pay ATM to obtain federal environmental permits and create construction bid specifications. The firm already has state permits for the work.

The project involves dredging three 60-foot-wide, 6-foot-deep channels from the Intracoastal Waterway to private docks. One channel will be dredged north of the Southern Boulevard Bridge to increase Intracoastal access for a group of properties south of Everglades Island.

The two other channels to be dredged will run, approximately, parallel to the Bingham Islands and from 11 Lagomar Road to 1960 S. Ocean Blvd. Both areas are south of the Southern Boulevard Bridge.

The resolution approved Tuesday authorizes Town Manager Tom Bradford to accept a donation to pay for the engineering services from Palm Beach Intracoastal Neighbors.

Dredging could start later this year after federal permits are given and the bid awarded, Public Works Director Paul Brazil said.

Rick Asnani, executive director of Palm Beach Intracoastal Neighbors, said it will take about 10 days to dredge the waterways in front of the docks.

“It will take some time to get it done, but the impact won’t be in front of you for the scope of the project,” Asnani said. “We hope to get it done this year so residents can enjoy access either late this year or early next year.”

David Rogers|Staff Writer|Daily News|June 13, 2015

It’s Spawning Season: Are Horseshoe Crabs Down For the Count?

Horseshoe crabs spawn on Kitts Hummock Beach near Dover, Del. Most of the year they live out in the ocean but in late spring and early summer they migrate toward shore where females bury eggs in the sand and males fertilize them. Typically there are many more males than females. The males gather around the females and those closest to the females are more likely to fertilize the eggs.

Walk along Mid-Atlantic beaches right now and you may see odd creatures that look like they belong in the dinosaur age. They’re horseshoe crabs, and scientists worry their numbers are declining.

To gather more information about what’s happening to the crabs, volunteers are dispatched along the coast each year at this time for an annual count.

It’s getting dark, and these sea creatures are lined up for miles on Kitts Hummock Beach near Dover, Del., where they come ashore to spawn.

Horseshoe crabs are sometimes called living fossils because they’ve been around for millions of years and survived when other species didn’t. The females are larger than males, some as big as a dinner plate. The shell has a horseshoe shape and from a few steps back they look like shallow green Army helmets.

Faith Hewes learned about horseshoe crabs from her father, Jim Hewes, a seventh-grade science teacher. He volunteers with Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve to lead counting teams.

“You can tell when they’re old,” Faith says. “Because they have a lot of stuff on their backs and a lot of barnacles.”

As the high tide recedes, Hewes instructs a half-dozen volunteers. They hold meter-wide white squares made of plastic pipe.

“When you put in your square, go right to the water’s edge, OK? Drop it in,” Hewes says.

Then he reminds them, “You’re counting the crabs that are only within the square itself.”

Two teams do this 50 times each along a mile of beach. Hewes says if a crab walks out of the square, count that one too.

“All right, guys, let’s have fun and let’s count crabs,” he says.

With rubber boots and headlamps, the volunteers dig through the many males to find the few females laying eggs in the sand.

Volunteer Tom Huber and his daughter Melanie bend down and dig in while his son Benson stands with a clipboard.

“They count them. I just write it down,” Benson says. “If they have tags I have to record those as well.”

Some crabs are tagged so researchers can track where they go.

There are plenty of crabs tonight, but overall there’s still concern.

The fishing industry uses horseshoe crabs for bait. Migratory birds eat their eggs. And biomedical companies use their blue blood to make a special clotting agent.

Kirby Rootes-Murdy with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission says here in the Delaware Bay region numbers are stable. And south of here the population is increasing.

What we are seeing, in terms of concerning evidence, is a decrease in abundance for the New York and, kind of, New England regions,” he says.

And Rootes-Murdy points out another important thing about horseshoe crabs: It turns out they aren’t really crabs.

“It’s pretty nuts that they have the name horseshoe crab but they’re much more closely related to spiders and scorpions than they are to actual blue crabs that people are familiar with,” he says.

Back at the shore, Maggie Pletta with the estuarine reserve says don’t let that spider-scorpion thing worry you.

“They can’t sting you; they’re not venomous. They’re not using their tail as a spear,” Pletta says. “So if you see them on the beach and they’re stuck upside down, flip ’em over. Return them the favor — just flip ’em — and let them get back to doing their business.”

Volunteers will be out here on the beach at night through June 18 this year counting the horseshoe crabs.

Jeff Brady|NPR|June 10, 2015

1,600 Corals planted at Florida Keys Plantapalooza

To celebrate World Oceans Day divers from the Florida Keys-based Coral Restoration Foundation has planted 1,600 corals in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Some 70 divers sowed corals at six Upper Keys sites including Molasses Reef, Carysfort Reef, Grecian Rocks, Little Conch Reef, Snapper Ledge and Pickles Reef.

“It’s really important to get the corals out there in large amounts, but it’s also important because we’re involving a lot of the community,” said Kayla Ripple, the Coral Restoration Foundation’s coral nursery program manager.

Staghorn corals are threatened, but Coral Restoration Foundation has had good success in cultivating and planting new staghorns where the species has died.

The small coral fragments were grown in a designated nursery about three miles from the Keys. The infant corals, about three inches long, are hung on a framework of PVC pipe resembling a tree to develop. After nine months, the staghorns typically reach the size of a dinner plate and are transported to offshore reefs where they are affixed to the sea floor with epoxy.

Since Coral Reef Foundation’s launch in 2000 the organisation has planted some 31,500 corals on upper and middle Keys reefs, however  this is the organisation’s most prolific output in a single day.

From Wildlife Extra

Groundbreaking Report on Living Shorelines ‏

I am pleased to share with you the latest report from Restore America’s Estuaries, “Living Shorelines: From Barriers to Opportunities.” Living shorelines are a suite of techniques that offer property owners the opportunity to protect and restore their shoreline using more naturally-occurring systems like salt marsh and oyster reefs while also providing benefits to bays and estuaries. This report provides a national assessment of the  barriers that are keeping living shorelines projects and programs from being more widely used.

The report identifies three major obstacles to broader use of living shorelines: 1) institutional inertia; 2) lack of a broader planning context; and 3) lack of an advocate. To address these obstacles, the report identifies four broad strategies, including: 1) education and outreach; 2) regulatory reform; 3) improve institutional capacity; and 4) public agencies as role models. Each strategy identifies a number of specific and actionable recommendations for decision and policy makers.

“We know what we need to do and now it’s time to make progress,” said Jeff Benoit, president and CEO of Restore America’s Estuaries. “Historically we have managed our shorelines by building hard structures like seawalls and bulkheads, which actually cause more erosion and create a false sense of security because when they fail, they increase flooding and risk to lives and property.”

Report authors include five experts in living shorelines policy and management including Restore America’s Estuaries, North Carolina Coastal Federation, American Littoral Society, Scheda Ecological Associates, and Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant.

Read more and check out the full press release and full report online.

Jeff Benoit|Restore America’s Estuaries|6/18/15

Orca Populations in the Southern Resident Appear to be Rebounding

In recent years, the orca population has been on a decline, with no calf births since 2012. That changed this year, as there have been four calf sightings off the coast of Canada.

The most recent calf sighting was confirmed just this month, when a whale-watching group spotted the new member of L-Pod. This particular pod has faced its fair share of troubles, with two orcas within the pod presumed missing or dead.

The calf, whose official name is L-121, now puts the official population of southern-resident orcas at 81. The southern resident is the smallest of the three resident orca populations that are found between Alaska and Washington. L-121 joins three other orcas born to the southern resident J-Pod earlier this year. Before these four births, the population was down to 78 orcas, a number the southern resident population has not seen since 1985.

Between 1995 and 2001, the southern resident population faced an unexpected 20.4 percent decline. The average reproductive rate of a female orca is one calf every five years. If the southern resident orcas followed that pattern, their population would be able to reach steady numbers. But that is easier said than done, as a result of potential factors that affect orca population in this particular habitat.

While researchers have not been able to pinpoint the causes of this decline, they have come up with three hypotheses: Decline in Chinook salmon, the orcas’ primary prey; whale watching disturbances; and exposure to high levels of toxicants. According to Michael Harris, executive director of the Pacific Whale Watch Association, young orcas in the wild have a 50-percent mortality rate.

Currently, researchers are trying to understand the effects of their three hypotheses and create solutions to the population decline in the southern resident. The Center for Conservation Biology is working to better understand the orcas’ environment and diet by analyzing fecal samples from the pods. The organization is partnering with Conservation Canines, which trains dogs to detect orca fecal samples.

These southern-resident populations are protected under the Endangered Species Act of 2005 and are made up of three pods: J, K and L. The world’s oldest-known orca lives in J-Pod. J-2 – or Granny, as she has been affectionately named – is 103 years old and the matriarch of the pod. Since Granny couldn’t be tagged and tracked, like we do now with wild orcas, her age was determined by studying life cycles, or calculating her age based on her reproductive cycle and number of offspring. Also within the J-Pod is an 85-year-old orca, making J-Pod home to the two oldest-known orcas on Earth.

Lindsay Patton|June 17, 2015

Huge Toxic Algal Bloom Shuts Down West Coast Fisheries

Commercial and recreational fisheries up and down the West Coast have been forced to close as a result of a massive toxic algal bloom, which scientists are describing as one of the largest in history.

“We have received reports of this particular bloom causing problems as far south as Monterey Bay and we’ve heard from our colleagues in Homer, Alaska that they’re seeing these cells,” Vera Trainer, manager of the Marine Biotoxin Program at NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center, told ThinkProgress. “It’s geographically very widespread, more so than we’ve seen in the past.”

The last time an algal bloom of comparative size occurred on the West Coast was in 1988. That bloom stretched from San Diego up to Washington.

Essentially what we’ve got is just perfect plankton growing weather

Algal blooms happen when microscopic marine algae — also known as phytoplankton — proliferate in huge numbers. This proliferation results in a buildup of toxins such as domoic acid, a powerful and fatal neurotoxin. High concentrations of algae — or domoic acid — aren’t uncommon, occurring in the Pacific primarily in the fall, when ocean temperatures tend to be at their warmest. But according to Dan Ayers, coastal shellfish manager with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, to see such an intense and extensive concentration of toxic algae in the late spring and summer months is more rare.

“The thing that is so significant of this bloom is its timing,” Ayers told ThinkProgress. “In the past, these blooms have occurred in the fall just prior to change of ocean conditions to a winter regime.”

Scientists are unsure exactly what is causing the historic bloom, though Trainer said that it is likely related to unusually warm ocean temperatures.

“We’ve had an unusually warm and sunny spring, and that not only affects our land plants, but the sea plants,” she said.

Scientists first noticed a patch of unusually warm water off the West Coast in the fall of 2013, and have since attributed everything from the California drought to the recent swarm of red crabs on California beaches to the so-called “blob.” Though the blob has since dissipated, ocean temperatures off the Pacific coast remain about 2° Celsius warmer than normal.

“Essentially what we’ve got is just perfect plankton growing weather,” Ayers said.

Domoic acid can end up in anything that feeds off of algae, from filter feeders like shellfish to small fish like sardines. The animals that feed on those organisms can also become poisoned by the toxins; Trainer described a sea lion observed having seizures early this week off the Washington coast as a result of eating contaminated fish. The sea lion had to be euthanized.

“It has really disruptive impacts to the ecosystems,” Raphael Kudela, professor of ocean studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, told ThinkProgress. “The sea lions and the birds don’t pay attention to the warnings, so they’re the ones that are really being impacted. It’s much more a wildlife concern at the moment than a human health concern.”

The bloom isn’t without its impacts to humans, however, especially for small coastal communities. All beaches along the Washington coast have been closed to razor clamming, a closure that comes at a critical time for coastal towns that were expecting tourism revenue from recreational clammers. The state has also closed half of its coast to commercial Dungeness crab fisheries, a move that Ayers called “unprecedented.”

“We’ve never closed [Dungeness fisheries] because of harmful algae blooms,” he said, adding that while the large part of the commercial season is over, there are still some 30 to 50 small crabbing boats active.

“Each of those boats have three to four guys that depend on that income,” Ayers said. “It’s not a huge impact for the wider economy, but to the local economy it is a huge impact.”

Trainer also explained that the algal bloom can have an outsized impact on tribal communities, which tend to live far from grocery stores and depend more on shellfish and crabs for both food and religious ceremonies.

“It’s not only an economic impact, it’s a social impact,” Trainer said.

The conditions this year are sort of a window to the future, they’re a sign of things to come

“Washington isn’t the only state whose fisheries have been impacted by the bloom. Oregon has stopped all shellfish harvesting from the Columbia River to just north of Cannon Beach, and has closed the entire coast to razor clamming. In California, coastal fisheries are keeping a close eye on the toxin levels in their shellfish — last week, mussels in Santa Barbara surpassed the threshold for toxicity, but this week have returned to safe levels.

On Monday, NOAA deployed a research vessel to better understand the ocean conditions that are causing the bloom. The vessel will collect water and algae samples from areas off the Mexico border to the tip of Vancouver Island during its three-month journey, slated to end September 11.

But Trainer and Kudela hope that the samples collected from the ship will tell scientists about more than just the present bloom. They hope that by providing a more complete picture of the physical properties that encourage algal blooms, scientists will gain a better understanding of how climate change might impact those blooms in the future.

“The conditions this year are sort of a window to the future, they’re a sign of things to come,” Trainer said. “We want to know if that is indeed the case. Is this what we’re going to be seeing more of as our oceans continue to warm?”

Scientists worry that algal blooms will get worse with climate change. Algae tends to grow better in warmer waters, both because some species prefer warmer waters and because warm waters are less prone to mixing, which impedes algae from growing. Changes in rainfall patterns could also make algal blooms worse, with large downpours creating more of a chance for nutrient runoff, which helps feed algal blooms.

Natasha Geiling|June 18, 2015

Council Creates a Coastal Safe Haven for Atlantic Deep-Sea Corals

The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council voted this week to create the largest protected area on the East Coast of the U.S.—a 38,000-square-mile expanse that runs along the coast from Virginia to New York. Here, the ocean floor is riddled with canyons that burrow thousands of feet into the Earth’s crust, providing shelter for fragile coral ecosystems.

Deep-sea corals offer essential habitats in the deep crags of the ocean floor. Bubblegum coral forms densely packed masses that can grow several yards tall, while Primnoa corals, sometimes called sea fans, branch out in ethereal tendrils.

In the nooks and crannies of these corals swim unusual creatures like blackbelly rosefish, long-nosed chimeras and deep-sea squid. Together these species live in a delicate balance that can easily be disturbed if coral is toppled or broken by fishing gear.

Once at risk from deep-sea fishing practices like bottom trawling and longlining, these organisms have now been given a chance to thrive. Within protected zones, fishermen won’t be permitted to use certain fishing gear, such as trawls, dredges, and bottom longlines. This gear can harm brittle deep-sea corals, which grow slowly and can take centuries to recover from damage.

Earthjustice has long fought to end overfishing, limit the use of harmful fishing gear like bottom trawls and dredges, and protect critical habitat for overfished and threatened species by helping establish marine protected zones.These most recent protections are the result of years of advocacy by Earthjustice and our partners to convince the council to take this step. The unique undersea world protected by this week’s decision is one part of a vast expanse of deep-sea corals and coral reefs threatened by overfishing, habitat destruction and climate change.

The Mid-Atlantic Council worked with scientists, conservationists, and eventually some fishing industry leaders to create 15 discrete protected zones around deep-water canyons and slopes along the edge of the continental shelf—areas that contain the vast majority of the area’s coral diversity. The council also voted to establish a “broad coral zone” around a much larger expanse, protecting all areas deeper than 450 meters. Together, these regulations protect a range roughly the size of Virginia.

Due to the patchwork nature of ocean regulations, restrictions don’t yet apply to the red-crab or lobster fishing industries, which involve fishing with traps, and do not block oil or gas drilling, the laying of underwater cables or other similar activities. However, the council’s decision is a big step forward for the protection of these rare cold-water corals and sets a new precedent for future large-scale ocean conservation.

Caeleigh MacNeil|Friday, June 12, 2015

Wildlife and Habitat

Why Wildlife-Friendly Highway Design Is Quite Possibly the Best Thing Ever

For drivers on highways through wooded areas, it’s a constant threat. Wildlife is always on the move and needs to get across major roads. All too often, these animals don’t make it. In fact, a heartbreaking one million vertebrates a day don’t make it.

From the smallest squirrels to the biggest lumbering bears, if animals are not fast enough, they die in collisions with vehicles. Some 200 drivers each year die with them.

We can’t fence off every roadway we drive upon, but fortunately there’s another way. As major roads require repair and upgrade, planners increasingly are taking into account the needs of animals.

Washington state boasts the most recent example of this excellent trend. Officials are about to spend $1 billion to improve Interstate 90 east of Snoqualmie Pass. One of the improvements will make a particular section of I-90 safer for animals and drivers alike.

The state will build a “wildlife overcrossing” that will allow animals to make their way safely from one side of I-90 to the other without having to dodge any traffic at all. Fencing will channel animals toward the overpass and away from the road.

As it widens I-90 from four lanes to six, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) plans to incorporate 20 underpasses, overpasses and redesigned culverts along a 15-mile section of its overall improvement project along I-90. They will be funded by a gas tax.

Washington officials spent considerable time studying migration patterns of the wildlife that lives along a the stretch of I-90 that runs between Hyak and Easton, 50 miles southeast of Seattle. They realized that Keechelus Lake is an irresistible draw for nearly all creatures in this area.

Planners purposely included wildlife-friendly design in their highway project to ensure wildlife will be able to reach the lake safely without ever having to dodge high speed traffic again.

More Overpasses and Underpasses Will Help Us All

Wildlife-friendly road design does much more than reduce highway accidents. Major highways often bisect important habitat areas, preventing animal populations from moving freely, breeding and interacting with one another as they should. This is exactly the problem near Snoqualmie Pass.

ADVERTISING

“I-90 has a tremendous impact on wildlife in the Cascades,” Jen Watkins of the I-90 Wildlife Bridges Coalition told The Seattle Times. “Animals fundamentally require the ability to move on the landscape, and if we prevent them from doing that we can block their ability to find food and mates and new habitat when conditions change.”

WSDOT has already completed four underpasses along I-90. It broke ground on the 150-foot overpass in June 2015 and expects to complete it by 2019.

Highways can impose an unnatural limitation on threatened and endangered species that sometimes threatens their habitat and their very existence. Florida understood this when it planned for 80 specially designed crossings throughout the state to help the endangered Florida panther and Florida black bear.

Before the state took action, 16 endangered panthers died in one year thanks to vehicle collisions. Only perhaps 100 Florida panthers existed at the time, so these accidents served as a call to action. Although development continues to shrink their available habitat in the state, these endangered animals die much less frequently along Florida highways, thanks to wildlife-friendly design.

It’s the same story in several places around the world:

  • California – Desert tortoises safely cross State Highway 58 in the Mohave Desert thanks to culverts
  • Montana – Crossings allow safe passage for mountain goats to salt licks in Glacier National Park
  • Massachusetts – Spotted salamanders seek out vernal pools thanks to specially designed culverts
  • Colorado – Bighorn sheep use special underpasses to cross State Route 68
  • Canada – Overpasses allow wildlife to safely cross the Trans-Canada Highway
  • Netherlands – Over 600 tunnels have helped save the endangered European Badger

It’s time for highway planners to routinely design their projects with the needs of wildlife foremost in mind. Yes, making allowances for animal crossings will likely increase overall project costs. The rewards, however, are more than worth it. Consider the expense a necessary cost that will prevent loss of animal and human lives and sometimes the extinguishment of endangered species.

Can you help? Without question, you can. Submit well-reasoned comments on highway projects as early in the planning process as possible. As soon as you hear rumblings about highway improvements, contact your state department of transportation and ask for wildlife-friendly designs. This concept must be implemented early, before plans are set in stone.

If you know of a highway project near you, start a Care2 petition and get help from fellow members.

Wildlife-friendly highway design is a “win win” approach, with a dash of happiness thrown in for the animal lovers of the world. We need more of this type of planning and foresight everywhere. It makes sense on so many levels.

Susan Bird|June 16, 2015

The Unseen Extinction Wiping Out the World’s Wildlife

Researchers find that species we ignore, such as snails, are disappearing at a rapid pace—a sign that a mass extinction is upon us.

For years now, conservationists have warned that Earth is in the middle of the “sixth great extinction,” with dozens of species going extinct every day owing to habitat loss, pollution, climate change, and other factors.

But here’s even worse news: That may be just the tip of the iceberg.

According to new research, previous estimates may seriously underestimate the number of species that we’re losing. A paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that we may have already lost 130,000 species, or a staggering 7 percent of the world’s total biodiversity.

How could we have lost so many species without noticing? It’s simple: The authors say most of these extinctions are not big, noticeable creatures such as rhinos and tigers. Instead they’re tiny insects and other invertebrates that don’t get much attention. These species tend to have very small ranges with specific habitat needs and aren’t often well studied. Of the estimated 1.4 million invertebrates worldwide, fewer than 16,000 have been evaluated for their extinction risk by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List. Of that number, nearly a third are listed as “data deficient,” meaning we don’t know enough about them to say if they’re at risk.

By contrast, every single known bird species appears on the Red List. Of the more than 15,000 birds and mammals listed, fewer than 6 percent are ranked as data deficient.

So, Why You Should Care? The authors of the new paper say that focusing on larger, more easily studied species means we’re not getting a true picture of the extent of the sixth great extinction. Thus we may be losing species that could be important to human health even before we discover them. Snails and other invertebrates form an important part of the food web for all manner of animals, so their extinctions can have a cascading effect on biodiversity.

To close that knowledge gap, the researchers took a random sampling of 200 land snail species around the world and then looked at the scientific record to see what we know about them. They didn’t find much. Snails haven’t been studied in some parts of the globe for decades, and some entire genus groups have never been studied at all. The researchers write that a full 84.5 percent of their 200 random species would be considered “data deficient” if they were added to the Red List today.

Even that doesn’t tell the full picture. Of the 200 species examined, 79 had not been observed in more than five decades. One example was a Hawaiian species known as the Amastrid land snail. Amateur snail-shell collectors have wiped out many of Hawaii’s snails, probably including this one. However, because no formal scientific studies have gone looking for it, it can’t yet be officially declared extinct.

Another example came from Mexico, where a species known only as Eucalodium moussonianum hasn’t been seen since 1872. Is it extinct? The original scientific description doesn’t mention the snail’s distribution or habitat, and no one has looked for it since.

Chances are high that these two species—and many others—are gone. “Mollusks are the species group most affected by extinction,” said the study’s lead author, Claire Régnier of Université Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris. The most common factors for their extinction include habitat loss, water pollution, and invasive species.

We do know of many other mollusk species extinctions because the animals leave their shells behind when they die. That’s not the case for most other invertebrates, Régnier said. The paper extrapolates this mollusk extinction risk to all other invertebrates because, as Régnier said, “they share the same characteristics as mollusks regarding their causes of extinction: size, restricted range, rarity, and specific habitat requirements.”

Régnier said the purpose of the paper is not to criticize the current ways that we look at endangered species and extinction risk but to “suggest an alternative methodology which would give us a more global idea of our current losses.”

That might not be enough to stop the sixth great extinction anytime soon, but it might help us to understand it and start to take action.

John R. Platt|Jun 17, 2015

Feds Ready to Declare Eastern Cougar Extinct and Remove Protection

In sad news for wildlife, this week federal wildlife officials are moving to remove federal protection for the eastern cougar, who is believed to be extinct.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), eastern cougars, otherwise known as mountain cat, mountain lion, panther, or puma, once roamed from Maine south to Georgia, west into eastern Missouri and eastern Illinois, and north to Michigan and Canada.

Sadly widespread persecution in the form of hunting, trapping, poisoning and bounty programs, along with deforestation and over-hunting of white-tailed deer, their main prey, had virtually wiped them out by 1900.

An increase in sightings in the 1960s led to the conclusion they may still be here and they were protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1973.
Although there have been reported sightings since, wildlife officials believe they were cases of misidentification, or were either cougars dispersing from the West, or domesticated or captive cougars that got loose. The last confirmed sighting in the U.S. was in Maine in 1938.

After completing a formal status review in 2011 that found no evidence of their existence, the FWS is now moving forward with a proposal to remove them from the ESA.

Even though it’s been long suspected the eastern cougar was gone even before they got federal protection, the final move to declare them extinct and delist them is a sobering one for wildlife and for our native predators who continue to face the same intolerance and persecution in some places today that drove cougars and other top predators to the brink decades ago.

Despite an understanding that we need them, we continue to kill them and try to manage our way out of the imbalance we’ve created with devastating impacts on ecosystems and biodiversity.

“The extinction of the eastern puma and other apex carnivores such as wolves and lynx upended the ecology of the original colonies and beyond,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Over a century after deer went extinct in the Northeast, they have returned with a voracious vengeance, and botanists lament the disappearance of formerly abundant plant communities. We have forests that have lost the top and the bottom of the food chain.”

Some hope cougars from the west who are growing in number will eventually make their way east to fill the role that’s been left vacant, but for now the loss leaves the Florida panther as the only subspecies of these predators east of the Mississippi River.

According to the FWS, Florida panthers once ranged throughout the Southeast, but they now exist in less than 5 percent of their historic range, with one breeding population of 120 to 160 individuals in southwestern Florida.

Even though their numbers are worryingly low and they face a number of threats from habitat loss and fragmentation to conflicts with us that continue to put their future in question, instead of increasing efforts to save them and expand protected habitat state wildlife officials are considering making a move to strip them of federal protection.

They want the government to remove a requirement to establish two additional panther populations of 240 animals each in other parts of Florida so they can be delisted. Conservationists argue that even though their numbers are up, it’s still far too soon to consider them recovered.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will propose weakening protections at a meeting on June 23 in Sarasota.

Alicia Graef|June 19, 2015

Forestry

Activists vow to defend B.C’s Walbran Valley from new logging plans

When the “war in the woods” was in full swing in British Columbia, one of the front lines ran through the Walbran Valley on southern Vancouver Island.

And now, after 24 years of relative peace, it may do so again as a dispute is set to spill out of the back rooms and into the forest.

For the past nine months, the Wilderness Committee has been in discussions with Teal-Jones Group, the logging company that holds cutting rights to a section of the Walbran Valley left unprotected when part of the area was set aside in 1991. But all that talk seems to have failed.

“To say the least, I’m outraged,” said Torrance Coste, a Wilderness Committee campaigner who has been trying to save the area. What upset him was a map the company sent him recently that shows eight planned logging blocks in the old-growth forest on the north side of Walbran Creek.

The cut blocks are in the Central Walbran Ancient Forest, near hiking trails that lead to massive old trees, including one called the Castle Giant.

Mr. Coste says if Teal-Jones tries to log there, environmentalists will flood into the area, as they did during a period of protest that became known as the “war in the woods” because of its road blockades and international market boycotts.

“The Walbran Valley has been ground zero for the ‘war in the woods’ in the past, and that’s the level of conflict Teal-Jones is courting with its current direction,” Mr. Coste said.

In the early nineties, long before B.C.’s environmental movement became fixated on oil and gas issues, the primary focus was on logging. At that time, the forest industry and the provincial government favored clear-cutting, a logging method that stripped entire valleys and mountains of forest cover. The destruction was massive – and so was the outrage.

In the Walbran and Carmanah valleys, there were ugly confrontations between loggers and protesters who blocked roads for weeks.

In one incident, a camp set up by environmentalists was burned and a boardwalk they’d built so the public could see some of the giant old trees was destroyed with a chain saw.

The fight to save the ancient forests fast became an international issue, with protests in England, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

And then in 1991, the provincial government yielded to the mounting pressure and created Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park.

But Mr. Coste said that in a compromise that environmentalists have long regretted, a piece of the old-growth forest was left out of the protected area.

“We call that the bite, because when you look at the park boundary map, it looks like someone took a bite out of it,” said Mr. Coste, who feels leaving that piece aside was “a grievous error.”

For years, the Wilderness Committee and other groups have been urging the government to add the bite to the park.

Starting last October, Mr. Coste began exchanging e-mails with Teal-Jones, trying to persuade the company that the Central Walbran Ancient Forest, with its towering trees (some of which are a thousand years old), should never be logged.

He had high hopes of reaching an agreement because Teal-Jones is a progressive company that has embraced the new values of logging that have emerged over the past few decades. Then he saw the map.

Teal-Jones couldn’t provide a spokesman for an interview when contacted Friday, but on its website, the company states it is committed to sustainable forest management, which is far more ecologically sensitive than the old clear-cut methods of the past.

But for Mr. Coste and a generation of environmentalists, logging of any kind has no place in the Walbran Valley. They fought to stop it once, and are ready to again.

MARK HUME|The Globe and Mail|VANCOUVER|Jun. 07, 2015

Timber Industry Lawsuit Bites the Dust ‏

Huge Victory for Public Lands and Clean Water

Last week, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out a lawsuit from the timber industry that would have forced the Bureau of Land Management to increase logging on public lands in southwest Oregon. The ruling vacates a 2013 decision that forced public land timber sales to move forward even when those sales would have harmed salmon and had serious impacts on water quality and recreation. For a full report on the case, read the recent press release.

A Modern Vision for Public Lands

While we welcome this new ruling, we also need a new vision for public lands management. With the industry lawsuit behind us, many communities are focused on new plans that the Obama administration recently released for western Oregon public lands.

One southern Oregon community has stepped up and offered a vision for their backyard forests. Local residents in the Applegate Valley of southwest Oregon have produced a ten-point plan, the Applegate Community Public Lands Vision. Instead of achieving timber volume from traditional practices that involve clearcutting or logging the biggest, most fire-resistant trees, this plan calls for thinning around homes and removing small trees that drive severe wildfires near homes.

The plan prioritizes community engagement, clean water protection, recreation enhancement, and protection for special places. Small family farms in the Applegate depend on public forests to provide clean water for agriculture, which drives the local economy.

Michael Dotson|KS Wild|6/18/15

Global Warming and Climate Change

Hillary Clinton: Climate Change Is ‘One of the Defining Threats of Our Time’

Saturday Hillary Clinton spoke to a crowd of around 5,000 people at New York City’s Roosevelt Island in her first major campaign speech since she officially announced her 2016 presidential run in April. She organized her speech around four major areas of emphasis or what she is calling “the four fights:” the economy, the family, global security and “revitalizing our democracy”—protecting voting rights and getting the money out of elections.

And she had some strong words about climate change and the future of energy. While some environmentalists are undoubtedly grumbling that she did not mention either of the two big flashpoint issues—the Keystone XL pipeline and fracking, both of which 350.org founder Bill McKibben emphasized in an open letter to her published the day before her speech—this address was more about broad strokes and priorities than policy details.

She needled the field of her potential Republican opponents, mocking one of their common climate-denying refrains.

“Ask many of these candidates about climate change, one of the defining threats of our time, and they’ll say ‘I’m not a scientist’,” she pointed out. “Well, then, why don’t they start listening to those who are?”

She went on to enumerate a set of clean-energy priorities that put her clearly at odds with her fossil fuel-funded opponents and suggested that the economy could be helped, not hindered, by the transition away from last-century fuels like coal with the right set of policies.

“We will make America the clean energy superpower of the 21st century,” she said. “Developing renewable power–wind, solar, advanced biofuels, building cleaner power plants, smarter electric grids, greener buildings, using additional fees and royalties from fossil fuel extraction to protect the environment and ease the transition for distressed communities to a more diverse and sustainable economic future—from coal country to Indian country, from small towns in the Mississippi Delta to the Rio Grande Valley to our inner cities, we have to help our fellow Americans. Now this will create millions of jobs and countless new businesses, and enable America to lead the global fight against climate change.”

Her remarks earned thunderous applause from the crowd, suggesting that McKibben was on to something when he urged Hillary in the open letter to “Do your part in pushing back against tired attacks that solving climate change is going to cost jobs or hurt our economy or hurt workers in coal plants.”

The following day in Iowa, she addressed the issue of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, which has been widely opposed by progressive Democrats, labor and environmentalists for its lack of protections for the environment and workers, as well as for the process which forces Congress to approve the negotiations without knowing the details of the pact. However, what she said didn’t shed a lot of light on where she stands on TPP or what provisions specifically she would fight for (or against).

“I am willing to try now to see whether you can push to get rid of the objectionable parts, to drive a harder bargain on some of the other parts and to provide transparency so the American people can see what would be in a proposed final deal,” she said. “If I were in the White House, that’s what I would be doing right now. No president would be a tougher negotiator on behalf of American workers, either with our trade partners or Republicans on Capitol Hill, than I would be.”

Anastasia Pantsios|June 15, 2015

Pope Francis’ Encyclical Urges Swift Action on Climate Change Ahead of Paris Climate Talks

Today in Rome, Pope Francis released his long-anticipated encyclical on climate change, fueling precisely the international conversation the Pope hoped to drive. The widespread media coverage of the 180-plus page document, Laudato Si, or Praised Be to You, has undoubtedly increased public awareness of environmental issues dramatically.

There were no big surprises in the encyclical, given its leak to the media earlier this week and the Pope’s ongoing speeches and remarks about the climate. But the encyclical, a letter from the Pope to the church bishops, give the official endorsement of the Catholic Church to his concern for the climate.

Writing that “the Earth, our home, is beginning to look like an immense pile of filth,” the Pope emphasized the outsized impact failure to care for the environment has on the poor. He wrote:

The deterioration of the environment and of society affects the most vulnerable people on the planet: both everyday experience and scientific research show that the gravest effects of all attacks on the environment are suffered by the poorest. The impact of present imbalances is also seen in the premature death of many of the poor, in conflicts sparked by the shortage of resources and in any number of other problems which are insufficiently represented on global agendas.

It needs to be said that, generally speaking, there is little in the way of clear awareness of problems which especially affect the excluded. Yet they are the majority of the planet’s population, billions of people. These days, they are mentioned in international political and economic discussions, but one often has the impression that their problems are brought up as an afterthought, a question which gets added almost out of duty or in a tangential way, if not treated merely as collateral damage.

He attributed this to the fact that “many professionals, opinion makers, communications media and centers of power” have little contact with the poor and their problems. But he made it clear that the burden is on the wealthy—both nations and individuals—to act on behalf of the poor and to stop exploiting them to the detriment of people and the planet.

“The foreign debt of poor countries has become a way of controlling them, yet this is not the case where ecological debt is concerned,” wrote the Pope. “In different ways, developing countries, where the most important reserves of the biosphere are found, continue to fuel the development of richer countries at the cost of their own present and future.”

While he said that other factors play a role in global warming, “a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases released mainly as a result of human activity.”

“Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it,” he wrote.

Our failure to care for the planet, he wrote, is connected to a throwaway culture of “compulsive consumerism” that “quickly reduces things to rubbish.”

“It is hard for us to accept that the way natural ecosystems work is exemplary: plants synthesize nutrients which feed herbivores; these in turn become food for carnivores, which produce significant quantities of organic waste which give rise to new generations of plants,” he wrote. “But our industrial system, at the end of its cycle of production and consumption, has not developed the capacity to absorb and reuse waste and by-products.”

As expected, he called out those who will not act, whether by denying the problem or simply ignoring it.

“Those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms, simply making efforts to reduce some of the negative impacts of climate change,” he said.

And he fired a shot at those who have been saying that tackling climate change will prevent people and countries from climbing out of poverty, saying that the issues are linked.

“The same mindset which stands in the way of making radical decisions to reverse the trend of global warming also stands in the way of achieving the goal of eliminating poverty,” he wrote. “A more responsible overall approach is needed to deal with both problems: the reduction of pollution and the development of poorer countries and regions.”

Ultimately, he expressed confidence that people could and would step up to address the twinned issues of climate and poverty.

“Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start, despite their mental and social conditioning,” he wrote. “We are able to take an honest look at ourselves, to acknowledge our deep dissatisfaction and to embark on new paths to authentic freedom. No system can completely suppress our openness to what is good, true and beautiful, or our God-given ability to respond to his grace at work deep in our hearts.”

Environmental groups praised the Pope’s action in stepping up to talk so forcefully about the need to take action on climate change, all of them finding things to like in it.

Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said, “Pope Francis’s guidance as a pastor and a teacher shines a light on the moral obligation we all share to address the climate crisis that transcends borders and politics. This encyclical underscores the need for climate action not just to protect our environment, but to protect humankind and the most vulnerable communities among us. The vision laid out in these teachings serves as inspiration to everyone across the world who seeks a more just, compassionate and healthy future.”

“The Pope has shown impressive and inspiring leadership where many elected leaders have failed,” said Friends of the Earth’s head of campaigns Andrew Pendleton. “He is both a friend of the Earth and of the millions of people in poorer, vulnerable nations whose lives are already being shattered by extreme weather. The tragedy is that too many governments are currently in thrall to big vested interests and are failing their people. The Pontiff’s encyclical cuts across the murky politics of climate change and will inspire people way beyond his own church community.”

“Pope Francis is reiterating what scientists and advocates have been saying for years: we need to reduce carbon emissions to avoid catastrophic climate change,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “But it’s his bold and honest analysis of pollution trading that is most noteworthy. The Pope has cut through the distracting noise on a complex global issue. He’s parted the Wall Street smoke screen and acknowledged that so-called market-based approaches to environmental problems like cap-and-trade aren’t solutions at all. This clear assessment puts him well ahead of the mainstream environmental movement on a critical issue.”

But the document is also already revealing a divide driven by ideology, given its emphasis on reigning in greed and consumption and caring for the world’s poorest people. In the U.S., conservative politicians who have cheered the previous Popes’ willingness to insert themselves in the politics of private sexual morality are now saying that he should mind his own business when it comes to saving the planet. Presidential candidate Rick Santorum and Senator James Inhofe, chair of the Senate Committee on Environment, both said recently that the Pope should not be talking about the climate.

This week, another presidential candidate, Jeb Bush, added his voice to the chorus, saying, “I hope I’m not going to get castigated for saying this by my priest back home, but I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinal or my Pope. I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting in the political realm.”

Faith and environmental groups are planning a climate march to St. Peter’s Square in Rome on June 28 to thank Pope Francis for his encyclical and express their support for his climate activism. Faith communities around the globe are planning to join in by ringing bells, chimes, gongs or sounding their shofars at noon on that day.

The Pope has made clear his goal of influencing the conversation around climate change to hopefully pressure strong action at the UN Climate Summit in Paris in December.

“The Pope’s historic message comes at a critical moment,” said Brune. “Momentum is building for significant action during international negotiations in Paris and beyond to transition the world from fossil fuels to a healthy and just clean energy economy. The Pope’s encyclical will only help continue that momentum.”

Anastasia Pantsios|June 18, 2015

Extreme Weather

Drought-Stricken California Orders Largest Recorded Water Cuts for Farmers

The California State Water Resources Control Board on Friday ordered the largest cuts on record to “farmers holding some of the state’s strongest water rights,” according to The Guardian. Water officials told senior water rights holders, some of whose rights date back to 1903, to stop pumping water in California’s Sacramento, San Joaquin and delta watersheds.

Water officials told senior water rights holders, some of whose rights date back to 1903, to stop pumping water in California’s Sacramento, San Joaquin and delta watersheds. Photo credit: Shutterstock

It’s the first time the state has mandated such a large number of senior rights holders to curtail water use. “It will affect thousands of farmers,” says The Guardian. The last time any restrictions were placed on senior rights holders was during the 1976-77 drought, but “those curtailments were not as geographically widespread as Friday’s,” reports The New York Times. The move has been anticipated for weeks. Jay Lund, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at University of California, Davis, told The Guardian, “The order was both expected and necessary.”

In April, Gov. Jerry Brown issued unprecedented water restrictions for the state, mandating 25 percent water reduction for cities and towns. But urbanites felt that agriculture, which is responsible for about 80 percent of all water consumption in the state, was not receiving its fair share of cutbacks. But Lund told The Guardian that “such a perception was … inaccurate.”

“Agriculture has been suffering cuts for three years,” Lund said. “Cities have only started to feel the effects of this four-year drought much more recently.” Earlier this spring, the board halted diversions to some 8,700 junior rights holders, said The New York Times.

Many are claiming that the state does not have the authority to issue the curtailment. Jeanne Zolezzi, an attorney for two small irrigation districts in the San Joaquin area, told The Guardian she plans to take the issue to court.

“A lot of trees would die, and a lot of people would go out of business,” said Zolezzi. “We are not talking about a 25 percent cut like imposed on urban [areas]. This is a 100 percent cut, no water supplies.”

While some farmers will rely on even older water rights, KFBK News says, “others were able to locally hold water with off-site storage, which is not restricted by the Water Board. Others will need to pump groundwater or buy water from water rights holders with earlier priority dates.”

Violators of the mandate are subject to fines up to $1,000 a day and $2,500 per acre-foot of water unlawfully diverted, according to KFBK News.

Cole Mellino|June 15, 2015

Insane Heat Wave in Alaska Put Temperatures Higher Than in Arizona

Alaska, along with the rest of the Arctic, has been warming even faster than other regions of the world due to climate change. That was the findings of a report this spring from the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, which found that the rate of warming will only continue to increase in the coming decades.

The signs of rapid warming in Alaska were everywhere this past winter. The Iditarod was moved north 300 miles to Fairbanks because Anchorage had record low snowfall. A ski resort outside of Juneau had to close because of low snowfall and warm temperatures that inhibited snow-making.

Now the 49th state experienced a heat wave at the end of May. Over Memorial Day weekend, while Texas was being inundated with floods, parts of Alaska were warmer than Arizona. On May 23 in Fairbanks, the temperature reached 86 degrees Fahrenheit, while Phoenix topped out at 83 for the day, reports Al Jazeera. Even the town of Bettles, which is north of Fairbanks and falls within the Arctic Circle, recorded a temperature of 82.

That same day, Eagle, Alaska hit 91 degrees Fahrenheit, marking the earliest 90-degree day in state history, according to NASA Earth Observatory. And it wasn’t just one unusually warm day. “Between May 16 and May 24, Eagle hit 27 degrees Celsius (80 degrees Fahrenheit) or higher daily—its second longest such streak on record for any time of the year,” says Al Jazeera.

recordheatThis map shows the record heat northwestern Canada and parts of Alaska experienced in the third week of May. Photo credit: NASA Earth Observatory

Even America’s northernmost city, Barrow, Alaska, set record high temperatures for four out of the six days between May 17-22, topping out at 47 degrees on May 21 (nearly 18 degrees above normal), The Weather Channel reports. This may sound like nothing compared to the current heat wave in India, “but north of the Arctic Circle, this is extreme warmth for late May,” says The Weather Channel.

This particular heat wave in Alaska and northwestern Canada has to do with two typhoons altering the jet stream pattern.”A series of two western Pacific super typhoons—Noul and Dolphin—have done a number on the (jet stream) pattern across the north Pacific following their extratropical transition,” says Dr. Michael Ventrice, operational scientist at The Weather Channel Professional Division.

This “persistent high-pressure system … is but one consequence of a developing El Niño in the eastern Pacific,” says Al Jazeera. While El Niño may be exacerbating the warmth, the long term trend shows the Arctic will continue to warm from climate change. It has warmed faster than anywhere else in the world over the last 30 years.

The effects of the warming are many-fold. Anchorage recorded its warmest April and it will probably be its least snowy season on record with only 25.1 inches of snow to date (its prior least snowy season was in 1957-1958 with 30.4 inches), according to The Weather Channel. The rapid snowmelt led to flooding in some areas and fire danger is already high in what experts worry might be the worst wildfire season yet.

Cole Mellino|June 5, 2015

NOAA: Hottest Spring and Hottest Year to Date on Record

This past May was the hottest on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “The combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces for May 2015 was the highest for May in the 136-year period of record, at 0.87°C (1.57°F) above the 20th century average of 14.8°C (58.6°F),” said NOAA. This breaks the previous record, which was set last May.

It was also the hottest March to May on record and the hottest January to May on record as well. So, if trends continue, as they are predicted to, this year will surpass last year as the hottest on record. Many places have been experiencing extreme heat around the world with record heat in such disparate places as India and Alaska. Parts of tropical South America, much of southern Africa and The Middle East, and parts of northwestern Siberia also experienced record warmth, according to NOAA.

noaadataIf trends continue, as they are predicted to, this year will surpass last year as the hottest on record. Photo credit: NOAA

The world set records for global precipitation, as well. Some places, such as Spain, experienced the driest May on record with total average rainfall for the month just 25 percent of normal, while Denmark recorded its second wettest May ever. The U.S. had its wettest May on record and also its wettest month ever recorded with Texas and Oklahoma experiencing precipitation that was 500 percent of average, causing catastrophic flooding.

uswetAcross much of the middle of the country, rainfall was 200-300 percent of average for May. In Texas and Oklahoma, precipitation was 500 percent of average. Photo credit: NOAA

The data confirms what recent reports have found. Climate change will cause more extreme weather, including droughts, floods and heat waves. Another recent report identifies the top states and top cities in the U.S. with the biggest increases in heavy downpours, which are on the rise due to climate change.

Cole Mellino|June 19, 2015

Genetically Modified Organisms

More than 240 organizations and scientific institutions support the safety of GM crops

Currently there is a social and political controversy about the safety of of foods produced from genetically modified (GM) crops, however, in the scientific community there is no dispute or controversy regarding the safety of GM crops. To date, more than 2000 scientific studies have assessed the safety of these crops in terms of human health and environmental impact. These studies together with several reviews performed on a case by case from regulatory agencies around the world, have enabled a solid and clear scientific consensus: GM crops have no more risk than those that have been developed by conventional breeding techniques.

This document brings together the public statements of organizations and scientific institutions that adhere to this consensus. I made an update based on this document from ChileBio that include 40 official documents representing about 190 institutions.

The update shows that 244 scientific institutions and organizations recognize the safety of GM crops and their potential benefits. Interestingly a large part of these institutions are located in Europe, the continent that has put more obstacles to the commercialization of these crops. On the other hand, the countries with most organizations in favor of GM crops are Italy (23), United States (20), Spain (16) and Germany (11).

Daniel Norero|Admin-Bt|June 14, 2015.

France Bans Monsanto’s Roundup As Environmental Groups Push WHO for Stronger Safety Standards

What’s a GMO-promoting multinational chemical company to do? Word is getting out that, while the science isn’t clear whether genetically modified crops (GMOs) themselves are harmful, the fact that they were created to be resistant to increasing amounts of pesticides such as glyphosate is a problem.

Monsanto, which manufactures the glyphosate weedkiller Roundup, reacted furiously to a report released earlier this year by the World Health Organization (WHO) that glyphosate likely causes cancer. The company demanded that WHO retract the report, repudiating the years of research by multiple scientists. With Roundup the most widely used and top-selling herbicide, Monsanto clearly has a bottom line to protect.

That bottom line has just taken another hit. In Europe, where people are far more suspicious of the extravagant claims and potential dangers of GMOs than in the U.S. and heavily regulates them, the French government has announced this week that it is restricting the sale of glyphosate weedkillers in garden centers.

“France must be on the offensive with regards to the banning of pesticides,” said ecology minister Ségolène Royal. “I have asked garden centers to stop putting Monsanto’s Roundup on sale.”

Meanwhile, concern is growing in the U.S. about the use of glyphosate and the new Enlist Duo herbicide from Dow which combines glyphosate and 2,4-D to combat another problem stemming from glyphosate use: the rise of “superweeds” resistant to pesticides. “The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should heavily weigh the world’s leading cancer experts’ recent classification of glyphosate as the agency moves through its process to reregister this widely used herbicide,” said Mary Ellen Kustin, senior analyst at the environmental Working Group (EWG). “In the U.S., most glyphosate is sprayed on farmland—roughly 280 million pounds annually. Blanketing genetically engineered crops with glyphosate accounts for the vast majority of the toxic herbicide’s agricultural use. But without requiring labels on GMO foods similar to labeling laws in France and 63 other countries around the world, the U.S. leaves its consumers confused as to whether or not they’re buying GMO foods.”

France’s action comes as a coalition of environmental groups sent WHO a letter urging it to set safety standards for glyphosate weedkillers. The group, which includes the Natural Resources Defense Council, Friends of the Earth U.S., Friends of the Earth Europe, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Center for Food Safety, Pesticide Action Network of North America, Pesticide Action Network UK, Food & Water Watch and Toxic Free North Carolina, expressed concern that the eight-member expert advisory committee reviewing WHO’s glyphosate/cancer report includes three panelists who have ties to the chemical industry, including Monsanto.

“The WHO is highly respected for protecting public health around the world, and it should move forward immediately to safeguard people from being harmed by glyphosate,” said Natural Resources Defense Council health program director Erik Olson. “At the same time, the WHO should make absolutely sure that its expert review panel is free of conflicts of interest so it can make science-based evaluations of herbicide and pesticide residues on food and advise what levels are safe for people to be exposed to.”

“Time and time again we have seen corporate interests influence major decisions affecting the health of consumers and the environment,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “We will not stand by and watch WHO-IARC’s conclusion on glyphosate become watered down due to the presence of task force members tied to major biotech firms. Farmers, farmworkers and communities who live and work near farms sprayed with glyphosate are depending on a rigorous, independent review of this chemical and the WHO must provide it.”

Earlier this spring, a lobbyist had to eat his words (shall we say, drink his poison) on French television after claiming glyphosate was so safe, you could drink it. Watch what happens when he is offered the chance to drink some pesticides.

Anastasia Pantsios|June 16, 2015

Syngenta Spurns Second Monsanto Bid, Citing Antitrust Risks

Possible next steps for Monsanto include a higher offer or hostile takeover

Seeds and agricultural chemicals firm Syngenta has turned down a revised takeover offer from rival Monsanto, calling the amount inadequate and saying antitrust hurdles are too risky. Monsanto did not raise its original April bid of $45 billion; rather it added a $2 billon breakup fee in hopes of mitigating the antitrust concerns.

As part of the rejection, Syngenta posted two letters on its website that it received from Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant. In an April 18 letter, Grant offered to locate the combined firm’s headquarters in the U.K., a move that would lower its tax burden and help integrate Syngenta’s workers. In addition, he proposed renaming the company.

In a June 8 letter, Grant wrote that consultations with three separate law firms turned up no legitimate basis for antitrust concerns. Syngenta’s claim that regulators would deny the combination because of so-called conglomerate concerns is not valid, he said.

Conglomerate concerns arise in mergers between firms in related markets—such as seeds and agricultural chemicals—that have the same customers. In rare cases, regulators have acted on worries that a merged firm would raise prices or force customers to buy expensive, bundled products. Monsanto said its plan to sell off Syngenta’s seeds business and any overlapping herbicides should be sufficient to satisfy regulators.

Grant said Monsanto is strongly committed to pursuing the buyout. Should Syngenta agree to open its books, he added, Monsanto may increase its price.

Other options for Monsanto are to walk away from the deal or to pursue a hostile takeover by convincing Syngenta shareholders to sell out. John Klein, an analyst at investment bank Berenberg, said he expects Monsanto to stay in the game without raising its offer substantially.

“Monsanto has just upped the pressure on Syngenta to engage in a constructive process,” Klein wrote in a research note. “Offering a staggering $2 billion breakup fee will make it quite hard for the other side to argue that regulatory hurdles are really that high, as Monsanto seems to be very confident that these can be overturned.”

Melody M. Bomgardner|Chemical & Engineering News|6/17/15

Monsanto tops the list of top 10 homicidal corporations

Over the several centuries since corporations have been around, there have been many that could be accused of using homicidal tactics in securing their profits. One of the first true modern corporations was the Dutch West India Company which, centuries ago, was granted a charter that allowed it to monopolize the African slave trade and led to the deaths of untold numbers of human beings.There have been numerous companies since then whose unmitigated greed has led them to commit heinous and murderous acts. TheDailySheeple.com has published a list of the top 10 corporations “that got away with murder.” The article lists the infamous Dutch West India Company along with more recent examples, such as the fruit magnate Dole, which sanctioned the murders of union leaders in Colombia and incorporated terror tactics there and elsewhere to crush labor movements.And then, of course, there’s Phillip Morris, the tobacco industry giant who needs little introduction or explanation of why they are on the list. Others include CITGO Petroleum Corporation, which pumped cancerous waste gases into the air in Texas, and Royal Dutch Shell, who, among other things, got away with human rights abuses and involvement in murder in Nigeria.But it probably will come as little surprise that the number one homicidal corporation in the world — at least according to The Daily Sheeple (and just about everyone else who is paying attention) — is the Monsanto Company.From The Daily Sheeple:Monsanto is a special breed of evil. The multinational agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation is best likened to a serial killer that you could arrest for murder but never be sure of exactly how many people he killed. The deaths we know about involve the Indian farmers who commit suicide every thirty minutes because the GMO seeds they are basically forced to plant fail to produce necessary yields. Disturbingly, some of the farmers committed the act by consuming the same Roundup herbicide Monsanto gave them for their crops. The total death count is estimated at 290,000.As horrible as the continuing India debacle has been, it is far from being Monsanto’s only murderous legacy. The Monsanto death machine has had a terrible effect throughout the world, and its diabolical history is much broader in scope than just its Frankenfood GMO agenda, with its accompanying cancer cocktail known as Roundup.There have been many other deadly Monsanto products and programs, some of which have been banned or terminated, others of which are around to this day.The first “artificial sweetener” to appear on the market, saccharin, was proven to cause cancer in lab rats and was almost banned completely in the late 1970s, but due to lobbying pressure by Monsanto and other big players in the industry, the ban never was applied. Now, other sweeteners have largely replaced saccharin. Incidentally, many of the newer sweeteners also are believed to have associated health risks, such as aspartame, which was also developed by guess who? Yep, Monsanto…Other examples of Monsanto’s poisons include PCBs, dioxin, DDT, petroleum-based fertilizers, Agent Orange and polystyrene.It almost seems that, if something is dangerous or poisonous, Monsanto is involved somehow. The company also was instrumental in the development of the atom bomb and other nuclear weapons.From HangTheBankers.com:Shortly after acquiring Thomas and Hochwalt Laboratories, Monsanto turned this division into their Central Research Department.Between 1943 to 1945, this department coordinated key production efforts of the Manhattan Project—including plutonium purification and production and, as part of the Manhattan Project’s Dayton Project, techniques to refine chemicals used as triggers for atomic weapons…So, all things considered, Monsanto easily takes first place among the world’s most murderous corporations.A dubious honor, indeed…Sources:
http://www.thedailysheeple.com
http://www.hangthebankers.comDaniel Barker|NaturalNews|June 17, 2015

Monsanto’s latest scheme

Monsanto: You Can Run But You Can’t Hide!

You’ve heard the news by now.

Monsanto is trying to buy up fellow poison-maker Syngenta, in a scheme that involves relocating to London, and giving the merged company a brand new name.

Sorry, Monsanto. You can run. But you can’t hide!

Monsanto can’t hide the fact that its flagship product, Roundup, causes cancer. Or the fact that the world doesn’t want Monsanto’s toxic chemical-drenched, soil-depleting crops—or Syngenta’s atrazine, Agent Orange crops, or bee-killing neonics.

It’s taken us years. But the momentum against Monsanto and the rest of the Gene and Junk Food Giants is at an all-time high.

Thanks to the World Health Organization, we now have irrefutable scientific proof of what many scientists have been saying for decades—glyphosate, the key active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, causes cancer.

And thanks to millions of conscious consumers, Big Food lost $4 billion in market share last year, while sales of local, organic, healthful, nutritious food soared.

We’ve got Monsanto on the run. But forcing Monsanto to set up camp in London, under a new name, isn’t enough. We need to run Monsanto out of business. And that’s going to take a long, strong, sustained campaign.

We’re up for it. But we need your help.

 

You can donate online, by phone or by mail, details here.

Energy

5 Things You Need to Know About the EPA Fracking Report

Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released 1,000-plus draft pages of its “Hydraulic Fracturing Drinking Water Assessment.” The report took almost five years to produce and essentially tells us (in great detail) what we already knew: Fracking and drinking water are a bad combination. On top of that, the EPA finally admitted that water resources have already been contaminated by fracking: “We found specific instances where one or more mechanisms led to impacts on drinking water resources, including contamination of drinking water wells.”

So much for past assertions—not just from fossil fuel companies but also from Obama administration officials—that no instance of drinking water contamination has ever been documented. And don’t even get me started on the fossil fuel PR hacks and politicians who tried to claim that this report shows that fracking is safe. When you add up the threat to drinking water and all of the other problems with fracking that this report doesn’t address—the air pollution, the climate-disrupting methane, the landscape destruction, the earthquakes—it’s as obvious as ever that fracking is dirty, dangerous, and a terrible idea.

OK, so we knew that. What else, then, does this report have to tell us? Here are five takeaways, one for each year the EPA spent on this:

1. Oil and gas companies want you to know as little about fracking as possible. This EPA report offers no new research on whether fracking contaminates water supplies. Instead it relies on “available data and literature,” including previous investigations by state regulators into fracking-related water pollution. The main reason for this is that oil and gas companies did all they could to make gathering new data impossible. And they were able to do that because Congress and successive administrations have exempted them from so many federal pollution rules.

2. Opportunities abound for disaster. One thing the EPA’s report does detail is the many risks that fracking operations pose to drinking water both above and below ground—from mixing the fracking chemicals to injecting the fracking fluid into the well to handling the millions of gallons of toxic, radioactive waste water. So many ways that something could go wrong! Now you know why this report is more than 1,000 pages long.

3. Fracking is happening close to where we live. According to the EPA, “Between 2000 and 2013, approximately 9.4 million people lived within one mile of a hydraulically fractured well.”

4. Lots of fracking is also happening close to our water supplies. Again, according to the EPA: “Approximately 6,800 sources of drinking water for public water systems were located within one mile of at least one hydraulically fractured well … These drinking water sources served more than 8.6 million people year-round in 2013.” Suppose you’re lucky enough to live more than a mile from the nearest fracking site? EPA: “Hydraulic fracturing can also affect drinking water resources outside the immediate vicinity of a hydraulically fractured well.” What’s more, the EPA points out that in some places, such as Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky, fracking happens at relatively shallow depths, where “oil and gas resources and drinking water resources co-exist in the same formation.”

5. What they don’t know could hurt you. Of the 1,076 chemicals used in fracking that the EPA could identify, the agency was able to assess the chemical, physical, and toxicological properties for fewer than half. Of those, the majority have the potential to “persist in the environment as long-term contaminants.” Great, but how many of them are potentially carcinogenic? The EPA could find data for about 90 of them, but offered a bureaucratic shrug of the shoulders as to what level of exposure people might have to those carcinogens. Feeling reassured yet?

We didn’t need 1,000 pages to figure out the obvious. We don’t even need 1,000 words. Here’s what we know: Fracking is a nationwide game of Russian roulette that puts an essential resource—drinking water—at risk every single day. The sooner it stops, the better.

Michael Brune|President & CEO|Sierra Club|June 15, 2015

A new era for nuclear power?

Luminant’s Comanche Peak is among the nation’s 61 nuclear plants. Five other U.S. reactors are under construction, but with power prices low, any plans for further construction have been put on hold.

For decades the U.S. nuclear power industry has stood at a virtual standstill, a victim of economics and fears over safety. But as President Barack Obama prepares to roll out new carbon emission regulations targeting the power industry, nuclear companies are hoping a new era is upon them.

With high-profile advocates like former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk and former EPA administrator Christie Whitman on board, the industry is embarking on a very public campaign arguing nuclear must be part of any national energy plan. To accomplish that, it wants to examine amending power and licensing regulations to encourage nuclear and speed up construction.

From the $6 billion to $8 billion price tag for a new reactor in this country to the 2011 meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant, nuclear faces an uphill climb domestically. Perhaps no hurdle is greater than wholesale power prices, which have fallen nationally as U.S. hydraulic fracturing operations have flooded the country with cheap natural gas.

“Nuclear does have a unique set of challenges we need to address,” Kirk, co-chair of the nuclear advocacy group CASEnergy Coalition, said in an interview Thursday. “But it’s interesting how much the climate change debate has changed things. We believe there isn’t going to be any conversation about lowering carbon emissions in this country if nuclear isn’t part of the picture.”

The U.S. has five new reactors under construction in South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee. But with power prices low, any plans for further construction have been put on hold. Also, the future of the country’s 61 nuclear plants, a large portion of which were built in the 1970s, is falling into doubt as facilities come up for relicensing and will probably require costly upgrades.

The president’s call for a 30 percent cut in emissions by the U.S. power industry is expected to force the closure of vast numbers of coal-fired plants and cause a surge in wind and solar farm construction.

“Something like 65 percent of the existing coal fleet will not be operating. That’s [a lot] of electricity that needs to be replaced. Natural gas is going to supply the vast majority of that, but nuclear is going to have a place too,” said Dan Lipman, vice president of the trade group the Nuclear Energy Institute.

But the industry will face opposition. Nuclear remains a divisive issue among environmentalists. Some support it as a proven means to cut carbon emissions out of the nation’s power supply.

But there are just as many who see its potential contamination risks as just too great to make it a sensible pathway.

“On nuclear, the environmental community is not a monolith. There are some groups that grew up around anti-nuclear protests,” said Jim Martson, Texas director of the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund.

Among an older generation of Americans, the partial meltdown of the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania in 1979 remains a vivid memory.

Dale Klein, a professor at the University of Texas and former chair of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said new technology designed to keep reactors cool even when a plant loses power – as happened at Fukushima – has greatly reduced the risk of a meltdown.

“One of the things people often forget about is any source of electrical generation has issues. The one that would kill the most people is hydroelectric. If a dam failed, you could take out 200,000 people very quickly,” he said. “You have to look at a risk-benefit comparison.”

Getting that message out there is the job handed to Kirk, a former U.S. trade representative and well-known golfing partner of Obama.

He argued that younger Americans did not have the same fears about safety as their parents might have. For them, he said, global warming remains a far bigger threat.

Still, he admitted, promoting nuclear energy has its own unique challenges.

“Nuclear is the most mysterious of energy sources,” he said. “You never had a James Bond movie where the final scene is filmed in a solar plant.”

California Sets Record; Surpasses UK, France, Spain in Installed Solar Capacity

If California was a nation, it would rank 6th in the world in installed solar capacity.

Wow.  That’s pretty amazing — and one of the key takeaways from the latest U.S. Solar Market Insight Report, which was just released by GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

Today, California has more solar assets than nations such as the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Australia and Belgium, becoming the first state in the U.S. to top 10,000 megawatts (MW) of installed solar capacity.

California made history in the first quarter of this year by installing 718 MW of solar energy, raising the state’s total capacity to 10,649 MW — enough to power nearly 2.6 million homes.  The report went on to point out that California had big increases in Q1 across all solar sectors. Of the new capacity added, 231 MW were residential, 88 MW were commercial and 399 MW were utility scale. Together, these installations represented a $1.7 billion investment across the state in the first quarter alone.

When it comes to creating clean energy jobs and protecting the environment, California is showing the world how to get the job done.  To put the state’s remarkable progress in some context, today California has 10 times more installed solar capacity than the entire nation had in 2007.  We congratulate Gov. Brown, his administration, legislative leaders and the people of California for being at the forefront of America’s efforts to create a vibrant and growing clean energy economy.

California’s explosive growth in solar is due, in large part, to stable and effective public policies such as the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) and Net Energy Metering (NEM). Nationwide, solar remains the fastest-growing source of renewable energy in the United States, and it is supported by 9 out of 10 Americans.

In the first quarter of this year, California benefitted from the completion of the massive Desert Sunlight project, developed by First Solar and located in the Mojave Desert.  Desert Sunlight has the capacity to generate 550 MW of electricity, which is enough to power 160,000 California homes.

The residential market also continued to flourish in Q1, with installed system prices dropping 4 percent year-over-year — and down nearly 50 percent since 2010. The upswing in residential installations is expected to continue in the foreseeable future, especially in light of a recent report by the California Energy Commission, which shows that more than a quarter of all new homes being built in Southern California are being constructed with solar energy systems. Presently, there are 2,226 solar companies at work throughout the state, employing 54,700 Californians.

Any way you look at it, the sun is shining brightly these days on the Golden State.

Rhone Resch|Jun 15, 2015

Duke Energy Building Utility-Grade Energy Storage System at Retired Coal Plant

At the forefront of a rapidly evolving energy landscape, Duke Energy sees promise in using intelligent energy storage systems to enhance the efficiency, stability and resilience of U.S. electricity grids. The nation’s largest utility announced it will work with LG Chem, Greensmith and Parker Hannifin to build a grid-connected lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery storage system at the retired W.C. Beckjord coal-fired power plant in Ohio.

The 2-megawatt (MW) Li-ion battery storage and power management system will help maintain and regulate grid frequency for PJM, the regional independent grid operator responsible for assuring a steady flow of electricity across much of the eastern U.S. Duke declined to say how much it is investing in the system.

Completing the energy storage project in Ohio will bring Duke Energy’s total installed grid-connected battery storage capacity to 44-MW — 15 percent of the total in operation across the U.S. to date, highlighted Spencer Haynes, Beckjord project manager for Duke’s Commercial Portfolio from the 25th annual Energy Storage Association (ESA) conference, which took place in Dallas last May.

A Sign of Changing Times

LG Chem is supplying the advanced Li-ion batteries for the Beckjord project. Greensmith is to deliver an integrated intelligent energy storage control and analytics software platform, as well as integration services. Parker Hannifin will provide a 2-MW power conversion inverter, which gives the system a 1:1 energy-to-power ratio.

Slated for completion in late 2015, building the 2 MW Li-ion energy storage and power management system at Beckjord will bring the total grid-connected energy storage capacity at the site to 4-MW. Duke’s Commercial Transmission business unit teamed up with Toshiba International to install a 2-MW Li-ion battery storage system at Beckjord last year.

“Fast-responding energy storage is recognized for the tremendous benefits it provides to grid operations, because it can instantaneously absorb excess energy from the grid or release energy,” Phil Grigsby, Duke Energy’s vice president of commercial transmission stated. “Delivering that power in seconds, as opposed to a power plant that could take 10 minutes or more to ramp up, is the unique value the battery system provides to grid operators. This accurate and rapid response will help improve the overall reliability and economic efficiency of the grid.”

Grigsby also highlighted the potential for intelligent battery storage and power management systems to accelerate integration of renewable energy on to U.S. power grids. The grid-connected Li-ion battery storage and power management system Duke is building at Beckjord “demonstrates the capabilities of new technologies and the potential for future applications, such as large-scale integration of renewable energy onto the grid,” he said.

Duke’s Commercial Portfolio, for example, also includes a 36-MW advanced lead acid battery-based energy storage and power management system it built in 2012 in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy at the Notrees Windpower Project in Texas. That system is one of the largest in the U.S.

“Given our energy utility background, we’re really focused on building utility-grade energy storage systems that will perform and meet our life-cycle expectations…These are emissions-free projects,” Spencer told REW during an interview.

Zeroing In on Utility-grade Energy Storage

As part of Duke’s Commercial Portfolio team, Spencer spoke with several vendors during the ESA conference, focusing on their technology roadmaps, as well as estimates of anticipated cost reductions, and not just for batteries. Duke’s team was looking to get a better handle on forecasts for anticipated cost reductions across the spectrum of equipment and components used in grid-scale energy storage and power management systems, including inverters, controls and analytic software, Spencer elaborated.

“We’re looking at a range of technologies and providers, from flow to Li-ion [battery] manufacturers. Use of any one energy storage technology depends on the specific application,” Spencer noted. “Different types of advanced battery and energy storage systems are better suited for certain applications. They do different things. There’s a role for apples and oranges on different parts and aspects of the grid.”

“Right now we’re hearing and seeing costs coming down 10 percent every six months,” Spencer added.

Andrew Burger|Correspondent|June 15, 2015

[If all energy companies were to quit spending on prospecting for fossil fuels and invest in renewables we would achieve energy independence and kick our oil addiction.]

3 Reasons Why You Should Watch This Video on Fracking

Ohio is in the heart of the shale gas boom. Our state has seen a recent explosion of fracking activity, and we’re bracing for even more development in the coming years.

Current Ohio law falls woefully short of establishing adequate protections from fracking for Ohio communities and families. This was demonstrated time and again in 2014, when we saw several major fracking accidents in our state alone. We’re nearing the one-year anniversary of a massive frack fire in Monroe county that resulted in the evacuation of 25 families, and severely polluted a nearby, once pristine stream, leaving a 5-mile fish kill in its wake.

The video below gives a quick breakdown of the current realities of fracking in Ohio and beyond, and the numerous ways it is threatening our environment, health and prosperity.

Here are three reasons why you should watch and share this video:

1. It’s not just happening in Ohio

Fracking is exploding across the country, and many states are feeling the consequences. According to FracTracker Alliance, an estimated 1.1 million wells have been or are being drilled in the U.S. With so many unanswered questions about the impact this can have on our environment, that number is alarming—to say the least.

2. Fracking causes …. earthquakes

That’s right, we have human activity triggering earthquakes. Although the majority of fracking related earthquakes have been tied to fracking fluid disposal in injection wells, an earthquake in Ohio just last year was connected to a nearby drilling site. USGS released a study that showed that many states, including Oklahoma and Ohio, have seen a dramatic increase in seismic activity since the shale boom.

3. Fracking threatens our water

The release of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency water study last week confirms what fracking industry propaganda has long denied: there are specific cases of drinking water contamination resulting from fracking. The study revealed that our water is vulnerable at every stage of the fracking process. And in Ohio, fracking well pads can be within 50 feet of a stream.

To learn more watch here:

Hannah Tyler|Ohio Environmental Council|June 11, 2015

Land Conservation

The Nature Conservancy Gets It

Most Florida environmental groups  this special session made a lot of noise — you heard them — and spent a lot of money, but in the end, came away empty-handed and bitterly unhappy.

Not The Nature Conservancy.

The Conservancy (TNC), largest private conservation landowner in the world, including more than 60,000 acres in preserves from the Keys to the Florida Panhandle, walked its own path during both legislative sessions, never putting the U.S. Sugar Corp. option on its wish list.

What it did is quietly win record funding for its own top priority — land management.
The Nature Conservancy, understand, is all about land management.

“We applaud the Legislature,” said Marianne Moran, TNC’s director of government relations. “The budget going through right now includes $106 million in new management dollars. Adding that new money to an estimated base of $60 million means a record for Florida land management allocation. That’s going to help address the significant backlog on our state lands.”

Florida has a total of 9 million acres of conservation land, a colossal number — more conservation land than the total land in four states. “We should be proud of that,” TNC  Associate Director of Conservation Kristina Serbesoff-King told me. “We are quite fortunate in this state. But it also means we have a heavy responsibility.”

This is why I say The Nature Conservancy gets it.

“Buying new land is only part of the solution to protect Florida’s land, water, wildlife and recreation,” Moran said.  “Funding land management is critical because it helps the state realize the recreational and natural attributes provided by acquisition.”

Unfortunately, she said, in recent years “there’s been a political temptation to buy lands, cut the ribbon, then walk away without a plan to adequately fund management.  This makes no sense and has had a detrimental effect on our resources.  It’s something TNC recognized and wanted to lead on in 2015.”
Moran hit the nail on the head. She struck a chord. It’s always seemed to me land management is  the cost of doing business. You can’t buy land if you’re not going to pay to take care of it. It’s like buying a business, putting all your money into the big-ticket item without leaving room to pay for rent, utilities, advertising, insurance — the recurring cost of doing business. If you don’t take it all into account, the business fails.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam knew how far behind land maintenance is in Florida, and said as much in March to legislators looking to form a spending plan for Amendment 1 money.

The Nature Conservancy is wise to this because that’s what they do. Conservation means what it says. Have a look at their website.

“If you don’t manage invasives, waterways clog,” Moran explained. “If you don’t burn, scrub-jay habitat disappears and long-leaf forests aren’t replanted … and wetlands cannot be restored as intended.”

TNC had only two priorities for this year’s budget: funding for land management that would eclipse the allocations of the past five years; and a significant increase in the Rural and Family Lands Program. Rural and Family Lands came out ahead, too, funded at $15 million.  “We see this conservation easement program as the most targeted means of land protection, and it’s the most cost-effective for the taxpayer,” she said.

Asked why TNC didn’t list U.S. Sugar’s 46,800 acres among its priorities, Moran replied, “Florida has many conservation priorities.  Considering the current backlog of billions of ongoing and planned Everglades restoration projects waiting to be implemented, we need to finish what we started.” She said The Nature Conservancy nevertheless continues to support a dedicated funding source for Everglades restoration.

Many who deal with TNC on a regular basis credit Executive Director Temperince Morgan, on board for only about a year, with recent successes.

There’s just so much to admire about the common-sense approach TNC brings to its conservation mission.

In the first place, unlike other environmental entities, it has not historically been a litigious organization. Lawsuits are tactics for others when they can’t get what they want; working with leadership to come up with a solution is the TNC way.

In the second place, they look at the Everglades and see and hear beyond the political noise, looking at problems few agencies are addressing.They see the Burmese pythons and other exotic animals. They see uplands so flooded in rainy spells that  deer and other animals become trapped and starve there. They see a deadly exotic climbing fern, Lygodium microphyllum, overtaking islands, forcing out animals that grazed there. They see dying coral reefs in Florida Bay.

They are a lone voice sounding the alarm for many ills in a port-of-entry state, in a tropical climate where everything, good and bad, grows prolifically. And they are entirely refreshing.

Nancy Smith|June 18, 2015

Erosion threatens iconic NASA launch pads

The ocean ticks a countdown of its own, along this thin strip of beach where rockets blasted to space from NASA’s two iconic launch pads.

Waves lap ever closer to the concrete pads at Kennedy Space Center, as the moon that man reached from these sands drives tides that threaten the pads’ foundations.

The space program’s past and future hinge on these pads. They held up Apollo rockets and space shuttles. But to keep exploring space from here, KSC needs a bit more room for comfort along this edge of the Atlantic.

The public has until July 20 to comment on the space center’s recently released environmental assessment of four beach-building options under consideration.

“The long-term benefits certainty outweigh the short-term construction impacts,” Don Dankert, a NASA biological scientist at KSC, said of the environmental impacts of future beach-building.

NASA is preparing the northernmost pad, 39B, for launches of crews on deep-space missions aboard its heavy-lift Space Launch System rocket and Orion capsule. The rocket’s first, unmanned test launch is targeted for late 2018, followed by a first crewed flight by 2022.

NASA leased Pad 39A to SpaceX, which will launch its Falcon Heavy rockets from there.

But if nothing’s done, erosion along 4.6 miles of the KSC shoreline, coupled with sea-level rise, “would result in large-scale inundation, habitat alteration, and land loss along the coastal strand,” the environmental assessment says.

That could result in damage to launch infrastructure and seawater flooding into nearby marshes.

Sea level at KSC could rise from 6 to 25 inches (2 feet) by the 2050s and 10 to 49 inches (4 feet) by the 2080s, according to the environmental assessment.

Meanwhile, planning is under way for several potential new launch pads in the same area.

KSC is accepting proposals for two potential new commercial sites just north and south of the two existing pads.

And Space Florida is studying the environmental impact of developing one or two commercial pads near KSC’s northern border, on property NASA shares with the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Aerial photos from 1943 show 39A was built on a spot where the ocean at times washed over, forming small openings where sand fanned out into a tidal delta of small sandbars.

 

Since 1943, the ocean has thinned KSC’s beach width by about 66 yards, NASA officials say.

Storms in 2004 caused severe erosion and more than $100 million in damages at KSC. Then storms in 2010 further eroded the shore in front of the pads.

In 2010, the space center built a 15-foot high, 725-foot long secondary dune along the worst spot between the two shuttle pads as proof a new dune could help protect launch infrastructure.

After Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, that was the only stretch of dune left intact.

Along almost two miles of beach, dunes retreated seven feet after Sandy. The ocean undercut the railroad track along a 218-yard stretch near Pad 39A, where waves topped the tracks, flooding a nearby lagoon and partially washing away some of the railway base.

An almost $3 million dune repair project in 2013 and 2014 removed about a mile of old railroad and bedding damaged by Hurricane Sandy and built a new dune atop the former railroad.

 

According to the environmental assessment, there are four options to deal with the vanishing beach:

•Alternative one: This is KSC’s “preferred” alternative. Trucks would haul in 420,000 cubic yards of sand. The project would build a new 3.5-mile secondary dune immediately inland of the existing dune. About 2 miles of remaining shorefront railbed would be removed or buried.

•Alternative two: Reestablishes the historical condition of 10 to 15 years ago along about 4.4 miles of beach. The project would put 2.8 million cubic yards of sand dredged up offshore and pump it on to the beach. Periodic renourishment would be needed every 6 to 10 years.

•Alternative three: A “hold-the-line” strategy to reinforce the beach and dunes at current, eroded locations. Dredges would put 2.3 million cubic yards of sand along about 4.4 miles of beach. About 3,700 feet of rail bed could be buried by the dune fill near the south-central end of the project area. Periodic renourishment would be needed every 6 to 10 years.

•Alternative four: Partially restore the primary dune and beach in the short-term and build a secondary inland dune in the long-term. Put 2.3 million cubic yards of dredged sand. About 2 miles of rail bed could be buried by the dune fill or removed. Periodic renourishment would be needed every 6 to 10 years.

NASA officials would not provide cost estimates for any of the four options.

“It’s a little premature to attribute cost to it,” Dankert said.

But the Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia, has faced similar, costly erosion problems. In 2012, an Illinois dredging company pumped 3.2 million cubic yards of sand on beaches at Wallops in a $45 million project to protect over $1 billion in federal and state assets there.

A long-term beach repair plan for KSC could prove just as costly and involve roughly four miles of coastline from Playa Linda Beach to south of Pad 39A, NASA officials have said.

Wallops anticipates having to do repeat sand pumping every three to seven years.

KSC has yet to come up with a formal timeline for a major beach building project. Federal funding must flow first, before a new buffer for the old launch pads can bolster NASA’s next big blast-offs.

But the agency that won the Space Race is used to racing against time.

“Our two biggest risks are to our critical launch structure, as well as to our coastal habitat that we have on our beaches,” Dankert said.

NASA’s plans for re-nourishing its beaches

Jim Waymer|FLORIDA TODAY|June 19, 2015

The Big Florida Swindle

Back in November, we were celebrating a landslide environmental victory here in Florida, after a whopping 75 percent of voters approved the Water and Land Conservation amendment to our state constitution. It created what was believed to be the largest state-based conservation initiative in U.S. history.

But now, I am sad to report that we seem to be snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. In a shocking display of political hubris, the Florida legislature is refusing to do what the voters directed. Lawmakers are being stingy and not properly funding the conservation land-buying. Florida politicians appear to espouse the view that the constitution can be disregarded when the decisions of the Florida voters are contrary to their political philosophies.

While citizens around the state hold protests and newspapers shame legislators for the bait-and-switch, we hear preposterous comments like these:

“We don’t need to be known as the hoarding-land state,” said state Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, Chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee. Hays claims that the state already owns too much conservation land, which is not the case.

The legislators seem oblivious to the fact that the Water and Land Conservation amendment got more votes than any other issue or any candidate on the 2014 ballot.

The citizen’s drive for the amendment was born from frustration that the governor and legislature were, year after year, starving our state’s Florida Forever conservation land-buying program. The money that was supposed to be set aside for conservation kept getting diverted into the state’s general revenue fund.

To get around these political shenanigans, a citizen drive created the Water and Land Conservation ballot initiative. It does not impose any new taxes. Instead, it merely takes an existing state tax source and earmarks it permanently to conservation. The money comes from the state’s documentary tax revenue, a tax on real estate transactions that the state has used for water and land conservation since 1968.

The Water and Land Conservation amendment was supposed to generate about $750 million dollars annually (for 20 years) to buy conservation land, and this year’s legislature was to conduct the inaugural allocation. But when the legislature’s budget proposals came out, the Senate and House offered a paltry amount for land buying, and instead proposed to use most of the money  for salaries and agency operating expenses.

Some politicians started making the argument that the amendment allows funds to go toward conservation and land management, and now they are using accounting tricks to funnel conservation money to pay for day-to-day operations at several state agencies that deal little, or not at all, with land management.

That’s not what the voters had in mind. Voters wanted the state to purchase lands to preserve Florida’s beauty before it is rendered unrecognizable by more strip malls, condos and golf courses.

The Florida legislature was so deadlocked in its budget negotiations (due to a dispute over federal health-care funding,) that lawmakers huffily adjourned their 60-day regular session early without passing a budget—the one thing they are required to do by law.

So now they have returned to the state Capitol for a special session, where we have to watch them ignore the people’s will, once again.

The truth is that Floridians want land purchased for conservation and protected for future generations. We want a green infrastructure that preserves the very assets that make this a great place to live. We want clean water to drink, and to swim, fish and surf in. If you have visited here—and 97.3 million of you did last year alone—we know that’s what you want, too.

David Guest|Managing Attorney|Florida regional office|EarthJustice|June 11, 2015

Victory in Biscayne National Park and Updates From South Florida Wildlands ‏

Victory in Biscayne National Park

South Florida Wildlands Association recently received word from the National Park Service that one of our longstanding campaigns – the future of Biscayne National Park – had been resolved.  While awaiting the decision, we considered the importance of the most visited marine park in our nation and its outstanding natural resources, including dozens of federally listed species and the only coral reef in the continental U.S. located inside a National Park.

We also reflected on ­­­the multi-year campaign South Florida Wildlands and our allies waged to protect this unique park through the adoption of a new General Management Plan – a plan we hoped would restore dwindling fish populations; protect and restore seagrass beds and coral reefs damaged by boat propellers, fishing debris, anchors, and groundings; prevent disturbances to nesting birds along the park’s fragile shorelines – known to abandon nests in the presence of loud motors; and reduce or eliminate powerboat collisions – often fatal – with endangered manatees, sea turtles and other marine wildlife.

We’re happy to say that this time the National Park Service got it exactly right.  Biscayne National Park has announced it will be implementing a 10,502 acre marine reserve (a “no fishing zone”) over the heart of the park’s coral reef in addition to no combustion motor, no wake, and slow speed zones surrounding many of the park’s sensitive shorelines.

Not only will the elimination of recreational and commercial fishing inside the reserve allow more and bigger fish to survive and reproduce (and spill out to the vast majority of the park which remains open to fishing), but it will also greatly reduce anchor damage, groundings, and fishing debris from impacting the park’s very special reef tract.  Regulations on motoring will benefit seagrass beds, manatees and other wildlife as well as nesting birds.  And human visitors who enjoy paddling, diving, glass bottom boat viewing, bird watching, and fishing will have the opportunity to experience a quieter and healthier park ecosystem with a more natural abundance of the fish and wildlife that draw visitors to Biscayne National Park from throughout the world.

The finalizing of a new General Management Plan for a national park is a strenuous effort for all involved.  In almost every case, desires for “access and use” compete with the mission of the National Park Service as expressed in the Organic Act written nearly 100 years ago – “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”  A big thanks to all who stood up for this important conservation mandate.

The core mission of South Florida Wildlands is the protection of wildlife and habitat in the Greater Everglades.  Nothing is more important to that mission than the ecological health of South Florida’s three units of the National Park Service – Everglades National Park (1,508,538 acres), Biscayne National Park (172,971 acres), and Big Cypress National Preserve (720,566 acres).  While we’re extremely happy with this historic decision in Biscayne National Park (and sincerely hope it sets a precedent for decisions elsewhere), we are well aware that our work is hardly over.  South Florida Wildlands is engaged in an almost dizzying array of issues and campaigns inside or near all of these special places.  They include:

A new General Management Plan for Everglades National Park – dealing with many of the same issues as the plan for Biscayne National Park.

Proposals for federal wilderness, hunting, and motorized back-country recreation in the Big Cypress National Preserve.

Two new nuclear reactors proposed to be built next to Biscayne National Park.

A proposal to run three massive power lines from those new reactors through the current borders of Everglades National Park.

A proposal to build a gas-fired power plant – the largest in the U.S. – just north of the Big Cypress National Preserve.

And last but not least – a proposal to conduct seismic testing for oil (with expanded oil drilling on the horizon) inside the Big Cypress National Preserve.

While not directly related to National Park Service management, South Florida Wildlands is also challenging upcoming decisions by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to open a black bear hunt in Florida and decrease current protections (substituting “practical management flexibility”) for our state animal – the Florida Panther.

In all of these issues, South Florida Wildlands supports decisions which put the health of our region’s already stressed-out wildlife first.  Please help us continue this important work with a contribution.  Whether you live in South Florida or not, these completely unique public lands (which support more biodiversity than just about anywhere else in our nation) are yours and are an important part of your natural heritage.  They need the kind of aggressive advocacy that this little organization provides.  South Florida Wildlands Association is a 501(c)3 charity – donations are tax-deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law.  And as a local organization, 100 percent of your donation stays in South Florida where your voice is added to ours in our ongoing communications with the public, press, and decision makers.

Transportation

EPA proposes tougher fuel standards for heavy trucks

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration proposed tough new standards to reduce pollution from carbon-emitting trucks and vans Friday, marking the latest move to address global warming.

The new rules from the Environmental Protection Agency are designed to slash carbon dioxide emissions by 24 percent over the next 12 years while reducing oil consumption by up to 1.8 billion barrels over the lifetime of the vehicles sold under the rule.

Medium- and heavy-duty vehicles account for about 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and oil use in the U.S. transportation sector, affecting the environment and contributing to climate change. The trucks and vans comprise only 5 percent of vehicles on the road.

The rules come amid a flurry of recent actions by President Barack Obama on the environment, including a new federal rule regulating small streams and wetlands and a separate rule to restrict greenhouse gas emissions from airplanes.

The administration is also expected to move forward this summer on its plan t o curb carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants, a rule Republicans in Congress have vowed to stop.

The long-expected rules also come one day after Pope Francis issued a teaching document calling for the world to take action to slow climate change.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the new rules would help the environment and the economy, as trucks would use less fuel, and shipping costs would go down.

Foxx called the rules “good news all around.”

Gina McCarthy, chief of the Environmental Protection Agency, said the rules would deliver “big time” on Obama’s call to cut carbon pollution.

“With emission reductions weighing in at 1 billion tons, this proposal will save consumers, businesses and truck owners money,” McCarthy said. At the same time, the rules will “spur technology innovation and job-growth, while protecting Americans’ health and our environment over the long haul.”

The truck rule appeared to generate less controversy than some of the previous regulations on this issue, although the industry was still reviewing the prop osal.

The American Trucking Association said the industry generally supports the new rules but remains concerned that it could result in use of technologies on vehicles before they can be fully tested. Trucks carry goods from produce to timber and oil, as well as packages from major companies such as Amazon, on highways across the country.

The proposed standards would cover model years 2021-27 and apply to semit rucks, large pickup trucks and vans, as well as all types and sizes of buses and work trucks, officials said.

Once completed, the rules are expected to lower carbon dioxide emissions by about 1 billion metric tons.

Environmental groups cheered the new rule.

“Anyone who’s ever been stuck beh ind a truck or bus knows how much they pollute,” said Travis Madsen of Environment America, an advocacy group. “Making trucks go farther on a gallon of fuel can curb pollution, help save the planet and save money.”

The rules will be open to public comment for at least two months and are expected to be completed next year.

MATTHEW DALY|ASSOCIATED PRESS6/20/15

Miscellaneous

IT’S POLLINATOR WEEK!

Each June, The Xerces Society joins organizations across the U.S. in recognition of National Pollinator Week. Established in 2006 by the U.S. Senate, National Pollinator Week commemorates pollinators and the indispensable services they provide. All week long, organizations, gardeners, businesses, schools, and many other groups will hold events and activities nationwide to celebrate pollinators and to raise awareness of the need to conserve them.

Pollinators give us many reasons to celebrate them. They are responsible for the reproduction of nearly 85 percent of flowering plants around the world, allowing plants that are food or habitat for other wildlife to persist. Pollinators also become food themselves for other wildlife, like songbirds. They are an indispensable component of a healthy environment.

Pollinators are vitally important to agriculture, too. More than two-thirds of crop species — crops that produce fruits, vegetables, spices, nuts, seeds, and livestock forage — depend on them. From the coffee you drink in the morning to the apple pie you have for dessert, an estimated one-in-three mouthfuls you consume come from a pollinator-dependent crop.

Beyond the crucial ecosystem services they provide, pollinators are a diverse and fascinating group of animals in their own right. They include bees, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, some bats, some beetles, flies and wasps. We celebrate their amazing biology: the monarch butterfly’s incredible long-distance migration, the unique buzz pollination behavior exhibited by bumble bees, and the way hawk moths, mid-flight, suspend themselves in the air to sip nectar from flowers.

Meanwhile, pollinator declines — like that of the managed European honeybee, one-fourth of North America’s native bumble bee species, and the iconic monarch butterfly — show that pollinators shouldn’t be taken for granted. There are simple steps that everyone can take to conserve pollinators, including creating pollinator gardens, restoring natural areas, and protecting pollinators from pesticides.

Here are just a few of the ways that Xerces currently protects pollinators:

  • Increasing the availability of milkweed seed to help create monarch butterfly habitat;
  • Working with farmers to create pesticide-free, flower-rich habitat on farms;
  • Engaging thousands of citizens in a nationwide search for rare bumble bees;
  • Teaching farmers, scientists, conservationists, home gardeners and others about Pollinator Conservation all over the U.S.;
  • Providing tools through the Pollinator Conservation Resource Center to assist in the direct application of habitat management, native species identification, and more;
  • Making science accessible by publishing reports such as Are Neonicotinoids Killing Bees?

13 Household Products You Should Never Mix

More accidents happen at home than anywhere else. Many of these can be avoided by just knowing what not to do. If you avoid these 13 combinations, you’ll save yourself time and money, and maybe even a trip to the hospital.

1. Different battery brands

Mixing batteries from different brands can lead to them leaking battery acid. The reason is that manufacturers use different chemical compositions for their batteries, which produce different levels of current. When one runs out of juice, the other can still keep running, but that causes it to leak, which can damage electronic devices.

2. Rubbing alcohol & bleach

Rubbing alcohol contains ethanol or isopropyl alcohol, which, when mixed with household bleach that contains sodium hypochlorite, will create chloroform and hydrochloric acid, as well as chloroacetone or dichloroacetone. These compounds can cause damage to the nervous system, lungs, kidneys, liver, eyes and skin. Also, high levels of chloroform can lead to dizziness, nausea, loss of consciousness and even death.

3. Ammonia & bleach

This combination is also very dangerous, producing vapors that can cause severe damage to your respiratory system. And that’s not the worst thing that can happen – if there are large amounts of ammonia, you might create a substance called liquid hydrazine. Liquid hydrazine is highly toxic and potentially explosive.

4. Vinegar & bleach

If you add a weak acid to bleach, it creates vapors of toxic chloramine and chlorine. These vapors can cause serious chemical burns to your eyes and lungs.

5. Vinegar & baking soda

Vinegar is an acid and baking soda is a base – those two cancel each other out, rendering the resulting solution useless. [In a closed container, the reaction between vinegar and baking soda is violent enough to explode.]

6. Vinegar & hydrogen peroxide

Combining these two products in the same container will create a corrosive peracetic acid. In high enough concentrations, peracetic acid can irritate and even damage your skin, eyes, throat, nose and lungs.

7. Grapefruit & certain medicines

Compounds in the grapefruit interfere with enzymes in the stomach, which are in charge of metabolizing certain types of medicine. This ends up increasing the level of certain chemicals in the blood and can lead to a deadly overdose.

8. Alcohol & ibuprofen

Taking ibuprofen on an empty stomach can damage the stomach-lining. Adding alcohol into the mix stimulates this process and can worsen the effect. Damage to the lining can lead to internal bleeding, ulcers and other stomach problems.

9. Alcohol & acetaminophen

Chronic consumption of alcohol causes the body to produce certain enzymes that adversely interact with acetaminophen. The reaction can damage the liver and even be lethal. In the U.S. alone, over 200 people die every year due to this deadly combination.

10. Dairy & antibiotics

Dairy is rich in calcium, and while it may be good for your bones, its interaction with antibiotics is anything but. Calcium prevents the antibiotics from being absorbed into your body, reducing their effectiveness.

Antibiotics that are most affected by dairy are: Ciprofloxacin, levofloxacin and tetracycline.

11. Milk & energy drinks

The acid in energy drinks mixes with proteins in the milk, causing the milk to curdle very quickly. The result is usually projectile vomiting…

12. Retinol & glycolic acid or alpha hydroxyl acid

Both of these skin-care products may help you look younger, but mixing them together is a bad idea. Glycolic acid has a different level of pH than retinol, so when both are used, the glycolic acid becomes dominant, reducing the effectiveness of retinol considerably. It can also cause some skin irritation.

13. Retinol & sunlight

Recent evidence shows that retinol can become toxic when exposed to direct sunlight, and increase your chances of getting a sunburn. It is recommended that you only use it at night, or if you choose to use it during the day – use sunscreen and avoid direct sunlight as much as possible.

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 1506 B

The old Lakota was wise. He knew that man’s heart away from nature becomes hard; he knew that lack of respect for growing, living things soon led to lack of respect for humans too. ~Chief Luther Standing Bear

 

Announcements

David A. Schwedel will serve as Chairman of Miami Waterkeeper’s new Board of Trustees

The new Board of Trustees for Miami Waterkeeper (MWK) will support us, both from within our ranks and in the community. David, a Miami native and an energy technology investor who currently serves as the founder and CEO of Gables Energy Partners, LLC, will lend his expertise and network to help us continue to grow and to have a broad impact in our watershed.
“David’s extensive experience in both the business and non-profit sector will add great value to our Board of Trustees,” said Rachel Silverstein, Executive Director & Waterkeeper of MWK. “We appreciate his willingness to serve our organization and the community as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, and look forward to benefiting from his leadership and counsel.”
“It is a privilege to serve as Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Miami Waterkeeper, which has worked diligently to defend and protect the South Florida waters from Biscayne Bay to the ocean, and all the connecting waterways in between,” said David.  “Having been born and raised in Miami, I have spent my entire life active in water sports above and below the water.  This experience allowed me to witness the stresses that our local bay, coral reefs, and overall waterways have experienced over the past 45 years.  We have an opportunity to help make a difference for the betterment of our South Florida water-based economy and community where we all live, work, and play, for both present and future generations.”
David is also Managing Member of Corallum, a family office; Executive Director of Coalview, North America’s leading fully integrated coal technology company; an active supporter of several other local organizations that benefit children and their families through science and technology initiatives, including the Children’s Home Society, For A Day Foundation; and he serves as a Trustee and member of the Capital Campaign Committee for the Frost Science Museum.
We are thrilled to welcome David Schwedel to the MWK family!

Rachel Silverstein|Miami Waterkeeper/6/10/15

ARTHUR R. MARSHALL LOXAHATCHEE NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
SCHEDULED PROGRAMS         Summer 2015
Kids’ Fishing Day
Saturday, June 13, 7:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.

The Refuge is hosting the 17th annual Kids’ Fishing Day next Saturday in conjunction with National Fishing and Boating Week. 

Children aged 12 and under accompanied by a parent or guardian are encouraged to sign up for this fun-filled event, which takes place at the Lee Road boat ramp.

Volunteers from the King of the Glades Bass Club will assist the children throughout the event. 

To sign up, please contact Serena Rinker at 561-735-6029 or serena_rinker@fws.gov

Space is limited so call or email to sign up now!

The children will travel through four stations – knot tying, fish identification, conservation and what makes a good angler, and, of course, casting and fishing. 

The King of the Glades Fishing Club will bring a bass boat with personal floatation devices and a tackle box so the children get some hands-on lessons as well. 

The event will end with a cook-out and presentation of certificates of accomplishment.

Public invited to discuss proposed designation of Critical Wildlife Area at Cape Romano Shoals ‏

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), in partnership with Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, is hosting two public workshops to discuss the proposed designation of a Critical Wildlife Area at Cape Romano Shoals, also known as Second Chance, located approximately nine miles south of Marco Island in Collier County. The proposed establishment of Second Chance as a CWA will make it closed to public access during the summer nesting season.

Areas within Rookery Bay Reserve, like Second Chance, provide crucial nesting habitat for species recognized as at risk by the state of Florida. These species are the least tern (Threatened), black skimmer (Species of Special Concern) and Wilson’s plover. Continued management efforts to prevent public entry into the nesting areas have not been shown to be widely successful; observations of human activity and disturbance events have increased in recent years while observed seasonal nesting effort has decreased.

The FWC and Rookery Bay will hold two public meetings to gather public input. At the meetings, Reserve staff will provide an overview of justification, previous efforts and management plans with the goals of informing stakeholders, answering questions and gathering public comments. Biologists from FWC will be present to accept comments and answer questions from the public.

            The meetings are Monday, June 22, and Tuesday, June 23, at the Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center, 300 Tower Road, Naples. On Monday, the meeting will start at 6 p.m. The meeting Tuesday will begin at 12 p.m. The meetings will contain identical material, interested parties need not attend both meetings

For more information about Critical Wildlife Areas, visit MyFWC.com/Conservation and click on “Terrestrial Programs”.

Of Interest to All

Migratory Bird Treaty Act at a Crossroads

The future of one of our bedrock bird conservation laws, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), is at stake. Enacted in 1918, it shut down the plundering of birds for ladies hats and market hunters who came close to extinguishing numerous species. Since then it has saved million or even billions of birds.

Building on the proven success of this law, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is taking bold steps to bring the MBTA into the 21st century by regulating modern day bird “death traps” like uncovered oil waste pits, which birds can mistake for open water, power lines that can electrocute birds, and other hazards. This could result in some of the strongest new protections for birds in decades.

Audubon strongly supports the USFWS proposal and is actively working to make sure our point of view is well represented at a series of scoping sessions to be held in June (see below for locations and dates).
Unfortunately, this bold move has attracted some outrageous attacks from Congress. A recent amendment to an appropriations bill that passed the House would prevent funds from being spent on MBTA enforcement (see Bird Killer Amendment story). That amendment, and a stand alone bill, HR 493, were both offered by Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC). HR 493 makes it impossible for the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to do its job to protect birds by leaving them vulnerable to the many unintended but still lethal “death traps” that kill millions of birds each year. HR 493 also takes on another cornerstone bird conservation law, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, and forces Interior to approve 30 year permits for killing eagles if Interior does not act on a permit within one year. So far we are seeing little movement on HR 493, but we are watching it closely.
We are excited by the opportunities the recent USFWS announcement to strengthen the Migratory Bird Treaty Act offers for increasing bird conservation in this country. In the meantime, attacks on MBTA (and many other conservation laws) are coming fast in Congress and everyone should be ready to act swiftly when called.

USFWS MBTA Scoping Sessions

  • June 16, 6:00-9:00 p.m., Courtyard Sacramento CalExpo, 1782 Tribute Road Sacramento, CA 95815
  • June 18, 5:00- 8:00 p.m., Holiday Inn Denver East—Stapleton, 3333 East Quebec Street, Denver, CO 80207
  • June 30, 5:00-8:00 p.m. at Sheraton Westport Chalet, 191 Westport Plaza, St. Louis, MO 63146
  • July 2, 2:00- 5:00 p.m. at Holiday Inn Arlington at Ballston, 4610 N. Fairfax Dr., Arlington, VA 22203

Interested in attending? Sign up here. Get more information about the scoping sessions.

POLLINATOR CONSERVATION CROSSES A NATIONAL THRESHOLD

The newly released National Strategy to Protect Pollinators and Their Habitat represents a threshold moment in pollinator conservation. Two decades ago, the issue was barely discussed. When Xerces staff attended a national meeting of the pioneering organizations in 1996, it could be held around a single table. Thanks to the national strategy released by the White House, pollinator conservation is now embedded into the work of every federal agency, and we would need a stadium to hold everyone involved!

The strategy is a significant step forward for conservation. Does it contain everything that everybody wants to see? No. But the fact that pollinator conservation has reached the highest level of government is monumental.
The national pollinator strategy has three overarching goals:

  • Honey Bees: Reduce honey bee colony losses during winter (overwintering mortality) to no more than 15% within 10 years.
  • Monarch Butterflies: Increase the Eastern monarch population to 225 million butterflies occupying an area of approximately 15 acres (6 hectares) in the overwintering grounds in Mexico, through domestic/international actions and public-private partnerships, by 2020.
  • Pollinator Habitat Acreage: Restore or enhance 7 million acres of land for pollinators over the next 5 years through federal actions and public/private partnerships.

In addition to articulating these goals, and strategies to achieve them, the strategy includes a research plan that identifies mechanisms to fill knowledge gaps, and a joint U.S. Department of Agriculture/Department of the Interior document that presents best management practices (BMPs) for pollinator conservation and management on thousands of federal properties and millions of acres of federally managed lands.

There is no question that honey bees are vital to agriculture and that the health of hives and the economic well being of beekeepers is a national priority. But the national strategy should — and does — take into account all of the nation’s pollinators. While the strategy itself gives little attention to bees other than honey bees, pollinators broadly speaking will benefit, which is especially important for declining bumble bees and crop-pollinating native bees.

Seven million acres of restored or enhanced habitat is a laudable goal for the next five years. However, it will only start to address the habitat lost due to large-scale agricultural operations and urban and suburban sprawl. If we hope to create a landscape that can support the migration of the monarch butterfly, for example, it will be vital to go well beyond the seven-million-acre target.

One area where the pollinator strategy falls short is protecting pollinators from pesticides, especially systemic insecticides like neonicotinoids. Neonicotinoids are the most widely used insecticides in the world and there is a mountain of research that shows the harm they are causing to pollinators and other wildlife. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is expediting re-assessment of these systemic insecticides and proposing additional research — including into the impact of systemic insecticides on monarchs — but the EPA should take stronger action now to protect bees and other pollinators. The national strategy includes valuable long-term plans that could strengthen the pesticide regulatory system over time, but it fails to offer pesticide mitigations to address issues currently facing pollinators.

The release of the national pollinator strategy is enormously significant — but what happens next is even more important. The success of the strategy will be in its implementation. We know that the agencies charged with implementing the strategy will need considerable resources to meet the ambitious targets, but because the strategy does not clearly lay out how much funding each agency will have, it is unclear whether that funding is being provided through internal sources or additional appropriations. Some funding may be added to agency budgets, but in other cases agencies must shuffle around resources and priorities internally. The strategy does propose some additional funding for research — $21.84 million for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and $7 million to the Agricultural Research Service.

Additionally the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) is committed to using $4 million from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to create habitat for honey bees in the Northern Plains and Upper Midwest. This is in addition to $8 million set aside by the Farm Service Agency to incentivize honey bee forage plantings in the Upper Midwest, and the enrollment of an additional 76,000 acres in high-value pollinator habitat nationwide. Beyond the national strategy, the NRCS has collaborated closely with the Xerces Society and other partners for several years to create a strong technical foundation for pollinator habitat efforts, using multiple Conservation Programs in all fifty states.

One significant issue is that the strategy only proposes an additional $1.5 million for the EPA to manage a myriad of pesticide issues that impact pollinators.

Despite these concerns, we still believe this is an historic moment for pollinator conservation. Many federal agencies are implementing conservation strategies for pollinators, and Xerces is working closely with these agencies, providing technical assistance and helping with habitat projects and species conservation. In addition, we will press for national changes to pesticide regulation and seek greater protections for pollinating insects.

What will be the state of pollinator conservation ten years from now? It is impossible to predict, but it is certainly going to be better with the new national strategy than without it.

Co-written by staff at the Xerces Society for invertebrate Conservation, including Scott Hoffman Black, Executive Director, and Matthew Shepherd, Communications Director.

Thousands of Sea Lion Pups Are Washing Ashore and Dying Along the California Coast

In the new VICE News documentary, Starving and Stranded: California’s Sea Lions, journalist Kaj Larsen is trying to answer one big question. What is causing thousands of sea lion pups to wash ashore along the California coast?

The Southern California coast hosts one of the most incredible marine ecosystems on the planet and one of the most notorious animal there is the California sea lion. Surfers, divers and beach goers have noticed a very disturbing development since December of 2014—thousands of sea lion pubs washing ashore. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), the number of sea lion strandings in 2015 alone has surpassed the total number of strandings combined from 2004-2012.

sealionchart2California Sea Lion Pup and Yearling Strandings for California, Jan-May 2004-2015. For the 5 month period of January – May 2015, California sea lion strandings were over 10 times the average stranding level for the same 5 month period, during 2004 – 2012. Credit: NOAAsealionchart1Comparison of monthly strandings for California sea lion pups and yearlings in 2013, 2014 and 2015 versus the average monthly stranding rate (2004-2012). Credit: NOAA

There are a number of reasons this unusual spike in deaths of baby sea lion pups could be happening. The warming of the oceans due to climate change and changes in prey availability are likely contributors. Sea lion mothers are forced to abandon their pups to travel further offshore to find food, leaving the pups to fend for themselves.

Colleen Weiler, a marine mammal biologist volunteering for the California Wildlife Center, explains that as the pups become malnourished and emaciated they get very cold and have zero energy so they want to be out of the water to get warm and rest. Weiler tells Larsen that they are receiving anywhere from 40-50 calls on weekdays and close to 100 calls on the weekends from people finding the baby sea lions washing up onshore.

The California Wildlife Center in Malibu, among others, are depending on government grants, volunteers and mostly donations to cover the cost associated with rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing sea lions. According to Mike Remski, marine mammal rehabilitation manager for California Wildlife Center, the cost of rescue and rehabilitation per animal is $2,000.

Watch a //embeds.vice.com/?playerId=NDJmMDczNzNhNGViNGYwNzI3MjkwOGRk&aid=news.vice.com/sea-lions&vid=dheWJpdTqeuZpE_H3Z3DcOzkAfq-Klln&embedCode=dheWJpdTqeuZpE_H3Z3DcOzkAfq-Klln&cust_params=&ad_rule=0&description_url=//news.vice.com/video/californias-sea-lion-die-off&share_url=//news.vice.com/video/californias-sea-lion-die-off&autoplay=1“>video

Irma Omerhodzic|June 11, 2015

Calls to Action

  1. Tell the USDA: No GMO trees without public approval – here
  2. Don’t take humpback whales off the endangered species list – here
  3. Georgia Aquarium: Phase Out Your Beluga Exhibit – here
  4. Speak up to protect sage-grouse – here
  5. Tell Congress to Say NO to Monsanto and the TPP – here
  6. Keep Florida Panthers on the State’s Endangered Species List – here

Birds and Butterflies

Congrats to Rachel and Steve on their first chick!

Rachel and Steve, Audubon’s Hog Island resident ospreys, welcome their first chick of the season live on the explore.org Osprey Cam!

The little one emerged tonight, June 7th, at 9:22pm ET. Now the nesters are a family! And with parents Rachel and Steve taking turns incubating two more eggs, we expect the family to grow over the next few days!

The osprey season’s intimate family moments will play out live 24/7 from Hog Island, Maine on the Osprey Cam. Watch the raptor parents raise these vulnerable chicks; both mom and dad will feed their young ones fish and protect them from the elements. Over the course of eight weeks, Rachel and Steve will transform the hatchlings into their own independent fledglings.

Check out this video highlight of the chick’s first moments, and then stop by the Osprey Cam and give your best wishes to the nest.

New American website can identify birds from photographs

A remarkable new aid to birdwatchers has been developed that enables computers to identify hundreds of US and Canadian bird species in photographs.

The bird photo identifier, developed by the Visipedia research project in collaboration with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is available for free at: AllAboutBirds.org/photoID

Called Merlin Bird Photo ID, the identifier is capable of recognizing 400 of the mostly commonly encountered birds in the United States and Canada.

“It gets the bird right in the top three results about 90 per cent of the time, and it’s designed to keep improving the more people use it,” says Jessie Barry at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

“That’s truly amazing, considering that the computer vision community started working on the challenge of bird identification only a few years ago.”

To see if Merlin can identify the bird in an image you upload it with information on where and when you took the photo. To orient the software you draw a box around the bird and click on its bill, eye, and tail.

Within seconds, Merlin combines powerful artificial intelligence techniques with millions of data points input by humans, then presents the most likely species, including additional photos and sounds.

“Computers can process images much more efficiently than humans,” says Serge Belongie, a professor of Computer Science at Cornell Tech.

“They can organise, index, and match vast constellations of visual information such as the colors of the feathers and shapes of the bill.

“The state-of-the-art in computer vision is rapidly approaching that of human perception, and with a little help from the user we can close the remaining gap and deliver a surprisingly accurate solution.”

Merlin’s success relies on collaboration between computers and humans. The computer learns to recognise each species from tens of thousands of images identified and labeled by bird enthusiasts.

It also taps into more than 70 million sightings recorded by birders in the eBird.org database, narrowing its search to the species found at the location and time of year when the photo was taken.

Because the photo identifier uses machine-learning techniques, it has the potential to improve the more people use it.

After it can reliably identify photos taken with smartphones, the team will add it to the Merlin Bird ID app, a free app that has helped users with more than one million bird identifications by asking them five questions.

Merlin’s computer vision system was developed by Steve Branson and Grant Van Horn of the Visipedia project, led by professors Pietro Perona at the California Institute of Technology and Serge Belongie at Cornell Tech.

Their work was made possible with support from Google, the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute at Cornell Tech, and the National Science Foundation.

From Wildlife Extra

The Osprey Chick Welcomes a New Sibling!

It’s been a riveting and wonderful day on the Hog Island Osprey Nest – Rachel and Steve’s second egg has hatched!
A pip, or small hole created by the chick’s “egg tooth” was spotted at 10:45 am ET, June 11th. Just hours later, at 2:43 pm ET the chick had emerged from its shell and into the world.

Now the two chicks will eat fish, caught and delivered fresh by Steve and fed to them by Rachel, as they wait for the third to hatch.

Watching a chick hatch in real time is thrilling, but one of the best parts of today was the camaraderie and sharing by the Osprey Cam viewers, who posted pics and gave best wishes to the birds and each other.
Follow us on Twitter to make sure you catch the third hatch and join the fun!

 Florida Panthers

Florida Panther Recovery and Management: Strategic Priorities

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has served a leadership role in the recovery and management of the Florida panther throughout the 47 years it has been classified as endangered. FWC has worked diligently with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and other partners under the provisions of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Florida Panther Recovery Plan which was first implemented in 1981 and updated several times, most recently in 2008. FWC has supported panther recovery strategies and criteria established in the federal recovery plan, resulting in major successes through a substantial investment of time and resources.

While a number of efforts have been taken to promote the recovery of the Florida panther, the most significant action has been the successful genetic restoration undertaken in the late 1990s. The temporary introduction (1995-2003) of female Texas cougars into the population has increased genetic diversity, individual health and survival, and reproductive rate. This effort also has contributed to a significant increase in panther populations in South Florida leading to higher levels of conflict between people and panthers. As a result, there is a renewed sense of interest and urgency surrounding the recovery and management of panthers in Florida. It is timely for FWC to review and refocus the agency’s role in panther conservation efforts to ensure the agency’s limited resources are well aligned to address the state of Florida’s most pressing strategic priorities related to panther conservation. This position statement provides guidance and direction from FWC Commissioners in this regard. It establishes policy guidance and strategic priorities for redefining and refocusing FWC’s role in panther conservation in consideration of the following key factors:

 the current status of panther populations relative to the federal panther recovery plan and realistic options for panther recovery going forward;

 the reasonable level of responsibility and burden the state should accept for panther recovery and management with regard to the federal recovery plan;

 the need to identify and align the highest priority management and research needs within the scope of FWC’s authorities and responsibilities;

 the most cost effective use of agency fiscal and staff resources; and

 maintaining broad public support for panther conservation among Florida citizens, particularly those who live closest to established panther populations.

Carrying Capacity

Great progress in recovering panther populations has been achieved since the Florida panther was first listed as endangered in 1967 when population levels were estimated as low as 30 animals or less. As of 2014, indicators of panther population growth suggest as many as 180 adult panthers exist in southwest Florida. While this estimate covers public and private lands, it does not benefit from comprehensive surveys of extensive primary and secondary panther habitat on private lands. This population level exceeds interim recovery goals, but more importantly a number of indicators (mortality causes, home range sizes, depredation records, abundance of prey species, human encounters, reports from landowners, photographic evidence, etc.) suggest that Florida panther populations have most likely exceeded carrying capacity for their occupied range in southwest Florida. At this level, panther populations are straining and currently exceed the tolerance of landowners, residents and recreationists in the region. While successful recovery efforts should be Florida Panther Recovery and Management: Strategic Priorities 2

recognized, FWC also must consider how this success changes the historic dynamics of panther conservation particularly regarding agency priorities and responsibilities relative to those of the USFWS and other partners.

Panther recovery success in southwest Florida is clearly escalating management challenges and the demand for staff time to address these challenges. Growing numbers of this wide ranging apex predator have resulted in substantial increases in human-panther conflicts, more depredation of pets and livestock, more road mortalities, more panther encounters in residential areas, and more public concern regarding coexistence with panthers. This situation will continue to demand focused management attention within the current core population in south Florida and in turn will constrain FWC’s ability to focus on other agency priorities. Balancing the needs and impacts of panther recovery, better aligning state and federal responsibilities in the wake of our success and maintaining broad public support for panther conservation will be crucial as we move forward.

Concerns associated with panther carrying capacity also amplify the need to restore and manage traditional habitat and prey base on publicly owned conservation lands. For example, periodic high water events across the expansive Everglades landscape have resulted in a significant loss of wildlife diversity and in particular dramatic reductions in white-tailed deer populations, the primary prey for panthers. Over 600,000 acres of traditional panther habitat have been mostly abandoned by panthers due to these impacts of periodic high water events since the 1970’s. FWC telemetry data tracking panther movements documents a complete withdrawal from the Water Conservation Areas by panthers over the past 30 years. In contrast, private landowners within panther range are often asked to do more for panther recovery while their lands already provide some of the most important habitat for panthers. Reclaiming, restoring and managing quality habitat and prey base for panthers on public conservation lands should be high priorities for state and federal agencies when developing future management and operational plans.

Population Recovery

A review of panther population indicators clearly shows a long term (20 year) sustained positive trend in population recovery since genetic restoration was implemented in 1995. While such a sustained recovery should be ample scientific evidence to warrant reconsideration of the status of panthers under ESA, this is not the case due to how the Florida panther federal recovery plan is framed. The federal recovery plan stipulates that meeting the criteria for reclassification from endangered to threatened could be accomplished within 30 years, and delisting could be accomplished within 45 years. It has now been almost 34 years since the initial recovery plan was implemented. While we have achieved great success recovering panther populations in southwest Florida, there has been essentially no progress in meeting the broader range-wide recovery criteria, particularly establishing two additional viable populations of at least 240 panthers (adults and subadults), which requires establishment of breeding populations in central/north Florida and/or other southeastern states.

  • After careful consideration of panther recovery criteria in the context of almost 34 years of effort and experience, FWC has concluded that the current population recovery criteria are not helpful in guiding management and research planning in the near term. The current recovery criteria are aspirational rather than practical in nature and they are unfeasible for a number of reasons, many of which are presented as significant challenges in the current federal recovery plan. Moreover, the lack of progress in establishing additional panther populations outside of south Florida places the greatest burden for managing panther recovery on the state of Florida and FWC. Under this federal recovery plan, Florida will never be able to Florida Panther Recovery and Management: Strategic Priorities 3

accomplish the goals necessary to recover panther populations to a point where the subspecies can be delisted. This situation places Florida in the untenable position of managing a growing panther population under the rigid provisions of the ESA without sufficient tools or flexibility to address management challenges which may result in erosion of public support for panther conservation

It is imperative for the USFWS to fully recognize the success of panther recovery efforts in south Florida and take leadership responsibility for implementing new and innovative management measures. The Florida Panther Recovery Implementation Team is a step in the right direction, but there must be a greater sense of urgency in their pace of work. Additionally, the USFWS rather than FWC should lead any efforts to establish additional breeding populations of panthers north of the Caloosahatchee River beyond natural range expansion.

Conclusion

Given that recovery criteria in the current recovery plan are not feasible, coupled with the understanding that panther populations are most likely exceeding carrying capacity in currently available habitats in southwest Florida, there is a clear need for significant changes in FWC’s focus relative to panther conservation. FWC should focus management efforts on maintaining the population at a sustainable level and appropriate coexistence with people in the core population south of the Caloosahatchee River and Lake Okeechobee. The primary basis for refocusing FWC’s role is to demonstrate the agency’s commitment to addressing current and emerging panther management challenges where panthers are well established. Success in this area is essential for maintaining public confidence and support for panther conservation and will only be possible if FWC and the USFWS can demonstrate the ability to manage current core panther populations in balance with the needs and interests of stakeholders and within the parameters of the ESA.

FWC’s refocused approach to panther conservation should include the following elements to guide allocation of FWC’s management and research staff and resources:

1. Focus management and research activities on addressing the panther management challenges within the core breeding population south of the Caloosahatchee River and Lake Okeechobee;

2. Place greater emphasis on addressing human-panther conflicts to continually reassure the public that panthers are being managed in a manner that places public safety first and foremost;

3. Place greater emphasis on addressing/minimizing panther depredation;

4. Place greater emphasis on restoring lost or degraded panther habitat on publicly owned conservation lands and as part of future ecosystem restoration efforts;

5. Place greater emphasis on supporting incentives for private landowners to maintain panther habitat;

6. Align research activities with refocused management priorities and employ the latest technologies including an accelerated transition from aerial telemetry to satellite telemetry wherever feasible, trail cameras, and other innovative techniques that improve effectiveness and safety; and

7.  Given the current federal recovery plan calls for establishing breeding populations of panthers north of the Caloosahatchee River, any efforts to achieve this outcome beyond natural range expansion, is the responsibility of the USFWS. FWC will not provide direct staff and funding to support such efforts until issues with private lands, regulatory burdens, and human acceptance have been resolved. Successful expansion of breeding panther populations in Florida will require Florida Panther Recovery and Management: Strategic Priorities 4 that FWC has meaningful and practical management flexibility along with clear options on federal regulatory issues north of the Caloosahatchee River.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Panther one, Williams zip

It nailed my birds, which is why I now know: There’s a two-ring debate unfolding under Florida’s big-top these days about the little lions that live virtually unseen among us – the Florida panthers.

In the first ring, we have the ongoing numbers show: How many panthers are left in the wild, really?

Ranchers and hunters, and I suspect some developers who’d rather not worry about panther habitat, question whether they should be on the endangered list anymore – there are a lot more than 180, they insist. But that’s the maximum possible number, according to state wildlife officials and environmentalists who even hire professional trackers from as far away as Texas to help count them.

In the second ring are those who question all the old wisdom about the value of Florida panthers, not to mention the numbers – and they also suggest that the more familiar with humans these lions get, the more threatening they may be not just to livestock or pets but to all of us. Although no documented panther attack on a human has ever occurred in Florida, the related but bigger mountain lion species of the west and far west have killed people on infrequent occasions.

One proposal by wildlife biologists calls for setting up three populations of at least 240 animals each, in three distinct parts of Florida.

But that’s a bad idea, figures Immokalee based rancher Aliesa Priddy, a member of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission appointed by Gov. Rick Scott in 2011.

Last October she and other protestors to federal and state conservation efforts suggested at a public meeting in Naples that the little lions just might not be worth all the talk, planning and effort, anyway.

“I wonder if we’re trying to put a square peg in a round hole,” she said in comments reported by the Naples Daily News. “Not every species can be recovered. I think that’s something we need to hold out there and consider.”

Where’s the story?

So maybe we just sort of not recover them? Let the cars and trucks do the rest?

I became particularly interested in these questions last week after a neighbor reported that a friend of hers – a person born and raised here who knew the difference between a bobcat and a panther, she assured us – had seen a panther cross the road and move into the woods adjoining my property in east Lee County, just before dusk.

That happened to be the night after something came out of those very woods, ripped out the chicken wire and then broke through the chain link that surrounded the night roost of our geese, ducks and chickens, and created a wideenough opening to seize several birds and pull them back through the hole. The creature took three as a carry-out meal, apparently, and left a couple of other broken birds to die.

Until the phone call, I had figured it was nothing more than a big hungry bull raccoon, or less likely, a bobcat or even a small black bear. But there were no animal tracks, and only a trail with a few fading feathers leading back into the woods, so probably not a bear or coyotes, who aren’t likely to go through the fence with that much force.

Could it have been a panther? Still figuring raccoon, I put out a raccoon live trap, baited it with watermelon, sardines and marshmallows on a couple of nights running, and managed only to catch two would-be panthers – my very indignant outdoor cats, who had refused to come in for the night.

But I began to think about the real thing. And the more I thought about panthers, the more I could feel their amber eyes following me about the property from deep in the shadows of oaks and palmettos. And the more I thought about their presence – about the fact that males can weigh up to 160 pounds, jump 15 feet or more straight up, spring as far as 35 or 40 feet, and move as silently as an ant – the more I recalled with too comfortable familiarity the obvious solutions of all the men in my youth: a rifle. I happen to own a couple.

What if these purebred killing machines start running amok and eating our horses and the neighbors’ cows, our chickens and ducks, our dogs and cats and passing bicyclists and the children waiting for the school bus?

A federal official at the Naples meeting even claimed the panthers are “showing up on porches,” and a Charlotte County hunter said he’d been stalked four times. It would take a hell of a hunter to know he was being stalked by a Florida panther, even once, in my opinion, although a turkey hunter camouflaged and sitting still took cell-phone photos of one staring at him from about 15 feet away in the Big Cypress not long ago, as he tried to call in a tom. My wife reported that story in The News- Press. So what do I do, lock and load? Stand my ground no matter what’s out there, and legal or not?

Well, no. I got control of myself, killed the historic itch in my trigger finger, and reasoned it out this way.

For several thousand years these creatures have lived and hunted these parts – they own them. I figure it’s my burden to have to build a better coop, and to leave them the few woods that remain, the best of which lie in the Fakahatchee Strand, the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge and the Big Cypress National Preserve.

Fact is, I like having that panther around, watching me and mine – a thing to be left alone.

A thing real and uncompromising. A thing whose truth and beauty for us are “hidden in the glorious wildness like unmined gold,” as the great American naturalist John Muir put it.

So, panther (or whatever it was) one, Williams zip, this time. And that’s just fine. ¦ 

roger williams|floridaweekly.com

  Endangered Species

Photographers told to back off from owls

Broward parks officials tell photographers to back away from burrowing owls

Broward parks officials are concerned about an increase in wildlife photographers committing illegal acts to photograph burrowing owls, which are protected by the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

These pint-sized birds live and nest in underground burrows often found in parks. In Broward County, the burrows are surrounded with rope or PVC pipe alerting people to steer clear.

In recent weeks, photographers have been caught leaning over the ropes or even sticking their lens down the burrow. During Memorial Day weekend, officials at Brian Piccolo Park in Cooper City and Vista View Park in Davie had to ask photographers to leave for disturbing the birds.

Kelli Whitney, a county parks naturalist, witnessed the situation at Vista View Park. She attributes the owls’ popularity with photographers to social media.

“With the advent of social media, it’s easier to get an ‘attaboy,'” Whitney said. “Whether they’re a professional or an amateur, there’s pressure to get that better shot.”

Due to the increase in photographers, parks officials recently extended the burrows’ boundaries to 20 feet and added new signs warning people to stay back an additional 20 feet from the ropes.

“We’ve gotten some criticism for the size of the signs, but it’s intended to be that if you can read this, you’re too close,” Whitney said. “We’re doing everything we can.”

Wellington photographer Susan Faulkner Davis has spent the last three years photographing burrowing owls at the two parks. She uses a long lens and keeps her distance. Davis’ main concern is reports of baiting, or offering a reward to get the birds to interact with people.

She referenced a YouTube video where several owls appear to be interacting with the photographer and one has a clean white mouse in its beak. The video was taken in Broward County.

“The video shows unnatural behaviors,” Davis said. “They were trained to expect something good to run up to the camera.”

Kelly Heffernan, founder of the Broward County Audubon Society’s Project Perch, which protects burrowing owls in Southeast Florida, is worried how baiting will change the owls’ natural behaviors.

“Any wild animals that are fed food directly from humans lose their natural ability to hunt and forage and also lose their fear of people,” she said. “Then when they are hungry, they look for the human instead of hunting and can starve to death, especially the young.”

Fallan Patterson Forum Publishing Group

7 Teensy New Frog Species Discovered in Brazil’s Cloud Forests

Less than half an inch in length, the brightly colored frogs are highly endemic and vulnerable to extinction.

Brazil’s Atlantic Rainforest is home to a very unusual group of frogs that have been captivating naturalists for over a century. Known as Brachycephalus, these frogs are some of the smallest terrestrial vertebrates on the planet – adults generally don’t exceed 1 centimeter (0.4 inch). Their diminutive size leads to a number of changes in their body structure, such as reduction in the number of toes and fingers, making them all the more unique. Adding to their intrigue, many species of Brachycephalus are beautifully hued, likely as a warning to predators that their skin harbors a highly potent neurotoxin known as tetrodotoxin. Cute, tiny, bright frogs with funny feet that pack a punch, what’s not to adore?

Brachycephalus was first described in 1842 by the German naturalist Johann Baptist von Spix; yet since then, most of the species known have only been discovered in the last decade. Because they are so endemic and live in such remote areas, research has been slow-going. The recent discoveries comprise the largest addition to the known diversity of Brachycephalus.

Now after five years of exploration, a team of researchers has discovered seven new species of the charming froglets. Each species highly endemic, existing in cloud forests in only one or a few adjacent mountaintops. This makes them “highly vulnerable to extinction,” particularly due to shifts in the distribution of cloud forest due to climate change, say the researchers.

“Although getting to many of the field sites is exhausting, there was always the feeling of anticipation and curiosity about what new species could look like”, said Marcio Pie, a professor at the Universidade Federal do Paraná, who led the project.

Yet there is concern about the longevity of the newly discovered species. Cloud forests are highly sensitive to climatic changes, note the researchers, and the long-term preservation of these species might include not just protecting their habitats but also more direct management, such as raising them in captivity. The same things that have made them so fascinatingly endemic may ultimately be that which threatens their survival.

This post originally appeared on TreeHugger

Melissa Breyer|TreeHugger|June 7, 2015

Coast Guard looks for drugs, ends up rescuing turtles

Animals were caught in fishing line, buoys

A would-be drug bust turned into a sweet rescue off the coast of Central America last month.

U.S. Coast Guardsmen from Alameda, California, were sent to a known drug transit zone off the coast of Central America after a suspicious item was spotted floating in the water.

But video released by the Coast Guard shows that instead of drugs, the crew of the cutter Stratton found two sea turtles entangled in fishing line and makeshift buoys.

“There was no question what we had to do. And no one spoke a word. We immediately moved into rescue mode,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Hylan Rousseau, the coxswain.

The guardsmen managed to cut free both turtles, one of which was close to choking to death.

“Everyone was elated,” Petty Officer 1st Class Brian Milcetich said. “He (the turtle) didn’t stick around to celebrate.”

The big, 70-pound turtle that was rescued second quickly jumped back into the water.

KHOU-TV, Houston, Texas

Sea Shepherd Volunteers Save Nesting Sea Turtle and Eggs from Poachers in Costa Rica

Shortly after darkness began to fall on the night of June 4th, Sea Shepherd volunteers were preparing to begin their nightly beach patrol. Ground leader Brett Bradley was advised that a large endangered leatherback turtle was digging a nest near the front gate of the encampment, looking for a place to safely bury her eggs. Brett was also alerted that a man was loitering nearby, very closely watching the vulnerable nesting turtle and likely waiting to steal her freshly laid eggs.

Brett grabbed his camera and immediately went out to investigate, catching the poacher red-handed with his arm inside the nest, removing the turtle eggs as they were being laid.

As soon as the team of Sea Shepherd volunteers arrived and began documenting the incident with photography and taking a description of the male poacher, he grabbed his sack containing approximately 20-25 eggs and fled into the nearby woods.

The mother turtle was now shaken by all of the commotion and the lights and temporarily stopped laying her eggs. Meanwhile, more poachers had arrived and were circling like vultures, looking for an opportunity to steal the remaining eggs.

Sea Shepherd volunteers encircled the female turtle, standing guard as a protective human barrier between her and the deadly poachers.

The mother eventually began to lay her eggs once again.  Sea Shepherd volunteers continued to watch as she finished and returned safely to the sea. Volunteers then recovered the remaining eggs from the nest and relocated them to a nearby hatchery, where they will be continuously guarded until the hatchlings emerge and can be released safely into the ocean.

In total, 72 eggs were recovered, 71 of which were fertile unbroken eggs. Because an average of one in 1,000 sea turtle hatchlings will survive to adulthood, these 71 eggs represent a desperately needed fighting chance at survival for these endangered ocean animals.

Sea Shepherd|June 7, 2015

Second snow leopard successfully collared in Nepal

A snow leopard has been successfully collared in the shadow of Nepal’s Kangchenjunga, the world’s second highest mountain just a month after the country was hit with a devastating earthquake. This is the second snow leopard to be collared in Nepal since 2013.

The snow leopard, which is an adult male approximately five years of age weighing 41 kg, was and fitted with a GPS-satellite collar and released back into the wild. Data received from the satellite collar will enable conservationists to identify critical habitats for the elusive species, including transboundary links across India and China.

“Nepal is proud to be at the forefront of global scientific efforts to get a better understanding of one of nature’s most elusive species,” stated Tika Ram Adhikari, Director General of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation. “Our ability to repeat the success we had with the first collaring in 2013 during this most difficult period for the country is a testament to the commitment towards conservation of the government as well as the people of Nepal.”

The collaring expedition was led by the Government of Nepal in partnership with WWF, National Trust for Nature Conservation, Kangchenjunga Conservation Area Project, Kangchenjunga Conservation Area Management Council and citizen scientists from the local Snow Leopard Conservation Committee. The latter were especially vital in helping identify snow leopard hotspots and managing local logistics.

“As a science-based conservation organization, WWF was delighted to partner with the government of Nepal on applying new technologies to help us gain a better understanding of snow leopards,” said Anil Manandhar, Country Representative of WWF-Nepal. “We continue to be inspired by our grassroots partners in Kangchenjunga—one of the poorest and least accessible places in Nepal—to save snow leopards and other magnificent species that could easily be lost without their stewardship. This project is a powerful example of what we can make possible together.”

The existing snow leopard conservation projects in Kangchenjunga Conservation Area include snow leopard monitoring using camera traps and prey-base monitoring with the partnership of local citizen scientists and Snow Leopard Conservation Committees, a population genetic study using fecal DNA, and a livestock insurance scheme built at reducing human-snow leopard conflict.

There are an estimated 350-590 snow leopards in Nepal according to 2009 population data on the species.

From Wildlife Extra

The Atlantic’s largest turtle breeding colony has been discovered

The central African country Gabon is providing an invaluable nesting ground for a vulnerable species of sea turtle considered a regional conservation priority say scientists from the University of Exeter

The scientists surveyed almost 600 km of Gabon’s coastline and uncovered the largest breeding colony of olive ridley turtles in the Atlantic. The results suggest that Gabon hosts the most important rookery for this species in the Atlantic, with estimates indicating that there could be up to 9,800 turtle nests per year compared with around 3,300 in French Guiana and 3,000 in Brazil.

Olive ridley turtles are one of the smallest of the sea turtles and are named for the greenish colour of their shell and skin. Although considered the most abundant of the marine turtles, there has been a net decline in the global numbers of the species, such that they are currently listed as ‘vulnerable’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Although a considerable proportion of nesting occurs within protected areas in Gabon, a range of illegal activities and external pressures continue to exist highlighting the need for continued conservation efforts.

Dr Kristian Metcalfe, lead author from the Centre for Ecology and Conservation (CEC) at the University of Exeter said: “Conservation efforts for sea turtles can be hampered by their migratory life cycles, which carry them across jurisdictional boundaries and international waters. That makes this first population assessment which covered extensive areas of Gabon’s coast outside of monitored regions all the more valuable and worthwhile, and demonstrates the importance of focusing beyond intensively monitored beaches”.

The data generated as part of this study was used to inform the development of a new network of marine protected areas covering nearly a quarter of Gabon’s Exclusive Economic Zone.

From Wildlife Extra

Nepal snow leopard survey gets satellite tracking boost

Snow leopard 08 June 2015 There are fewer than 600 snow leopards in Nepal

Wildlife conservation experts in Nepal say they have made a significant advance by fitting a satellite collar on a second snow leopard in the Kanchenjunga Himalayan region.

Despite many attempts, it is nearly two years since they first fitted a leopard with a tracking collar.

The rare snow leopard roams the Himalayan and other highland regions.

The population in Nepal has been estimated at between 350 to 590, according to a 2009 study.

Hemraj Acharya, an official of Kanchenjunga conservation area project (KCAP) in Taplejung in eastern Nepal, told the BBC that the male snow leopard was captured after intensive efforts.

Known as Omi-Khangri, the 41kg cat is named after the 4,800m (15,700 ft) mountain area it was found in.

Conservationist officials spent weeks searching and laying traps, before the animal, thought to be four or five years old, was finally captured on 21 May, Mr Acharya said.

“It was a quite difficult task: after laying the trap on 1 May, we had to wait for more than 20 days and also change our trapping methods,” Mr Acharya told the BBC.

“We failed to trap one many times in recent months, after trapping the first one. But this time, we succeeded.”

The move will allow conservationists to use GPS satellite monitoring to track the endangered animal as it crosses national boundaries.

Officials say data received from the satellite device will help officials identify the animal’s habitat areas and devise conservation strategies accordingly.

Officials in Nepal first satellite-collared a snow leopard in 2013; a male of around five years of age, in Kanchenjunga conservation area.

The area, named for the world’s third highest mountain, is home to around 25 snow leopards, according to officials.

After that initial success, officials attempted to expand the program, receiving government permission to collar four more leopards.

Local conservation officials said the new collar was functioning well and they had started receiving data from it.

“Satellite data currently being received from Omi-Khangri suggests it is moving around in the same area,” said conservationist Lochan Limbu.

Data received last year from the first leopard’s satellite collar suggested it travelled as far as Sikkim in neighbouring India – indicating that the wildlife’s natural habitat transcends political boundaries.

Surendra Phuyal|BBC News|Kathmandu|6/9/2015

Death of Baby Beluga at the Georgia Aquarium Fuels Calls to End Captivity

On Mother’s Day the Georgia Aquarium celebrated the birth of a baby beluga, but after less than a month the newborn has already passed away.

Even though her birth was considered a success and she bonded with her mother Maris, her condition deteriorated and she failed to reach expected milestones despite intervention from caregivers.

The Aquarium said in a statement, “in the early morning hours of June 5, the calf began showing signs of lethargy and needed assistance to swim. While next to her mother and in the arms of her dedicated caregivers, the calf took her last breath, and her heart stopped just after 7:00 a.m.”

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Officials added that they believe she had gastrointestinal issues that were preventing her from properly absorbing nutrients, but even with a necropsy they may never know the actual cause of death.

The tragic death isn’t the first at this aquarium and leaves Maris suffering the loss of a calf for the second time; her first died just days after being born in 2012.

Despite the growing controversy and opposition that surrounds keeping cetaceans in captivity, including protests held this weekend as part of the Empty the Tanks movement, the Georgia Aquarium is determined to keep its beluga exhibit going.

Unfortunately, with a low success rate for breeding and a captive population that won’t sustain itself without new babies, aquariums are going to have to look to the wild to keep their exhibits open and that’s just what the Georgia Aquarium is doing.

In 2012, it applied for a permit to bring 18 wild-caught belugas here from Russia. Had the permit been approved they would have been moved to the U.S. and split up between the Georgia Aquarium and its partner facilities under breeding loan agreements, including SeaWorld parks in Florida, Texas and California, along with the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.

It would have also marked the first time wild-caught cetaceans were brought here for display in 20 years. Fortunately, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) denied the application for a number of reasons, one of those being the harm it would cause to the wild population in the Sea of Okhotsk.

While the Georgia Aquarium arrogantly claimed in a petition it started that “Maintaining belugas in human care is essential to the survival of belugas everywhere,” it’s causing the very problem it’s claiming to fix.

Whale and dolphin advocates worried that not only would the import undermine laws intended to protect marine mammals, but that it would add to the demand for wild-caught cetaceans and perpetuate international trade at a time when it needs to end and conservation efforts need to be focused on protecting them in the wild.

“We fully support NMFS’s decision and find Georgia Aquarium’s arguments to overturn it to be exploitative and completely counter to the Aquarium’s self-portrayal as a conservation organization,” said Dr. Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist with the Animal Welfare Institute. “It is shocking how Georgia Aquarium ignores good science and basic conservation principles in its quest to increase the number of belugas in its breeding program.”

Despite opposition from the public and scientists, of this March the Aquarium is still fighting the decision in court and trying to get a federal judge to order the agency to overturn the decision and order it to grant the permit.

The Georgia Aquarium only has three belugas, including Maris, Grayson and Quinu. Instead of perpetuating the harm that continues to be caused to wild populations and those who are taken from their families and confined to tanks, the Aquarium should stop pretending it’s going to somehow save belugas and close down its exhibit.

Alicia Graef|June 9, 2015

Rare Guadalupe Fur Seals Stranding in Record Numbers

California sea lions aren’t the only pinnipeds in crisis this year. Guadalupe fur seals, a threatened species, seem to be struggling with the same food availability issues and have stranded along our coast at five times the record yearly rate.

June 10, 2015

With their diminutive snouts, extra-long front flippers and outstretched ear flaps, Guadalupe fur seal pups can appear almost alien-like, especially when wet. But this year, the appearance of these furry “Yodas” is more than just a little unusual—it’s downright alarming.

So far in 2015, The Marine Mammal Center has rescued 27 Guadalupe fur seals—more than five times the record high we’ve seen in our 40 years.

These numbers pale in comparison to the more than 1,100 California sea lions we’ve rescued during this same time period, but relatively speaking, the influx of Guadalupe fur seals is just as distressing, if not more so.

Unlike California sea lions, which are thriving with a population estimated at 300,000 individuals, Guadalupe fur seals are currently listed as Threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act with as few as 10,000 individuals remaining. Little is known about this elusive species, which spends most of its time offshore, fishing for food in deeper waters.

What we do know about Guadalupe fur seals is that their primary breeding ground is Guadalupe Island, 150 miles off the coast of Baja California. Their life cycle is similar to their more abundant sea lion cousins. Mothers give birth on the island in June and July, and temporarily leave their pups on the beach for several days as they forage for food nearby. They return frequently to nurse their pups over the course of about nine months.

Scientists say that the unusually warm waters that have been affecting food availability for mother sea lions near the Channel Islands have also been affecting the waters near Guadalupe Island. As fish populations change in response to these warmer waters, mother fur seals may have a harder time finding the food they need to nourish themselves and their pups. Once the pups are weaned, they too seem to be having trouble finding the food they need.

“These stranded animals are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of animals affected by the unusually warm water temperatures we’ve been seeing off the coast,” says Tenaya Norris, the Center’s marine scientist.

Most of the Guadalupe fur seals we’ve seen this year have been young animals stranding in an emaciated condition not unlike the sea lion pups.

Guadalupe fur seal Silkster was admitted to the Center’s hospital on April 2 weighing just 17 pounds. Less than two weeks later, Rico was admitted at 14 pounds. Though both of these pups were about 10 months old at the time, they tipped the scales at barely over birth weight, which is estimated to be about 13 pounds for a healthy pup.

A Silver-Coated Lining
As our veterinary experts continue to care for emaciated patients like these, our researchers are using this unusual occurrence to learn as much as they can about this threatened species.

“We rarely, if ever, see Guadalupe fur seals near shore,” says Geno DeRango, a stranding coordinator at The Marine Mammal Center. “So the animals that strand on our beaches provide researchers with some of the only opportunities to learn more about their natural history and biology.”

Patients at the Center typically get an admit exam during which blood and tissue samples might be taken to help the Center’s veterinary team determine the cause of stranding. These samples can also contribute to future research, such as genetic studies.

But in the case of Guadalupe fur seals, researchers lack baseline data for even the most basic information, like the standard length for certain age classes.

At every opportunity, animal experts like DeRango, who has worked extensively with fur seals, have been taking detailed measurements of these rare patients. Because Guadalupe fur seals are especially feisty for their size and difficult to restrain due to their thick, silky fur, most of these opportunities arise when animals are under anesthesia for a procedure or exam.

For most patients, release exam measurements include a final weight and length. For Guadalupe fur seals, the list is much longer, including everything from ear and whisker lengths to the length of fur extending down each flipper.

These morphometric data points help scientists understand how animals grow and age over time. The information can even help researchers identify a species using limited remains, such as a single tooth or bone.

DeRango has been collecting these data as part of a collaborative project with Sue Pemberton, Curatorial Assistant and Specimen Preparator at California Academy of Sciences, our stranding network partner for recovering dead marine mammals.

Pemberton and her team have collected 31 Guadalupe fur seal specimens so far this year, more than doubling their collection in just a few months!

The morphometric data they are compiling from these specimens and the patients at the Center has never been collected for Guadalupe fur seals, aside from a few animals. It’s important work that is helping to fill in scientific gaps for this poorly studied species.

Leaving a Legacy
The more we know about Guadalupe fur seals, the better we can protect this threatened species and ensure its continued survival. That’s why the research doesn’t end when a Guadalupe fur seal patient leaves our hospital.

Silkster, one of the pups rescued in early April, was deemed ready for release on June 5 after more than doubling in weight during his two months at our hospital. During his final release exam, as DeRango took measurements, Marine Scientist Tenaya Norris applied a small satellite tag to his fur with special waterproof glue.

The tag is fitted with an antenna that can send data to satellite receivers any time the animal surfaces, providing researchers with information about Silkster’s location. Although monitoring has just begun, Norris already knows that Silkster has headed northward after being released at Point Reyes National Seashore, an area known to have productive waters that support abundant fish.

A few days later, a larger Guadalupe fur seal, a juvenile male named Ian, was released at the same location with a slightly bigger satellite tag called a “splash” tag that includes sensors that tell researchers how many dives an animal makes as well as the length of dive.

A similar tag attached to Sterling Archer, an adult female Guadalupe fur seal we released last year, provided researchers with valuable information about where this species may spend time foraging.

Silkster and Ian are just two of the many Guadalupe fur seals we hope to release this year. As patients like Rico continue to improve, our researchers will prepare to fit them with satellite tags as well, ensuring that they too can leave a scientific legacy.

For DeRango, the big picture is hard to ignore when it comes to Guadalupe fur seal research. “We know that warm water events have dramatically affected fur seal species in the past. Learning more about these animals is absolutely critical if we want to ensure their future survival.”

Or as Yoda would say, “Do or do not. There is no try.”

Marine Mammal Center|6/11/15

Center Pushes to Expand Protections for African Elephants

With habitat destruction and poaching continuing to decimate elephant populations in Africa, the Center for Biological Diversity on Wednesday petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reclassify the continent’s elephants as two distinct species and to protect both as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act.

African elephants are currently protected as just one species under the Act’s less-protective “threatened” status. But genetic research indicates these elephants are actually separate species: forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis) and savannah elephants (Loxodonta africana). They split into different species at least 2 million years ago — at about the same time Asian elephants diverged from mammoths.

“There’s now no question that African elephants are two distinct species that should be managed according to their distinct needs,” said Tara Easter, a Center scientist. “And with fewer than 100,000 forest elephants and 400,000 savannah elephants left, we’ve got to give them the stronger protections provided by endangered status — which will strengthen current ivory regulations — or we’re at serious risk of losing them forever.”

Read more in our press release.

This Just In: Great News For Chimpanzees! ‏

We at the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) are very excited to announce that this morning, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS) announced their final ruling that all chimpanzees, whether captive or wild, will have the same endangered status and receive the same level of protection under the Endangered Species Act.

This decision will no doubt have a huge and lasting impact on chimpanzees. With the world’s population of wild chimpanzees dwindling year after year, ensuring that all chimpanzees are correctly recognized as endangered is an important and critical step for chimpanzee conservation.

Read more about this landmark decision on JGI’s blog and watch a special video message from Dr. Goodall for her reaction to this incredible news.

“On behalf of all of us at the Jane Goodall Institute, I want to congratulate the US Fish and Wildlife Service on its decision to include captive chimpanzees in the endangered listing along with wild chimpanzees.”

Dr. Jane Goodall

Unlikely Group Sues Over Mexican Wolf Recovery

This week the Arizona Game and Fish Department filed a lawsuit against the federal government over its failure to complete a recovery plan for Mexican gray wolves, but conservationists worry the department’s real agenda isn’t aimed at helping this imperiled species thrive.

Mexican gray wolves once roamed vast portions of the southwest, but were virtually wiped out by the 1900s. In 1976 they were listed as an endangered species and bi-national recovery efforts between the U.S. and Mexico began. Still, despite starting a temporary recovery plan in 1982, there hasn’t been much progress made since the release of the first 11 in the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area in Arizona in 1998.

The last official count in February found only 109 wolves in Arizona and New Mexico who continue to face a number of threats ranging from being killed accidentally and intentionally by us, disease, environmental disasters and a serious lack of genetic diversity. Today they’re considered one of the most endangered mammals in North America.

The lawsuit filed this week in federal court by the department and the state’s Attorney General’s office argues that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and Department of the Interior have failed to come up with an updated recovery plan in violation of federal law.

An updated recovery plan is unquestionably needed, but wolf advocates believe the ultimate goal of this lawsuit is to establish a target number of wolves needed to be able to declare them recovered. When that happens, federal protection can be removed and the state can have control over management decisions, which could prove deadly for a population that has barely started growing.

Heidi McIntosh, an attorney with Earthjustice, told the Arizona Daily Star, “Some would argue that the state could start treating wolves the same way they treat coyotes. That’s why federal protection is so important.”

According to a coalition of groups supporting real recovery efforts, the state has already shown its hostility through a number of actions aimed at hindering recovery from advocating for killing them to trying to stop releases of more and bullying the FWS to cap the number of wolves allowed to live in the wild at 325 – a number they argue isn’t based on anything even remotely scientific.

That number was established in January when the FWS announced it would be protecting these wolves as a separate subspecies. According to organizations who are suing over that number and other harmful measures that were put in place, scientists from the FWS’ own recovery team believe there need to be at least 750 wolves in the wild.

As of now, Mexican wolves aren’t even close to reaching that number, but there are currently an estimated 300 of them in facilities around the U.S. who are part of a captive breeding program. They offer hope for the future of this species, but only if they’re allowed to return to the landscape.

We know more need to be released and they need to be able to disperse and establish new territories, but efforts to allow them to do what they need to do to survive continue to be impeded by anti-wolf politics in both Arizona and New Mexico.

This Saturday, wolf advocates will be speaking out against the state’s anti-wolf efforts at a Game and Fish Commission meeting in Arizona and they’re encouraging people to add their voices.

For more info on how to help, visit  Mexicanwolves.org.

Alicia Graef|June 11, 2015

Save Pollinators

You can help save pollinators. Here are ten ways you can directly help pollinators and support National Wildlife Federation’s efforts to protect and restore these critically important wildlife species.

1. Become a Wildlife Gardener
Join NWF’s growing movement of Wildlife Gardeners who are have made the choice to nurture their own small piece of the Earth–their own yards and gardens–with the needs of wildlife like pollinators in mind. It’s as simple as subscribing to our free Garden for Wildlife e-newsletter. Each month, we’ll send out NWF’s expert tips and projects on how to attract birds, butterflies, pollinators and other “backyard wildlife” to guide you as you become an expert yourself.

 

 

 

Certified Wildlife Habitat

Creating a wildlife garden for pollinator starts with native plants. Photo Credit: John Magee.

2. Plant Natives
Native plants co-evolved with the native wildlife of your region. Native plants form the foundation of habitat for pollinators by providing them with pollen and nectar for food, cover from the elements and predators, and places where their young can grow. The best way to attract beautiful butterflies, busy bees, speedy hummingbirds and other pollinators is to fill your yard with native plants.

3. Gives Bees Nesting Places
There are 4,000 bee species native to North America (the honey bee is a European import) and most of those don’t form hives. Instead, individual female bees lay their eggs in tunnels in decaying wood or in sandy soil. You can offer such nesting spots by leaving tree snags on your property, by leaving bare batches of sandy soil, or by building or buying whimsical native bee houses.

Add nesting boxes like these to give native bees a place to raise their young.

Add bee houses like these to give native bees a place to raise their young. Photo Credit: David Mizejewski.

4. Avoid Pesticides
Bees are our most important pollinators, and they are insects. So are butterflies like the monarch. Using insecticides will kill these insects. Herbicides will kill important native plants such as milkweed that pollinators rely upon as a food source and a place to raise young. Make the commitment to avoid using chemicals and to maintain your garden in a natural, organic way.

5. Plant Milkweed
The iconic monarch butterfly has declined by over 90 percent in just twenty years. One of the main causes of this decline is a lack of milkweed, the species’ only caterpillar host plant. Without milkweed, monarchs can’t complete their lifecycle and populations plummet. By planting milkweed in your own yard, garden or neighborhood, you’ll not only attract these beautiful butterflies, you’ll be providing crucial habitat that will allow their caterpillars to survive. Find out what milkweed is native to where you live and how to get it.

Swamp Milkweed. Photo Credit: Tom Potterfield, Flickr Creative Commons

Swamp Milkweed. Photo Credit: Tom Potterfield, Flickr Creative Commons

6. Adopt a Monarch
You can symbolically adopt a monarch butterfly and directly support NWF’s work to save this declining pollinator. We’ll put your adoption purchase to use immediately to support our work to protect and restore monarchs and other vulnerable wildlife. We’re filling thousands of backyards with nectar plants and native milkweed—the one and only host plant for monarch caterpillars—and working alongside national partners to bring monarchs back from the brink. Adopt a monarch today.

Adopt a monarch butterfly and support pollinator conservation.

Adopt a monarch butterfly and support pollinator conservation.

7. Protect Grasslands
America’s native grasslands are critically important for pollinators such as bees and monarch butterflies. Our grasslands are filled with native plants that offer nectar and pollen for bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and a wide variety of pollinators. They also provide milkweed, the only host plant for monarch caterpillars. Today, more than 90 percent of native grasslands have been converted to cropland and development. Grasslands are disappearing faster than any other ecosystem in North America, and that’s a big problem for pollinators.  Join NWF in fighting to save grasslands for monarchs.

8. Join NWF Affiliate Efforts in Your State
Eleven of NWF’s state affiliates are active partners in the Garden for Wildlife program, teaching people how to create habitat for bees, monarchs and other pollinators. They offer regional expertise and resources, offering native milkweed seeds, running monarch tagging and citizen science efforts and even working on legislative solutions. Joining these efforts is a great way to get involved on the local level. Find out if your state’s NWF affiliate is working to protect pollinators.

9. Post a Yard Sign
When you create a pollinator garden and certify it with National Wildlife Federation, you become part of the exclusive group of people who can post a Certified Wildlife Habitat sign. The sign is a wonderful way of letting your friends and neighbors know about all the hard work you’ve done to make a difference for wildlife like pollinators. Posting the sign is also a grassroots way of spreading the message that each of us can make a difference by creating a pollinator-friendly garden or landscape and inspiring others to follow your example. Certify now and get your sign, or if you’re already certified you can order a sign here.

When you certify your yard or garden you can post the exclusive Certified Wildlife Habitat sign to share your accomplishment and help spread the wildlife gardening message.

When you certify your yard or garden you can post the exclusive Certified Wildlife Habitat sign to share your accomplishment and help spread the wildlife gardening message.

10. Spread the Word on Social Media
You can amplify National Wildlife Federation’s call to action by spreading the message about the plight of bees, monarch butterflies and other declining pollinators on social media. Take a minute to share this post on Facebook, Twitter and your other social media networks. That simple act can help take the message to millions more people than we can reach alone. Be sure to tag our Facebook and Twitter pages too!

Everglades

We don’t need Sugar’s land for Everglades

For months, environmental groups and concerned residents have advocated for the South Florida Water Management District to exercise a 46,800-acre land-purchase option with U.S. Sugar Corporation before an October deadline.

After listening closely to their arguments and the technical expertise of district staff, and reviewing the option agreement, the SFWMD Governing Board voted unanimously not to exercise the option.

To hear some tell it, all of Everglades restoration – including protection of the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries – will fail, or at least be seriously impaired, without this particular land.

The Governing Board took the opposite view – that restoration will be impaired if the district does make the purchase.

Here’s why:

Small black square The purchase price for the land, required to be set at fair-market value, is estimated at $500 million to $700 million. Using district resources even partially toward the purchase would eliminate critical funding needed for progress on restoration projects already being designed and built on lands already purchased and in public ownership. This includes the much-needed reservoirs along the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers to help protect and restore those estuaries.

Small black square The option agreement requires the purchase of all 46,800 acres scattered over numerous parcels, eliminating the ability to purchase only the land needed for the reservoir that advocates want.

Small black square The contract negotiated in 2010 with U.S. Sugar also contains a 20-year “leaseback” provision on the option lands.

Of the 46,800 acres in this option, the District could currently access only 1,100 acres – insufficient for the reservoir project.

Small black square If constructed at a future date, a large reservoir at the suggested location would require extensive new canals, pump stations and other structures to move water to and from the project. Engineering and construction estimates are at least $1 billion for additional infrastructure alone.

Small black square This project would do very little to decrease discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers.

The District has prioritized its resources to complete water-quality and water-storage projects already under way in order to reap the benefits from these projects as soon as possible.

In the coming years, this agency is fully committed to directing staff resources and public dollars on three critical efforts:

Small black square Identified Restoration Strategies projects to improve Everglades water quality.

Small black square Priority projects in the state-federal Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), including the C-43 and C-44 reservoirs.

Small black square Moving water south through implementation of the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP).

Each of these large-scale initiatives has received broad public support and collectively are the wisest and most cost-effective path forward.

All of this work will require a significant financial commitment from the state of Florida and its federal partners.

For the state’s part, Gov. Rick Scott has proposed an ambitious $5-billion funding plan over the next 20 years for Everglades restoration, most of which should be matched by the federal government, creating a $9-billion source of funds.

The governor’s proposed funding includes money to plan for the best, most cost-efficient locations for additional restoration projects, including additional water storage needed both north and south of Lake Okeechobee.

If approved during the Legislature’s special session, this dedicated, ongoing source of revenue would eliminate the stops and starts that slowed restoration work in the past and frustrated advocates.

It is a significant investment for steady progress that we should all get behind – not a costly land buy with too many strings attached.

DAN O’KEEFE|CHAIRMAN OF THE SOUTH FLORIDA WATER MANAGEMENT DISTRICT’S GOVERNING BOARD|JUNE 6, 2015

Caulkins Water Farm Offers New Hope to Estuaries

Florida’s first, true “water farm” exceeds all expectations, according to state officials. An expanded Caulkins Water Farm on 3,200 acres near Indiantown holds the promise of relief to the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon estuaries from annual deluges of polluted water — up to half of the water storage needed to reduce annual discharges by 90 percent. 

Situated along Citrus Boulevard next to the C-44 canal, the Caulkins pilot project stunned South Florida Water Management District engineers almost immediately by storing more than double the amount of water expected. 

Despite its unexpectedly superior performance, however, the project still must overcome two major hurdles: Funding ends within seven months, so the project must appeal to state legislators now embroiled in budget battles for funds to expand it, at the same time that water farming itself has come under fire by some environmental activists.

“I wish there was some other term for it than ‘water farming,’ just because it sounds crazy,” says George Caulkins III, whose father planted the orange grove on Citrus Boulevard in the early ’60s that now stands fallow in 4 feet of water. Caulkins was addressing a group of Stuart-Martin County Chamber members on a tour of the South Florida Water Management District pilot project in May. 

“I’m a citrus farmer, and when the Water Management District first approached me about turning my orange groves into a water farm, I said ‘no, not interested,’” said Caulkins, who was educated at Yale and is a former Marine helicopter pilot and veteran of Desert Storm.  

The Caulkins Groves next to the C-44 canal were considered an ideal location to test the concept of water farming early in the Dispersed Water Management Program, which began in 2006, when the SFWMD began paying ranchers to hold stormwater on their lands, rather than drain them. 

The first early successes resulted in an expansion of the program in 2011, after citrus greening had decimated thousands of acres of Florida orange groves, including those of the Caulkins Indiantown Citrus Co. Fallow orange groves were looked at to store water as Everglades projects came online.

“We’d survived everything that could be thrown at citrus farmers,” Caulkins said, “drought, freezes, hurricanes, canker … but greening killed us, just took us to our knees … We stopped picking oranges four years ago, but now we’ve got a new use for old technology (the irrigation infrastructure for farming), dreamed up  by the South Florida Water Management District.”

The infrastructure already in place — the water pumps and canals throughout the property — dramatically reduces the upfront construction cost of a water farm, although until the Caulkins project, no other true “water farms” were part of the district’s Dispersed Water Management Program anywhere in the state.

State’s first water farm

SFWMD, with a matching $1.5 million grant from DEP, published a request for proposals for water farm pilot projects in 2012 and three farms were selected in 2013, just as raging rains were causing unrelenting discharges from both Lake Okeechobee and the local drainage basin. 

Of the two pilot projects in Martin County and one in St. Lucie County, Caulkins is the largest and the first in the state to be operational.

Other Dispersed Water Management Projects plug ditches to retain stormwater runoff. The Caulkins project instead pumps billions of gallons of water from the C-44 canal onto the Caulkins site, now a shallow-water reservoir that looks like a slice of the Everglades with alligators swimming among hyacinths toward a flock of baby gallinules, with an eagle overhead and stilted herons picking at the shoreline.

“It’s as different as a farm is to a factory,” said Tom Kenny, the Caulkins project manager, who struggles to find the right words to outline clearly the enormous benefits of a water farm over other types of Dispersed Water Management sites. 

Essentially, in addition to storage, the water farm also cleanses billions of gallons of water while recharging the surficial aquifer, capturing  about 75 percent of the phosphorous and 50 percent of the nitrogen that otherwise would foul Martin County’s estuaries. 

The project, enclosed entirely by a 7-foot levee built with the spoil from a newly dug canal, provides a total of 413 acres of permeable land to treat polluted water from the C-44 and to capture the 55 inches of annual rainfall. 

Operational since mid-February 2014, the Caulkins pilot project — including the existing 22 miles of irrigation canals, within and around the perimeter — has stored 8.6 billion gallons of water, more than 25,000 acre-feet of water, nearly 2.25 times what had been expected, according to project engineer Melissa Corbett of the MilCor Group. 

Designed to hold 6,780 acre-feet of water, the SFWMD statistical report — which excludes the water stored in the existing canals on the property — shows more than 12,000 acre-feet of water have been stored within the reservoir’s 413-acre reservoir proper. 

“Right off the bat, it was so successful,” Kenny added, “that they (SFWMD engineers) made us stop pumping so they could come in here to dig a monitoring well right smack in the center to see where all that water was going, so those numbers do not include the month it took to do that.” 

An independent technical analysis by the University of North Florida’s engineering department confirmed what SFWMD had discovered — that the water was not going right back into the C-44, Kenny said. 

With the addition of 14 monitoring wells on the perimeter of the project, the results are continuing to be studied by multiple agencies. Christopher Brown, a UNF engineering professor, has confirmed that around 82 percent of the water percolates downward into the sandy soil to recharge the aquifer, 11 percent is lost to evaporation, and around 6 percent remains static within the reservoir.

“The first question people are going to ask is, does this water drain back into the C-44, and, yes, some of it will, eventually,” said Dr. Brown, “but it will take from one to 10 years, and it will be a slow seep from the aquifer, not the deluge that’s so damaging now.”

Estuaries hang in the balance

Although area scientists, including Dr. Edie Widder, founder of the Ocean Research Conservation Association in Fort Pierce, often caution that the Indian River Lagoon/St. Lucie River estuaries are now at a critical “tipping point of no return,” most of the public’s focus has been on long-term solutions, leaving the estuaries at the mercy of incessant, polluted stormwater drainage from the Okeechobee/St. Lucie River drainage basin and the unpredictable, periodic deluge of Lake Okeechobee discharges. 

“We all know that the St. Lucie River and the IRL (Indian River Lagoon) needed projects completed yesterday,” said Martin County resident Kevin Powers, vice chair of the South Florida Water Management District governing board, who addressed a tour group on June 1.

Powers, under fire since he led the SFWMD vote not to exercise the state’s option to purchase 48,000 acres south of Lake Okeechobee, pointed west toward the C-44 reservoir and stormwater treatment construction site, explaining to visitors that it will not be operational until 2020; however, the privately constructed Caulkins project took only 16 weeks to complete.

“The most abused resource we have is time,” Powers added, “and for whatever reasons, federal projects take a long time … but these (water farms) are deliverables that we can count on now, and since we don’t need to purchase the land to do this, the upfront cost is much lower.”

Even an expanded Caulkins Water Farm, plus the two additional water farms on the C-43 and C-44 canals currently under construction will not handle hurricanes or major rains, such as the 136 billion gallons of water going to tide in 2013, Powers conceded. But they could meet and exceed the additional storage required to end the regular, annual discharges to the St. Lucie River while the full range of 68  Everglades restoration projects is completed.

“This really is a win-win-win,” Caulkins said. “This resolves an immediate, pressing issue for the St. Lucie River as we wait for other restoration projects to come on line. It will also allow time for researchers to find a possible cure or solution to citrus greening, which means I can hope one day to return to citrus farming.”

As long as Caulkins keeps alive that hope and still can earn an income from his land, he’s far less likely to sell it to developers. In the meantime, the land remains on Martin County’s tax rolls, can help restore the estuaries, and gives hope that the county’s citrus industry can one day rebound.

“When he first bought land in Martin County, my father was told the soil was too sandy here to grow oranges,” Caulkins said, “but after a hurricane wiped out all their groves up on the ridge, he said that sandy soil had saved him. After I took over, he reminded me again: ‘Son, this sandy soil will save you.’” 

What he could not have foreseen was that sandy soil would help save not only an orange grove and a family business, but an estuary, too.

Barbara Clowdus|editor and publisher|Martin County Currents|June 9, 2015

SFWMD Approves Cost-Credit Agreement for Caloosahatchee Reservoir

Early start of construction on the project will provide storage benefits sooner

West Palm Beach, FL – The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) yesterday authorized entering into an agreement designed to help the District receive federal cost credit for expediting construction of key portions of the Caloosahatchee River (C-43) West Basin Storage Reservoir. The project to protect the river and estuary is cost-shared between the District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“Today’s agreement with the U.S. Department of the Army moves us closer to realizing benefits from a greatly needed project,” said SFWMD Governing Board member Rick Barber. “It also helps preserve the substantial investment by Florida taxpayers to restore a local water resource.”

Expedited Work

As part of Governor Rick Scott’s commitment to Everglades restoration, the SFWMD intends to undertake construction of a portion of the C-43 facility, a project under the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). The SFWMD proposes to expedite construction of Phase 1, which will include the following project features:

  • Embankment and associated structures of the western cell of the reservoir
  • Full perimeter canal
  • Two pump stations
  • Improvements to the Townsend Canal between the reservoir and the Caloosahatchee River
  • A manatee protection feature at the mouth of the Townsend Canal

“Construction of the reservoir is critical to protecting the ecological health of the Caloosahatchee and maintaining the economy of Southwest Florida,” added Barber. “And this project was identified as the top regional priority of area stakeholders during recent public community forums.”

The SFWMD’s construction will be initiated before entering into a Project Partnership Agreement (PPA) with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In order to maintain eligibility to receive future credit for the costs of performing this expedited construction, the SFWMD must enter into this Pre-Partnership Credit Agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers.

The Corps must also sign the agreement.

C-43 Project Overview

The C-43 reservoir project was authorized last year by Congress in the Water Resources and Reform Development Act (WRRDA) of 2014.

It will one day hold approximately 170,000 acre-feet of water to be used during dry periods to help maintain a desirable minimum flow of fresh water to the Caloosahatchee Estuary. During the rainy season, the reservoir will capture and store excess stormwater and regulatory releases from Lake Okeechobee, helping to prevent excessive freshwater flows to the estuary.

Since 2012, the SFWMD has put the reservoir property to use with emergency water storage of summertime rainfall and high runoff. Temporary pumps and levee improvements have helped capture approximately 4.2 billion gallons of water that would have otherwise flowed to the river.

For more information on projects to protect and improve the Caloosahatchee River and Estuary, visit www.sfwmd.gov/caloosahatchee

Everglades faces sea level rise

As you know, climate change and sea level rise are already impacting the Everglades and Florida Bay. Last night, Audubon Florida’s Pete Frezza was featured in a video from PBS NewsHour to examine this growing problem and to take a look at what is being done to help.

Please take a few minutes today to watch this video: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/floridas-everglades-face-new-invasive-threat-rising-sea-levels/

Water Quality Issues

A Hidden Threat

Nearly 5 million people a year, from across the country and around the world, are drawn to the amazing expanse and wild nature of the Grand Canyon. Whether by viewing the incomprehensible beauty from along the rims, descending into the depths of the canyon on foot or atop a mule, or being one of the lucky souls to raft the Colorado River, the canyon speaks to so many people, in so many languages.

But aside from its inspiring views and humbling solitude, there is a trio of threats to the canyon, which spurred American Rivers to name the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon as America’s Most Endangered River in 2015. People across the country who identify with the canyon must understand that the canyon is facing the most severe threats since the Bridge and Marble Canyon dam projects were proposed (and later killed through forceful leadership and loud public outcry) in the 1970’s.

One of these threats may seem unexpected, as it is certainly outside the view of most visitors, but is of critical importance to the experience of enjoying the canyon, as well as the fragile life that lives within it. Between the canyon walls, among the world which author Kevin Fedarko likes to call “the world beneath the rims” lies a different kind of existence – the opposite of the grandeur and expanse that we know as the Grand Canyon, but an alternative one that is tucked into the canyon’s most precious, hidden retreats.

The seeps and springs and waterfalls of the inner Grand Canyon are critical, life sustaining sources of cool, clean water, for dozens of species of plants and animals that call these important places their home. But a potential plan that could include extraction of increasing amounts of groundwater from along the South Rim could dry up these inner-canyon oases permanently.

The town of Tusayan, with its population hovering around 550 residents, is considering a dramatic expansion that could include the construction of over 2,000 new homes and over 3-million square feet of commercial space. This project could result in a substantial increase of new facilities, such as hotels, restaurants, a dude ranch, and a European-style spa – roughly the size of Minnesota’s Mall of America.

And while that may not sound so bad, there is a critical question that remains unanswered…

Where will they get their water?

While no formal plan has yet to be released publicly about what the Italian development firm, Stilo Group, has in mind for the development’s new water supply, there have been rumblings that they are considering an increase of groundwater pumping, as well as an option to bring water in from afar by renovating an old coal-slurry line, or even to provide water to the town by train or semi-truck.

If groundwater is on their mind, they should consider this – nearly two decades of hydrologic study has indicated that existing groundwater pumping at Tusayan is already having an impact on the natural resources within Grand Canyon National Park. Further pumping without a well-conceived, deliberate, and protective groundwater plan is a non-starter, and alternatives must be considered with the protection of groundwater within the park as the top priority.

Some of these treasures include Elves Chasm, Dripping Springs, and Havasu Falls – critical oasis within the canyon, and not just for people to play in or get a cool drink, but also supporting critical flora and fauna in some of the canyon’s harshest environments. These and other reasons are why we are concerned about the overall health of the canyon, and are inspiring the public to make their voice heard, and to encourage the Interior Department to lead efforts to protect the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River for all of us, for all time.

Sinjin Eberle|May 13th, 2015

Great Lakes & Inland Waters

Army Corps wants study on bigger shipping lock

WASHINGTON — Michigan’s U.S. senators are pressing the White House to sign off on a report that would look at the economic benefits — and need — for the federal government to build a new supersized shipping lock at a key chokepoint on the Great Lakes at Sault Ste. Marie.

U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, both Democrats, sent a letter today to Office of Management and Budget head Sean Donovan, urging him to accept a request by the Army Corps of Engineers to swap funding so it can pay for a study into the need for a new 1,200foot-long lock.

Such a lock — costing $600 million or more — would ensure that shipping between Lake Superior and Lake Huron would continue even if the 48-year-old Poe Lock shut down for any reason. The Poe is the only one of four “Soo Locks” large enough to handle 70% of the vessels plying the lakes.

The Corps, which did not immediately return a call for comment to the Free Press, has apparently asked OMB to pay for a study looking at the benefits of replacing two of the smaller Soo Locks with a lock similar to the size of the Poe Lock, according to the letter from the senators.

“A 30-day unscheduled outage at the Poe Lock would result in an estimated $160 million in economic losses,” they said. The report would examine the benefits and costs of replacing two smaller locks with one “capable of … creating the redundancy necessary.”

Authorization for a new supersized lock was given by Congress years ago but funding evaporated. This year, members of Michigan’s congressional delegation wrote the Corps noting that an earlier cost-benefit study on the project had made several incorrect assumptions, however.

The Corps has since noted that a review of that early study found that, if the Poe Lock were to shut down, it would not be possible to move all of the commodities transported through it at present through other means without “additional major capital outlays.”

Only 35% of the iron ore and coal moved through the lock could be moved by other means and finding the number of trucks needed to move goods is “not realistically feasible,” the Corps has said. Rail companies wouldn’t consider moving the cargo without a 20-year contract, it has also found. Stabenow and Peters’ letter did not mention the cost of the Corps’ study but urged its approval, calling such a request “a critical step in the consideration of this important project.”

TODD SPANGLER|DETROIT FREE PRESS|6/11/15

Salmon migration obstructed in some receded Washington streams

The mouth of Siebert Creek in Clallam County, WA, is experiencing the bar-bound characteristic that exists at Siebert and McDonald Creeks. All are salmon/steelhead spawning streams. The surface flows are critical to these streams; they are already beginning to show the effects of low flows in the smaller streams. Low flows are currently obstructing the migration of naturally-produced salmonids. Typically these small creeks would maintain adequate flows to assist in the smolt migration through the end of June. However, this year runoff is incredibly low, making migration almost impossible.

Stream gaging is not available at this time, however observed flows have dropped precipitously in the last few weeks and are estimated to be as low as 2-3 cubic-feet-per-second (cfs), which is not enough to push over the bar at the mouth of any of the creeks. Officials have hand-trenched a connecting channel allowing migration of outgoing smolt and incoming steelhead.

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Offshore & Ocean

David Suzuki: Honoring our Marine Environment on World Oceans Day

June 8 is World Oceans Day. In Canada, it’s a time to celebrate the rich marine life in three great oceans off the longest coastline of any nation—trillions of plankton, billions of fish, millions of seabirds, thousands of whales and myriad other creatures great and small. Yet, we have little to celebrate when it comes to looking after this natural legacy. Although the federal government has committed to protect 10 percent of our oceans by 2020, it has so far protected just one percent.

Canada passed the Oceans Act 18 years ago, with a promise to safeguard our oceans and coastal ecosystems. It took another eight years to prioritize five large ocean management areas: the Beaufort Sea, the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the North Pacific Coast, the Eastern Scotian Shelf and Placentia Bay/Grand Banks. The process has languished and we’re now 10 years behind schedule and contending with escalating demands for ocean uses, impacts from climate change and emerging issues such as ocean acidification and plastics pollution.

Marine planning, conservation and protection have never been more important. Energy development, shipping, fishing, conservation and ecotourism are bumping up against each other with no clear direction. This lack of coordination is like allowing a city to grow without zoning or planning, with schools built next to highways and industrial areas, residential neighborhoods developed with no green spaces and first responders unable to get to those in need.

In the absence of federal leadership on marine planning and conservation, other levels of government have stepped in to take the lead—just as they have with climate change commitments.

On B.C.’s Pacific North Coast, marine planning has moved ahead without the federal government, which dropped out of the planning process in 2011. Even without national representation, the results are encouraging. Eighteen coastal First Nations and the province of B.C. have come up with their own plans for coastal ecosystems.

Communities in this region have been defined by their relationship to the marine environment. With competing claims for ocean use and proposals to dramatically increase shipping traffic for oil and gas exports to Asia, these marine plans chart a course through challenging waters. Good public consultation and planning can help avoid expensive and disruptive conflicts that arise with so many interests competing for marine resources. These plans also provide meaningful engagement for industry and government with First Nations, a requirement highlighted in the Tsilhqot’in First Nations Supreme Court decision last June.

B.C.’s coastal communities are leading the way in our country’s ocean planning. I’m happy to honor my relationship with 12 of those communities by embarking on a tour in June to talk about the many issues coastal communities are facing, including climate change. We can see its effects along the coast: shellfish die-offs, low snow packs affecting salmon runs, rising sea levels and altered growing seasons. These communities depend on healthy oceans for their cultural, social and economic needs and are searching for solutions. Ian Mauro, an award-winning community-based researcher and filmmaker who has also documented climate change in Atlantic Canada and from an Inuit perspective, is joining the tour with a new film that features climate change’s impact on West Coast communities.

Oceans produce half the oxygen we breathe and absorb a third of carbon dioxide emissions. If that weren’t reason enough to protect them, there’s also a strong business case. According to a WWF report, oceans provide an annual economic value of at least $24 trillion. In Canada’s Great Bear Sea, ecosystem services are estimated to provide $101 billion in annual benefits to local communities. Tourists pay to experience a clean, healthy ocean with an abundance of life, and marine recreation is projected to be among the fastest-growing sectors in B.C.’s economy for the next 20 years.

Marine wildlife and resources are rapidly declining around the world, and our oceans are changing faster than ever, endangering this economic engine and the security and livelihoods it supports. But our oceans are bigger and longer-lasting than any economic system. Canadians love their oceans and want their abundantly rich ecosystems to get the care they deserve. This World Oceans Day, let’s honor our coastal waters and all the creatures that depend on them—including ourselves.

Dr. David Suzuki|June 8, 2015

Wildlife and Habitat

New Report Highlights Coastal Habitat Restoration Benefits to People, Fish, and Wildlife

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Restore America’s Estuaries has released a new report “Impact Assessment: Federal Coastal Habitat Investments Support People, Fish, and Wildlife” highlighting  the positive impacts that coastal habitat restoration efforts provide for job creation, tourism, fishery production, recreation, community protection, and human health.

“Coastal communities rely on healthy coastal habitat because it creates tourism opportunities, supports clean air and water, protects communities from extreme weather, and supports commercial and recreational fisheries,” said Jeff Benoit, President and CEO of Restore America’s Estuaries. “The real-world project examples demonstrate how federal investments in coastal habitat restoration deliver a broad range of public benefits.”creation, tourism, fishery production, recreation, community protection, and human health.

The report documents how federal investments are having a big impact for people, fish, and wildlife by bringing abstract budget line items to life through a series of nine real-world case studies across the coast. The geographically dispersed case studies present project summaries, partners, benefits, and results for the following on-the-ground projects:

Liberty Bay Oyster Restoration, WA

  • Restoration project results in water quality improvements and will enable a local tribe to restore a traditional food source

San Diego Bay Salt Marsh Restoration, CA

  • Restoration created 130 jobs and added $13.4 million to the local economy, and established a new tourist destination along the San Diego Bayshore Bikeway

Bay Harbor, Galveston Bay Restoration, TX

  • A motivated community association rallied interest and resources to transform dredge material into habitat for birds, fish, and wildlife, resulting in increased rental activity and recreation opportunities

Mobile Bay Restoration, AL

  • Project employed 20 out-of-work fisherman to create new habitat for commercially and recreationally important fish and shellfish

Hatteras Harbor Living Shoreline Restoration, NC

  • New habitat for fish, shellfish, and wildlife also creates a buffer to absorb wave energy, providing protection for the adjacent community

Choptank River Oyster Reef Restoration, MD

  • Project brought together nontraditional partners to create a new recreational fishery

Delaware Bay Horseshoe Crab Beach Restoration, NJ

  • Beach restoration after Hurricane Sandy enabled continued horseshoe crab spawning after the storm, supporting public health and allowing the annual $11 million ecotourism spectacle to continue

Saw Mill River Daylighting in Yonkers, NY

  • Project resulted in total neighborhood revitalization, created hundreds of jobs, and major local economic development

Stony Brook River Restoration, MA

  • The restored the natural system supports record numbers of river herring and will continue to support the tourism industry and provide local economic benefits

To supplement the case studies, the report includes a comprehensive inventory of federal programs that can provide assistance and financial support for coastal habitat restoration. Not all programs included presently make substantial investments in coastal habitat restoration but coastal habitat restoration is an eligible activity for all federal programs listed. The listing of programs provides a new resource for practitioners interested in developing new partnerships with federal programs. Further, the inventory provides an excellent resource for policy makers interested in considering options for increasing public investments in coastal habitat restoration.

The annual amount of public funding to support coastal habitat restoration remains far behind the national need and the report helps document further the tremendous values and multiple benefits that coastal habitat restoration provides.

Forestry

The U.N. Will Pay Countries to Stop Deforestation

These days, it seems like there’s hardly any good news when it comes to the environment. Thankfully, however, the United Nations just put together an unprecedented deal that should prove a major victory for the world’s threatened forests.

While it would be foolish for the human race to destroy all of the world’s forests, that’s precisely what it’s doing anyway; deforestation continues to run rampant. Although many in the industrialized world want to stop other nations from clearing their forests, developing nations are more preoccupied with the financial gains than the environmental repercussions.

To that point, who can blame them? Is it really fair for richer nations that have already deforested their own land to condemn poorer nations for doing the same? Sure, we’ve learned more about the importance of conservation since then, but it’s also imperative to remember that deforestation is an essential part of some developing nations’ economies. (It’s especially hypocritical when you consider that the industrialized nations are often paying for the products created from said deforestation.)

Clearly, if we want developing nations to preserve their forests, we’re going to have to give them a financial incentive to do so. There’s where the U.N. comes in: the international organization is willing to put its money where its mouth is and actually pay countries to stop deforestation.

Paying developing nations to stop cutting down forests is part of the U.N.’s larger goal to end deforestation by the year 2030. This specific compensation over deforestation plan has actually been kicking around in the U.N. for about a decade now. The reason this plan has been in limbo for so long is that it’s tricky to find a balance between protecting the forests and stripping indigenous people of authority over their land.

Previous attempts at protecting lands have left local communities powerless and without a reasonable source of income. In the past, some governments have pocketed the money and left indigenous communities without proper compensation. To prevent this, the United Nations wants to work with both government bodies and local communities to reach agreements that satisfy all parties.

The need for forests in the fight against climate change is twofold. For starters, the act of chopping down trees currently creates 17 percent of the world’s emissions as carbon and other harmful gasses escape from the fallen trees. Additionally, trees naturally help to fight climate change by capturing carbon before it escapes into the atmosphere. The more trees we leave alive, the slower the effects of carbon change will occur. Altogether, scientists predict that preserving existing forests could spare up to 8.8 billion tons of carbon emissions annually.

The U.N. still has one little issue to work out before the plan is official: the money. Obviously, this plan is only successful if there is a steady stream of funding to compensate the nations that are preserving their forests. The U.N.’s own Green Climate Fund could shell out some of the money, but outside private donations will probably be necessary over the long haul. Although the uncertainty here seems like it could be a major obstacle, U.N. officials have expressed their confidence that – given the forests’ importance to the planet – it will find the money necessary to make this scheme happen.

Kevin Mathews|June 13, 2015

Global Warming and Climate Change

Study: Global warming risks changes to ocean life unprecedented in the last 3 million years

Continued warming of the Earth’s oceans over the next century could trigger disruptions to marine life on a scale not seen in the last 3 million years, scientists warn in a study released Monday.

The changes could include extinctions of some of the ocean’s keystone species as well as a widespread influx of “invasive” animals and plants that migrate to new territory because of changing environmental conditions, the report says.

But the most dramatic disruptions would likely be averted if the world’s nations can bring greenhouse gas emissions under control in the coming decades, the authors write in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change.

“Climate change may rapidly reorganize marine diversity over large oceanic regions,” states the report, authored by scientists from the University of Science and Technology in Lille, France, and four other institutions. “The intensity of this reorganization will depend, unsurprisingly, on the magnitude of warming.”

In the study, the researchers seek to predict future impacts of global warming on marine life by examining how the oceans were affected during times of substantial temperature change in the distant past. Using fossil data, scientists have been able to reconstruct patterns of extinction and species migration that existed 3 million years ago during the mid-Pliocene epoch, when the Earth was slightly warmer than today. Similar data exists for the last Ice Age, which reached its peak about 25,000 years ago.

Extrapolating from those records, the researchers predicted that even moderate climate change will cause significant disruptions, with local extinctions and species migrations occurring three times more frequently than today.

More severe warming will have a major impact on marine life, with significant disruptions occurring across 50 to 70 percent of the world’s oceans, the authors concluded.

The impacts cannot fail to affect life on land, given the ocean’s role in supporting human populations, said co-author Richard Kirby, a plankton expert and senior fellow at the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom.

“When the temperature of the environment changes, animals and plants change in abundance locally or may move to new locations if the habitat is suitable,” Kirby said. “These movements ultimately affect the food web and ecology, and if they are rapid, the food web may become uncoupled.”

That’s important for people, Kirby said, because humans “rely upon the ecosystem services that the interconnected web of life creates.”

“Studies like ours are important because they help us understand the changes in the Earth’s biology that may lie ahead if we do not address global warming,” Kirby said.

Joby Warrick|June 1,2015

This is crazy, but we actually have good news about climate change

Here’s something rare in climate reporting: a bit of good news. Or, more accurately, not disastrous news.

As we explained last week, China has long exerted an outsize role in global climate change, not simply because it’s by far the world’s leading emitter of greenhouse gas, due largely to its enormous population, its rapid growth, and its reliance on dirty coal — but also because of China’s influence over global politics as a hold-out in international climate deals.

Now the reigning heavyweight contributor to global warming might be slimming down a bit.

China’s greenhouse gas emissions are likely to peak, and then begin to taper, around 2025, according to a new report. That’s five years ahead of a promise made by China’s leader, Xi Jinping, in November 2014, as part of China’s historic climate accord with the United States.

The new analysis, released Monday by the London School of Economics, says China’s emissions “could peak even earlier than that” and begin to fall rapidly thereafter, holding out a tantalizing possibility: The world could stay within the internationally agreed-upon limit of 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) of warming above pre-industrial levels, according to the authors. That limit is seen by scientists as a crucial threshold to stay within to prevent some of the most dangerous impacts of climate change. It’s also a limit world leaders hope to enshrine in an international agreement in Paris later this year.

The findings are all the more startling when you consider that the growth in China’s coal consumption has been responsible for more than half of global CO2 emissions growth in the last decade, according to a separate Greenpeace analysis.

“Whether the world can get onto that pathway in the decade or more after 2020 depends in significant part on China’s ability to reduce its emissions at a rapid rate, post-peak,” write Nicholas Stern and Fergus Green, the authors of the new LES report. Stern was also the author of the U.K.’s landmark “Stern Review” on climate economics.

Driving the shift in China is a decline in the importance of coal. “It is now possible to say with confidence that coal use in China has likely reached a structural maximum and begun to plateau,” the authors write, pointing to a recent dip in coal consumption in 2014 and in the first quarter of 2015. Natural gas use will increase rapidly over the next five to 10 years, the authors say. Combined with aggressive investment in alternative energy and new restrictions on coal consumption in response to China’s air pollution crisis, the gas boom will help tamp down greenhouse gas emissions.

chart-china-coal2-630px

The report’s authors cast a surprisingly upbeat tone when describing the structural changes in China’s energy sector, including its investment in cleaner technologies such as solar and wind and its pilot carbon pricing programs. “Eventually, this increasing momentum could unleash a large wave of clean energy investment, innovation and growth — a new energy-industrial revolution,” they write.

Bringing China’s emissions under control will also inspire political change, the authors argue: Continued strong action by China could silence critics in the West who justify their own inaction by using China as a climate bogeyman — a very common argument in the U.S. — and thereby “lower the political barriers in rich countries to stronger climate action.”

“China holds the keys,” Stern and French conclude.

James West|8 Jun 2015

Obama Administration Readies Big Push on Climate Change

Proposals to curb emissions from trucks, airplanes, oil and natural-gas operations, and power plants

The Obama administration is planning a series of actions this summer to rein in greenhouse-gas emissions from wide swaths of the economy, including trucks, airplanes and power plants, kicking into high gear an ambitious climate agenda that the president sees as key to his legacy.

The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to announce as soon as Wednesday plans to regulate carbon emissions from airlines, and soon after that, draft rules to cut carbon emissions from big trucks, according to people familiar with the proposals. In the coming weeks, the EPA is also expected to unveil rules aimed at reducing emissions of methane—a potent greenhouse gas—from oil and natural-gas operations.

And in August, the agency will complete a suite of three regulations lowering carbon from the nation’s power plants—the centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s climate-change agenda.

The proposals represent the biggest climate push by the administration since 2009, when the House passed a national cap-and-trade system proposed by the White House aimed at reducing carbon emissions.

Anticipating the rules, some of which have been telegraphed in advance, opponents of Mr. Obama’s regulatory efforts are moving to block them. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), is urging governors across the country to defy the EPA by not submitting plans to comply with its rule cutting power-plant emissions.

Nearly all Republicans and some Democrats representing states dependent on fossil fuels say the Obama administration is going beyond the boundary of the law and usurping the role of Congress by imposing regulations that amount to a national energy tax driven by ideological considerations.

“The Administration seems determined to double down on the type of deeply regressive regulatory policy we’ve already seen it try to impose on lower-and-middle-class families in every state,” Mr. McConnell said in a statement. “These Obama administration regulations share several things in common with the upcoming directives: they seem motivated more by ideology than science, and they’re likely to negatively affect the economy and hurt both the cost and reliability of energy for hard-working American families and small-business owners.”

Supporters of Mr. Obama’s efforts say the regulatory push has the backing of both science and the force of law. They cite a 2007 Supreme Court decision that compelled the EPA to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions if the agency found they endanger the public’s health and welfare, which the EPA did in 2009 with a scientific finding shortly after Mr. Obama became president.

They also argue that the moves became necessary after the Senate in 2010 rejected the administration proposal to cap the amount of carbon emitted in the U.S. Mr. Obama in 2013 issued an executive order directing the EPA to issue the regulations, which it did a year later, in June 2014.

“It’s a demonstration of his commitment. He tried one path, it wasn’t successful, so he took another path that was available,” said Carol Browner, Mr. Obama’s top climate adviser for the first two years of his administration and EPA administrator for President Bill Clinton. “He’s following the law Congress passed in 1990,” added Ms. Browner, referring to the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments.

The actions expected as soon as this week include a scientific finding concluding that carbon emissions from aircraft contribute to climate change, a move that legally prompts the requirement to regulate based on the 2007 ruling by the Supreme Court, and new carbon-emission standards for big trucks and trailers, such as a typical 18-wheeler semi-truck.

Two factors are driving the timing of the push this summer. The administration wants to complete it ahead of December’s United Nations summit on climate change, where world leaders will meet in Paris to decide whether to agree on a global accord to cut carbon emissions. The EPA’s regulatory agenda represents nearly everything Mr. Obama is set to offer world leaders on what the U.S. is doing to address climate change.

Secondly, once the EPA rules on emissions by power plants become final, states will have a year to submit plans while lawsuits challenging the rule are expected to be heard by the courts. The administration wants to make sure that its officials can oversee as much of these two developments as possible instead of relying on the next president, especially if it is one of the GOP White House candidates who have expressed opposition to the EPA’s climate agenda altogether.

“When you’re regulating as much of the economy as he [Mr. Obama] is attempting to regulate by executive order, that’s clearly an overreach,” said Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, a political advocacy group backed by the wealthy Koch brothers.

People on either side of the fight hotly contest to what degree—or whether at all—the regulations will create new costs on the U.S. economy.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has averaged about two speeches a week on climate change since the agency first proposed the carbon rule for power plants a little more than a year ago, according to EPA. Many of the speeches, which include addresses in front of oil and natural gas industry executives around the world, focus on what Ms. McCarthy describes as the positive economic impact of new regulation.

“Strategies to reduce carbon can double as investments that return value for your operations as they evolve over time,” Ms. McCarthy told an audience of energy executives at a conference in Houston in late April about the agency’s proposed rule cutting carbon from the utility sector.

Other experts maintain the economic upshots of regulations aren’t as clear-cut.

“There is no question that regulations are shifting supply and demand curves, so they are increasing costs,” said Susan Dudley, who was a top regulatory official in the White House during the George W. Bush administration. “Some of those costs are encouraging cleaner alternatives; sometimes they’re shifting things to other countries. Fully understanding the costs and benefits is really challenging.”

Amy Harder|The Wall Street Journal|6/10/15

McKibben to Obama: You still have time to be a climate champion — but not much

Dear President Obama —

I feel a little awkward writing a letter to you, perhaps because I helped organize the largest demonstrations outside your house during your residence there: It’s odd to write someone when the closest you’ve ever come to them is being chained to the fence outside their home protesting the Keystone pipeline.

But I’ve had a very long time to think about global warming — since the late 1980s, when I published the first book for a general audience on the topic of what we then called the greenhouse effect. And so I thought I might offer a few thoughts. It’s only in the last three or four years that climate’s political dimensions have come into clearest focus for me, beginning in some ways with those Keystone demonstrations. As I’ve learned more about how Washington works, I’ve understood better some of the paths you took and didn’t. With 18 months left in your administration, the summing-up mood is appropriate — but not entirely, since time remains for a series of fateful decisions that will shape your legacy, but more importantly the planet’s future atmospheric chemistry.

Credit where it’s due

There are moments, I think, when some in your administration have thought the climate movement paid too little heed to the things you have accomplished. And so one begins there, with credit that is in fact due:

  1. Significant green funding in the Recovery Act. Compared to the effort in places like, say, Germany, the sums may not have been enormous, but they played their part in the remarkable fall in the price of renewable energy.
  1. Taking advantage of the auto bailouts to dramatically improve the mileage our cars get. It’s hard to remember for how many administrations — Democratic and Republican — Detroit simply refused to bend. You had them in a place where they couldn’t refuse, and you followed through — and this summer that effort is continuing with new rules for trucks and airplanes.
  1. The EPA coal regulations that have been the high point of your administration’s second-term efforts. They are a coup de grace to the expansion plans of a coal industry already hit hard by years of enviro campaigning; just as in China, and the rest of the developed world, the U.S. has seen “peak coal” during your term.

In fact, that list beats the combined efforts of all the presidents that came before you in the global warming era. And that you achieved these things in the face of GOP congressional intransigence that made the obvious policy change (a price on carbon) impossible means that no one can accuse you of neglecting the issue. It’s true that our carbon emissions have risen the last two years, but perhaps you’ve put us on a course to meet the moderate reduction targets you and the Chinese agreed on.

But it’s not nearly enough

The problem, of course, is that 20 years ago those changes would have gotten us ahead of the physics. Now, given the hole we’re in and the pace that the world is warming, we’ve lost ground during your tenure despite those efforts. The G7 communiqué talking about getting the world off fossil fuel by century’s end is way too close to business as usual.

Consider: It was during your time in office that the world came to truly understand climate as an issue of justice above all, as refugees began to flee the damage of drought and flood on every continent. In your years, the Arctic melted in earnest, the ocean rapidly acidified, and America suffered through its hottest year ever. That was 2012, when you were campaigning for re-election, and yet you virtually never mentioned global warming till Hurricane Sandy in the closing days made it impossible not to. Instead you gave a talk at Cushing, in Oklahoma, that I’ve never forgotten, the one where you said:

Now, under my administration, America is producing more oil today than at any time in the last eight years. That’s important to know. Over the last three years, I’ve directed my administration to open up millions of acres for gas and oil exploration across 23 different states. We’re opening up more than 75 percent of our potential oil resources offshore. We’ve quadrupled the number of operating rigs to a record high. We’ve added enough new oil and gas pipeline to encircle the Earth and then some.

And that’s a huge problem. Because cutting demand for dirty energy at the same time that you increase its supply is called running in place. America on your watch has passed Saudi Arabia and Russia to become the biggest oil and gas producer on Earth. That may have been a short-term boost to the economy, but it’s a long-term horror for the atmosphere. If we send those hydrocarbons overseas to burn (coal exports have jumped in your tenure, and you’ve been granting permits left and right for new natural gas shipment facilities), then the secondhand smoke causes just as much global warming as if we’d burned them here; if we substitute them for imported energy, that frees up that much more oil and gas abroad.

In the course of your term, scientists have become unambiguously clear: to deal with climate change, we need to leave 80 percent of global carbon deposits — coal mines, oil fields, and shale gas sites — underground. Instead, you and your agencies have promoted every kind of mining and drilling here; you’ve even set up a special bureau at the State Department to push fracking overseas.

Much of this you could not realistically have prevented. Little of the Bakken Shale in North Dakota lay under federal land, for instance; clearly Congress was not about to help you regulate its development.

Here’s the checklist for your final 18 months

But earlier this year a team of scientists at Nature published a crucial paper explaining exactly which resources had to stay underground to prevent the globe from warming past the 2 degree Celsius limit you set in Copenhagen. Their work reads like a to-do list for the last 18 months of your administration.

  1. The carbon in Canada’s tar sands has to stay underground. You don’t control those deposits, of course, but Transcanada needs your permission to build the Keystone pipeline to bring it south to the Gulf. For four years now, we’ve done everything we can think of to give you the room to block it: the largest civil disobedience actions in decades, the most public comments on any infrastructure project, the most emails in a day to the Senate. It’s time, finally, to assert control over the bankrupt State Department process and block the damned thing for good. If you do, you won’t just be recognizing the legitimate demands of native Americans and Nebraska ranchers — you’ll also be the first world leader to stop a major project because of its effect on the climate.
  1. The carbon beneath the Arctic has to stay beneath the Arctic. Think of the irony here. You came into office just as Arctic sea ice was hitting record lows. The world’s giant oil companies, instead of seeing that as a signal to switch to investing in solar and wind, lined up for permission to go drill in the newly thawed waters. And you gave Shell the go-ahead to plumb the Chukchi Sea, even though, as the Nature team said, no 2-degree scenario is consistent with drilling that new area. You must find a way to block this plan; we fear, yes, an oil spill into the pristine Arctic waters, but far more we dread the guaranteed spill of carbon into the overloaded atmosphere.
  1. Just this spring your Interior Department yet again offered vast new leases to coal companies in the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming. The total carbon in those newly opened deposits is three times higher than the carbon savings that will come from the hard-fought EPA regulations. The coal sale is not quite final yet, and it must not go through.
  1. Somewhat remarkably, you seem inclined to approve new offshore drilling off much of coastal America, including the Atlantic seaboard. If the lessons of Deepwater Horizon (and last month’s Santa Barbara spill) don’t move you, realize that these too are deposits that must remain underground to meet the climate targets you yourself set.

None of this is special pleading — it’s just math. Liberate that carbon and the temperature climbs. Given what we know now about climate change, you have every right to draw the line in these places — and more, you have all the power. None of these are places where Congress can force your hand; at least for the course of your presidency, you can keep that carbon stored safely away. And in so doing you’ll help set the kind of precedent that might move the rest of the world. Already other power players are starting to recognize the future: from the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund to France’s largest insurer to Oxford to Georgetown to, yes, the University of Hawaii, responsible institutions are lining up to divest from fossil fuels. If you begin to strand some carbon beneath the earth, the wisdom of investing instead in renewable energy will become even clearer.

And it’s with that renewable energy that you can make your final mark on this debate. Solar power is a very different animal from when you came to office: a panel costs 75 percent less today. It’s gone from being a necessary change to a completely possible change, and though you’ve waited too long to be the politician who really exploits that fact, you can make sure that everyone in America at least knows about the new economics. (That’s why we were so hopeful that you’d put solar panels on the White House roof, so sorry it took you two years longer than promised, and so perplexed that you made so little out of it when it finally happened.)

People in D.C. stay snakebit by things too long: Solyndra is long-forgotten outside the Beltway, and every poll shows Americans of all political stripes love solar panels. Heck, there’s a left-right Green Tea coalition pushing for progress in the Southeast. We need you pounding the bully panel, not on the stump but on the roof, day after day — reminding everyone that far more people work in solar than in mining coal.

Just maybe, you also could take that new vision and use it to make the climate talks in Paris more than they’ll otherwise be. At the moment they look set to ratify a global temperature increase of 3 or 4 degrees C — that is, to lock us into a kind of slow-motion guaranteed catastrophe. They lack a vision beyond the mediocre (and unenforceable) targets that countries are now producing. But given the changed economics of sun and wind, the talks could be the moment when the world commits to electrifying every house on Earth with a solar panel on the roof. That’s now not only possible, it’s a practical and a moral imperative.

The sad part of this battle, for all of us, is that physics doesn’t really care about political realities — about how tough Congress has been, or for that matter how burned out and tired some of the rest us can get. Physics just cares about carbon. Reality reality trumps political reality. You alone know whether you’ve given this greatest of human crises everything you’ve got, but the rest of us hope there’s something left in your arsenal for these last 18 months.

Sincerely,

Bill McKibben|11 Jun 2015

Extreme Weather

50 Cities With Biggest Increases in Heavy Downpours

The unprecedented rains and the resulting flooding in Texas and Oklahoma have captured headlines in recent days. Seven locations in those states had the most rain ever reported—including Oklahoma City which had its wettest month ever with almost five times the amount of rain it normally sees in May. And both states logged the wettest month on record.

It might be easy to pass these downpours off as rare and exceptional events that get coverage because they make great TV. But the number of such heavy deluges has increased across the country, resulting in heavy damage to infrastructure, business and school closures, property loss and even fatalities, such as the more than two dozen deaths reported so far in Texas. And scientists are seeing a link to climate change.

“While rainfall in the region is consistent with the emerging El Niño, the unprecedented amounts suggest a possible climate change signal, where a warming atmosphere becomes more saturated with water vapor and capable of previously unimagined downpours,” said Climate Central, an organization of scientists and journalists which studies and provides information on climate change.

Looking at 65 years of rainfall data, Climate Central found that 40 of the 48 mainland states had an increase in the number of heavy downpours since 1950. The biggest increases were in the northeast with a 31 percent increase and the midwest with a 16 percent increase. Rhode Island had a 104 percent increase in heavy rainfall, followed by Maine with 61 percent, Wyoming with 58 percent, New Hampshire with 56 percent and Connecticut with 43 percent. Missouri, Vermont, Alabama, New York and Iowa all had increases in excess of 25 percent.

ccchart

Sixteen cities have seen rainfall increases of more than 100 percent, with McAllen, Texas far in the lead at 700 percent. Portland, Maine had a 400 percent increase, with Philadelphia, New York and Louisville all having increases of more than 300 percent.

Climate Central cited heavy rainfalls in Nashville and Detroit as examples of the impact of such rains. In Nashville in 2010, 13.6 inches of rain in a mere two days killed 11 people and caused $2 billion in damages. An August 2014 downpour in Detroit killed two and caused $1.1 billion in damages. The group also pointed to the potential health risks of such rainfall. It found that approximately half of the waterborne disease outbreaks in the U.S. from 1948 through 1994 were linked to periods of heavy rain.

citiesdownpour

The Texas rainfall has alleviated the drought the state suffered from last year, when half of it was under severe, extreme or exceptional drought. Now none is, and only a small fraction of the state is reporting even moderate drought. But that’s probably little consolation to the residents of the 37 Texas counties in which Gov. Greg Abbott has declared disaster areas, saying “You cannot candy coat it. It’s absolutely massive.”

Both Texas Senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, are climate deniers who would vigorously dispute what Climate Central has to say, despite the fact that Texas suffers from a greater number of costly weather-related disasters than any state, including drought, heat and wildfires.

“Extreme heavy downpours are consistent with what climate scientists expect in a warming world,” Climate Central explained. “With hotter temperatures, more water evaporates off the oceans, and the atmosphere can hold more moisture. Research shows that the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere has already increased. That means that  there is often a lot more water available to come down as rain. Climate scientists have already shown that increasing greenhouse gas concentrations as a consequence of human activity are partially responsible for the average global increase in heavy precipitation.”

Measuring and dealing with such downpours is made difficult by the fact that, compared to extreme temperatures, they tend to be localized rather than regional events and random in nature, making it hard to tell where they will occur. But according to Climate Central, scientists think the increase in heavy downpours will continue throughout the 21st century.

“Climate models predict that if carbon emissions continue to increase as they have in recent decades, the types of downpours that used to happen once every 20 years could occur every 4 to 15 years by 2100,” said Climate Central. “As the number of days with extreme precipitation increases, the risk for intense and damaging floods is also expected to increase throughout much of the country.”

Anastasia Pantsios|June 6, 2015

Lake Mead About to Hit a Critical New Low as 15-Year Drought Continues in Southwest

Lake Mead, America’s largest U.S. reservoir when at capacity, is about to hit a critical new low. The reservoir near Las Vegas on the Colorado River has been in decline for decades because the reservoir and the larger Colorado River system has been over-allocated for many years. As of yesterday, the elevation of Lake Mead was 1,075.96. The reservoir is only days away from hitting 1,075 feet, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s projections. That number is the threshold set in a 2007 agreement as part of the U.S. Department of Interior’s Colorado River Interim Guidelines, which calls for delivery cuts if water levels in Lake Mead drops below that level.

These cuts will be the first set of mandatory water delivery curtailments to Lake Mead. Should the water levels continue to drop, as they are expected to—due to the prolonged drought, climate change and poor water management—more cuts will be required. The Western Water Policy Program and the Bren School of Environmental Management at the University of California, Santa Barbara recently released their spring report, The Bathtub Ring, which examines the impacts as Lake Mead levels decline to 1075 feet, 1050 feet, 1025 feet and 1000 feet.

The Bureau of Reclamation predicts the first round of cuts could take place in January 2017 with Arizona and Southern Nevada seeing the biggest cuts. Arizona plans to curtail “groundwater recharge efforts” and cut “deliveries to farmers with low-priority rights,” according to the Las Vegas Sun. Arizona’s cities “would be unaffected, at least initially.” Southern Nevada, for its part, “has prepared with conservation, saving enough water that residents and businesses won’t be affected if a portion no longer is available.”

Further reductions would kick in when the reservoir dips below 1,050 feet and again at 1,025 feet. When the water level hits 1,025 feet, “a new round of water rationing would have to be negotiated,” reports the Las Vegas Sun. The epic drought has left water officials scrambling to plan for rapidly diminishing water levels.

lakemeadprojectionsLake Mead’s elevation is projected to hit 1,075 feet in the next few weeks, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

“We’re headed to a new normal,” Gary Wockner, executive director of the nonprofit Save the Colorado River, told the Las Vegas Sun. “It remains to be seen what will happen, but political tensions are very likely.”

Upper-basin states are considering building more dams because states are feeling pressure to “use it or lose it” when it comes to water resources. But that will only make the problem worse as states across the West compete for fewer and fewer resources.

The Bathtub Ring report examines the impacts to water deliveries, hydropower generation, recreation and the environment as Lake Mead declines to the shortage levels of 1075', 1050', 1025', and 1000'.The Bathtub Ring report examines the impacts to water deliveries, hydropower generation, recreation and the environment as Lake Mead declines to the shortage levels of 1075 feet, 1050 feet, 1025 feet, and 1000 feet.

“It increases the likelihood that lower-basin states would have to do a ‘call on the river,’ where the lower basin will have to legally demand that the water is sent down river,” Wockner told EcoWatch. “It’s likely going to create a political crisis.”

Up until now, the seven states that share the Colorado River’s water have “put aside their differences in order to survive,” said the Las Vegas Sun. But that could change as water resources become more and more scarce in the drought-stricken West.

“As the Lake drops and the cuts begin, we need to rethink and re-manage the river,” said Wockner. “The farmers and cities may soon feel what the Colorado River already feels everyday—it is drained, dried up and depleted. We need a new Colorado River Compact that allocates water to the river’s health in addition to the health of the Southwest’s economy.”

Cole Mellino|June 9, 2015

Genetically Modified Organisms

Monsanto plans to move headquarters from US to UK

Agrochemicals group proposes ‘corporate inversion’ deal with Swiss rival Syngenta that would involve creating new parent company registered in Britain

Monsanto, the US seed and agrochemicals group known for its genetically modified crops, wants to switch its headquarters from the US to the UK as part of a complex merger deal designed to unlock tax savings for shareholders.

The group, which was founded in St Louis, Missouri in 1901, is circling Swiss rival Syngenta with a so-called “corporate inversion” proposal that would involve setting up a new UK company.

Such inversions have been closely associated with aggressive tax planning, although sources close to Monsanto claimed tax was not the company’s main motivation.

Syngenta on Monday rejected the proposal — which it values at $45bn (£30bn) — claiming Monsanto was offering “the same inadequate price” as it had done in an approach in April.

Under the terms of Monsanto’s plan, investors in the Swiss company would end up with a holding of about 30% in the new company, with the US firm’s shareholders taking the rest. Syngenta shareholders would also receive some cash.

Monsanto has been talking about a deal with Syngenta since April, but correspondence released by the Swiss company on Monday set out details of the US firm’s proposal for a new company, registered in the UK.

“A new parent company, domiciled in the UK, would demonstrate that our merger will create a new global enterprise … [and] provide additional synergies,” wrote Monsanto chief executive, Hugh Grant. “We would also propose a new name for the combined company to reflect its unique global nature.”

The UK has seen an influx of multinationals — among them Aon, Fiat Industrial, and Starbuck’s European operations — seeking tax advantages through the optimal location of the often small number of headquarters staff.

The wave of companies establishing an HQ in the UK follows the move by George Osborne to cut the headline corporation tax rate to 20% and establish generous rules on the taxation of the often complex overseas subsidiary structures of UK-headquartered groups.

A rush of tax-motivated inversion deals in 2014 prompted the US president, Barack Obama, to set out measures last September to crack down on what he has called the “unpatriotic” trend. Monsanto is confident its proposals to join forces with Syngenta would not be captured by Obama’s new rules.

Last year, there was a spate of inversion deals under discussion in the drugs industry, with America’s Pfizer targeting the UK’s AstraZeneca and US rival AbbVie exploring a deal with Ireland’s Shire. Neither materialized, but other tax-driven deals were successful, such as the $43bn takeover of Covidien by fellow medical device maker Medtronic.

The commercial difference between Monsanto’s latest proposal to Syngenta and the plan put forward in April is a promise to pay the Swiss firm $2bn should the deal be blocked by competition regulators.

Simon Bowers|8 June, 2015 

Simple Ways You Can Help Fight Against GMOs

A genetically modified organism (GMO for short) is any organism whose genetic material has been artificially altered through genetic engineering. While the science is relatively new, it’s certainly made some major headlines. From international protests against companies using GMOs to legislative measures, the science of genetically modifying our food has certainly permeated our lives. 

You may be tempted to believe that you either have to have deep pockets or political pull to really make a difference in the GMO debate. It’s a disempowering perspective that many have become accustomed to as they see the political battle over GMOs.

However, as was mentioned in a recent post about being a socially responsible investor, consumers and constituents still hold a lot of power. Furthermore, our power doesn’t have to come from extravagant actions. Here are small things you can do to help in the fight against GMOs.

Buy From Non-GMO Companies

While companies nationwide may not yet be required to label whether or not their products have GMOs, many companies who don’t use GMOs are doing it anyway in an effort to make people aware of the issue.

One such company is Nature’s Path, an organic cereal company who made it their mission to teach consumers about the dangers of GMOs. By supporting companies like Nature’s Path we’re doing our part in letting companies and policy makers know where consumers would rather put their money.

“Over 60 nations around the world make it mandatory to label products containing GMOs so their citizens can choose whether or not to consume them. Unfortunately, the United States and Canada have no such bans or laws, making us part of the largest feeding experiment in human history,” says Arran Stevens, founder of Nature’s Path. “In lieu of mandatory GMO labelling, we encourage people to vote with their forks and their wallets by continuing to choose organic, non-GMO for themselves and their families.”

At the end of the day, it’s money that talks with issues like this. This has been made apparent with how much money GMO and pesticide companies give to candidates. So let’s put our money where our mouths are and support non-GMO companies instead.

Vote for Political Candidates Who Are Against GMOs

Regardless of how jaded you are about the political system, the truth remains that there are still good candidates out there who are doing their part to fight against GMOs. I also happen to be a firm believer that if you don’t vote then you shouldn’t complain.

Granted, GMOs may not be at the forefront of the debate for big elections. At least not in comparison to other issues like war and fiscal responsibility. That’s why it’s up to you to educate yourself on all candidates and where they stand on GMOs. It may require some digging, but you can always find the answers you are looking for.

I’m also not just talking about huge elections like the presidential one we have coming up in 2016. When it comes to GMOs a lot of the action is happening within the states. Hawaii, for example, has been dubbed “ground zero of the GMO debate” because of the influence big GMO and pesticide companies have on the island. Furthermore, according to the Right to Know GMO campaign, over 50 pending of states have pending legislation in regard to GMO labeling.

It’s the candidates that we put into office with our votes that are responsible for passing legislation when it comes to GMOs, as a result we should use our votes wisely.

Share Information About GMOs

We’re living in the age of social media, which essentially means we have an insane amount of power to educate and inform. As spiritual teacher Gabby Bernstein mentions in one of her YouTube videos, in many ways we are the media. As such, we have a responsibility to use this power wisely.

Instead of leaving it up to traditional media to talk about this issue (because we all know how that goes), use your own social media pages to inform people about the dangers of GMOs. Many people may not have access to this kind of information unless we start sharing it individually.

The GMO Debate is Far from Over

The fight against GMOs is far from over, and it’s up to us to use our power as consumers, voters and individuals to make changes and inform the masses. Let’s take our role in this fight seriously, and do everything we can to ensure we’re making a positive impact.
Amanda Abella|June 9, 2015

How Monsanto Gained Huge Control of the World’s Food Supply

The Undercurrent, an online news site that bills itself as the antidote to the mainstream media’s five-second sound bite, made a five-minute video explaining how Monsanto came to have such a huge control over our food system. In this clever, satirical video, Dan Graetz of The Undercurrent explains that “nothing kills those bloody weeds better than Roundup from Monsanto—the famous makers of Joni Mitchell’s favorite DDT, Agent Orange, which, aside from the occasional birth defect did a great job of destroying the rice fields during the Vietnam War, the cow-swelling bovine growth hormone and PCBs, everyone’s favorite carcinogenic environmental pollutant.”

“But with the revolutionary key ingredient in Roundup glyphosate, the folks at Monsanto have added not just enormous profits to their bottom line, but also the word ‘probably’ in front of the word ‘carcinogenic,’” says Graetz. He’s referring to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recent report which found that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic,” which Monsanto vehemently demanded the WHO retract.

Just how much power does Monsanto wield? Well, they control 80 percent of the U.S. corn market and 93 percent of the U.S. soy market, according to Graetz. So, it comes as no surprise that the National Corn Growers Association and the American Soybean Association are going to bat for them. These two trade organizations issued a statement last week that they are worried the WHO review of glyphosate and its soon-to-be released review of 2,4-D might create “confusion” about two weed killers that have been “mainstays for farmers for decades.”

Graetz says:

At this point you might be wondering “how is this allowed to happen? How are farmers okay with this?” Two things real quick: market forces and political influence. Now, I know what your thinking: “Big Business controls politics. Tell us something we don’t know.” But the example I am about to give you is an absolute doozy.

Watch a Video

Cole Mellino|6/10/15

West African Country Dumps Monsanto’s GM Cotton, Seeks Compensation

Due to ‘disappointing yields and poor quality cotton fiber,” the country of Burkina Faso in West Africa is ditching Monsanto’s genetically modified cotton.

Jeune Afrique reports that Interprofessional Cotton in Burkina Faso has decided to phase out the use of Monsanto’s GMO cotton seeds over the next three years. This is a group of cotton farmers, banks, research institutions, private stakeholders and the government. It isn’t just cotton farmers that are complaining about Monsanto’s GM cotton, though.

Interprofessional Cotton members include the Société burkinabè des fibres textiles (Sofitex), Faso Coton, and the Société cotonnière du Gourma (Socoma, subsidiary of the French group Geocoton).

All of these groups have complained that Monsanto’s GM cotton did not produce quality cotton fiber, and farmers have experienced lower yields than with non-GM cotton. The group will also seek compensation from Monsanto for lower yields they experienced since the 2008 growing season.

The group is denouncing its contract with Monsanto due to the lower quality performance of the GM cotton, and also lower yields.

Advocates of GM cotton state that they have increased agricultural production by more than US$98 billion and saved an estimated 473 million kilograms of pesticides from being sprayed in the US, but critics question their environmental, social, and economic impacts – with good reason. Among the complaints are that GM cotton has caused superweeds, and driven Indian farmers to suicide.

Genetically modified organisms and crops are so controversial that communities, states, and even entire nations are at the very least attempting to ban or suspend these creations – with some areas having notable success. A small example within the U.S. can be seen when a federal judge in southern Oregon recently decided to uphold Jackson County’s ban on genetically engineered crops after two alfalfa farms requested that the ban be blocked.

Another example can be seen with the nation Hungary, which could be the first to introduce the new European Union regulations allowing countries to ban the cultivation of GMO crops.

As time goes on, you can expect to see more suspensions and even bans on Monsanto’s GMOs as well as the company’s herbicidal chemical creations meant to be sprayed on GMO crops.

Christina Sarich|June 10, 2015

Team develops transplantable bioengineered forelimb

Over a period of 52 hours, infusion of a detergent solution removes cells from a rat forelimb, leaving behind the cell-free matrix scaffolding onto which new tissues can be regenerated. Image courtesy Bernhard Jank, M.D., Ott Laboratory, Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Regenerative Medicine. Watch a video on the research here.

A team of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) investigators has made the first steps towards development of bioartificial replacement limbs suitable for transplantation. In their report, which has been published online in the journal Biomaterials, the researchers describe using an experimental approach previously used to build bioartificial organs to engineer rat forelimbs with functioning vascular and muscle tissue. They also provided evidence that the same approach could be applied to the limbs of primates

“The composite nature of our limbs makes building a functional biological replacement particularly challenging,” explains Harald Ott, MD, of the MGH Department of Surgery and the Center for Regenerative Medicine, senior author of the paper.

“Limbs contain muscles, bone, cartilage, blood vessels, tendons, ligaments and nerves – each of which has to be rebuilt and requires a specific supporting structure called the matrix. We have shown that we can maintain the matrix of all of these tissues in their natural relationships to each other, that we can culture the entire construct over prolonged periods of time, and that we can repopulate the vascular system and musculature.”

The authors note that more than 1.5 million individuals in the U.S. have lost a limb, and although prosthetic technology has greatly advanced, the devices still have many limitations in terms of both function and appearance. Over the past two decades a number of patients have received donor hand transplants, and while such procedures can significantly improve quality of life, they also expose recipients to the risks of life-long immunosuppressive therapy.

While the progenitor cells needed to regenerate all of the tissues that make up a limb could be provided by the potential recipient, what has been missing is the matrix or scaffold on which cells could grow into the appropriate tissues.

The current study uses technology Ott discovered as a research fellow at the University of Minnesota, in which living cells are stripped from a donor organ with a detergent solution and the remaining matrix is then repopulated with progenitor cells appropriate to the specific organ. His team and others at MGH and elsewhere have used this decellularization technique to regenerate kidneys, livers, hearts and lungs from animal models, but this is the first reported use to engineer the more complex tissues of a bioartificial limb.

The same decellularization process used in the whole-organ studies – perfusing a detergent solution through the vascular system – was used to strip all cellular materials from forelimbs removed from deceased rats in a way that preserved the primary vasculature and nerve matrix. After thorough removal of cellular debris – a process that took a week – what remained was the cell-free matrix that provides structure to all of a limb’s composite tissues. At the same time, populations of muscle and vascular cells were being grown in culture.

The research team then cultured the forelimb matrix in a bioreactor, within which vascular cells were injected into the limb’s main artery to regenerate veins and arteries. Muscle progenitors were injected directly into the matrix sheaths that define the position of each muscle.

After five days in culture, electrical stimulation was applied to the potential limb graft to further promote muscle formation, and after two weeks, the grafts were removed from the bioreactor. Analysis of the bioartificial limbs confirmed the presence of vascular cells along blood vessel walls and muscle cells aligned into appropriate fibers throughout the muscle matrix.

Functional testing of the isolated limbs showed that electrical stimulation of muscle fibers caused them to contract with a strength 80 percent of what would be seen in newborn animals. The vascular systems of bioengineered forelimbs transplanted into recipient animals quickly filled with blood which continued to circulate, and electrical stimulation of muscles within transplanted grafts flexed the wrists and digital joints of the animals’ paws. The research team also successfully decellularized baboon forearms to confirm the feasibility of using this approach on the scale that would be required for human patients.

Ott notes that, while regrowing nerves within a limb graft and reintegrating them into a recipient’s nervous system is one of the next challenges that needs to be faced, the experience of patients who have received hand transplants is promising.

“In clinical limb transplantation, nerves do grow back into the graft, enabling both motion and sensation, and we have learned that this process is largely guided by the nerve matrix within the graft. We hope in future work to show that the same will apply to bioartificial grafts. Additional next steps will be replicating our success in muscle regeneration with human cells and expanding that to other tissue types, such as bone, cartilage and connective tissue.”

Staff Writers|Boston MA (SPX)|Jun 09, 2015

[A different take on bio-engineering, but still a genetically modified organism.]

Energy

5,000+ Take to the Streets for Historic ‘Tar Sands Resistance March’

With the marching crowd stretching “as far as the eye can see” in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota on Saturday, thousands of people from across the Midwest came together to protest the construction of new pipelines and other infrastructure projects which they say will deliver only harmful climate impacts for the planet and irreparable destruction to the region, not the jobs and energy security promised by big oil companies and their political backers.

Under the social media tag of #StopTarSands, Saturday’s Tar Sands Resistance March was sponsored by dozens of groups, including national and local environmental organizations, Indigenous communities, and various social justice groups who all agree it will take a unified front to fight back against the pipeline companies and fossil fuel interests pushing for expanded development of tar sands, shale oil and gas deposits and other forms of extreme energy in the region.

In a statement, the coalition behind the march explained that the climate justice movement in the U.S. and Canada has far more targets to fight than just the Keystone XL pipeline:

“It’s not just Keystone XL. Big Oil is trying to build and expand an enormous network of tar sands pipelines—some even bigger than Keystone XL—from Canada into the Great Lakes region. These tar sands pipelines, including the Alberta Clipper, along with crude oil trains and tankers, pose a growing risk to the Great Lakes, our rivers, our communities and our climate.”

“The movement promoting clean energy prosperity in place of polluting fossil fuels is growing and being heard in every corner of the country,” said Terry Houle, co-chair of the Sierra Club’s Northstar Chapter, which helped organize the event. The march “picks up where last year’s Peoples’ Climate March in New York left off—people from all walks of life are calling on the Administration to keep dirty fuels in the ground for the sake of clean air, clean water, and a stable climate,” Houle said

According to NRDC’s Anthony Swift, “Increasing the amount of toxic tar sands crude flowing into this region is not in keeping with a much needed transition to clean energy. Rejecting tar sands means fighting for clean water, clean energy, and a safer climate. There is simply no place for dirty oil in America’s future.”

Billed as the biggest anti–tar sands march and rally the Midwest has ever seen, Aaron Mair, board president of Sierra Club, trumpeted the coalition’s diversity and unwavering commitment as essential to its ultimate success against the pending Sandpiper pipeline and similar projects. “With climate disruption, we face the greatest environmental challenge of all time,” Mair wrote in a blog post ahead of the march. “To meet it, we’ll need to change almost everything about how our country works. And to do that, we’re going to need everyone. It’s a big job, but it’s not impossible. We’re already gaining steam. We’re building a strong, authentic movement to confront climate disruption and to galvanize humanity’s response—and in so doing we can shift the world.”

And Tom Goldtooth, head of the Indigenous Environmental Network, said this week, “The frontline communities are strengthening the resistance. They’re concerned, and we are linking up the pipeline resisters in Canada, northern Minnesota, out east and more.”

To help explain why the Mideast region has become such an important battleground for the climate fight both in the U.S. and Canada, the organizers behind the Tar Sands Resistance March offered these reasons:

  • The Midwest is a primary import zone for dirty oil from Canada. Refineries in the Midwest get virtually all of their imported oil via pipeline from Canada. The diluted bitumen transported from Canada that arrives in U.S. refineries is more corrosive than conventional crude oils and may lead to increased risk of accidents. These refineries also pose a significant risk to the climate. Refining tar sands oil emits higher levels of greenhouse gases, as such more Imports of tar sands will add to U.S. emissions.
  • Various efforts are being made to expand tar sands pipelines in the Midwest to be able to process more tar sands from Canada. Enbridge, the Canadian pipeline company responsible, is using illegal schemes to double the capacity of its Alberta Clipper tar sands (aka line 67), with no public notice and also by bypassing Presidential permit process. This illegal expansion would put Alberta Clipper on par with the Keystone XL pipeline and significantly increase the amount of toxic, highly polluting tar sands crude being moved into the U.S. We must stop this from happening.
  • Tar sands spills are also of major concern. In 2010, more than 800,000 gallons of tar sands was spilled into the Kalamazoo River, causing hundreds of residents to be hospitalized from adverse health effects, including cardiovascular, dermal, gastrointestinal, neurological, ocular, renal, and respiratory. Cleanup efforts are still ongoing.
  • Petroleum coke, a by-product of tar sands which has resemblances of coal and shares many of coal’s physical qualities, including a similar chemical composition, has been linked to a number of other health problems, including developmental and cardiovascular impacts. This is threatening communities like Chicago and Detroit. In Chicago’s southeast side, massive piles of petroleum coke are found near homes, leading to black dust clouds entering the surrounding air and exposing vulnerable residents to an array of health impacts.

According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

The rally takes place one day after Minnesota regulators endorsed the $2.6 billion Sandpiper pipeline that would carry North Dakota crude oil from the Bakken to Superior, Wis., where pipeline owner Enbridge Energy operates an oil terminal tied to other pipelines supplying refineries in the East and Midwest.

Enbridge, a Calgary-based energy company that operates the world’s longest petroleum pipeline network, owns six pipelines that cross Minnesota, where its operations date back to the 1950s.

Despite the drop in oil prices, Enbridge has said it is moving ahead with $44 billion in investments, including two other crude oil pipeline projects in Minnesota. Those projects—a line expansion and a line replacement—carry Canadian oil across Minnesota to Superior, including the heavy crude extracted from Alberta’s tar sands.

Jon Queally|Common Dreams|June 7, 2015

Canada delays decision on [nuclear] waste facility

People will be waiting at least until December for a decision from the Canadian environment minister on a proposed nuclear waste facility on the shores of Lake Huron.

The timeline for a decision from Canada’s federal Minister of Environment Leona Aglukkaq has been extended to December to allow for public comment, according to a statement from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. A panel tasked with reviewing the proposed underground nuclear waste facility near Lake Huron gave the project a positive review in a nearly 450page report released May 6.

“The Joint Review Panel gave a s trong endorsement that this project should move forward,” said Neal Kelly, a spokesman for Ontario Power Generation, the company proposing the waste facility.

According to the federal review process, the environment minister then has 120 days following the panel report — until Sept. 3 — to issue a decision statement for or against the project, said Lucille Jamault, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.
That date was bumped back a few months to allow for public comment.

“With a comment period that goes to Sept. 1 now, the deadline was extended to Dec. 2,” Jamault said.

Depending on the minister’s decision, the Joint Review Panel would make a decision for or against issuing OPG a license to construct.

The proposed deep geologic repository in Kincardine, Ontario would hold 7 million cubic feet of low and intermediate level waste about a half-mile from Lake Huron.

The comment period allows interested parties, aboriginal groups and members of the public to submit comment on potential conditions OPG would have to meet if the Joint Review Panel issues it a license to construct.
People have until Sept. 1 to submit comments.

The potential conditions call for continued transparency, consultation with aboriginal groups, and the submission of an annual report to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

The panel also lists requirements pertaining to accidents or malfunctions, storm water management, fish and fish habitat, migratory birds, air quality, public health, plant and wildlife, climate change and waste rock management.

The change in the timeline for a decision from Aglukkaq would ensure a decision on the deep geologic repository is not made until after the Canadian general elections in October.

Congresswoman Candice Miller said she welcomed the delay from the federal government.

“Imposing this 90-day comment period, which delays the decision until after Canada’s federal election, shows just how controversial this project is and, hopefully, will give Canadian authorities time to reconsider moving forward with this proposed site,” Miller said in a statement.

Kelly said OPG continues to discuss the project with the Saugeen Ojibwa Nation as it awaits a decision from the federal government.

OPG President Tom Mitchell has said the company will not move forward with the project without the approval of SON.

“Today, we do not have the SON support,” Kelly said. “But we’re in discussions with them.”

BETH LEBLANC|TIMES HERALD

Methane: The Silent Climate Threat

Overwhelming majorities of Americans support deep reductions in carbon dioxide pollution from our power plants and vehicles—but methane pollution during the production, delivery and use of natural gas is an overlooked silent climate threat, dialing up global warming today and pushing us toward irreversible climate tipping points.

Reducing methane emissions is also a significant, largely untapped opportunity to reduce greenhouse emissions quickly and cost-effectively.

Here are all the facts you need to know to help solve the problem:


What is methane?

Methane is the primary component of natural gas—an energy source we commonly use to heat our homes, cook our food, and, increasingly, generate electricity.

When burned, methane releases the least amount of carbon pollution of all fossil fuels—about half of what coal-fired plants emit.

And natural gas plants produce a fraction of the smog-causing pollution that coal plants do.

Why is it a problem?

When released unburned, methane is powerful climate pollutant, packing 84 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after it’s released.

In fact, methane is responsible for 25% of the global warming we’re already experiencing.

Where is it coming from?

Methane can come from many sources, both natural and manmade. But the largest source of industrial emissions is the oil and gas sector—as illustrated by infrared cameras in the animation above.

With the natural gas boom well underway in the U.S., we have to eliminate widespread, unnecessary pollution, and put strong measures in place to find and fix leaks, reducing the extensive climate damage these emissions are causing.Who’s calling for action to fix it?

As we learn more about the climate risk of methane, political leaders and advocates are calling for solutions.

Hillary Clinton has stated that “it’s crucial we put in place smart regulations and enforce them”

In a recent blog post, Sierra Club attorney Adres Restrepo writes, “[Strong methane] regulations…would provide a win not only on the environment and on public health, but on the economics as well”And Bill McKibben of 350.org has written that “there should be a huge priority on plugging the leaks in the ancient pipes that deliver [natural gas] to our cities”

And even unlikely voices are joining the call for action. Gregg Kantor, former chairman of the American Gas Association and CEO of a northwestern gas utility, believes that “this is a legitimate concern that needs to be addressed”

No matter your stance on the use, delivery, and extraction of natural gas, plugging these leaks is a climate imperative.

Heather Shelby|Environmental Defense Fund |6/10/15

New Report Shows Explosive Growth in Residential Solar Installations

Today, GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) released the latest edition of the U.S. Solar Market Insight Report, which revealed the first three months of 2015 as the best quarter for residential solar system installations — ever.

In fact, solar represented a whopping 51 percent of all new electric generating capacity brought on-line in the first quarter of 2015, outpacing even natural gas.

The U.S. installed 1,306 megawatts (MW) of solar photovoltaics (PV) in Q1 2015, marking the sixth consecutive quarter in which the U.S. added more than 1 gigawatt (GW) of PV installations.

Residential solar led the way, growing by 76 percent over the first quarter of 2014, with 437 megawatts (MW) of residential PV installations. That’s an 11 percent jump over last quarter, the market segment’s previous high-water mark.

But the other solar market segments showed strength, too. In fact, the industry as a whole is on track for another record year in 2015, with 66,440 total individual solar systems coming on-line this quarter. That means nearly 700,000 systems are now generating solar power in the U.S.

The non-residential segment installed 225 MW in the first quarter of the year, with five of the six largest non-residential state markets growing over Q1 2014.

Continuing to carry the largest share of the market, the utility segment installed 644 MW which represents 49 percent of new PV capacity brought on-line in Q1 2015. Despite this being the smallest quarter for the segment since 2013, utility PV installations have now surpassed 500 MW for eight consecutive quarters. What’s more, the report notes that there are now 25 project developers with projects in development of 100 MW or more.

Here are some other key findings from the report:

  • The U.S. installed 1,306 MW of solar PV in Q1 2015, marking the sixth consecutive quarter in which the U.S. added more than 1 GW of PV installations.
  • The residential and utility PV market segments each added more capacity than the natural gas industry brought on-line in Q1 2015.
  • Collectively, more than 51 percent of all new electric generating capacity in the U.S. came from solar in Q1 2015.
  • 66,440 individual solar systems came online in Q1 2015, bringing the total to nearly 700,000 nationwide. 
  • The average cost for a residential solar system is now $3.48/watt, 10 percent lower than this time last year.
  • More than one-third of all community solar installations have come on-line since 2014.
  • More than 5 GW of centralized PV has now been procured by utilities based on solar’s economic competitiveness with fossil-fuel alternatives.  
  • Through Q1 2015, nearly one-fourth of cumulative residential solar installations have now come on-line without any state incentive.
  • PV installations are forecast to reach 7.9 GW in 2015, up 27 percent over 2014. Growth will occur in all segments, but will be most rapid in the residential market.
  • 2014 was the largest year ever for concentrating solar power, with 767 MW brought on-line. The next notable CSP project slated for completion is SolarReserve’s 110 MW Crescent Dunes, which entered the commissioning phase in 2014 and is expected to become fully operational before the end of 2015.

Today’s report proves just how effective establishing and maintaining forward-looking public policies, like the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), are to the industry.

The ITC has helped solar to become the fastest-growing renewable energy source in America.  Why?  Simply put, the ITC provides important market certainty, encouraging companies to make long-term investments that drive competition and technological innovation, while lowering costs to consumers.

But the best is yet to come.  By the end of 2016, the U.S. will be generating enough clean solar energy to power 8 million homes, helping to offset 45 million metric tons of damaging carbon emissions – the equivalent of removing 10 million cars off our roads and highways.

No matter how you look at it, that’s a win all the way around!

Rhone Resch|President and CEO|Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA)

Is the Fracking Boom Coming to an End?

Since fracking began its boom period in the last decade, its supporters have promoted it as the answer to all of  the U.S.’s energy issues. It would free us from dependence on foreign oil, they said, thereby strengthening national security. And in fact, the U.S. has become the world’s largest exporter of fossil fuels, while prices at the gas pump have dropped steeply as fracked oil and gas production has exploded. States like Texas, Colorado, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Ohio have welcomed frackers to their shale deposits, even though others, such as New York and Maryland, have resisted the lure due to concerns about fracking’s impacts on human health and the environment.

 Fracking took off in the U.S. around 2009, but there are signs the boom could be ending. Image credit: EIA/Bloomberg
Fracking took off in the U.S. around 2009, but there are signs the boom could be ending. Image credit: EIA/Bloomberg

But could the gravy train be derailing? While production is still at record levels, there are signs that should worry any company or economy that is heavily invested in the fracking process.

Compared to conventional wells, fracked wells tend to be initially productive but taper off quickly and then are shut down as operators move to new locations. And that is starting to catch up with them.

“Production has to come down because rigs drilling for oil are down 57 percent this year,” James Williams, president of Arkansas-based energy consultancy WTRG Economics, told Bloomberg News. “Countering that is the fact that the rigs we’re still using are more efficient and drilling in areas where you get higher production. So that has delayed the decline.”

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), some of the largest shale deposits will see a downturn in their output, and very soon. Output will shrink 1.3 percent this month. Texas’ Eagle Ford shale deposit will be pumping 49,000 barrels less a day in July, the EIA projects, while North Dakota’s Bakken shale region will lose 29,000 barrels a day. Overall, the EIA is projected that fracking will fall by 93,000 barrels a day in July, the biggest drop since the onset of the boom in 2009.

Not only are existing wells less productive, but remaining shale gas and oil becomes progressively harder and more expensive to extract. In Montana, whose northeast corner sits over a section of the Bakken shale region, no major new drilling rig has opened since April for the first time since at least 2009. Meanwhile, OPEC has been playing a game of chicken with U.S. oil producers, refusing to cut its rate of production and driving plummeting prices. Even though drilling technology is improving, the lower prices make it less attractive to go after the harder-to-reach deposits, as the price per barrel has dropped below what’s needed to make these expensive wells profitable.

In North Dakota and Texas, two states whose economies roared into overdrive due to fracking, layoffs have become epidemic, with tens of thousands of jobs disappearing in the last year. Drilling companies in North Dakota are ending the lavish perks they once offered to lure workers to the isolated region.

In January, the rig count in North Dakota reached the lowest level in five years with 157 compared to 189 a year earlier. According to CNN, MBI Energy Services CEO Jim Arthaud said, “My prediction is we’re down to 50 rigs by June.”

There were actually 82 active rigs as of this week, which is being touted as good news.

Anastasia Pantsios|June 9, 2015

Disturbing Study Links Fracking Wells to Low Birth Weights

In an alarming new study, University of Pittsburgh researchers revealed that pregnant mothers who live in close proximity to fracking wells are more likely than their counterparts, who live farther away, to have babies with lower birth weights.

Perinatal Outcomes and Unconventional Natural Gas Operations in Southwest Pennsylvania was published last week in the journal PLOS ONE. Hailing from Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health, the researchers investigated birth outcomes for 15,451 babies born between 2007 and 2010 in three counties in the fracking-heavy state of Pennsylvania: Washington, Westmoreland and Butler.

“Mothers whose homes fell in the top group for proximity to a high density of such wells were 34 percent more likely to have babies who were ‘small for gestational age’ than mothers whose homes fell in the bottom 25 percent,” states a summary of the report’s conclusions. “Small for gestational age refers to babies whose birth weight ranks them below the smallest 10 percent when compared to their peers.”

Low birth weight is associated with medical problems later in life, including diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.

The researchers say these findings held up even when numerous other factors were taken into account, including prenatal care, education, age and birthing history. They emphasized that the study does not definitively prove a causal relationship between fracking wells and low birth weights, but is certainly cause for concern—and further investigation.

“Our work is a first for our region and supports previous research linking unconventional gas development and adverse health outcomes,” said co-author Dr. Bruce Pitt, chair of Pitt Public Health’s Department of Environmental and Occupational Health. “These findings cannot be ignored. There is a clear need for studies in larger populations with better estimates of exposure and more in-depth medical records.”

The paper follows numerous scientific findings that fracking poses severe human health and environmental hazards, from contaminated drinking water to earthquakes. A separate study published in April by Johns Hopkins University researchers found that homes and buildings closer to Pennsylvania fracking sites had a higher concentration of the carcinogenic gas radon.

Sarah Lazare|Common Dreams|June 8, 2015

Hawaii Enacts Nation’s First 100% Renewable Energy Standard

Hawaii enacted a law this week that mandates that all of the state’s electricity comes from renewable sources no later than 2045. The bill makes Hawaii the first U.S. state to adopt such a standard. This renewable energy standard is being hailed as “the most aggressive clean energy goal in the country.”

“Hawaii is making history, not only for the islands, but for the planet,” said Jeff Mikulina, executive director of the Blue Planet Foundation. “We are making a promise to future generations that their lives will be powered not by climate-changing fossil fuel, but by clean, local and sustainable sources of energy.”

The legislation was drafted by Blue Planet Foundation, whose mission is “to clear the path for 100 percent clean energy.” Many believe Hawaii can reach the goal well before 2045 because the islands are already a renewable energy leader. “Analyses from the utility and elsewhere show that 100 percent renewable energy can be achieved even earlier than 2045, by 2030,” says Blue Planet Foundation. “Hawaii’s renewable energy use has doubled in the past five years, with the islands currently generating about 22 percent of their electricity from wind, solar, geothermal and other renewable energy resources.”

Hawaii's renewable energy use has doubled in the past five years. Photo credit: Blue Planet FoundationHawaii’s renewable energy use has doubled in the past five years. Photo credit: Blue Planet Foundation

To make sure the Aloha state stays on track to meet its requirement, the bill has an interim requirement of at least 30 percent renewable electricity by 2020 and 70 percent by 2040. If Hawaii utilities fail to reach that target, it could cost them two cents for each kilowatt hour of excess fossil fuel electricity, according to Blue Planet Foundation.

“This week we put an expiration date on fossil fuel use,” said Henk Rogers, president of Blue Planet Foundation. “Hawaii is sending a signal to the world that 100 percent renewable energy isn’t just a vision, it’s a commitment.”

Cole Mellino|June 11, 2015

Amazon to Build Largest Solar Farm in Virginia in Move to ‘Clean the Cloud’

If you go to Amazon.com to shop for solar panels, your purchase is going to get greener. Amazon Web Services (AWS), the world’s largest online retailer and provider of cloud computing services, announced this week that it will partner with Community Energy Inc. to build an 80 megawatt solar farm in Accomack County on the eastern shore of Virginia. It will be the largest solar farm in the state and will quintuple the amount of solar currently being generated there. It is projected to deliver about 170,000 megawatt hours (MWh) of power to current Amazon data centers in the state as well as those in the planning stages. It currently operates numerous data centers in northern Virginia.

“Amazon’s new solar project will create good jobs on the Eastern Shore and generate more clean, renewable energy to fuel the new Virginia economy,” said Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. “I look forward to working with Amazon and Accomack to get this project online as we continue our efforts to make Virginia a global leader in the renewable energy sector.”

The new solar facility, Amazon Solar Farm U.S. East, is a step on the road to Amazon’s previously announced commitment to transition to 100 percent renewable energy. In April it announced that about 25 percent of its total power use currently comes from renewable sources, and the company said it expected that to be up to 40 percent by the end of 2016, when the new solar farm should begin operation.

This follows the company’s January announcement that it was making a similar power purchase agreement (PPA) for a wind farm in Indiana expected to produce 500,000 MWh annually.

“We continue to make significant progress towards our long-term commitment to power the global AWS infrastructure with 100 percent renewable energy,” said Jerry Hunter, vice president of infrastructure at Amazon. “Amazon Solar Farm U.S. East—the second PPA that will serve both existing and planned AWS data centers in the central and eastern U.S.—has the added benefit of working to increase the availability of renewable energy in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

In 2015, a Greenpeace report, Clicking Green: Building a Green Internet, noted Amazon’s earlier commitments but said, “Despite these potentially significant shifts, the continued lack of transparency on the energy performance of the AWS cloud, combined with significant expansion of its infrastructure in utility territories that have little to no renewable energy capacity, would appear to indicate that AWS has not yet determined how it is going to make its commitment to renewable energy become real.”

The group greeted Amazon’s latest announcement with cautious optimism.

“Amazon’s solar deal in Virginia is an encouraging sign that the company is making progress on its pledge to power its data centers with 100 percent renewable energy, and is welcome news for Amazon’s customers that have urged the company to move faster in its adoption of renewable energy,” said Greenpeace senior campaigner David Pomerantz. “But Amazon customers still need better transparency to properly assess the significance of this solar deal. Amazon has not disclosed how much energy its data centers consume in Virginia or anywhere else. While this new deal is significant, it appears to provide only a small fraction of the electricity Amazon is consuming in Virginia, where it is growing rapidly.”

Just prior to Amazon’s announcement, Green America unveiled its Amazon: Build a Greener Cloud campaign to push the company faster on clean energy and increased transparency of its energy use.

“Amazon lags behind its competitors in using renewable energy for its cloud-based computer servers,” said Green America’s executive co-director Todd Larsen. “Unlike most of its competitors, it fails to publish a corporate responsibility or sustainability reporting, and it fails to disclose its emissions and impacts to the Carbon Disclosure Project. We are calling on Amazon.com to take steps to be transparent about its emissions and to rapidly move to renewable energy.”

Amazon is following a number of companies which have moved to power their data centers with clean, renewable energy. Microsoft, Apple and Google are among the companies which have created partnerships for wind and solar farms. Apple has been a green energy leader, saying that all its data centers now run on renewables and earning a top score in Greenpeace’s Clicking Green report. It announced a partnership earlier this year to build a huge new solar farm in California.

Anastasia Pantsios|June 11, 2015

Lawsuit Prompts Disclosure of Extent of Offshore Fracking in Gulf of Mexico

Even after the BP Deepwater Horizon blowup that dumped more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, the federal government refused to voluntarily reveal the extent of offshore fracking in the area.

But thanks to a Center for Biological Diversity lawsuit that prompted a legal settlement filed last week, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement are now required to disclose permits, reports, emails and other documents related to the federal government’s approval for oil and gas companies to frack offshore wells in the Gulf.

“Offshore fracking has been shrouded in secrecy, but this settlement will finally force the government to tell us where oil companies are using this toxic technique,” said Kristen Monsell, a Center attorney. “Fracking pollution from chemicals and wastewater dumped directly into the waters of the Gulf is a huge threat to marine animals. This inherently dangerous activity just doesn’t belong in the Gulf of Mexico.”

Read more at DeSmogBlog.

More Than 100 Scientists Call for a Halt to Tar Sands Oil Expansion

Canada’s push to increase tar sands production will worsen the impacts of climate change, say scientists.  

More than 100 North American scientists and academics have called for a halt to the expansion of tar sands development in Canada, saying that increasing the production and shipping of tar sands oil would cause irreparable damage to the climate and the environment.

“We offer a unified voice calling for a moratorium on new oil sands projects,” including oil extraction and pipeline construction, said Wendy Palen, a conservation biologist at Canada’s Simon Fraser University, during a call with reporters on Wednesday. 

The government of the current Canadian prime minister, Stephen Harper, advocates a major expansion of the tar sands oil industry and has resisted cooperating on international talks to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Palen said their consensus was based on scientific evidence that expanding tar sand oil production would have catastrophic impacts, because burning that oil would increase the amount of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere past 450 parts per million. This would increase global temperatures more than 2 degrees Centigrade above historic averages, and intensify the extreme weather, flooding, heat waves, and other impacts of climate change already being felt worldwide.

“We’re not saying shut down current production” of oil sands, economist Mark Jaccard of Simon Fraser University told reporters on the call.

But proposals to increase production from the current average of 2 million barrels a day to as much as 9 million barrels are irresponsible, he said.  

“What the research shows is that we should not be doubling down or quadrupling down on the barrels of oil per day,” Jaccard said. “We know how much carbon we can put into the atmosphere before we get to dangerous climate change. We’re near that limit already.”

Expanding the industry also would risk collapsing Alberta’s economy as oil becomes a less valuable commodity in a carbon-constrained world, he said. “Oil sands are an economic dead end because the climate is changing, and there will eventually be a North American or global charge for carbon,” he said.

RELATED: Six Major Oil Firms Call for a Global Price on Carbon

The pipelines being proposed to transport more tar sands oil must also remain on the drawing board, the scientists said, because they threaten to contaminate boreal forests and wild rivers that are habitat for diverse wildlife, including salmon, caribou, and other endangered species.

These pipelines would “transform some of North America’s most pristine ecosystems into industrial landscapes,” said Thomas Sisk, a scientist at Northern Arizona University in the United States. 

The scientists have put their statement online at http://www.oilsandsmoratorium.org. Cosigners include Kenneth Arrow, a Nobel Prize–winning economist at Stanford University, as well as prominent U.S. climatologists James Hansen and Michael Mann.

“Canada needs to get with the program” to diversify its energy sources and curb the impacts of oil on the environment, said Thomas Homer-Dixon, a political scientist at the University of Waterloo in Canada. “Or we can go rogue, refuse to participate in a climate deal, and dig ourselves further into a climate hole.”

Emily J. Gertz|TakePart|associate editor for environment and wildlife|Jun 10, 2015

VICTORY! Seriously, G7 Says Goodbye to Fossil Fuels! ‏

“The Our appeals followed G7 Chair Angela Merkel everywhere for 6 weeks.

Many told us it was a pipe dream, but the G7 Summit of leading world powers just committed to getting the global economy off fossil fuels forever!!!
Even the normally cynical media is raving that this is a huge deal.
And it’s one giant step closer to a huge win at the Paris summit in December — where the entire world could unite behind the same goal of a world without fossil fuels — the only way to save us all from catastrophic climate change.
For 2 years our community has led global public mobilization for this goal, including:

  • spearheading the gigantic, momentum-changing, 700,000 strong climate march last year
  • a 2.7 million person petition for 100% clean/0 carbon delivered to dozens of key leaders
  • scores of rallies, high-level lobbying meetings, opinion polls, and ad campaigns, all funded by our community
  • a 3 month all-out push for the G7 summit leadership, especially German Chancellor Angela Merkel, to put this on the agenda and agree to this goal

Our work is far from done, but it’s a day to celebrate — click here to read more and say congratulations to everyone else in this incredibly wonderful community!!
https://secure.avaaz.org/en/paris_here_we_come/?bwvurab&v=60188

“TheWe spearheaded the largest climate march in history – nearly 700,000 strong and a game-changer for political momentum.

Just last year climate change seemed to many of us like a behemoth that was dooming our species to a significant probability of extinction due to our own stupidity and corruption.
But with hope, and good strategy, (the Avaaz effect:)), and the efforts of many leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Pope Francis, and organisations like our friends at 350 and the Guardian newspaper’s work on fossil fuel divestment, as well as killer research from groups like the World Resources Institute, most experts now believe the tide is turning, and momentum is building to get a global deal in Paris this year that will set the world on course to a solution. It will be a long fight, we cannot afford to drop our guard, but today, we celebrate a battle won!!!

With gratitude and joy,
Ricken, Alice, Emma, Iain, and the whole Avaaz team

PS: the G7 declaration is just a commitment, and we need to hold them accountable, but commitments matter – sending an immediate signal to dirty and clean energy investors that will help accelerate the clean-energy boom we desperately need.

In Response to Controversial EPA Fracking Report, Bill Introduced to Close Loopholes and Protect Water

The release last week of a report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on the danger to drinking water supplies from fracking has stirred up quite a bit of debate. It’s been spun by fracking supporters as vindicating them, since it said it did not find “widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States.” But fracking opponents have pointed to its conclusion that the proximity of drinking water supplies to fracking operations and the incidents that have already occurred indicate a crisis in the making, and that these operations pose a significant risk to human health and the environment. They also noted that the report drew on insufficient and voluntary data.

FRESHER Act would end the loophole that exempts fracking operations from protecting drinking water. Photo credit: Shutterstock FRESHER Act would end the loophole that exempts fracking operations from protecting drinking water. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Regardless, the report has focused attention on the fact that oil and gas drilling operations were exempted from the Clean Water Act of 1972 by amendments added to the bill in 1987 and 2005. The amendments let the oil and gas industry circumvent permitting regulations that other industries are required to follow to protect waterways, despite fracking’s extensive use of toxic chemicals and the proximity of its operations to water sources.

Yesterday, Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland moved to close that loophole by introducing the FRESHER Act (Focused Reduction of Effluence and Stormwater runoff through Hydraulic-fracturing Environmental Regulation). It removes the exemption from oil and gas companies engaged in fracking and sets consistent national standards to protect water by requiring them to have a plan to protect streams from runoff before acquiring a permit.

“Recent advances in technology have helped America become more energy independent than ever before,” said Cardin. “Our rise in energy independence has unfortunately come with the dangerous deregulation of oil and gas companies. With 15 million Americans living within one mile a mile of a well that has been drilled in the last 15 years, the loopholes oil and gas companies enjoy threaten our environment and public health. Oil and gas companies that already enjoy tax breaks should be required to follow the same laws to protect our water and public health as other industries. The FRESHER Act is a needed safeguard to ensure that oil and gas companies cannot pollute our water.”

Food & Water Watch called the FRESHER Act “a step in the right direction.”

“In light of the limited scope and findings of the EPA’s hydraulic fracturing study, due in large part to oil and gas industry interference, introducing the FRESHER Act in the Senate is prudent and necessary to protect the health and safety of anyone living near a fracked well,” said Wenonah Hauter, the group’s executive director. “An industry that is causing harm to hundreds of thousands of people does not deserve to have special exemptions, especially when that very industry is actively blocking any attempts to be directly monitored for safety. We should take a precautionary approach to anything that has been shown to contaminate our precious water resources, and closing this loophole is a good start.”

Friends of the Earth also indicated their support of Cardin’s bill.

“Senator Cardin’s bill restores one of the important environmental protections that a Republican Congress rolled back 10 years ago,” said the group’s climate and energy campaigner Kate DeAngelis. “To ensure our water is clean we must hold oil and gas companies to the same standards as other industries. Friends of the Earth strongly supports this bill, but recognizes that only a national ban on fracking will sufficiently protect public health and the environment.”

Raul Garcia, Earthjustice’s associate legislative counsel agrees. “We cannot afford to continue giving the oil and gas industry a free pass to pollute our water. We now have concrete evidence that fracking is polluting our water and the laws in place fail to restrain oil and gas pollution. It’s time to update our laws to reflect the fact that unregulated fracking puts our communities and children at risk. We thank and applaud Senator Cardin for his efforts to protect our waterways.”

Anastasia Pantsios|June 12, 2015

Land Conservation

House and Senate Fail to Agree on Amendment 1 Spending

Last week we asked to you raise your voices and you have roared. Thank you. Legislators have definitely heard from their constituents. 

Two weeks into the Special Session of the Florida Legislature and lawmakers have resolved most issues. But leaders still have not reached an agreement on funding land conservation, springs, and the Everglades.

The two bodies have reached agreement on a range of other agency spending from Amendment 1. Legislators have appropriated significant amounts of voter approved dollars for routine agency expenses. Some funds make sense, such as increases for conservation land management and funds for implementing agricultural best management practices. The jury is out on other expenses.  

Right now, the Senate provides only $37 million for land conservation with much of that money going to land to conserve springs. There is also money identified for springs protection and for the Everglades. The House provides funds to the Florida Department of Agriculture for “Rural Lands” easements on working ranches and forests.  

The decisions are in the hands of Senate Appropriations Chair Tom Lee (R-Brandon) and his House counterpart Richard Corcoran (R-Lutz). Senate President Andy Gardiner (R-Orlando) and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli (R-Merritt Island) seem actively engaged in the discussions.

Audubon continues to lobby for at least $150 million for land conservation and increased land management along with funding for springs and the Everglades. 

The final appropriations bill has to be presented to legislators by late Monday and the Legislatures is scheduled to go home by June 20. No matter the results next week, we have a lot of work to do to win friends among legislators who seem indifferent to land buying programs.      

Audubon Florida 

Air Quality

EPA seeks to limit airliner emissions

WASHINGTON – Airliner emissions threaten human health by contributing to climate change, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed Wednesday.

The proposal for a so-called “endangerment finding” under the Clean Air Act is a precursor to the EPA proposing regulations to limit heat-trapping emissions from plane exhaust. The agency will collect public comment about the proposal for 60 days and will hold a hearing Aug. 11.

“The EPA administrator is proposing to find that (greenhouse gas) emissions from certain classes of engines used primarily in commercial aircraft contribute to the air pollution that causes climate change and endangers public health and welfare,” the agency said.

Christopher Grundler, director of the EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality, said the proposal doesn’t specify reductions in emissions because the U.S. is working with the International Civil Aviation Organization, a branch of the United Nations, to develop worldwide standards.

The ICAO is expected to release its proposed emissions curbs by February, and the EPA would finalize its decision on whether the emissions endanger public health by spring 2016. Grundler acknowledged U.S. emissions regulations would be proposed in the next presidential administration in 2017 and completed in 2018, if emissions are determined to be a danger.

“Today’s notice does not pose requirements on any aircraft engines,” Grundler said. “Our goal is to adopt a sound international standard.”

Environmental advocates welcomed the proposal, but voiced disappointment that the EPA proposed to wait for an international agreement to actually curb greenhouse gas emissions from aviation.

Deborah Lapidus, director of the advocacy group Flying Clean Campaign, said aviation fuel efficiency declined since 2010 and that aviation remains the largest industry not regulated by the EPA for its emissions.

The EPA rule applies to commercial planes, but not general aviation and the military.

Vera Pardee, senior counsel for the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute, said the EPA’s designation of a danger was necessary to begin regulations.

Bart Jansen|USA TODAY|6/11/15

Transportation

Federal Judge Shoots Down Challenge to All Aboard Florida Bonds

All Aboard Florida (AAF) won big this week as U.S. District Court Judge Christopher Cooper in Washington, D.C., threw out a “temporary halt” to allegations brought by Martin and Indian River counties that would temporarily stop the Florida Development Finance Corp. (FDFC) from issuing private-activity bonds to AAF.

This decision ensures the high-speed passenger train will have the bonds to finance the $1.75 billion railroad from Miami to Orlando.

In the 21-page decision on Wednesday, Cooper dismissed the allegations by the two counties for “lack of standing.” The court stated that Martin and Indian River counties “stumbled” in proving their point as to what harm would come from the issuance of the private-activity bonds (PABs) and they could not even establish a relationship between bonds requested by AAF and any alleged harm.

The court also concluded that withholding issuance of the PABs would not redress the counties’ alleged environmental injuries.

All Aboard Florida officials said they were very pleased by the judge’s decision while Phyllis Frey from Citizens Against the Train (CATT) fired back with, “We will appeal.”

Opponents of AAF point toward the FDFC, insisting it is not even  a “legally” constituted board.

Frey noted that the majority of the FDFC board was not appointed by Enterprise Florida as required.

“This board was not appointed by Gov. Scott as required, were not bankers as required, and were not approved by the Senate as required. Therefore they were not a legally constituted board and not authorized to approve the Private-Activity Bonds,” Frey told Sunshine State News.

But proponents of the rail expansion say  the court’s ruling in the lawsuits brought by Martin County and Indian River County exposes the weakness in the strategy being pursued by those opposing this project.

One of those leading proponents of AAF is Jim Kovalsky, the president of the Florida East Coast Railway Society. He says that groups like CATT do nothing but promote “hysteria.” 

“In the public’s eyes, there are overwhelming benefits when it comes to All Aboard Florida and the vocal minority (CATT) spouts out myths, not fact,” Kovalsky told Sunshine State News. 

“How much money of the taxpayers’ money was spent by the two counties to make their weak arguments?” he asked. 

AAF has stated that county governments would be wiser in using their resources to engage with AAF so the Treasure Coast can optimize benefits that could come to the region, such as quiet zones.

“But the issues dealing with the train, noise and safety concerns aren’t over yet,” says Frey. 

Opponents of AAF, including CATT, say that litigation and legal efforts remain active and will continue for the upcoming months.

Ed Dean|June 11, 2015

Recycling

What Not To Put Down Your Drain

Our trash that goes in the can or recycling is waste we have no choice but to face. Whether it’s hauling the trash cans to the sidewalk, bringing recycling to a center–it’s a mass of garbage that we have to contend with. Liquid waste, on the other hand, simply gets rinsed down the drain and it’s “bye-bye never have to think about you again.” It’s a much more expedient process–one that’s hidden from the eyes of any sanitation departments–and one that can wreak waves of environmental chaos, not to mention what it can do to your pipes. We often don’t realize the harm we are doing by what we rinse down our kitchen sinks, bath and shower drains, and even what we flush down our toilets.

In a study published in 2002, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) collected and analyzed water samples from 139 streams in 30 states. The goal of the study was to measure concentrations of 95 wastewater-related organic chemicals in water. And guess what? One or more of these chemicals were found in 80 percent of the streams sampled. Half of the streams contained seven or more of these chemicals, and about one-third of the streams contained 10 or more of these chemicals. Pharmaceutical and personal-care products are to blame for many of the chemicals found in the USGS study. Research has shown that there can be effects on aquatic organisms like fish and frogs. Lesson here: don’t flush unwanted prescriptions and try to purchase all-natural personal care products.

But another area of concern is kitchen waste–namely fats, oils and greases which can not only clog pipes, but are terrible for sewage systems. According to the Watership Environment Foundation (WEF), sewer overflows and backups can cause health hazards, damage home interiors, and threaten the environment. An increasingly common cause of overflows is sewer pipes blocked by grease–this results in raw sewage overflowing in your home or your neighbor’s home; An expensive and unpleasant cleanup that often must be paid for by you, the homeowner; Raw sewage overflowing into parks, yards, and streets; Potential contact with disease-causing organisms; and an increase in operation and maintenance costs for local sewer departments, which causes higher sewer bills for customers.

Where does the grease that causes sewer overflows come from? Much of it from the kitchen sink.

  • Meat fats
  • Lard
  • Cooking oil
  • Shortening
  • Butter and margarine
  • Food scraps
  • Baking goods
  • Sauces
  • Dairy products

Grease sticks to the insides of sewer pipes (both on your property and in the streets). Over time, the grease can build up and block the entire pipe. Note that home garbage disposals do not keep grease out of the plumbing system. These units only shred solid material into smaller pieces and do not prevent grease from going down the drain. Commercial additives, including detergents, that claim to dissolve grease may pass grease down the line and cause problems in other areas.

WEF suggests these tips to alleviate pipe blockage and sewer overflows:

• Never pour grease down sink drains or into toilets.
• Scrape grease and food scraps from trays, plates, pots, pans, utensils, and grills and cooking surfaces into a can or the trash for disposal (or recycling where available).
• Do not put grease down garbage disposals. Put baskets/strainers in sink drains to catch food scraps and other solids, and empty the drain baskets/strainers into the trash for disposal.
• Speak with your friends and neighbors about the problem of grease in the sewer system and how to keep it out.
• Call your local sewer system authority if you have any questions.

Other things to never wash down your drain:

  • Fats, oils or grease from cars or lawnmowers
  • Coffee grinds
  • Egg shells
  • Produce stickers
  • Chunks of garbage
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Paper towels
  • Flushable cat litter
  • Rags
  • Condoms
  • Motor oil, transmission fluids, anti-freeze or other toxic chemicals
  • Solvents, paints, turpentine, nail polish, polish remover
  • Flammable or explosive substances
  • Corrosive substances that are either acidic or caustic
  • Prescription and over-the-counter medications

For more information on how to dispose of old medication and personal care products, read Medicine Cabinet Clean-Out.

Melissa Breyer|Care2

Miscellaneous

Rick Scott says we have ‘record funding’ for the environment in Florida

Gov. Rick Scott says that Florida has invested big bucks in the environment.

As he boasted about the state’s record during his economic summit for GOP presidential contenders in Orlando June 2, Scott reeled off a bunch of statistics about Florida’s budget and economy including this one: “If you care about the environment, we’ve got record funding.”

Scott’s record on the environment has been scrutinized since he first ran for office in 2010. Since that time, news reports detailed how state officials under his watch have been banned from using terms such as “climate change,” environmental fines have nosedived, and Scott has boasted about reducing the number of days to get an environmental permit.

But despite that record, does Florida now have “record funding” for the environment? No, it doesn’t.

Everglades and springs funding

Scott’s spokesman pointed us to his proposals to increase funding for springs restoration and for preserving the Everglades.

During his re-election campaign in 2014, Scott promised to propose a $500 million plan over 10 years to restore springs. The 2013 budget included $10 million for springs, and the 2014 the budget included $30 million. In his budget proposal for 2015-16, Scott recommended $50 million.

As for the Everglades, the state reached an agreement in 2012 with the federal government to end a dispute that predates Scott. Over 13 years, the state will spend $880 million on Everglades cleanup, or about $32 million a year.

In 2014 the Legislature increased Everglades restoration funding to $169 million, more than double the previous year’s total. The Legislature also earmarked $90 million for raising 2.6 miles of the Tamiami Trail to let the Everglades flow more freely beneath it. That brought the total amount during that session to $259 million.

“The one place where he did step up was on the Everglades,” said Frank Jackalone, Sierra Club’s Senior Organizing Manager in Florida. “It was the environmental highlight of his term as governor.”

But where Scott has fallen short on the Everglades is acquiring U.S. Sugar land south of Lake Okeechobee, Jackalone said. A deal in the works for the state to buy about 46,000 acres fell apart earlier this year.

Department of Environmental Protection

While Everglades and springs restoration are important parts of environmental funding, they don’t provide a complete picture.

If we look back a decade at funding for the Department of Environmental Protection, the high point was $2.9 billion in 2006-07 under then Gov. Jeb Bush. DEP is tasked with protecting air, water and land. Under Scott, DEP’s budget peaked at $1.8 billion in 2011-12.

In 2006-07, the state used an extra $310 million (on top of Florida Forever’s usual $300 million land-buying program) to purchase Babcock Ranch, 73,000 acres of cypress domes and pine forests in Charlotte and Lee counties.

DEP’s budget was also in the $2 billion range part of the time under the next governor, Charlie Crist. But once the recession kicked in, DEP’s budget decreased.

This year, the total budget is $1.56 billion, and for next year Scott proposed a budget of about $1.53 billion — $29 million less than the current year. (You can see the year-by-year DEP funding and caveats including that it combines state and federal dollars.)

What Scott omits

There have been several other cuts related to the environment under Scott:

  • In 2011, Scott and the Legislature abolished the Department of Community Affairs, which for decades reviewed development plans in cities and counties;
  • The same year, Scott and lawmakers forced state water management districts to slash property tax collections. Water management districts handle planning for water resources and wetlands protection, among other environmental issues;
  • Revenue collected from environmental penalties plummeted from $9.3 million in Scott’s first year to $1.4 million in 2013;
  • Funding for Florida Forever, the state’s land acquisition program, was about $100 million when he took office. It has stayed below $28 million since. That led to environmentalists advocating for Amendment 1, which was approved by 75 percent of voters in November. Scott took no position on the amendment before it passed, and his spokeswoman did not mention it as part of his evidence for this fact-check. Amendment sponsors had hoped that the land buying program would get $300 million to return it to pre-recession levels, but Scott’s budget proposal this year included $100 million for Florida Forever, while legislators proposed less.

“Record funding” for the environment has become a talking point for Scott. But after we rated a similar claim False in 2014, he tweaked his message to talk specifically about “record funding” for springs. On the national stage surrounded by presidential contenders in May, he went back to talking about record funding generically for the environment.

But environmentalists say he doesn’t hold a record for overall environmental funding.

“He cut back services to DEP, he cut back funding to various water management districts in state, he hasn’t done what needs to be done to acquire sugar land south of Okeechobee to finish Everglades restoration,” Jackalone said. Also, “he cut back on environmental enforcement.”

Our ruling

Scott said, “If you care about the environment, we’ve got record funding.”

Scott’s team points to investments the state has made to restore the Everglades and springs during Scott’s tenure — and he has championed both.

While those are high-profile projects, he claimed that Florida has “record funding” for the environment overall, and that’s not the case. The budget for the state Department of Environmental Protection and for Florida Forever were not a record under Scott — two major pots of money that relate to the environment.

Scott repeated a previously debunked claim in a national forum; his statement has long been proved incorrect. We rate this claim Pants on Fire!

Amy Sherman|June 8th, 2015

Botched launch of Easter Island-inspired reef a ‘teachable moment,’ says project director

The much anticipated sinking of the Rapa Nui artistic reef project off of Deerfield Beach started well with perfect skies and calm seas but soon took a turn for the worse. The barge that supported the replica stone figures slid forward during the sinking and flipped over as it settled on the bottom in 70 feet of water.

The much anticipated sinking of the Rapa Nui artistic reef project off of Deerfield Beach started well with perfect skies and calm seas but soon took a turn for the worse. The barge that supported the replica stone figures slid forward during the sinking and flipped over as it settled on the bottom in 70 feet of water.

The heads are a bust: Installation of Easter Island-inspired reef off Deerfield doesn’t go according to plan

#RapaNuiReef crushed, smashed by barge. “This is not what we had in mind, what we were working hard for.”

Sinking of hoped-for dive spot off Deerfield Beach goes wrong when barge rolls over, lands atop #RapaNuiReef

UPDATE:

A day after 15 Easter Island-style statues were crushed by a scuttled barge in a botched try to create an underwater sculpture garden, organizers on Monday spoke of their anguish and vowed “this is not the end of the story.”

“We are still very proud of the project and we don’t look at it as a complete tragedy,” said Boca Raton philanthropist Margaret Blume, who funded the $500,000 project.

“It is there, it was built, and it is actually a reef,” Blume said. “This is not the end of the story.”

The plan was to sink the concrete sculptures, fixed to the deck of a rusted 150-foot barge, in the Atlantic Ocean a half-mile east of the Deerfield Beach International Fishing Pier as an artificial reef that would attract marine life and divers.

But the plan took a portside turn for the worse Sunday when the top-heavy barge flipped over and landed atop the statuary in 50 feet of water.

“It was total anguish, pure anguish,” said Blume, who watched the sinking from the deck of a dive boat provided by Dixie Divers, a Deerfield Beach firm.

Asked if she thought the Polynesian spirits and gods represented by the sculptures played a role in the sinking gone awry, Blume said, “I don’t think they’re angry. I think they are just giving us a teachable moment.”

ORIGINAL STORY:

The dream of planting 15 Easter Island-style concrete figures in the ocean floor as an underwater art installation and one-of-a-kind dive site was crushed Sunday when the barge on which it sat overturned and smashed the faux Polynesian gods to pieces.

Instead of dropping straight down into the Atlantic Ocean about a half mile east of the Deerfield Beach International Fishing Pier, the rusty barge rolled over on its port side after the scuttle holes were opened and ended up coming to rest on top of what was called the Rapa Nui Reef.

“This didn’t come out the way we wanted. This is not what we had in mind, what we were working hard for,” said Arilton Pavan, who with about 10 others dove down about 50 feet to look at the wreckage. “But there is an artificial reef there.”

The site was to be made available Sunday afternoon to recreational divers, but Pavan cautioned it could be dangerous.

He said the shattered sculptures were visible beneath the overturned barge, which is 150 feet long and 9 feet high — but a tangle of steel reinforcement rods posed hazards.

The ill-fated sinking of the barge on which the 300-ton concrete sculptures rested was hugely disappointing to those who had worked on the project and turned it into a Deerfield Beach happening, with several weekend viewing events, before it was towed to sea.

No one was more disappointed than Boca Raton philanthropist Margaret Blume, who funded the $500,000 project and then watched the barge sink from yards away while aboard the Lady Go Diver of Pavan’s Dixie Divers.

As the barge began to list, Blume let out an anguished wail. When a head of one of the Polynesian gods bobbed to the surface, Blume cried, “Go back to your brothers!” The head eventually sank.

The statues, which stood from 6 to 22 feet tall and were mounted on the deck of the barge, were created by artist Dennis MacDonald of Pompano Beach. In the islands, the iconic stone figures called Moai were made over 1,000 years to represent dead ancestors, according to anthropologists.

The sinking began at 10:30 a.m., and all but the floating head, its hat and what looked like its severed nose had disappeared beneath the calm surface of the sea in less than 11 minutes.

News reporters and photographers watched from aboard the 48-foot Lady Go Dive, and about 50 private boats made a circle around the site, held well back by patrol boats from the Broward Sheriff’s Office, the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“It is disappointing, but there is always a gamble with ocean projects,” said Boca Raton engineer Rick Iossi, who dove on the site with Pavan and others.

Eventually, holes might have to be cut into the bottom of the barge to allow safe access to the sculpture pieces below, Pavan said.

“We knew there was some risk involved,” said Pavan. “But it’s there. We did our best to make it happen.”

Mike Clary|Sun Sentinel

Ivory up in flames

Bittersweet. That’s exactly the word to describe the experience of watching just under 5 tons of illegal ivory go up in flames in Congo.

I couldn’t look at that giant pile of ivory without thinking of all the dead elephants left behind in its wake. Roughly 400 gut wrenching losses.

And yet, I was also satisfied. Why? Because burning ivory sends a clear message to poachers and ivory smugglers: We will not tolerate this.

Destroying ivory is the only way to ensure that it never finds its way back to the black market. In burning it, the Congolese government is telling poachers and smugglers that it values its elephants more than this ivory.

Congo is the 13th country to destroy its illegal ivory and the stockpile burned represented roughly more than 400 dead elephants. This momentous occasion capped off the first Africa-wide event dedicated to figuring out how to put an end to wildlife trafficking. It’s a big task, but the survival of elephants is on the line.

Congo’s commitment to saving elephants and stopping the illegal trafficking of ivory goes far beyond just this burn – and I’m proud to say WCS is working with them every step of the way. From our work on the poaching frontline to protect the Nouabale-Ndoki National Park, to the installation of a new electronic tracking system for all seized ivory so the government knows where it is from the moment its captured – ensuring no ivory could simply go missing and end back up in the hands of traffickers.

While this burn can’t bring back those 400 lost elephants, this movement of governments, non-profits, and activists like you can save their relatives still remaining.

I wanted to write you now to say thank you for everything you’ve already done. And to share this bittersweet moment with you. These affecting images are what progress looks like.

Emma Stokes|Conservation Scientist|Wildlife Conservation Society|6/10/15

What’s This? Treasure Coast Newspapers in Big Sugar’s Pocket?

I Beg to Differ

Can you spell h-y-p-o-c-r-i-t-e? Here’s a closer  look at one: The Treasure Coast newspaper group that spent more than a year dogging lobbyist Ken Pruitt like a bloodhound at a crime scene for taking a sugar company’s money … well, how can I put this? … it climbed into bed with a sugar company. 

Climbed right in. All the way under the covers — Treasure Coast Newspapers and U.S. Sugar Corp. (USSC) And they’re going to be snuggling up for some time.

On Thursday the newspaper ran a full-page U.S. Sugar ad, cost not disclosed — “one of a series of 10 or 12 such ads,” USSC spokesperson Judy Sanchez told me. 

When asked why the company was advertising in a newspaper that spent the last year trashing it, Sanchez said, “The Treasure Coast community has only heard about us, now they’re going to meet us. We wanted to tell the story no media outlet on the Treasure Coast ever told. This is who we are.”

But, wait! Why would this daily newspaper group make such a deal with Big Sugar? Isn’t sugar money dirty?

On June 19, 2003, the paper certainly thought so. It ran an editorial headlined, “Treasure Coast lawmakers should reject cash from Big Sugar.” In the first paragraph it asked, “Which Treasure Coast lawmaker will be the first to set an example and decline campaign contributions from Big Sugar? Or will they all continue to rake in cash from the deep-pocketed industry while professing that money doesn’t affect how they vote in the Florida Legislature?”

That editorial was printed at a time when I was wondering which newspaper would be the first in Florida to decline a Big Sugar ad? Oops, I guess not Treasure Coast Newspapers.

Confucius say, Big Sugar cash bad for you, good for me.

Certainly sugar money was dirty when Ken Pruitt, former Senate president and now St. Lucie County property appraiser, signed on to include Florida Crystals as one of his 16 lobbying clients. Treasure Coast editors launched a year-long attempt to humiliate and discredit perhaps the most accomplished state lawmaker ever to represent the Treasure Coast by running the daily “Pruitt Meter” —  a mug shot of Pruitt at the top of the Opinion Page, with a number that counted the days he refused to discuss whether he would  keep his “lucrative lobbying business” or give it up and be a full-time county property appraiser. Pruitt’s decision to take on a sugar client was at the heart of the campaign.

(Oh, and as an aside, under Pruitt’s leadership, the St. Lucie Property Appraiser’s Office was awarded the 2014 International Association of Assessing Officers’ “Distinguished Assessment Jurisdiction Award,” a recognition given to only one office out of 7,000 in the world. It wasn’t long after that that the newspaper took the Pruitt Meter down.)

I asked Treasure Coast Publisher Bob Brunjes Thursday if he didn’t consider the U.S. Sugar full-page ad as a conflict of interest, considering editors had made sugar the bad guy almost on a daily basis for the last two years, and in a sense, part of its franchise. “I haven’t talked to Mark (Executive Editor Mark Tomasik) about it,” said Brunjes, who previously was the paper’s advertising director. “People mentioned it today at a (Martin County) Economic Council luncheon, but so far, nobody has come charging into my office to complain.” He suggested I talk with Tomasik.

Did Tomasik think accepting an ad from the enemy was hypocritical? “The news side and the revenue side are independent of each other,” he said. “We have a long tradition of always making sure we don’t cross that line.”

But, hold on … Isn’t that the same argument legislators have used — fundraising has nothing to do with policy?

Treasure Coast Newspapers readers who called told Sunshine State News the USSC ad in their crusading local newspaper took them by surprise.

“Wow, that’s a pretty large peace pipe, an ad like that,” said Robbie Brown from Palm City.  “In the end I guess it’s all about money.”

Barbara Clowdus, editor of Martin County Currents, said,  “I could hardly believe it when I saw the ad, and the size of it. I was hounded mercilessly for taking three ads from a sugar company a couple years ago, so I didn’t take any more. I see now I should have invited them back.”

Treasure Coast Newspapers and the Everglades Trust/Foundation/Coalition have been joined at the hip since the devastating rainy summer of  2013, when fresh water from Lake Okeechobee and feeder canals gushed into the St. Lucie estuary and Indian River Lagoon, bringing a plethora of pollutants.

I have to ask myself, will the Everglades environmental groups now target their buddy the newspaper, a study in hypocrisy, with the same kind of attack mailer it aimed at state Reps. Kristin Jacobs, Katie Edwards and Heather Fitzenhagen? More about the mailer next time I write. In the meantime, be reminded — hypocrisy is all around us, it’s everywhere, it’s the foul air we breathe when we look across at the next pasture.

Nancy Smith|June 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

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Posted in Of special interest | Leave a comment

ConsRep 1506 A

When you defile the pleasant streams

And the wild bird’s abiding place,

You massacre a million dreams

And cast your spittle in God’s face.

~John Drinkwater

Announcements

Sea Turtle Program Returns to Anne Kolb Nature Center

DATE: May 15, 2015

MEDIA CONTACT: Michael Mills

Parks and Recreation Division

PHONE: 954-357-8115

EMAIL: MMills@Broward.org

WHAT: BROWARD COUNTY, FL – The annual “Sea Turtles and Their Babies” program at the Anne Kolb Nature Center in Hollywood doesn’t get under way until July,

but if you wait until then to try to reserve a spot you’ll probably be out of luck – the long-running program regularly sells out well in advance.

This year’s installment will run on Wednesdays and Fridays from Wednesday, July 1st through Friday, August 28th, starting at 8PM.

This educational series on some of South Florida’s most endangered species covers a variety of topics related to the beleaguered marine reptiles and their plight.

Following an hour-long video presentation and lecture, participants will accompany a naturalist on a hatchling release (pending hatchling availability, (which is not guaranteed)

to see what these tiny creatures face during their first crucial minutes of life.

You’ll also learn to identify the species of sea turtles found in South Florida, their habitat, breeding and nesting,

identification of crawls and nests, conservation efforts, past exploitation, and current management problems now facing sea turtles.

The program is subject to rescheduling or cancellation if weather conditions are not favorable.

WHERE: Anne Kolb Nature Center
751 Sheridan St., Hollywood, FL 33019
954-357-5161

WHEN: Wednesdays and Fridays, 8PM, July 1st-August 28th

WHO: For ages 6 and up.

HOW: Register online only at Broward.org/Parks.

The fee is $10/person, prepaid. Space is limited and no walk-ins are accepted.

Participants should also bring quarters for metered parking at the release site.

For further information, call the park at 954-357-5161, ext. 0.

Why this Clean Water Rule is Crucial for Protecting Water and Wetlands

Over the past 13 years, many of Florida’s wetlands and upstream flowing waters have lost protection in the wake of two confusing Supreme Court decisions which changed what waters were to be protected under the federal Clean Water Act.  In fact, based on a federal agency study in Florida, 74 percent to 89 percent of the total number of wetlands in Florida are at risk of losing protection as a result of the ensuing regulatory uncertainty. These small streams and wetlands are vital to replenishing our drinking water supply, filtering out pollutants and providing flood protection.  

On May 27th, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers jointly finalized a rule to clarify protection under the Clean Water Act for streams and wetlands that form the foundation of the nation’s water resources. This rule restores protections for Florida’s headwater wetlands, flow-ways and streams; therefore, improving the water quality and condition of downstream coastal rivers and estuaries with their significant benefits and recreational uses such as swimming and fishing.

However, many polluting industries have joined forces to fight this rulemaking, gaining the support of numerous congressional representatives in their opposition, including passage of a bill in the U.S. House earlier this year to block the rulemaking from being implemented.  Now, Floridians need to express their support of the Clean Water Rule to the U.S. Senate to ensure that the rulemaking moves forward without additional opposition and that the rule is implemented to restore appropriate federal regulatory oversight.

Take Action!

Take action today to submit comments in support of the Clean Water Rule to your U.S. Senate representative and other key Senate leaders. 

World Ocean Day is Monday 6-8, what’s in your ocean? ‏

June 8th is officially recognized by the UN as World Ocean Day. The concept for a “World Ocean Day” was first proposed in 1992 by the Government of Canada at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

What can I do for World Ocean Day?

Same thing you do everyday; try to make our oceans and coasts better places. 

Many people doing little things are making noticeable improvements over time. 

Simple steps are going the distance. Pick up trash and not let it get washed into the sea.

Reduce waste of clean water. Walk instead of driving to reduce the carbon pollution in the atmosphere that drives rising acidity of the ocean. 

Responsible stewardship practices feel good because in the doing you’ll be more in touch with the out-of-doors. 

You’ll be an infinitesimal player in creating a bluer planet earth.

Four Actions for Healthy Oceans

1. Switch from meat to fish – it slows climate change; every meal you do will help.

2. Eat local seafood – it supports our fishermen.

3. Consider buying the cheapest local seafood – it’s more abundant, more sustainable.

4. Stay informed – join the Ocean River Institute, savvy?  

Ocean River Institute|6/06/15

Ocean Conservancy’s Marine Wildlife and Seascape Photo Contest is officially Open!

Think you’ve taken the winning shot? You have until June 23 to enter your best ocean photo

View an online version here

Ocean Conservancy’s Marine Wildlife and Seascape Photo Contest is officially up!
Think you’ve taken the winning shot? You have until June 23 to enter your best ocean photos.
Okay, you’ve probably already heard enough. Click here to enter your photos now!
Winners get an awesome prize pack including:

  • A gray whale blue bag from our partner Rockflowerpaper
  • A travel softshell cooler from Landshark Lager1
  • Ocean Conservancy winter hat
  • Ocean Conservancy plush animal
  • One-year membership to Ocean Conservancy

Oh, and you just might see your photo in the 2017 Ocean Conservancy calendar.
Winning takes just three steps:

The photo with the most votes wins our people’s choice award! Our panel of judges will select the Grand Prize Winner and the five category winners.
That’s it. So what are you waiting for? Enter now!
Good luck!

submit photo contest

Marie Michelson|Director|Digital Strategy|Ocean Conservancy
1Winners must be 21 or older to receive the Landshark Lager cooler.

Of Interest to All

 Gov. Scott touts $1.6 billion for Florida springs

Gov. Rick Scott announced a 20-year-plan for funding Florida springs and Everglades restoration during a visit to the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey, in Maitland, Monday, Feb. 9, 2014.

Gov. Rick Scott recapped on Monday his proposed budget’s big-ticket fixes for everything from Everglades pollution to Wekiwa Springs flows.

But not mentioned in his prepared address at the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland was controversy over how the state should spend millions of dollars arising from overwhelming voter approval last year of Amendment 1.

Amendment 1 watchdogs at the gathering said they appreciate the governor’s growing focus on land, water and wildlife, but fear Scott and lawmakers will hijack Amendment 1, using it not for buying environmental lands but for existing obligations.

The amendment directs the state to tap proceeds from documentary stamps in real-estate deals. Years of revenue will add up to billions of dollars; this inaugural year is expected to bring $757 million.

Scott’s budget would add $82.5 million to Amendment 1 money, resulting in $200 million for environmental lands, $150 million for Everglades restoration and $50 million to revive ailing springs, according to his office.

“On top of that, our goal is to have a dedicated source of funding for the next 20 years where we will have $1.6 billion worth of funding for our springs,” Scott said.

Clay Henderson, a lawyer and environmentalist who helped write Amendment 1, said his analysis of Scott’s budget shows that dozens of existing state obligations would get roughly two-thirds of the first year of amendment revenue.

Lawmakers have their own visions for Amendment 1 money, while environmental groups are sending our regular alerts and updates about the provision and the legislative session set to start next month.

“The dedication of money to springs and the Everglades is exciting,” Henderson said. “But at the end of the day, we will judge the success of Amendment 1 by how much of it is spent on existing programs.”

Kevin Spear|Orlando Sentinel|6/2/15

Florida Everglades No. 1 fishing destination in U.S., survey finds

 

Fishing trips and vacations are big business in the U.S. each summer, and this week the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, and its Take Me Fishing campaign, is unveiling the 2015 Top 100 Family-Friendly Places to Fish and Boat.

Florida’s Everglades National Park is the No. 1 destination.

“Fishing and boating are great ways to spend time with family and friends; and most people aren’t even aware that by participating in the sport, they’re actually helping to conserve our environment,” says RBFF President and CEO, Frank Peterson. “We’re encouraging outdoor enthusiasts across the country to pick a park on our Top 100 list, get out on the water with family and friends and create lifelong memories during National Fishing and Boating Week.”

As part of a sweepstakes, anglers and boaters cast more than 91,000 votes online to help develop the 2015 list of Top 100 Family-Friendly Places to Fish and Boat. The criteria for the Top 100 included having a public body of water within an hour of a major city, good fishing opportunities, and family-friendly amenities.

Here are the top 10 spots:

Everglades National Park, Fla.
Bahia Honda State Park, Pine Key, Fla.
Blue Springs State Park, Orange City, Fla.
Kissimmee State Park, Lake Wales, Fla.
Keystone State Park, Derry, PA
Clear Lake State Park, Kelseyville, CA
Skyway Fishing Pier State Park, St Petersburg, Fla.
Galveston Island State Park, Galveston, Texas
Presque Isle State Park, Erie, PA
Lackawanna State Park, North Abington, PA

The foundations also is urging Americans to celebrate National Fishing and Boating Week, June 6 – 14, by visiting their local parks and other fishing spots.

According to statista.com, more than 55 million Americans took at least one fishing trip in 2013.

Here are some other things to know:

Free Fishing Days: Perfect for those who are new to the sport or who want to mentor others, most states offer Free Fishing Days that allow the public to fish without having to purchase a fishing license.

Conservation through Participation: Buying a fishing license and registering a boat helps fund efforts to conserve natural waterways through projects such as fisheries research, habitat improvement, fish stocking, aquatic education and fishing and boating access facilities such as docks and boat ramps.

Donna Tunney|Boston Globe|June 2, 2015

Florida Coast at Risk

Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana has introduced a bill to repeal the federal moratorium on oil drilling within 125 miles of Florida Coast. Under the proposed legislation, the previously protected “no-drilling” zone off Florida’s coast would be open for oil and gas exploration – allowing oil rigs to be just 50 miles off Florida’s coast. Oil drilling holds many potential risks to Florida’s waters and coast, including spills that would impact both the environment and Florida’s $70 billion tourism industry. In response to the legislation proposed by Sen. Cassidy, Florida Sen. Bill Nelson filed legislation to extend the current moratorium to 2027. 

Gulf Restoration Network

Sportsmen’s Heritage Act Threatens Wilderness System

ALERT:  Here they go again!! Your help is needed now. Two subcommittees of the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on May 20 on the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act (SHARE), HR 2406, introduced by Rep. Robert Wittman (R-VA). Similar to bills that passed the House during the last two Congresses, this new bill would effectively repeal the 1964 Wilderness Act and threaten all Wildernesses in the nation. Your help is needed now to stop this bill.

This Sportsmen’s Bill attacks Wilderness in two primary ways. Sec. 603(f) allows virtually unlimited habitat manipulation and development in Wildernesses—including temporary road construction, bulldozer use, etc.—if at all remotely connected to hunting, fishing, shooting, or fish and wildlife management. This sweeping authority would include such things as logging, chaining or burning (ostensibly to benefit wildlife or improve hunting); construction of dams, temporary roads, or cabins (if at all connected with fisheries or wildlife management); ATV, truck or helicopter traffic (if used by wildlife or fisheries managers), etc. This language would in effect repeal the Wilderness Act’s current prohibitions on these activities, and would also exempt them from environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), so the public would not have the opportunity to review or comment on them, nor would their disastrous environmental consequences be studied.

The second major way this bill would seriously weaken Wildernesses is found in Sec. 1301, which would exempt commercial filming from the Act’s fundamental prohibition on commercial enterprise in Wilderness. The exemption for commercial filming is being proposed primarily at the behest of the growing hunting show industry, but other segments of the film industry and some commercial outfitters are promoting the bill, too.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Stopping the so-called Sportsmen’s Act has to be at the top of every Wilderness advocate’s agenda. Please write to your member of the U.S. House of Representatives as soon as possible, and ask her or him to oppose the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act (SHARE), HR 2406. Mention the wilderness-damaging provisions as the main reason for opposing this bill. Also send your letter (emails or snail mail) to Rep. Raul Grijalva, the lead Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee so he also knows of your opposition.

To email your House member, visit http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/. Enter your zip code to find your House member, then click on the “Contact Me” link (the “envelope” icon) to take you to your member’s email form. To send an email to Rep. Grijalva, use this email form: http://democrats.naturalresources.house.gov/contact-us.

Fracking causes little harm to water, EPA says

WASHINGTON — Hydraulic fracturing to drill for oil and natural gas has not caused widespread harm to drinking water in the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday.

In a report, though, the EPA also warned of potential contamination of water supplies if safeguards are not maintained.

A draft study issued by the agency found specific instances in which poorly constructed drilling wells or improper wastewater management affected drinking water, but it said the number of cases was small compared to the large number of wells that use hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking.

The EPA assessment tracked water used throughout the fracking process, from acquiring the water to mixing chemicals at the well site and injecting so called “fracking fluids” into wells to collection of wastewater, wastewater treatment and disposal.

The report identified several vulnerabilities to drinking water resources, including fracking’s effect on drought-stricken areas; inadequately cased or cemented wells resulting in below-ground migration of gases and liquids; inadequately treated wastewater discharged into drinking water resources; and spills of hydraulic fluids and wastewater.

While fracking took place in at least 25 states, most of the activity occurred in four states: Texas, Colorado, Pennsylvania and North Dakota.

The report identified 151 cases from 2006 to 2012 in which fracking fluids or chemicals spilled on or near a drilling well. The spills ranged from 5 gallons to more than 19,000 gallons, with equipment failure the most common cause. Fluids reached surface water in 13 cases and soil in 97 cases, the report said. None of the spills was reported to have reached groundwater.

Industry groups hailed the EPA study as proof that fracking is safe, while environmental groups seized on the report’s identification of cases in which fracking related activities polluted drinking water.

“After more than five years and millions of dollars, the evidence gathered by EPA confirms what the agency has already acknowledged and what the oil and gas industry has known: Hydraulic fracturing is being done safely under the strong environmental stewardship of state regulators and industry-best practices,” said Erik Milito, upstream group director of the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry’s top lobbying group.

But Lauren Pagel, policy director of the environmental group Earthworks, disputed that reading of the report.

“Today EPA confirmed what communities living with fracking have known for years: Fracking pollutes drinking water,” she said.

MATTHEW DALY|ASSOCIATED PRESS|6/5/15

[It’s a bit like saying a loaded gun will only go off by accident – don’t believe it. Someone once said “believe only half of what you hear and nothing you read”.]

Lawmakers push to keep waters off Florida drill-free

WASHINGTON — For years, Florida has successfully guarded its offshore waters from oil drilling, mindful of the role beach tourism plays in the state’s economy.

Those efforts face a new test now, as Congress and the administration propose opening up areas off Florida’s Atlantic and Gulf coasts to oil and gas exploration.

Last year, the Interior Department approved requests to conduct seismic testing off the Atlantic coast as far south as Cape Canaveral. The administration did not include waters off Florida among areas approved for drilling leases earlier this year, but state officials worry they could be included in the next round.

Last month, Gulf Coast senators led by Republican Bill Cassidy of Louisiana introduced a bill that would open up oil drilling within 50 miles of Florida’s Gulf Coast starting in 2017. The state’s existing 125-mile buffer expires in 2022.

The moves have left some members of Florida’s congressional delegation and state officials scrambling to protect the state’s largely pristine and nationally celebrated coastline, especially with memories of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill fresh in their minds.

Describing Florida as “under siege (by) Big Oil,” Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson recently introduced a bill that would keep the 125-mile buffer in place until 2027.

On Thursday, Democratic Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee and Republican Rep. David Jolly of Pinellas County announced similar House legislation.

“An oil spill like Deepwater Horizon just 50 miles off northwest Florida beaches would be devastating for our region,” Graham said on the House floor. “We can’t allow that to happen.”

But some Sunshine State Republicans, including Sen. Marco Rubio, haven’t automatically ruled out an idea that once seemed unthinkable.

“We’re still reviewing the proposals, but Sen. Rubio supports developing our domestic energy resources responsibly and effectively, including offshore drilling and oil exploration,” Rubio spokeswoman Brooke Sammon said.

Rubio, who is running for president, was not among Gulf Coast senators co-sponsoring Cassidy’s bill.

Concerns

One concern about opening up the eastern Gulf to drilling is whether such operations would hamper military exercises by Naval Air Station Pensacola and other bases off the western Panhandle.

GOP Rep. Jeff Miller, who represents the Pensacola area, “supports drilling in the Gulf of Mexico as long as it does not encroach upon the military mission in the Gulf,” spokesman Dan McFaul said.

Jeb Bush, who is close to announcing a White House bid, championed the 125-mile buffer when he was Florida’s governor. Spokeswoman Allie Brandenburger, without referring to the Cassidy bill, said Bush “believes in opening up federal lands and water for drilling in a thoughtful way, in order to enhance America’s energy security.”

Cassidy’s bill would direct the Interior Department to hold three lease sales in the eastern Gulf in 2018, 2019, and 2020. Offshore production would not be visible from the Florida coast, according to a news release from his office.

The bill also would provide Florida as much as $12.9 billion in drilling revenue over an 18-year period, the release said.

“Florida is a part of the Gulf and their residents should benefit from the Gulf’s natural resources,” Cassidy said. “Families across the nation, including in Florida, would hold jobs with better wages and better benefits that are created by expanding offshore energy production. I don’t understand why anyone would deny Floridians, or anyone else, access to these jobs.”

A spokeswoman for Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Thursday he hasn’t reviewed the legislation.

Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection voiced concerns to the Obama administration about seismic testing, asking for more time to study the potential impact on marine life.

Not all congressional Republicans are open to the notion of more drilling.

Rep. Bill Posey, R-Rockledge, joined Graham and other Democrats in sponsoring a bill last month that would impose a moratorium on seismic testing in the Atlantic unless studies conclude it would have a “minimal” impact on marine life.

And Jolly opposes drilling off Florida’s western shores.

“An oil spill off the coast of Pinellas County would be disastrous to our quality of life and our local economy,” he said. “We must ensure that we do not put our Gulf Coast at greater risk by drilling closer to our shores.”

 LEDYARD KING|THE NEWS-PRESS|Washington bureau |June 5, 2015

Calls to Action

  1. Tell Nestle CEO Tim Brown: Exercise some corporate responsibility and end your water profiteering in drought-stricken California. – here
  2. Protect the Snow Leopards – here
  3. Stop the Attacks on the Endangered Species Act – here

 

Birds and Butterflies

Gone in a Generation

Despite greenwashing schemes, Monsanto may be the death of the monarch butterfly

Roundup is America’s favorite herbicide. But it withers more than weeds—over the past 20 years, 970 million monarch butterflies have died, and Roundup is one of the main culprits. And while Monsanto recently put $4 million toward monarch conservation, the mega-corporation continues to churn out the herbicide that has helped wipe out 90 percent of the beloved butterflies.

Each year, clouds of millions of orange and black wings flutter against a blue North American sky in the world’s only butterfly migration. Some butterflies travel up to 3,000 miles to the same dozen forests in Mexico. But the monarch migration is an endangered phenomenon. The population has plummeted from 1 billion to less than 40 million—and monarchs are still not a federally recognized endangered species.

Glyphosate, Roundup’s main ingredient, kills milkweed, which competes with crops and is also monarch larvae’s only food source. Glyphosate is also harsh on crop plants, so Monsanto developed glyphosate-resistant corn and soy. Now 94 percent of U.S.-grown soybeans and 89 percent of corn is genetically modified to be “Roundup Ready.” With herbicides that kill everything but their own GMOs, Monsanto is controlling what lives and what dies—and milkweed and monarchs are on the chopping block.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working to determine whether monarch butterflies should be designated as endangered. Protecting the monarchs will help other important species that fewer people care about. The less photogenic cycnia moth, for example, also relies on milkweed, and the greater prairie chicken needs protected open plains to survive.

Mikey Jane Moran|Sierra Club|6/02/15

Bigger beaks help birds combat global warming

To help them cope with climate change birds are grow bigger beaks, new research suggests. The scientists, led by Dr Matthew Symonds from Deakin’s Centre for Integrative Ecology in Australia, have discovered a pattern between increased climatic temperatures and an increase in the size of the beaks of parrot species in southern and eastern Australia.

“Birds use their beaks to keep themselves cool. Just as an elephant’s ears help to act as a fan to keep the animal cooler, birds can pump blood to their highly vascularized bills, enabling them to lose excess heat when they get hot,” Dr Symonds said.

The researchers examined 410 bird skins, collected between 1871 and 2008 and located at Museum Victoria, the Queensland Museum, the South Australian Museum and the Australian National Wildlife Collection, Canberra.

They found that four of the five species examined had measurably bigger beaks now than they had in the 19th Century.

“In an earlier study we found that birds in hotter climates had bigger beaks than those in cooler climates, which prompted us to look at whether there has been an increase in beak size generally as the climate has got hotter over the past century,” Dr Symonds said.

“We found an increase in beak surface area of between four and 10 per cent, which may not sound like much, but would actually make a huge difference to the birds’ ability to cool down when they are stressed by heat. We have been able to show there has been an increase in the size of the beaks, in line with the increase in the temperature these parts of Australia have experienced over the same time frame.

“However, we can’t yet conclusively rule out the effect of other environmental factors, such as changes in habitat or food availability. This work provides an important basis on which to do more research. The next step will be to expand the research to consider a wider range of species from other regions, and with different kinds of beak shapes and lifestyles.

“Aside from it indicating another way in which climate change is affecting animals, the beak is so intimately tied to a birds’ lifestyle that climate-related changes in beaks may have further ramifications for other aspects of their biology: what kind of food they eat, how they compete with each other and how they reproduce.”

The five native Australian parrot species examined were the mulga parrot (Psephotus varius), gang-gang cockatoo (Callocephalon fimbriatum), red-rumped parrot (Psephotus haematonotus), Australian king parrot (Alisterus scapularis) and crimson rosella (Platycercus elegans). The Australian king parrot was the only species where an increase in beak size was not recorded.

The research, “Climate-related spatial and temporal variation in bill morphology over the past century in Australian parrots”, has been published in this month’s edition of the Journal of Biogeography.

From Wildlife Extra|28/05/2015

San José gives a ‘hoot’!

Known for its piercing yellow eyes, adorable chicks, and standing just nine inches tall, the Western burrowing owl is a California state species of special concern that’s thriving on the buffer lands at the San José-Santa Clara Regional Wastewater Facility in northern San José.
Western Burrowing Owl
Through San José’s Master Plan for the Regional Wastewater Facility, approximately 200 acres of land are set aside as habitat for the burrowing owl. San José partners with the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society and San Jose State University to manage and improve the habitat, as well as track and monitor the owls, which live in abandoned ground squirrel burrows, or in artificial burrows that have been installed as part of the project.
Burrowing Owl chickTake a Peek!
Our wildlife cameras take close up photos and videos of the burrowing owls feeding, playing, and much more! We will upload new images to our Flickr Photostream every few weeks.
Thank you to our partners:

San Jose-Santa Clara Regional Wastewater Facility
Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society

Don’t Miss the Osprey Chicks ‏

This summer, follow Osprey and Atlantic Puffin families right on your screen. Streaming from Maine, Audubon’s live cameras are your window into the world of birds. You’ll see eggs hatch, chicks fledge, and surprise events along the way.

Register for bird alerts, and you’ll get updates when anything exciting happens in the nest.

Turn These Caterpillars Into Butterflies With a Simple Click

These interactive photos invite you to turn these caterpillars into moths and butterflies.

9 of the world’s smallest birds

These feathered friends are the tiniest of the tiny.

The goldcrest is the smallest European bird with a wingspan of only 5-6 inches. Yet it still isn’t the smallest bird out there. (Photo: Francis C. Franklin/Wikipedia)

The birds that get all the attention are usually the flashiest, like the birds of paradise, or the toughest, like hawks and eagles. And owls seem to be a universal favorite. But what about the itty bitty birds, so small you almost think you imagined them when they flit by? These tiny species deserve a little attention too. Meet some of the world’s smallest bird species!

Red-cheeked cordon-bleu

red-cheeked cordon-bleu

Photo: Dave Montreuil/Shutterstock

This colorful bird is a species of African finch with sky blue feathers and males have a spot of red on their cheeks that make them look like they are perpetually blushing. Individuals only grow to be about five inches in length, and weighs only about .35 ounces on average. That’s roughly the weight of just three pennies! This species can be found in the wild in central and eastern Africa but is also one of the most popular exotic finch species in the pet trade.

Verdin

verdin bird

Photo: John L. Absher/Shutterstock

With the verdin, we move from blue to yellow, and from Africa to the southwest United States and Mexico. This small bird is a species of penduline tit, and is only about 4.5 inches long when fully grown. It is second only to the 4.3-inch long American bushtit as the smallest of the passerines on the continent. The verdin can be spotted foraging insects among desert scrub plants, or snagging a little dried sugar from hummingbird feeders every once in awhile.

Lesser goldfinch

lesser goldfinch

Photo: Steve Byland/Shutterstock

The lesser goldfinch is the smallest North American finch of the Spinus genus, and it may very well be the smallest true finch in the entire world, growing to just 3.5 to 4.7 inches in length on average. The Andean siskin may beat it by a feather for the title, though, as it comes in at an average of 3.7 to 4.3 inches in length. Still, the goldfinch is truly miniscule. It weighs only around 0.28 to 0.41 ounces.

Goldcrest

goldcrest

Photo: OiseauxvendeeWikipedia

Who says you have to be big to be king? The goldcrest’s scientific name is Regulus regulus, and regulus means “prince, little king”. This species is in the kinglet family, and is the smallest of all the birds in Europe. It measures only about 3.3–3.7 inches in length, and weights a miniscule 0.16–0.25 ounces. The species may be small but it is mighty and doesn’t mess around when it comes to raising young. As many as 10-12 eggs will be incubated at once, and sometimes a female will have two broods a season! Populating the kingdom is clearly a priority for this little bird.  

goldcrest

Photo: Mark Medcalf/Shutterstock

Bee Hummingbird

bee hummingbird

Photo: 44kmos/Shutterstock

The goldcrest may be the smallest bird in Europe but the smallest bird in the world is the bee hummingbird. It is only 2-2.4 inches long (barely larger than a bee, hence its name) and weights a light 0.056–0.071 ounces. That’s less than the weight of a single penny. They make nests of cobwebs and lichen where they incubate eggs no bigger than peas. The bee hummingbird is native to Cuba and is only rarely spotted on other nearby islands. Though it is a tiny miracle among birds, it is listed as near threatened due to habitat loss as forests are converted to farmland. The species is in need of conservation efforts to improve population numbers.

Willow tit

willow tit

Photo: Francis C. Franklin/Wikipedia

Despite it’s small size, the willow tit likes cold weather. It is found in sub-arctic Europe and northern Asia. It is a diminutive 4.5 inches long on average, and a weight of 0.31-0.38 ounces, which is about the same size as its neighbor the marsh tit. In fact, they look almost exactly alike as well. However, as soon as they open their mouths, a birder can tell them apart as the two have very different vocalizations.

Spotted pardalote

spotted pardalote

Photo: JJ Harrison/Wikipedia

This species is small but flashy, with plumage of amazing colors and patterns. The white spots can be somewhat to credit for its nickname, the diamondbird. Found in eastern and southern Australia in eucalyptus forests, it is one of the continent’s smallest bird species at only 3.1-3.9 inches in length. Sadly, this beautiful bird species is facing a decline due to habitat loss to clearing of it’s preferred forest habitat for human uses such as sheep-grazing or urban development.

Weebill

weebill

Photo: Tom Tarrant/Wikipedia

This species has a wee bill (which is the source of it’s name) and a wee body to match! The weebill only grows to be about 3-3.5 inches long, and it beats out the spotted pardalote as Australia’s smallest bird species. This small bird species travels in small flocks and lives in most any wooded area, though they love eucalyptus forests the most.

Costa’s hummingbird

costas hummingbird

Photo: Alan D. Wilson/Wikipedia

We couldn’t end this without taking another look at adorably tiny hummingbirds. The Costa’s hummingbird is native to North America’s southwest and it flourishes in the desert setting. It grows to only 3-3.5 inches long, weighs only 0.1 ounces on average, and is one of the smaller hummingbird species. The male has a brilliant purple plumage across its head, and is a flashy little jewel among all the tan and beige of the desert.

Jaymi Heimbuch|Mar 31, 2015

 Florida Panthers

Help Save the Florida Panther

 

We’re protecting critical habitat for this extremely endangered animal… and you can help.

Watch a video about how we’re helping to protect Florida panthers.

Florida panthers are among the most endangered animals on the planet. Get the facts on the plight of panthers and how you can help. See the infographic.

Giving Panthers a Safe Place to Roam

The Nature Conservancy, working with state and federal agencies, has acquired a conservation easement to protect more than 1,528 acres at Black Boar Ranch. This key piece of land was facing development pressures. Securing this easement is a big win in our efforts to protect lands along the Caloosahatchee River that form a connected corridor of prime panther habitat through Central Florida.

The Florida Panther is one of the most endangered mammals on the planet. About 180 cats remain in the wild. Most live around Okaloacoochee Slough, including the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, near Naples. Panther do roam north of this area (one was seen in Georgia) but they haven’t bred or established home ranges north of the Caloosahatchee River. This is a critical obstacle to the panthers’ survival.

Panther must extend their range beyond the confines of their current territory to prevent extinction. Otherwise, as Doria Gordon, the Conservancy’s director of conservation, says, “The Florida panther will will remain endangered and at critical risk.” The Conservancy is working to protect Florida panther and you can help.

Why is panther habitat expansion so critical?

Their current habitat is simply too small and fragmented for the population to grow to a healthy and sustainable level. Panthers have reached maximum capacity within their home range, and, because they are solitary and territorial, panthers require large areas to hunt, breed and den successfully. Males defend territories of 200 square miles and a single female will establish her home range of 75 square miles within a male’s territory.

Envision an area the size of Hillsborough County sustaining only 5 panthers. Miami–Dade County, one of the largest in the state, would provide home to 10 panthers. This may seem daunting at first but the good news is that large, undeveloped stretches of land still remain within the state’s interior and protecting these lands may mean the difference between extinction and survival for the Florida Panther. Donate today to help.

What is being done to help Florida Panther survival?

The Nature Conservancy is leading an effort to protect panther habitat by establishing links to connect existing green spaces. We’ve protected thousands of acres of prime panther habitat already within the Greater Everglades and land protected on the Caloosahatchee River has made the outlook brighter. Protected only hours before foreclosure, this land purchase secures a highly used passage for panther crossing the Caloosahatchee River and looking for new habitat. Without this property, extinction was a near certainty but with this link permanently intact, the Conservancy is determined to build on this foundation, by protecting and restoring key links north of the river up into central Florida.

How can you help Florida Panthers?

Our goal is to ensure permanent protection for 7,300 acres of prime panther habitat, which will link existing green spaces and panther habitat. To do this, we will need to raise $8 million dollars. We plan to leverage that with $21 million dollars of public conservation funding. This will allow us to permanently protect lands that link existing green spaces and create a larger protected home range for panthers to expand and grow.

What Other Threats Do Florida Panthers Face?

Beyond limited habitat, panther are threatened by disease, continued habitat loss, collisions with vehicles and aggression between panthers that fight over limited territory. Any combination of these factors can result in extinction of Florida Panthers.

Fun Facts about Florida Panthers

Did you know…?

  • And you thought your mother loved you.
    Panther mothers remain with their young for about one and a half to two years.
  • A Florida panther would beat your high school track star any day…
    Panthers can leap more than 15 feet and can run 35 miles per hour for short distances.
  • …but not compete in a heavyweight boxing match.
    Males weigh around 120 pounds and are 7 ft long from nose to end of tail. (Panther’s tails are 2/3 of their body length.) At birth, the cubs weight just four to eight ounces! That’s less than a one-month-old house cat.
  • Who says venison and bacon aren’t a delicacy?
    Panthers’ diet includes deer and wild pigs.
  • Learn more facts about Florida panthers.

Help Save the Florida Panther — Watch Video, Take Action

A reserved, stealthy predator of enormous physical grace and power, the Florida panther is one of the most majestic large felines in the United States, and Florida’s official state animal.

But this wild cat needs our help badly. Its population has plummeted to fewer than 180 individuals limited to less than 5 percent of their original range. Every year undeveloped land in South Florida grows scarcer and more fragmented, while roads and cars increase. Last year was one of the deadliest ever for the Florida panther: Twenty-four died due to vehicle collisions alone. Other threats include pollution, climate change and even poaching. The Center has been defending this panther for years, including petitioning in 2009 for 3 million acres of federally protected habitat.

And there is still hope. Science suggests that these panthers, if reintroduced to their historic hunting grounds in north Florida, could survive and even thrive once again. There once was strong support for this reintroduction, but decades of inaction combined with mounting development pressures mean we don’t have much longer to act. Now is the time to show wildlife managers you support this magnificent mammal and plans for its return to its north Florida habitat.

Watch and share this video (made for us by More Animal Than Human) and act now to help us bring the panther home.

Center for Biological Diversity 

Endangered Species

Elephant poachers get away with murder ‏

Right now countless poachers and traffickers are getting away with murder. It’s a stark, upsetting, but completely true fact.

That lack of enforcement is a direct contributor to the death of 96 elephants every single day in Africa. Too many are slaughtering innocent endangered animals and selling their parts for profit and never having to face consequences. It’s time to say “no more.”

Legislation has already been introduced to clamp down on rampant global poaching and wildlife trafficking.

These bills would make wildlife trafficking a more serious crime so the people who profit off endangered species are brought to justice. It would also help stop poachers in their tracks by equipping and training people on the ground protecting wildlife all across Africa.

This is a dream come true for elephants, Grant. And I couldn’t be more proud and more anxious to get this passed.

If passed, these bills would have a major impact on preventing and prosecuting wildlife crimes by:

  • Making selling or trafficking of ivory a more serious offense under U.S. law and allowing for harsher punishments for the crime;
  • Authorizing the U.S. Department of Defense to provide training and equipment to those fighting on the front lines for elephants; and
  • Identifying countries that are failing in their commitment to end wildlife trafficking and pressuring them to step up.

Wildlife trafficking has deep ties to sophisticated criminal organizations. Profits from the lucrative ivory trade have been linked to drug trafficking and terrorism. The safer elephants are in Africa, the safer we are both abroad and at home.

These defenseless creatures can’t protect themselves from the bullets, poisons, and traps of the humans stalking them. But we can. And we must.

Liz Bennett|Wildlife Conservation Society|6/02/15

Giant Pandas Face Greatest Threat Yet: A Hotter World

Giant pandas, with their fuzzy raccoon eyes and innocent faces, are one of the world’s most treasured endangered species. We look at them and feel compassion.

It helps explain why the latest threat to giant pandas, rising global temperatures, has raised such alarm.

Poaching and habitat destruction over the past 3,000 years have brought the total population down below 2,000. Today, giant pandas exist in an area that is less than one percent of their historical range.

Several conservation programs over the past few decades have effectively prevented panda extinction and begun to boost the panda population. Unfortunately, this success may be completely offset by our steadily warming climate.

The heartbreaking truth is that giant panda habitat may be all-but gone by the end of the century, with half of it vanished by 2070, new research shows. And because they’re pandas, the animals will have difficulty adapting to change.

Climate change kills bamboo, 99 percent of panda’s diet

Using reliable data and robust modeling techniques, scientists have found that most of the current bamboo habitat will soon become unsuitable for survival, with bamboo estimated to entirely die off within 50 to 100 years, depending on the model.

Without bamboo, giant pandas have been observed in the past to starve to death.

While other areas may become suitable for bamboo growth, they tend to be in regions other than where pandas live, or in areas outside current panda reserves where people – not wild animals – make their home.

Fragmented habitats will also prevent the bamboo from easily shifting its habitat, especially as it has an unusually long reproductive cycle.

The result: Giant pandas could lose half their habitat with even just a couple degrees increase in global temperatures. So far, global temperatures have already risen by 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit over the past century, and they’re projected to increase by another one to six degrees by 2100.

Giant pandas have little energy to adapt

Even if the bamboo were able to successfully migrate, the lack of nutritional value in bamboo leaves the giant panda lethargic.

Because nearly all of a panda’s diet consists of bamboo, it must eat between 25 and 50 pounds of it every day to survive. It’s why pandas spend almost the entire day eating, and barely moving.

It is an effort to get pandas to reproduce, let alone relocate. The likelihood of these animals adapting on their own to a changing world is therefore low.

Do we still have time to save them?

In addition to taking actions to cut emissions of heat-trapping gases to limit warming, scientists suggest modifying current conservation strategies to account for a changing climate.

By planting bamboo in areas that will soon become suitable panda habitat, and by moving the most threatened groups of pandas, we can further protect this precious and beloved animal from the cascading effects of climate change.

Ilissa Ocko|senior vice president of strategy and communications|Environmental Defense Fund|May 31, 2015

How Garden Centers Are Getting Toxic, Bee-Killing Pesticides Out of Their Plants and Off of Their Shelves

Over the last decade, we’ve heard the term “colony collapse disorder” a lot, describing the die-off of honeybees, pollinators essential to maintaining our food crops. Scientists have been looking for the cause and have identified one likely source as the neonicotinoids used in pesticides.

Fortunately, there has been a lot of pushback on their use. While the Obama administration released its National Pollinator Health Strategy in May, focusing on planting millions of acres of federal land with pollinator-friendly plants and conducting more research but not limiting use of neonicotinoids, millions of people signed petitions calling for stronger rules.

But some businesses aren’t sitting around waiting for the federal government to act and are listening to public concerns. Friends of the Earth (FOE) and Pesticide Research Institute are applying some positive reinforcement and giving kudos to those who are addressing the problem in a new report, Growing Bee Friendly: Profiles in Innovation. It spotlights how some businesses are developing strategies and resources to protect bees in response to public demand.

“A growing number number of wholesale nurseries, retailers and institutions have successfully made the shift away from bee-harming pesticides,” said Lisa Archer, FOE food and technology director. “We hope this report will be a resource for other responsible businesses as they get toxic, bee-harming pesticides out of their plants, off their shelves and out of the environment as soon as possible.”

The report focuses on businesses that have taken steps to remove neonicotinoids, including the world’s two largest home improvement retailers, Lowe’s and Home Depot, which responded to an intense public pressure campaign after a report called Gardeners Beware 2014 was released last year by FOE and the Pesticide Research Institute, showing that 51 percent of the plant samples purchased at major gardening retailers in 18 U.S. and Canadian cities contained the harmful pesticides. Whole Foods and BJ’s Wholesale Club have also begun to remove products containing the pesticide from their outlets.

Just this past week, the Ace Hardware chain announced that it is willing to look into removing products containing neonicotinoids from its stores.

“Ace Hardware will be diligent in working with our vendors to take appropriate action to protect pollinators,” said the company’s vice president of merchandising Frank Carroll.

“Along with our allies, we will continue to work with Ace and other retailers to move neonicotinoid pesticides off their shelves and out of garden plants as soon as possible to ensure bees can find save havens in our backyards and communities,” said Archer. “Bees are the canary in the coal mine for our food system and everyone, including the business community, must act fast to protect them.”

While national chains get a lot of attention, Growing Bee Friendly also takes a closer look at what some local garden centers are doing.

Among the businesses it cites is Maryland’s Behnke Nurseries, which it says was one of the country’s first garden centers to establish a policy of reducing the number of neonicotinoid-treated plants it sells. Behnke plant purchaser Larry Hurley said that they have identified growers who can provide the plants they want and that other suppliers tell him they are working on it. The nursery plans to promote pollinator-friendly plants on their display tables to make consumers more aware and make it easier for them to commit to purchasing bee-friendly plants.

“The report profiles some of the first garden centers, nurseries and greenhouse growers who have successfully removed neonicotinoids from their plants,” said the Pesticide Research Institute’s Rose Radford, one of Growing Bee Friendly‘s co-authors. “Their stories provide valuable insights and strategies to growers who are planning for neonicotinoid-free plant production, and can help provide guidance for retailers who are working on developing store policies on neonicotinoid-treated plants.”

The report also singles out the city of Boulder, which is developing a process for sourcing and purchasing neonicotinoid-free plants for use on city properties. And in May, the city adopted a resolution to ban neonicotinoid application on city properties. It’s one of many cities to do so. The governments of Minnesota, Oregon and Ontario have also taken steps to reduce neonicotinoid use.

Growing Bee Friendly suggests that retailers develop a three-pronged policy:

  • purchase only neonicotinoid-free plants
  • separate plants that are neonicotinoid-free from those that aren’t
  • label the neonicotinoid-free plants

In addition, it urges them to push growers for verification and testing; to publicize their policies; to train staff to answer consumer questions; and to offer safe pesticide options.

“With a new spring planting season upon us, it’s important for gardeners to be aware that many plants in stores today still contain neonicotinoids,” said Archer. “We look forward to the day when we can all buy home garden plants without worrying about harming pollinators. In the meantime, gardeners should choose organic and neonic-free starts, seeds and soil.”

Anastasia Pantsios|June 1, 2015

Center Petitions to Protect Rare Marten in California

Two months after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declined to protect the critically imperiled Humboldt marten under the federal Endangered Species Act, the Center for Biological Diversity — which will challenge that decision — is pushing for the marten to be protected under the California Endangered Species Act.
Last week we joined with the Environmental Protection Information Center to petition the California Fish and Game Commission to protect the marten, which likely numbers fewer than 100 in the state.

The cat-sized carnivore lives in old-growth forests in Northern California and southern Oregon, most of which have already been destroyed by logging. Once thought extinct, the Humboldt marten was rediscovered on the Six Rivers National Forest in 1996. While researchers have continued to detect martens in California, they also determined that martens haven’t rebounded from dramatic declines between 2001 and 2008.

“The population size of the Humboldt marten is disturbingly low,” said the Center’s Justin Augustine. “We hope the commission works quickly to protect this species and help rebuild a viable marten population.”

Read more in our press release.

Obama Administration Takes Aim at Endangered Species Act

With some of our most imperiled plants and animals facing escalating threats from a growing human footprint, climate change and pollution, the Endangered Species Act — the law that has prevented the extinction of 99 percent of species it protects — is under unprecedented attack … from the Obama administration.

The administration has quietly passed a series of regulatory changes that limit protections for species’ critical habitat, make it harder for species to gain protection as threatened or endangered, and sharply curtail citizen participation in implementation of the law.

One of the most damaging of these new regulations would deny protection to species that are at risk of extinction, or already extinct across significant portions of their range, so long as they are secure somewhere. Had this rule been in place when the Act was passed, bald eagles, gray wolves and grizzly bears would never have been protected simply because they had healthy populations in Alaska and Canada.

Other regulations championed by the administration make it easier to destroy species’ protected “critical habitat” and create bureaucratic hurdles that will cripple the ability of citizens to petition to protect imperiled species, a change that will greatly reduce the number of species protected.

“It’s extremely disheartening to see the Obama administration weakening the Endangered Species Act,” said Noah Greenwald, the Center for Biological Diversity’s endangered species program director. “Our endangered wildlife — from gray wolves to Big Sandy crayfish — need a strong Endangered Species Act more than ever. These wrongheaded regulations will only embolden opponents of protecting endangered species in industry and Congress.”

Take action now to stop this stealth attack on the Act ]Please sign # 3 in “Calls to Action” above.

Check out our new factsheet.

Small Changes by Herders Could Make a Big Difference to Snow Leopards

Reducing the losses suffered by farmers due to predation on livestock by snow leopards is a key to protecting the endangered cat. New research now shows that small changes in the way livestock are herded could make a big difference.

Could Many Livestock Losses be Avoided?

Trust researchers have analyzed predation patterns of 19 collared snow leopards. The cats clearly favored wild prey. Most of the livestock they killed were stragglers that had been left unguarded. Read how small changes in herding practices could prevent many of those incidents on our blog.

 Is There Enough Wild Prey for the Cats?

For a snow leopard population to thrive in the wild, nothing is more crucial than the abundance of natural prey. But is there enough prey? Right now, it’s a fragile balance, as a new study has just shown. Find out more on our blog

 Kyrgyz Partner Communities: No Poaching in 5 Years

Communities in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan mountains are partnering with the Snow Leopard Trust to protect cats and prey. In the last 5 years, there has been no poaching in the areas they’re responsible for! Read more here

Matt Feichter|Snow Leopard Trust|6/4/15

 

Everglades

Some strong leadership would go a long way

Florida’s Everglades are parched, and the folks in Miami and other parts of South Florida are facing water shortages. It’s not a pretty picture. The good news is there’s a big fix and it’s remarkably straightforward. The money is available. Commitments have been made. Legislation has been passed.

So, what’s the hold-up? Leadership. It could come from the Legislature, from the private sector or from the governor’s office. Most likely, it’ll need to come again from the same Floridians who voted 3-1 in November to dedicate almost $1 billion a year to conserving water and land for people and wildlife.

This is why it’s happening: To the north of the Everglades, Lake Okeechobee regularly overflows with water that drains off land as far north as Orlando. That water, loaded with pollutants, flows to the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Chemicals in the water ravage coastal wetlands, destroying the homes and food sources for Florida’s magnificent birds and fish. The water then drains into the ocean.

The solution isn’t a mystery. The idea is to create reservoirs between Lake O and the Everglades plus a large band of wetlands that would act as filters for the polluted water. The clean water that comes out on the other end refills the aquifer that provides drinking water for more than 6 million South Floridians while replenishing the Everglades.

The Florida Everglades is one of America’s natural wonders and one of our most popular recreational playgrounds. It’s a paradise for birders, fishermen, boaters and others who love the outdoors. And it’s a major economic draw for Florida tourism, generating tens of millions of dollars a year. It’s also a unique landmark that helps define Florida.

Anyone who knows Florida’s Everglades will tell you about its birds and the amazing sense of wildness they create. But last year, populations of the elegant tri-colored heron were down 83 percent. Roseate spoonbills, wood storks, Everglades snail kites and Little Blue Herons are also threatened. Those birds truly are what birds have always been — the early-warning systems that tell you about clean water and healthy places for birds and people.

Florida has an option to buy a large swath of sugar cane fields between Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades. The South Florida Water Management District appears to be taking a pass on that option. There are other lands to be had, and the money to buy them already has been banked.

The message from Big Sugar, which wants a higher price for its land than what it offered to the water district five years ago, is that other Everglades projects should be completed before buying new land. The problem with that self-interested argument from some of the same people responsible for polluting Lake O’s waters is that the happy marriage of money and available land doesn’t come along often, and we’re at one of those rare moments.

Floridians spoke in force just six months ago. An overwhelming 74 percent of state voters approved buying more land for environmental restoration and preservation, specifically including these lands in the Everglades Agricultural Area. Voters said Yes to a constitutional amendment dedicating fees from real-estate sales to help pay for that restoration and preservation.

And this is where leadership matters. The Florida Legislature, meeting in a special session, can’t continue to defy three-quarters of the state’s voters, no matter how much campaign funding they get from the sugar companies.

During the special session, we hope legislators get the message the voters have sent: Appropriate funds for the Everglades, and direct state agencies to get to work building the projects that will put water where it belongs — in the Everglades, not flowing uselessly to the coast.

Time is running out, not only for this opportunity to set land aside for clean water, but for the Everglades itself.

David Yarnold|President and CEO|National Audubon Society.

Land south of lake is crucial to Everglades restoration

Last month, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) voted to forgo purchasing U.S. Sugar Corp.-owned land to build a vital reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA).

This decision is a setback to Everglades restoration and to communities enduring damaging discharges of polluted Lake Okeechobee water along Florida’s east and west coasts.

The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) was signed into law in 2000, with bipartisan support, and specifically called for a reservoir to store water in the EAA. The EAA reservoir is so crucial to Everglades restoration that it was put on a fast-track list by Gov. Jeb Bush a decade ago.

Everglades restoration is a good investment in Florida’s future. Every dollar spent on restoration generates a $4 return. Additionally, a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee in the EAA would qualify for a 50/50 cost share with the federal government.

Water storage is the heart of Everglades restoration and is vital to Florida’s water supply. Nearly 8 million Floridians, and millions of tourists who visit every year, depend on the Everglades for their drinking water. Without the EAA reservoir, we will continue to waste billions of gallons of fresh water — while, paradoxically, the Everglades and Florida Bay are starved for water.

We have a responsibility and an opportunity to reduce pollution and toxic algae in the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers and estuaries. Doing so would protect local businesses, tourism and home values.

There is nothing more conservative than conservation and protecting our resources. A reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee is essential to protecting the Everglades.

Communities are suffering. The Everglades is threatened. The public has been waiting for more than 15 years for tangible restoration of the Everglades and is demanding action — right now. The state needs to identify and acquire land in the EAA to build this critical reservoir, as promised in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.

The Everglades Foundation looks forward to working with Gov. Rick Scott, the Florida Legislature and SFWMD to finish what we’ve started and to find a viable alternative site for this critical project.

ERIC EIKENBERG, TALLAHASSEE

Eric Eikenberg|chief executive officer|Everglades Foundation|June 3, 2015

Water Quality Issues

Nestle’s CEO on water profiteering in California: “If I could increase it, I would”

“End your irresponsible water profiteering in drought-stricken California. Stop blaming consumers and exercise some corporate responsibility in your water bottling practices.”

    If you were the CEO of a company that was caught doing something really bad, would you admit that you wish you could do even more of it? Because that’s what Nestle’s CEO just did.

    Recently, nearly 200,000 activists joined together to tell the U.S Forest Service to stop Nestle from pumping water out of a national forest in drought-stricken California. That helped put a spotlight on Nestle and launched a round of intense media scrutiny. But instead of deciding to do the right thing, as other companies like Starbucks1 have done in the face of the drought, Nestle’s CEO decided to dig in and double down. When questioned in a recent radio interview about whether they would consider halting their water extraction, Nestle CEO Tim Brown stated: “Absolutely not. In fact, if I could increase it, I would.”

    Apparently, Nestle’s CEO has spent so much time focusing on driving up Nestle’s profits at any cost that he’s apparently lost any sense of corporate responsibility when it comes to bottling water. So this time we need to up the pressure even more by sending a message directly to Nestle.

    Unfortunately, Brown’s out-of-touch comments didn’t end there. In the same interview, he went so far as to blame consumers for Nestle’s practices, at one point stating, “If I stop bottling water tomorrow, people would buy another brand of bottled water…It’s driven by consumer demand, it’s driven by an on-the-go society that needs to hydrate.” Apparently he’s never heard of a re-usable water bottle.

    Perhaps it’s not a complete surprise to see Nestle respond in such a tone-deaf manner by passing the buck and shirking responsibility. After all, this is the same corporation whose CEO once famously challenged the human right to water. During that same year, Nestle fought a decision by the Ministry of the Environment in Ontario, Canada that would limit its water-taking in times of severe drought.

    Nestle won’t end its extreme and irresponsible profiteering without a fight. It’s time to ratchet up the spotlight on Nestle itself and show that we won’t stand by while its CEO tries to spin his way out of his company’s inexcusable water profiteering.

    [Tell Nestle CEO Tim Brown: Exercise some corporate responsibility and end your water profiteering in drought-stricken California to avoid a boycott of Nestles products – especially bottled water. Sign # 1 in “Calls to Action” above.]

    Clearwater opens second R-O water plant 

    The city of Clearwater will celebrate the grand opening of its second reverse-osmosis water treatment plant Thursday morning. Officials announced the celebration last week, which will take place at 9 a.m. at 21133 U.S. 19. The Clearwater treatment plant already went online in May and treats brackish water using state-of-the-art technology to produce up to 6.25 million gallons per day of additional drinking water for Clearwater customers.

    Reverse osmosis is a process that purifies water by removing dissolved particles, minerals and ions. The plant is the latest such water treatment operation to go online and expects to be followed shortly by another in Tarpon Springs.

    Dunedin has had an R-O water plant in operation since 1992. Oldsmar has also been supplementing its drinking water supply with an R-O plant of its own since 2013.

    These plants turn potable water beneath Pinellas County that was rendered brackish by saltwater intrusion decades ago.

    Project managers in Tarpon Springs updated city officials last month that their own $45 million facility north of the Anclote River will begin producing its first water by the end of June.

    Clearwater’s Reverse Osmosis Water Treatment Plant No. 2 is a $34 million project that included three components: the brackish water reverse osmosis water plant, a brackish wellfield with raw water piping and a concentrate disposal well.

    Two storage tanks were built as part of the project, as well, the city reported. “For decades to come, this new water plant will serve the needs of the city‘s water customers by providing them with a high quality drinking water,” Tracy Mercer, Clearwater’s public utilities director, said in a press release. “We are appreciative of the support of our citizens and our customers.”

    Similar to Tarpon Springs’ treatment plant, Clearwater’s is cooperatively funded by the Southwest Florida Water Management District. Thursday’s grand opening and ribbon cutting is open to the public and will be attended by Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos and other officials from the city and the regional water management district.

    Staff report|Suncoast News |June 2, 2015

    Offshore & Ocean

    Protect ocean; say no to seismic testing

    As we witness another offshore oil-spill tragedy, this one in Santa Barbara, Calif., we realize how the same event could devastate South Florida’s economy.

    Right now, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is seeking to give out permits to permit seismic testing (loud air guns firing noises underwater) to map for offshore oil off Florida’s Atlantic coast. These blasts are extremely loud, and sound moves more quickly under water.

    The BOEM estimates that more than 138,000 marine animals will die as a result of this seismic testing or blasting. Whales, dolphins and other sea mammals depend on their ability to hear and to use their own sonar to track food, mate and communicate.

    So why move forward with this seismic testing? U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy have introduced legislation to block seismic testing and to prevent offshore oil drilling off Florida’s coasts.

    I recently returned from the Blue Visions Summit, where we discussed the value of the oceans around us and the damage we are causing them by offshore seismic testing, illegal and unregulated fishing, and plastic pollution. We need to protect our oceans.

    Along the Atlantic coast, it is estimated that $95 billion in gross domestic product is generated by healthy ocean ecosystems that would be put at risk by offshore drilling and seismic testing. Why would we put this at jeopardy? An oil spill off our coast would be catastrophic.

    In addition, offshore seismic blasting would create so much noise in the oceans that sophisticated Navy sonar might not be able to locate hostile underwater crafts along our shores. This could put Navy bases and Cape Canaveral at risk.

    Right whales traveling along our coast could suffer permanent hearing damage. This testing can even impact the fish population because, during seismic testing, explosions would be generated every 10 seconds.

    We need to protect the oceans that surround us and say “no” to offshore seismic testing and oil drilling.

     Drew Martin|conservation chair |Loxahatchee Group|Sierra Club|June 2, 2015

    On World Oceans Day let’s learn to treat the seas better

    June 8 is World Oceans Day, a time to celebrate the rich marine life in three great oceans off the coastline of any nation — trillions of plankton, billions of fish, millions of seabirds, thousands of whales and myriad other creatures great and small. Yet, we have little to celebrate when it comes to looking after this natural legacy. Although the federal government has committed to protect 10 per cent of our oceans by 2020, it has so far protected just one per cent.

    Canada passed the Oceans Act 18 years ago, with a promise to safeguard our oceans and coastal ecosystems. It took another eight years to prioritize five large ocean management areas: the Beaufort Sea, the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the North Pacific Coast, the Eastern Scotian Shelf and Placentia Bay/Grand Banks. The process has languished and we’re now 10 years behind schedule and contending with escalating demands for ocean uses, impacts from climate change and emerging issues such as ocean acidification and plastics pollution.

    Marine planning, conservation and protection have never been more important. Energy development, shipping, fishing, conservation and ecotourism are bumping up against each other with no clear direction. This lack of coordination is like allowing a city to grow without zoning or planning, with schools built next to highways and industrial areas, residential neighbourhoods developed with no green spaces and first responders unable to get to those in need.

    In the absence of federal leadership on marine planning and conservation, other levels of government have stepped in to take the lead — just as they have with climate change commitments.

    On B.C.’s Pacific North Coast, marine planning has moved ahead without the federal government, which dropped out of the planning process in 2011. Even without national representation, the results are encouraging. Eighteen coastal First Nations and the province of B.C. have come up with their own plans for coastal ecosystems.

    Communities in this region have been defined by their relationship to the marine environment. With competing claims for ocean use and proposals to dramatically increase shipping traffic for oil and gas exports to Asia, these marine plans chart a course through challenging waters. Good public consultation and planning can help avoid expensive and disruptive conflicts that arise with so many interests competing for marine resources. These plans also provide meaningful engagement for industry and government with First Nations, a requirement highlighted in the Tsilhqot’in First Nations Supreme Court decision last June.

    B.C.’s coastal communities are leading the way in our country’s ocean planning. I’m happy to honor my relationship with 12 of those communities by embarking on a tour in June to talk about the many issues coastal communities are facing, including climate change. We can see its effects along the coast: shellfish die-offs, low snow packs affecting salmon runs, rising sea levels and altered growing seasons. These communities depend on healthy oceans for their cultural, social and economic needs and are searching for solutions. Ian Mauro, an award-winning community-based researcher and filmmaker who has also documented climate change in Atlantic Canada and from an Inuit perspective, is joining the tour with a new film that features climate change’s impact on West Coast communities.

    Oceans produce half the oxygen we breathe and absorb a third of carbon dioxide emissions. If that weren’t reason enough to protect them, there’s also a strong business case. According to a WWF report, oceans provide an annual economic value of at least $24 trillion. In Canada’s Great Bear Sea, ecosystem services are estimated to provide $101 billion in annual benefits to local communities. Tourists pay to experience a clean, healthy ocean with an abundance of life, and marine recreation is projected to be among the fastest-growing sectors in B.C.’s economy for the next 20 years.

    Marine wildlife and resources are rapidly declining around the world, and our oceans are changing faster than ever, endangering this economic engine and the security and livelihoods it supports. But our oceans are bigger and longer-lasting than any economic system. Canadians love their oceans and want their abundantly rich ecosystems to get the care they deserve. This World Oceans Day, let’s honour our coastal waters and all the creatures that depend on them — including ourselves.

    By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation’s Communications Specialist Theresa Beer

    Decision Time for Deep Corals in the Mid-Atlantic

      On June 10, regional fisheries officials will have the chance to create the largest protected area in U.S. Atlantic waters when they vote on a proposal to help preserve deep-sea corals and the unique habitat these animals create.

    When members of the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council meet in Virginia Beach, Virginia, they will be about 70 miles from one of the many undersea canyons that cut into the edge of the continental shelf. Scientists have discovered fantastic but fragile corals growing in and around these canyons along the Atlantic coast.

    These places are often not far offshore from major cities of the Eastern Seaboard, but images captured during explorations offer glimpses into another world. Sea spiders crawl among bubblegum coral, and long-nosed chimera—ghost sharks—glide above. The cameras of robotic submersibles have also documented commercially important species such as monkfish, squid, and swordfish using these deep-sea habitats.

    Sadly, scientists have also seen what happens to these unique life-forms when they are struck by damaging forms of fishing gear. Coral gardens are reduced to lifeless rubble by contact with bottom trawls. They might look like stone, but coral structures break easily and grow very slowly. Some deep-sea corals are among the oldest known animals and can live for centuries.

    The council members have recognized the need to use their power under federal law to protect these unique life-forms by making the canyons and a wide swath of the seafloor safe from fishing gear that scrapes along the bottom. The idea has support from conservation groups, stakeholders in the fishing industry, and the more than 100,000 people who weighed in during a public comment period.

    Although the council has agreed in principle that action is needed, the exact size of the protected area is still to be determined. If officials choose the largest area under consideration, they could safeguard more than 39,000 square miles of seabed and canyons—that’s nearly the size of Virginia.

    Such a large area also would extend an important network of deep-sea coral protections along the Atlantic coast. The three fishery management councils whose territory spans the coastline signed an agreement in 2013 to work to keep deep corals intact. The South Atlantic council had acted in 2010, creating habitat areas for deep corals that stretch from the tip of Florida to just east of North Carolina’s Outer Banks. An ambitious move by mid-Atlantic officials could protect corals from Virginia to New York and set the stage for New England to protect corals in the Northeast, including newly discovered coral gardens in the Gulf of Maine that amazed scientists with their size and age.

    I urge council members to seize this opportunity to create a conservation legacy they can be proud of.

    Peter Baker|Mid-Atlantic Ocean Conservation|June 01, 2015

    Victory at Biscayne!

    After more than a decade of planning, science-based research, and a transparent public process, the National Park Service (NPS) has just announced plans to create a “no-take” marine reserve in Biscayne National Park to protect the park’s threatened coral reef and to bring back dwindling reef fish populations. Marine reserves are the best, most effective way to protect the entire coral reef ecosystem. Learn more.

    Biscayne National Park is home to some of our country’s most incredible, yet severely threatened coral reefs that have been on the decline for decades due to overuse, overfishing, and water pollution, leading to fewer fish and dying corals.

    Today  we celebrate this huge victory for our national parks. After more than 15 years of advocacy by NPCA, and after more than 20,000 supporters advocated for the creation of a marine reserve, our efforts paid off!

    Marine reserves are the quickest and best science-based solution to conserving entire coral reef ecosystems, helping to replenish native reef fish populations and providing valuable park visitor experiences.

    VICTORY: What You Helped Protect at Biscayne National Park

    Earlier today, park officials at Biscayne made an announcement that NPCA has been waiting more than 15 years to hear: The park will establish a new marine reserve to help protect its fragile, one-of-a-kind underwater resources. This important step represents the work of numerous environmental groups, scientists, fishermen, and concerned citizens—including more than 20,000 NPCA supporters who spoke out over the years to make this reserve a reality.

    Biscayne has been overfished and over-stressed for decades. A marine reserve is one of the most effective and scientifically sound ways to keep this unique ecosystem healthy while allowing people to continue to enjoy the park’s beautiful waters. The reserve will prevent fishing and removing resources along a portion of the park’s coral reef, which is part of the third largest in the world, while continuing to allow for boating, swimming, snorkeling, and diving activities.

    Here’s what advocates helped protect at this premier marine park.

    • Elkhorn and other varieties of coral. Biscayne protects part of the only living coral reef system in the contiguous United States, and the health of this reef has been deteriorating for decades. Current coral populations are a fraction of what they once were, and elkhorn coral in particular has been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act since 2006. A marine reserve will protect what is left of these threatened animals and reef structures and improve their chances at recovery.
    • Native fish. Native species like black grouper, which once flourished in the area, are now at less than one percent of their historic populations. The fish that still exist here are typically undersized. Allowing a small area of the park—roughly 6 percent of the total marine area—to serve as a protected habitat without the pressures of fishing will help these species to thrive again, bringing back more fish in Florida.
    • Local fisheries. It makes sense that what is good for fish is also good for fisheries. Studies in other marine reserves show that improving fish populations within a protected habitat area translates into an increase in fish outside the reserve boundaries, too. Just five years after creating a marine reserve at nearby Dry Tortugas, researchers found significant increases in both the size and the quantity of fish in the region. This can help keep South Florida’s multimillion-dollar seafood and recreational fishing industries strong.
    • Recreational opportunities. Biscayne plays a big role in South Florida’s tourism economy. Nearly half a million people visited the park in 2014 alone, and those visitors spent more than $29 million and sustained nearly 400 local jobs. Healthy fish and corals are at the heart of this visitation. Biscayne cannot continue to be a world-class destination for snorkeling, fishing, boating, and diving without a thriving underwater ecosystem.

    I first explored the waters of Biscayne about eight years ago, while working with a shark research group as a college student at the University of Miami. Swimming through the shallow waters off of Elliott Key to search for juvenile sharks at night, I remember being both terrified and amazed that this extraordinary place existed right off the shores of Miami. Since then, I’ve worked to protect the beauty, biodiversity, and visitor experiences that truly define the character of Biscayne National Park.

    In the end, we all share the same goal: to ensure a vibrant future for the park and the animals that live there so we can all continue to enjoy it. Today’s victory brings us that much closer to achieving our goal. Thank you for helping to make that vision a reality!

    See NPCA’s new infographic for more information.

    Caroline McLaughlin|June 5, 2015

    Saving Jamaica’s coral reefs

    IDB, UWI undertake restoration project

    THE Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Centre for Marine Sciences (CMS) at the University of the West Indies will today, World Environment Day, launch a US$350,000-project aimed at restoring the island’s coral reefs and ultimately providing applicable information and techniques to other countries in the region experiencing similar challenges.

    The 18-month endeavor, dubbed the Coral Reef Restoration Project, will see the CMS undertaking a series of research activities to, among other things, mitigate coral depletion, and identify and cultivate species that are resistant to the ravages of the impact of climate change.

    In addition to climate change stressors, the reefs are being depleted due to human-related factors such as population growth, over-fishing and pollution.

    “We had always assumed that the reefs would recover naturally,” said Marcia Creary, principal project investigator. “However, this productive and diverse ecosystem which is the source of food, medicine and coastal protection, is in jeopardy. The alarm has been raised, coral reefs need our help and they need it now.”

    Coral reefs, with their diverse range of marine plants and animals, are critical to much more than just the beautiful underwater vistas for which Jamaica and the wider Caribbean are famous. It is estimated that their depletion negatively impacts the productivity of fisheries, coastal protection, tourism and other related areas to a value of US$5 to US$11 billion per year.

    Though limited in this initial execution to special nurseries on the island’s north coast, the project is expected to provide information that will be invaluable to further reef restoration activities in the region.

    Many recent studies have focused on documenting the status and decline of coral reefs, and CMS head, and project director, Prof Dale Webber, couldn’t be more excited about leading the effort.

    “This project is particularly intriguing because the situation with our corals has long been held as the ‘worst-case scenario’ – what not to do with a marine resource. Now those same corals may yet unlock the answers as to how the region’s reefs may survive,” Prof Webber said.

    “The UWI is perfect for this project with the extensive resources available at its three marine laboratories at Discovery Bay, Port Royal, and Port Antonio. In addition to their regular research, teaching and outreach operations, the labs will be actively deployed in the various facets of this multidisciplinary undertaking,” he continued.

    The IDB is hoping that this project, which involves direct collaboration with Belize, where a similar activity is being simultaneously executed, will lead to the development of a reef restoration program that will be widely applicable to the Caribbean region.

    Wildlife and Habitat

    Five surprising facts about elephants ‏

    Elephants capture our imagination, and for good reason!

    The largest living land animals, elephants live complex social lives which we are only beginning to understand. Here are just five of the things that make elephants special.

    1. A male Asian elephant named Koshik – can imitate human speech – matching Korean speech format frequencies in such detail that Korean native speakers can readily understand and transcribe the imitations.

    2. Elephants are the only non-human species known to mourn their dead. Researchers have documented many instances of death rituals at which elephants will somberly visit the bones of other dead elephants.

    3. You know that old saying about how an elephant never forgets? Well, it’s amazing what they can remember. Research has shown than an elephant matriarch can keep track of up to 30 herd-mates at a time. Researcher Richard Byrne concludes that elephant memories are “far in advance of anything other animals have been shown to have.”

    4. Elephants are capable of expressing complex thoughts such as warning others of danger, reconciling differences and communicating needs and desires using a system of visual and acoustic signals. Amazingly, recent discoveries show that most vocal calls are at a frequency that humans can’t even hear!

    5. Overhunting by humans is believed to be a factor in both mastodon and mammoth extinctions. Stopping poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking in elephant ivory will be essential in order to stop Asian and African elephants from suffering the same fate.

    Elephants are truly incredible creatures! That’s why it’s so important that we do everything we can to protect them from illegal wildlife trafficking, which includes stopping the demand for Ivory right here in the U.S.

    Don Barry|Senior Vice President|Conservation Programs|Defenders of Wildlife|6/5/15

    Forestry

    Nanatahala-Pisgah Forest Plan Revision Status Update

    On April 20, 2015 the U.S. Forest Service held a meeting with key stakeholders to begin a collaborative process for the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest Plan revision. The Wilderness Society Southern Appalachian staff attended as leadership members of the Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Partnership and the National Forest Restoration Collaborative. The USFS is still working on defining and shaping their collaboration approach for the plan and alternatives, and to date no public meetings have been scheduled.

    The Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Partnership continues to progress in its own collaborative stakeholder process, fostering education and dialogue with a wide spectrum of forest users and communities. The NPFP will continue to monitor and participate in the USFS process as it progresses.

    View a summary of the USFS Collaborative Summit meeting, or read the full notes from the meeting.

    For general information on the Nantahala Pisgah forest planning process, visit the USFS forest planning website.

    jill gottesman|The Wilderness Society

    Drones and dogs deployed in battle to save the guacamole

    With the killers hiding in the trees, heat-sensing drones are launched into the air. When their whereabouts are narrowed, the dogs are sent in. When it comes to protecting the world’s supply of guacamole, no weapon can be spared.

    On subtropical farmland in South Florida, researchers are doing battle with the deadly fungus, laurel wilt, which is spread by a tiny beetle and has the potential to decimate Florida’s avocado crop. The hashtag they have adopted for their mission: #savetheguac.

    “This is probably the biggest threat to the Florida avocado that’s ever been seen” said Jonathan H. Crane, a tropical fruit crop specialist at the University of Florida.

    Laurel wilt is spread by the ambrosia beetle, an invasive species from Asia. It first appeared in the U.S. in Georgia in 2002, and has spread around the Southeast, mostly in redbay laurel trees. Avocados are in the same laurel tree family, and once infected by the fungus the tree can be dead within six weeks.

    Researchers and farmers are fighting to halt the fungus before it advances to California, where the avocado is king.

    Avocados are Florida’s second-biggest fruit crop, behind citrus. The larger, smooth-skinned avocados in the Sunshine State differ from the smaller, rough-rined California Haas avocados. California produces nearly 90 percent of the nation’s avocado crop and it’s worth about $400 million annually — which is why it’s essential to stop laurel wilt’s spread.

    Deep in Miami-Dade County’s southern agricultural enclaves, researchers are testing methods to do just that. Florida avocados are harvested beginning in early June.

    On a recent day, scientists from Florida International University and the University of Florida, along with the owners of a drone company and a canine detection team converged on a ranch under a blistering sun.

    Part of the challenge of fighting laurel wilt is that by the time a farmer sees evidence of the disease — thin, hair-like prongs sticking out from tree trunks and limbs that are really the sawdust residue left behind by the burrowing beetle — it’s too late to save the tree. But if farmers can catch the disease in its infancy, before symptoms emerge, there’s hope of saving the tree with fungicide.

    The first step is finding which part of the grove is infected. That’s where the drone comes in. According to Ty Rozier, owner of Elevated Horizons, a Miami-based drone company, the vehicle carries a thermal digital imaging camera as it soars over the groves in lawnmower patterns.

    Researchers analyze the images and videos to find the stressed trees. Then, they send in the dogs.

    “It’s almost like cancer detection,” said Ken Furton, an FIU provost and professor of chemistry. “Multiple dogs have alerted on (infected) trees that show no signs of infection.”

    The dogs currently used are two Belgian Malinois and two shelter dogs.

    Once the dogs key in on an infected tree, farmers can remove and burn it, then inject nearby trees with fungicide in hopes of saving them or staving off the disease.

    It’s too costly to try to eradicate the ambrosia beetle, said Crane. The beetle works quickly, sometimes moving 30 to 50 miles a day through redbay laurel trees. Those varieties are found in Texas and “from there it’s not a stretch to California or Mexico,” Crane said. It’s impossible to stop in those wild trees, but farmers must try to contain the disease in the avocado crops.

    He added: “You can see the potential ecologic and economic devastation.”

    Since first detected on the edge of Miami’s western suburbs in 2011, laurel wilt has killed swamp bay trees scattered across 330,000 acres of the Everglades. Hundreds of millions of redbay trees have succumbed across six Southeastern states since 2002.

    And some avocado trees in Florida have been felled as well. About a mile from where researchers were testing the drones and dogs, acres of sick avocado trees were spindly, brown and dead. One researcher said it was likely the farmer couldn’t afford to rip up and burn the trees, or treat the healthier ones.

    This two-pronged detection system of drones and dogs could be adapted to other crop diseases, such as citrus greening, Furton said.

    A $148,000 state grant is funding the study involving the drones and dogs.

    “Florida’s warm climate makes our state a hotbed for invasive species and diseases,” said Adam Putnam, Florida’s agriculture commissioner. “Florida’s avocado industry has a $64 million economic impact in our state, and we will continue to aggressively protect our agriculture industry with cutting-edge research and technology.”

    Tamara Lush|Associated Press|April 30, 2015

    Why this deforestation pledge is huge news for the Indonesian rainforest

    On Wednesday, Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL) — one of the world’s largest pulp and paper makers, and the last Indonesian corporate giant that had not jumped on board the “save the rainforest” train — pledged to eliminate deforestation from its operations.

    “APRIL’s policy is huge news for the entire industry,” said Amy Moas, a Greenpeace forest campaigner. “Now over 80 percent of the pulp sector in Indonesia is committed to stopping the destruction of the rainforests.”

    APRIL’s parent company, the Royal Golden Eagle group, also announced that this sustainability policy will extend to all its other pulp companies. Moas told me she is hopeful that the Royal Golden Eagle group is committed to making good on its pledge because Greenpeace negotiators dealt directly with top leadership.

    Three years ago, the rainforests of Indonesia, and the species that rely on them, seemed as if they were doomed. Desperately poor people were finally improving their situations, but they were doing it by cutting down forests and selling the wood, or clearing land for palm-oil plantations. Big corporations were making fortunes in this transformation, and the government was supporting the development of wild lands. The people, government, and businesses were essentially allied in the drive to cut down the rainforest.

    Now, that picture has changed radically. Palm-oil companies have committed to ending deforestation, as has Asia Pulp and Paper, the other major pulp company in Indonesia. And the country’s new president, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, is an advocate for conservation.

    Still, there’s much more to be done. Company pledges won’t make the fundamental problems go away. As long as there’s poverty, people have a strong incentive to cut down trees. The government needs to step up to help bring about these promises of change, said Bustar Maitar, head of Greenpeace’s Indonesia forest campaign, in a statement:

    President Jokowi promised to stop plantation companies damaging the environment or harming communities. Yet even though Indonesia’s biggest pulpwood and palm oil companies are moving away from deforestation, the destruction on the ground continues. The government must now act to reform the forest sector so it works for people and the environment.

    The threats to Indonesia’s rainforests are still staggering. But now, at least, the most powerful players in this game, rather than supporting deforestation, have all committed to stopping it.

    Nathanael Johnson|3 Jun 2015

    Drone Footage Captures the Shocking Reality of Rainforest Destruction

    Recent drone footage from the nonprofit Forest Heroes, which works to end global deforestation, shows that, despite recent efforts to reduce deforestation, it is still happening. The drone footage below shows an Indonesian rainforest cleared for a palm oil plantation by the company, Astra Agro Lestari.

    Global Canopy Program′s website Forest 500 identifies, ranks and tracks the governments, companies and financial institutions worldwide that together could virtually eradicate tropical deforestation. It has named Astra Agro Lestari as one of the key players that could help end deforestation. The company is one of the 10 largest palm oil producers in Indonesia and has been operating there for more than 30 years. The Forest 500 gives it the lowest possible rating—1 out of 5—for its forest policies.

    While organizations like the Global Canopy Program work to fight deforestation by addressing the supply side, other organizations like the Union of Concerned Scientists are working to address the demand side of the equation. The Union of Concerned Scientists put out a report this spring, analyzing top international companies’ palm oil commitments.

    When the organization found that fast food companies had some of the weakest standards for sustainably sourced palm oil, beef and other ingredients, several fast food companies, most notably McDonald’s, pledged to eliminate deforestation from their supply chain by the end of the year. Two other top fast food chains—Dunkin’ Brands, parent of Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins, and Yum! Brands, owner of KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell—made commitments to stop buying palm oil linked to deforestation.

    Deforestation not only contributes to climate change, but it has pushed many animals to the brink of extinction. Forest Heroes is urging people to sign a petition calling on Astra Agro Lestari and its parent company Jardine Matheson Holdings Ltd. to end deforestation.

    Cole Mellino|June 4, 2015

    Global Warming and Climate Change

    Everest Glaciers Very Sensitive to Global Warming, Researchers Say

    According to a team of scientists led by Dr Joseph Shea of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development in Kathmandu, Nepal, if greenhouse-gas emissions continue to rise, glaciers in the Dudh Kosi basin in the Nepal Himalaya, which is home to some of the world’s highest mountain peaks, including Mt Everest, could experience dramatic change in the decades to come.

    Everest and Khumbu glacier in the Dudh Koshi basin. Image credit: Patrick Wagnon.

    Everest and Khumbu glacier in the Dudh Koshi basin. Image credit: Patrick Wagnon.

    The glacier model used by Dr Shea and his colleagues in their study shows that glacier volume in the region could be reduced between 70 and 99 percent by 2100.

    The results depend on how much greenhouse-gas emissions continue to rise, and on how this will affect temperature, snowfall and rainfall in the area.

    “Our results indicate that these glaciers may be highly sensitive to changes in temperature, and that increases in precipitation are not enough to offset the increased melt,” explained Dr Shea, who is the lead author on the paper published in the journal Cryosphere.

    Increased temperatures will not only increase the rates of snow and ice melt, but can also result in a change of precipitation from snow to rain at critical elevations, where glaciers are concentrated.

    Together, these act to reduce glacier growth and increase the area exposed to melt.

    “Apart from the significance of the region, glaciers in the Dudh Kosi basin contribute meltwater to the Kosi River, and glacier changes will affect river flows downstream,” Dr Shea said.

    Changes in glacier volume can impact the availability of water, with consequences for agriculture and hydropower generation.

    While increased glacier melt initially increases water flows, ongoing retreat leads to reduced meltwater from the glaciers during the warmer months, with greatest impact for the local populations before the monsoon when rainfall is scarce.

    Glacier retreat can also result in the formation and growth of lakes dammed by glacial debris. Avalanches and earthquakes can breach the dams, causing catastrophic floods that can result in river flows 100 times greater than normal in the Dudh Kosi basin.

    Sci-News.com|May 28, 2015

    Negotiations in Bonn Will Likely Decide if Paris Climate Talks ‘Can Save Human Civilization From Ultimate Collapse’

    The text of the agreement on how the world will tackle climate change and set targets that will keep global temperatures from rising more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels is being negotiated in Bonn this week.

    The 2°C limit has been set by politicians to prevent the planet overheating dangerously—but the cuts in carbon emissions required to achieve it have so far not been agreed.

    It is this gap between the policy goals agreed by world leaders and their lack of action to achieve them that the Bonn conference seeks to address.

    The meeting, which opened today, will last for 10 days as working groups grapple with action to reduce carbon emissions, how to finance technology transfer, and how to adapt to sea level rise and other unavoidable consequences of present warming—such as the current heatwave affecting India, where temperatures in some southern states have topped 47°C.

    Devastating consequences

    Scientists and environmental groups have said that this year’s negotiations are humanity’s “Last Chance Saloon.” If steep emissions cuts are not agreed upon and implemented quickly, the global temperature has little chance of staying under 2°C—with devastating consequences for the natural world and human civilization.

    There are signs that momentum towards agreement is increasing. A report by Globe International, which will be given to delegates, reveals that three-quarters of the world’s annual emissions of greenhouse gases are now limited by national targets.

    The 2015 Global Climate Legislation Study shows that the number of climate laws and policies aimed at limiting emissions passed by national governments had increased to 804 this year, up from 426 in 2009 when the Copenhagen climate talks collapsed, and from just 54 in 1997 when the Kyoto Protocol was agreed.

    The lead author of the study, Michal Nachmany, a researcher at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change, says: “With three-quarters of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions now covered by national targets, we can be more confident about the credibility of the pledges that countries will make ahead of the crucial summit in Paris.

    “While collectively these pledges are unlikely to be consistent with the international goal of avoiding global warming of more than 2°C, the existence of national legislation and policies should provide the opportunity for countries to strengthen the ambition of their emissions cuts after the summit.”

    Professor Samuel Fankhauser, co-director of the Grantham Institute and co-author of the study, says: “Every five or so years, the number of climate laws and policies across the world has doubled. This growing amount of legislation provides evidence that the world’s major emitters are taking serious steps to tackle climate change in their countries.

    “By writing their intentions into law, the world’s leaders have shown that international climate change talks do lead to national action in the vast majority of countries.”

    The problem is, as the report points out, that current targets and timetables to achieve them are not enough to limit greenhouse gases sufficiently to get below the agreed 2°C limit.

    Under pressure

    However, politicians are coming under pressure to improve their pledges. Ahead of the Bonn meeting, a business summit in Paris showed that many companies are pushing their political leaders for action.

    This is a marked change from the last two decades, a time when the fossil fuel industry has lobbied to slow decisions on tackling climate change.

    In Paris, 25 worldwide business networks—representing 6.5 million companies from 130 countries—demanded political action to achieve a low-emission, climate-resilient economy.

    Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the organizer of the Bonn conference, says: “With some 200 days to the UN climate convention conference in Paris, the growing momentum for change and for action is rapidly gaining ground across countries, companies, cities and citizens.

    “News of yet another group of stakeholders committing to long-term emission reduction targets or ambitious investments in renewable energies is emerging almost daily—building confidence and a sense of ‘can do’ among nations as we enter the final six months of 2015.”

    Whether this optimism is justified will be seen in the next week as the working groups refine the technical agreements that heads of governments are expected to sign in Paris in December.

    Recurring problems

    Among the many recurring problems that have created a stumbling block is the amount of money pledged by rich nations to developing countries to help them avoid fossil fuel use and adapt to climate change. So far, the pledges to provide billions of dollars in technical help and adaptation have not been followed by the cash.

    As well as trying to seal an agreement for action after 2020, the Bonn conference is also working to accelerate action in the five years until then—which are currently covered by no legally-binding international agreement. The particular focus here will be on scaling up the use of renewable energy and energy efficiency in urban areas.

    The fact that China and the U.S. are now working together to reach an agreement in Paris is also helping move the talks along.

    However, some developing countries, notably India, are still saying their priority is lifting their poor out of poverty, rather than reducing their emissions.

    To this end, India is exploiting far more of its coal reserves, and jeopardizing hopes of global reductions in emissions.

    Paul Brown|Climate News Network|June 1, 2015 3:

    6 Climate Tipping Points: How Worried Should We Be?

    One of the biggest fears about climate change is that it may be triggering events that would dramatically alter Earth as we know it.

    Known to scientists as “tipping events,” they could contribute to mass extinction of species, dramatic sea level rise, extensive droughts and the transformation of forests into vast grasslands – among other upheavals our stressed world can ill afford.

    Here are the top six climate events scientists worry about today.

    1. The Arctic sea ice melts

    The melting of the Arctic summer ice is considered to be the single greatest threat, and some scientists think we’ve already passed the tipping point.

    As sea ice melts and the Arctic warms, dark ocean water is exposed that absorbs more sunlight, thus reinforcing the warming. The transition to an ice-free Arctic summer can occur rapidly – within decades – and this has geopolitical implications, in addition to a whole ecosystem being disrupted.

    Photo: Smudge 900/Flickr

    2. Greenland becomes ice-free

    The warming of the Arctic may also render Greenland largely ice-free. While Greenland’s ice loss will likely reach the point of no return within this century, the full transition will take at least a few hundred years.

    The impacts of the Greenland ice melt is expected to raise sea levels by up to 20 feet.

    Half of the 10 largest cities in the world, including New York City, and one-third of the world’s 30 largest cities are already threatened by this sea level rise. Today, they are home to nearly 1.8 billion people.

    Other vulnerable American cities include Miami, Norfolk and Boston.

    Photo: siralbertus/Flickr

    3. The West Antarctic ice sheet disintegrates

    On the other side of Earth, the West Antarctic ice sheet is also disintegrating. Because the bottom of this glacier is grounded below sea level, it’s vulnerable to rapid break-up, thinning and retreat as warm ocean waters eat away at the ice.

    Scientists expect the West Antarctic ice sheet to “tip” this century, and there is evidence that it already began happening in 2014.

    However, the entire collapse of the glacier, which would raise sea level by 16 feet, could take a few hundred years.

    Photo: BBC World Service/Flickr

    4. El Niño becomes a more permanent climate fixture

    The oceans absorb about 90 percent of the extra heat that is being trapped in the Earth system by greenhouse gases. This could affect the ocean dynamics that control El Niño events.

    While there are several theories about what could happen in the future, the most likely consequence of ocean heat uptake is that El Niño, a natural climate phenomenon, could become a more permanent part of our climate system.

    That would cause extensive drought conditions in Southeast Asia and elsewhere, while some drought-prone areas such as California would get relief.

    The transition is expected to be gradual and take around a century to occur – but it could also be triggered sooner.

    Photo: Austin Yoder/Flickr

    5. The Amazon rain forest dies back

    Rainfall in the Amazon is threatened by deforestation, a longer dry season and rising summer temperatures.

    At least half of the Amazon rainforest could turn into savannah and grassland, which – once triggered – could happen over just a few decades. This would make it very difficult for the rainforest to reestablish itself and lead to a considerable loss in biodiversity.

    However, the reduction of the Amazon ultimately depends on what happens with El Niño, along with future land-use changes from human activities.

    Photo: World Bank/Flickr

    6. Boreal forests are cut in half

    Increased water and heat stress are taking a toll on the large forests in Canada, Russia and other parts of the uppermost Northern Hemisphere. So are forest disease and fires.

    This could lead to a 50-percent reduction of the boreal forests, and mean they may never be able to recover. Instead, the forest would gradually transition into open woodlands or grasslands over several decades.

    This would have a huge impact on the world’s carbon balance because forests can absorb much more carbon than grasslands do. As the forest diminishes, the climate will be affected as will the Earth’s energy balance.

    However, the complex interaction between tree physiology, permafrost and fires makes the situation tricky to understand.

    Photo: Gord McKenna/Flickr

    Other concerns…

    As if that’s not enough, there are a few other tipping events that scientists are also concerned about, but they are even more complex and harder to predict. Examples of such events include the greening of the Sahara and Sahel, the development of an Arctic ozone hole and a chaotic Indian summer monsoon.

    How do we keep from tipping over?

    We know from measurements that the Earth has had many climate-related tipping events throughout its history. Today’s situation is different, because humans are now driving these changes and the warming is occurring at a faster rate.

    But as humans we also have the power to change the trajectory we’re on – possibly in a matter of a few years. We think we know how.

    Environmental Defense Fund|June 1, 2015

    Glacier loss raises high concern over water supplies

    Massively increased ice melt in the high Himalayas because of climate change could seriously jeopardize the flow of water for billions of people in Asia.

    LONDON, 2 June, 2015 − The glaciers of the Everest region of the Himalayan massif – home to the highest peak of all – could lose between 70% and 99% of their volume as a result of global warming.

    Asia’s mountain ranges contain the greatest thickness of ice beyond the polar regions. But new research predicts that, by 2100, the world’s highest waters – on which billions of people depend for their water supply – could be at their lowest ebb because of the ice loss.

    Many of the continent’s great rivers begin up in the snows, fed by melting ice in high-peak regions such as the Hindu Kush, the Pamir and the Himalayas.

    Joseph Shea, a glacial hydrologist at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development in Kathmandu, Nepal, and French and Dutch colleagues report in The Cryosphere journal that they used more than 50 years of climate data and sophisticated computer models of predicted climate change to study the pattern of snowpack and seasonal melt in the Everest region.

    Temperature increase

    They found a decrease of 20% since 1961, and signs that most, if not quite all, of the stored ice could disappear in the next 85 years.

    “The signal of future glacier change in the region is clear: continued and possibly accelerated mass loss from glaciers is likely, given the projected increase in temperatures,” Dr Shea says.

    ”Our results indicate that these glaciers may be highly sensitive to changes in temperature, and that increases in precipitation are not enough to offset the increased melt.”

    That mountain glaciers in the temperate zones and the tropics are in retreat is not in doubt. In the last two years, researchers have established patterns of ice loss in Nepal, in the tropical Andes of South America, and in the Canadian highlands.

    “The signal for future glacier change in the region is clear and compelling”

    Other teams have stepped back to look at the big picture, and one calculation is that around 160,000 glaciers in Europe, Asia, and the Americas are shedding 260 billion tons of ice each year. This is roughly as much as is now being lost from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets.

    The consequences for sea level rise are obvious, and ominous. But glaciers have local importance too: their spring and summer meltwater drives hydroelectric power, nourishes industrial growth in the cities, and irrigates the rice and wheat crops on which billions of people depend.

    The rate and extent of glacial retreat, the scientists say, depends on the levels of greenhouse gases emitted from the burning of fossil fuels in future. And some of the loss depends on the changes in the altitude at which water freezes.

    Freezing levels

    Right now, in the Everest region, ice forms at 3,200 metres in January, but at 5,500 metres in August. But according to Walter Immersed, assistant professor of physical geography at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, these freezing levels could rise by between 800 and 1,200 metres by 2100.

    “Such an increase would not only reduce snow accumulation over the glaciers, but would also expose 90% of the current glacier area to melt in the warmer months,” he says.

    Research at high altitudes is difficult, dangerous, and subject to error. The scientists focused their study on four large glaciers in Nepal’s Dudh Kosi river basin, which holds 400 square kilometres of glacial ice. They then tested eight future climate scenarios to construct the pattern of the future.

    In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that the Himalayan glaciers could vanish as early as 2035 − but three years later had to apologize for what was described as an “unfounded” claim.

    The Cryosphere authors say their own results should also be treated cautiously. But, their paper concludes, “the signal for future glacier change in the region is clear and compelling”.

    Tim Radford|Climate News Network

    Extreme Weather

    New lab creates indoor hurricane conditions 

    Anybody who has ever seen images of the devastation caused by Katrina, and especially people who have experienced such catastrophic events first-hand, know the force with which a hurricane is capable of striking. But what causes ordinary storms to become so powerful?

    That’s what experts at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science are trying to find out with their new laboratory, called the Surge-Structure-Atmosphere Interaction (SUSTAIN) facility. There, scientists are studying the physics and the dynamics of hurricanes that make landfall, as well as aspects of these catastrophic coastal storms.

    Indoor storms

    According to the Associated Press, the facility contains a 75-foot-long, 6.5-foot-high acrylic tank that is capable of holding 38,000 gallons of water. In the tank, this water is agitated using a 1,700 horsepower fan capable of creating simulated Category 5 hurricane conditions and winds of up to 157 miles per hour. Sensors mounted on the ceiling monitor atmospheric changes in the lab.

    “SUSTAIN addresses a significant gap in the existing research infrastructure available to support the development of disaster resistant and resilient coastal communities,” the university explained on its website, adding that the lab “provides an innovative experimental test-bed” to evaluate the development of “high-resolution coupled wind-wave-surge forecast models” and “computational fluid dynamics models for hurricane impacts on coastal structures.”

    Working to improve forecasts

    In the laboratory, Rosenstiel School scientists study the impact caused by the severe wind-driven and wave-induced storm surges typically generated by hurricanes can have on coastal cities and other structures. SUSTAIN’s experiments feature hurricane force winds paired with wind-waves and storm surges combine to create a complex model of coastal topography.

    The sensors used to monitor the experiments, lab director Brian Haus told the AP, will gather data to help fine-tune satellites used to monitor actual hurricanes. Such probes, he said, are typically sensitive to small things on the surface, and even though they have to cover big areas, experts aren’t certain what they actually see during extreme weather events.

    Haus and his SUSTAIN colleagues also hope that they can enhance the quality of weather-focused observational equipment, the wire service said. Rick Knabb, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, told the AP that the research will play a key role in improving storm intensity forecasts, particularly near the coastline.

    Chuck Bednar|redOrbit.com

    California’s Largest Lake Is Drying Up Amid Epic Drought

    The Salton Sea, a huge, shallow manmade lake located in the Sonoran Desert in California’s Imperial and Coachella valleys, has had problems for years. Its increasing saltiness has killed off most of its once-abundant fish species. Its shrinking water level has caused a reduction in water available for agricultural use, along with many dramatic photos of exposed lakebed and abandoned towns that were once seaside resorts. While the sea is no longer a resort destination for Hollywood celebrities as it was in the ’50s and ’60s, it’s still a playground for birds, with more than 400 species living along its shores or migrating through the area. But those populations could also be in jeopardy if its waters continue to recede.

    And that exposed lake bed is expected to grow, thanks to California’s prolonged drought, now in its fourth year, and reductions in apportionment of water from the Colorado River which feeds the 360-square-mile sea. For many years, farmers in the agriculturally rich Imperial Valley would take more than their allocation of Colorado River water, viewing water as an infinite resource. But with growing demand from other southwestern states, with their growing populations and their own stresses due to drought, they became less able to do so. And now the drought and state-mandated water reductions have increased competition for whatever water is available, putting the Salton Sea at risk.

    And that’s only the beginning of the problems that could be fueled by the sea’s receding water level.

    As the sea shrinks, it could cause significant health problems many miles away. The shrinkage exposes its particular type of soil, which is lighter than ordinary soil and more easily carried away by wind. The area is prone to high winds and dust storms. And because the lake also captures farm runoff, the dust is loaded with toxins such as arsenic, selenium, lead, zinc, chromium and even traces of the pesticide DDT, which was banned in 1972.

    “These chemicals could attach themselves to the fine particles of sediment when the lake evaporates and could be breathed by people,” said Tom Gill, geochemist for the air quality branch at the Crocker Nuclear Laboratory at the University of California, Davis. “It could potentially be a health hazard.”

    ADVERTISING

    A story about the Salton Sea published in the Washington Post this week highlighted that hazard.

    “Dried lake bed, called playa, is lighter and flies farther than ordinary soil,” it said. “Choking clouds of particulate matter driven by powerful desert winds could seed health problems for 650,000 people as far away as Los Angeles. The effects would be even worse along the lake, where communities already fail federal air-quality standards and suffer the highest asthma rates in the state.”

    Los Angeles is nearly 170 miles from the Salton Sea.

    If the sea continues its current rate of shrinkage, an additional 100 miles of lake bed could be exposed, along with a huge amount of the toxins.

    “California faces significant air quality and natural resources threats with the shrinking of the Salton Sea,” wrote Gov. Jerry Brown in his latest budget proposal, which includes an allocation for a new Salton Sea Task Force to look at ways to remediate its problems.

    “Prior comprehensive plans to restore the sea are no longer feasible due to cost and decreased water availability resulting from the drought in California and in the southwestern states,” wrote Gov. Brown. “Working with partners and utilizing existing funds already appropriated, the construction of over 1,000 acres of habitat and dust abatement projects is scheduled to begin in 2015. In addition, the Administration has formed the Salton Sea Task Force with principals from the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Agencies to develop new achievable medium and long‑term restoration plans. The Task Force will develop these plans in coordination with stakeholders, and will be appointing a new position using existing resources to lead the work of the Task Force and manage expedited construction of projects that protect both the wildlife habitat and air quality at the sea.”

    Anastasia Pantsios|EcoWatch|May 31, 2015

    7 Epic Droughts Devastating the Planet

    Every inhabited continent, to varying degrees, faces extremely high water stress. That means that in certain areas more than 80 percent of the local water supply is withdrawn by businesses, farmers, residents and other consumers every year. Not all of that water is consumed—it may flow back into a river after it’s used and be available again downstream—but the demand still creates competition where it is needed.

    These “stressed” areas are also the ones most vulnerable to episodic droughts. With chronic over-use of water resources, it only takes a string of a few bad rainfall years or poor management decisions to plunge a region into crisis and chaos.

    chart1

    And indeed, that is what we appear to be seeing across the world over the past few years. Here’s a look at seven extreme droughts that have occurred in the past decade:

    1. Australia’s one-in-a-thousand-year drought

    Australia’s “Millennium” drought began in 1995 and continued country-wide until late 2009. Reservoir levels fell precipitously, as did crop production and industrial water use. A number of cities, including Melbourne, Sydney and Perth, built desalination plants in an effort to partially drought-proof themselves, while other areas pursued grey water recycling projects. Between 2001 and 2012, the federal government provided $4.5 billion in assistance to drought-affected farmers and small businesses.

    In 2010-11, following quickly on the heels of the drought, Australia experienced its worst flooding in half a century, as an area of Queensland larger than the size of France and Germany combined flooded, affecting 200,000 people and costing at least $10 billion.

    2. Spain imports water by ship

    Drought in Spain’s northeastern region of Catalonia grew so severe in 2008 that Barcelona began importing water by ship from France. About 70 percent of Spain’s water goes to agriculture, much of which is “wasted in antiquated irrigation systems and the cultivation of thirsty crops unsuitable for arid lands,” according to The Independent. Other critics pointed to low water prices as the culprit for the crisis. Low water prices, it is often argued, result in profligate water use and low investment in water-efficient infrastructure.

    3. Northern India’s groundwater loss can be seen from space

    Twin satellites from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) are able to detect changes in the Earth’s gravity field brought about by changes in mass distribution, including changes in groundwater storage. Nowhere on Earth are groundwater declines greater than in northern India; NASA found that large-scale irrigation caused 108 cubic kilometers of groundwater loss in Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, and Delhi between 2002 and 2008. The study’s lead, Matt Rodell, observed that “The region has become dependent on irrigation to maximize agricultural productivity. If measures are not taken to ensure sustainable groundwater usage, the consequences for the 114 million residents of the region may include a collapse of agricultural output and severe shortages of potable water.”

    chart3

    In July 2012, roughly half of India’s population—about 670 million people or 10 percent of the world’s population—temporarily lost power following a massive grid failure. Some experts laid the blame on the severe drought affecting northern India. Low rainfall restricted the amount of power delivered by hydroelectric dams, and farmers used more power than usual to run water pumps to irrigate their crops.

    4. The dark side of China’s boom

    Much of northern China is relatively dry, not unlike California and the rest of the U.S. West. Yet it’s also traditionally produced significant amounts of wheat and other grains, thanks to flood irrigation. Add to this inefficient system skyrocketing water use by industry, energy and municipalities, and China’s future might be drying up.

    Government officials are starting to take action. Water is now one of China’s public policy priorities, and the central government recently launched a “Three Red Lines” policy to improve water use efficiency and place caps on water demand. Yet it remains unclear whether these policies are sufficient to overcome the country’s vast water challenges.

    5. Mesopotamian nightmare

    From 2006 through 2011, Syria suffered its worst drought and crop failure in recorded history. The GRACE satellite data revealed “an alarming rate of decrease in total water storage in the Tigris and Euphrates river basins, which [at the time had] the second fastest rate of groundwater storage loss on Earth, after India.” While many other factors—political, social and religious—have contributed to the Syrian military conflict, experts argue that “the decrease in water availability, water mismanagement, agricultural failures, and related economic deterioration contributed to population dislocations and the migration of rural communities to nearby cities. These factors further contributed to urban unemployment, economic dislocations, food insecurity for more than a million people, and subsequent social unrest.”

    6. Southeastern Brazil on the brink

    Parts of southeastern Brazil, including the cities of São Paolo, Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte, are struggling through the worst drought in 84 years, with 40 million people and the nation’s “economic heartbeat” at risk. Reservoirs that supply water to these cities are at dangerously low levels. They’re also highly polluted, complicating things even further.

    chart2

    Unfortunately, politicians have failed to act decisively to take steps to minimize the impact of the crisis, raising levels of public distrust and frustration. There has even been talk of exporting “water refugees” and bringing in the military to help out if matters grow worse.

    7. Turning now to California

    California is in the throes of an unprecedented drought, now in its fourth year. Gov. Jerry Brown ordered mandatory restrictions on water use by state municipalities early last month, and a group of farmers with senior rights have since given up a quarter of their water this year in exchange for being spared deeper mandatory cuts. The situation is bad—even desperate for some farmers. As I argued in a recent blog, the state needs to improve its water governance in order to protect its economic interests and its citizens.

    The situation is poised to worsen

    World Resources Institute’s Aqueduct project’s forthcoming projections for global water stress in 2020, 2030 and 2040 indicate that the global water picture is likely going to get worse over the next few decades. Larger populations and growing economies demand more water, and in some places, climate change will likely reduce available water supply. While our vulnerability to drought grows, the incidence of extreme weather events, including drought, will grow as well, according to most climate change experts.

    Yet in this knowledge lies power. We know that drought risk is high and growing worldwide. We’re already seeing the impact water scarcity has on citizens, on the environment and on economies. Sustainable water-management plans, clear government monitoring and management policies and wise natural and engineered infrastructure investments could have helped to shore up the dwindling water supply, alleviating impacts on people, planet and economy.

    It’s time to put this information into action. Businesses, governments and all water managers must quickly and intelligently take measures to reduce vulnerability to drought events.

    Charles Iceland|World Resources Institute|June 3, 2015

    Insane Heat Wave in Alaska Put Temperatures Higher Than in Arizona

    Alaska, along with the rest of the Arctic, has been warming even faster than other regions of the world due to climate change. That was the findings of a report this spring from the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, which found that the rate of warming will only continue to increase in the coming decades.

    The signs of rapid warming in Alaska were everywhere this past winter. The Iditarod was moved north 300 miles to Fairbanks because Anchorage had record low snowfall. A ski resort outside of Juneau had to close because of low snowfall and warm temperatures that inhibited snow-making.

    Now the 49th state experienced a heat wave at the end of May. Over Memorial Day weekend, while Texas was being inundated with floods, parts of Alaska were warmer than Arizona. On May 23 in Fairbanks, the temperature reached 86 degrees Fahrenheit, while Phoenix topped out at 83 for the day, reports Al Jazeera. Even the town of Bettles, which is north of Fairbanks and falls within the Arctic Circle, recorded a temperature of 82.

    That same day, Eagle, Alaska hit 91 degrees Fahrenheit, marking the earliest 90-degree day in state history, according to NASA Earth Observatory. And it wasn’t just one unusually warm day. “Between May 16 and May 24, Eagle hit 27 degrees Celsius (80 degrees Fahrenheit) or higher daily—its second longest such streak on record for any time of the year,” says Al Jazeera.

    recordheatThis map shows the record heat northwestern Canada and parts of Alaska experienced in the third week of May. Photo credit: NASA Earth Observatory

    Even America’s northernmost city, Barrow, Alaska, set record high temperatures for four out of the six days between May 17-22, topping out at 47 degrees on May 21 (nearly 18 degrees above normal), The Weather Channel reports. This may sound like nothing compared to the current heat wave in India, “but north of the Arctic Circle, this is extreme warmth for late May,” says The Weather Channel.

    This particular heat wave in Alaska and northwestern Canada has to do with two typhoons altering the jet stream pattern.”A series of two western Pacific super typhoons—Noul and Dolphin—have done a number on the (jet stream) pattern across the north Pacific following their extratropical transition,” says Dr. Michael Ventrice, operational scientist at The Weather Channel Professional Division.

    This “persistent high-pressure system … is but one consequence of a developing El Niño in the eastern Pacific,” says Al Jazeera. While El Niño may be exacerbating the warmth, the long term trend shows the Arctic will continue to warm from climate change. It has warmed faster than anywhere else in the world over the last 30 years.

    The effects of the warming are many-fold. Anchorage recorded its warmest April and it will probably be its least snowy season on record with only 25.1 inches of snow to date (its prior least snowy season was in 1957-1958 with 30.4 inches), according to The Weather Channel. The rapid snowmelt led to flooding in some areas and fire danger is already high in what experts worry might be the worst wildfire season yet.

    Cole Mellino|June 5, 2015

    Genetically Modified Organisms

    GE ban upheld in Oregon

    A federal court just handed our movement a huge VICTORY in upholding an Oregon county’s ban on GE farming!

    Last November, voters in Jackson County, Oregon overwhelmingly passed an ordinance to ban the planting of genetically engineered (GE) crops in the county. Soon after, opponents backed by Monsanto and their allies went to work trying to overrule voters in court.

    Center for Food Safety quickly stepped in to defend the ban and support local farmers, fearful that contamination from GE crops could destroy their livelihoods. In a precedent setting ruling last week, a federal judge upheld the ban; marking the first time a federal court has recognized farmers’ right to protect their crops from GE contamination.

    This is a huge victory for farmers, consumers, and for our democracy at large.

    We’re not just fighting for farmers and consumers. We’re fighting for democracy itself because we believe that voters have the right to make these decisions without being bullied or overruled by corporate interests – and the results are stacking up.

    In April, thanks to donations from people like you, we were able to deliver another blow to the industry’s agenda in successfully defending Vermont’s historic GE labeling law – which we drafted – from another lawsuit brought by major food corporations to stop labeling from moving forward.

    It turns out that we are a real thorn in the industry’s side. But they haven’t gotten the message yet. We think they’re gearing up to APPEAL the judge’s ruling in the Jackson County case and spend whatever it takes to stop our momentum elsewhere.

    Here’s to more victories like this.

    Center for Food Safety |6/02/15

    Guess What, GMOs Do Not Feed the World

    One of the most often touted benefits of Genetically Engineered (GE, also known as GMO) crops is that they are essential to feed the world’s growing population. There are currently 7 billion people on this planet and expected to rise to 9.5 billion by 2050. If consumption trends continue, in order to feed that many people, we would need to grow one-third more food. Let’s first look at this argument from an agricultural perspective.

    The vast majority of GE crop production does not go towards direct food consumption; rather, it is used for the production of animal feed and Ethanol. These are crops engineered to withstand, work in partnership with, and self-generate pesticides. They are not engineered to increase yield or face climate-related challenges to growth, such as drought tolerance. There is one variety of corn has been bred for drought resistance, but it is likely to only be effective in 15% of US corn fields and is not effective in severe or extreme drought, which we are expected to have more of in the coming years.

    Increases in yield from GE crops are a result of a decrease in yield lost to pests from Bt crops, pesticides, and an increase in fertilizer use (made from petroleum, defeating the purpose of ethanol). Unfortunately, growing weed and pest resistance is already decreasing their effectiveness, requiring much more dangerous pesticides and making useless one of the most used organic pesticides, Bt. These minimal increases in yield have come with major externalities, including but not limited to water pollution, pollinator loss, and soil degradation, that put future food security at risk. After decades of attempts, Big Biotech has not been successful in breeding GE seeds that increase yield or reduce water use. Conventional breeding outperforms genetic engineering when it comes to nitrogen use efficiency (the ability for crops to pull nitrogen out of soil, developing a more efficient use of fertilizer, ultimately decreasing the demand for fertilizers) and water use efficiency (WUE).

    Overall, conventional breeding is responsible for most of the successful advances in yield. It also happens on a much shorter timeline at a much lower cost. Industry studies show that it takes a minimum of ten years to develop a GE crop and nearly $150 million; whereas conventional crops take only $1 million to develop, improvements WUE and drought resistance naturally occur at an estimated 1% each year. While Big Biotech develop GE crops in a lab, farmers are improving traditional crops in the field. Due to this drag rate by the time GE crops are finally released they are actually behind their conventional counterparts.

    Conventional crops could also be more effectively bred to work in partnership with the cultural food needs and geographical climate and soil challenges unique to specific regions. Forcing GE crops into developing countries with higher existing biodiversity puts that biodiversity and future food supplies at risk by threatening native species and practices. There are an abundance of types of crop varieties (both already in use and wild) accessible to breeders and growers. It is important that we tap into this vast resource to expand nutrient diversity and accessibility.

    Considering the changing climate and increasing pressures on and demand for our scarce resources, expanding the industrialized system of agricultural is not the answer. Agriculture is already one of the largest contributors to climate change. In order to sustainability produce the food we will need, we must support a transition to more regenerative, agroecological methods of farming. Agroecology as a “science is the ‘application of ecological science to the study, design, and management of sustainable agroecosystems.’ As a set of agricultural practices, agroecology seeks ways to enhance agricultural systems by mimicking natural processes, thus creating beneficial biological interactions and synergies among the components of the agroecosystem.” In moving forward it is essential to look at the entire system and how plants work with one another and their surrounding climates. Regenerative agriculture works to rebuild soil health and biodiversity; sequestering carbon, preventing soil erosion, protecting water sources, and reducing harmful pesticide and fertilizer runoff in the process. Agroecology is also a much better system of management for small holders and provides a more balanced diet with more nutrient dense crops. Smallholders already produce 70 percent of the world’s food on only 25 percent of the land. More diversified planting is better for soil health and biodiversity and will better handle the challenges presented by climate change and the damage we have already done to our resources.

    But the reality is that hunger is not an issue of agriculture or food quantity, but one of poverty and equity. There is currently enough food in the world to feed 10 billion people. That means that we actually have an excess of food.

    While there is enough food to adequately feed the world, there is still a shocking number of people who are hungry, 791 million (the majority of which live in developing nations). More than anything hunger is a result of poverty. The World Bank estimates that there are over 1 billion poor people in developing countries. Continued hunger leads to continued poverty as those suffering from chronic hunger are unable to perform manual labor (the most common source of income in developing countries) and increase their standard of living. Much of this poverty and hunger is caused by existing economic inequity as a result of current political systems that favor those with higher incomes. The current industrial food system emphasizes the need for countries (regardless of size) to export food crops despite the local demand for basic nutrients. If poverty and livelihoods are not improved it will not matter how much food is produced if the poorest, and in turn hungriest, do not have the financial ability to access it.

    At the same time that there is great hunger there is also excessive food waste throughout the world. It is even worse in the western hemisphere; the US alone wastes 40% of its food. In western countries, grocery stores throw out a lot of food and will not purchase unattractive produce. Food is wasted simply because it is visually unappealing or goes uneaten. In developing nations food waste is a result of a lack of infrastructure, capital investment, and basic necessities. Lack of access to road ways, storage facilities, and basic refrigeration prevents food access and increases spoilage rates. With proper investment and support these problems could be remedied.

    Despite the hunger epidemic we also have an obesity epidemic as a result of poor nutrition, high meat consumption, and increased processed food consumption. Worldwide, most of the expected demand for an increase in food is not based on a baseline need for nutrients, but rather the growing trend of developing countries to adopt the western diet of meat consumption. It takes substantially more calories to produce meat and ultimately results in a number of health challenges. Not only does this require a higher production of animal feed crops, the raising of animals for meat puts a number of stresses on the environment due to the current system of large concentrated and confined animal feeding operations, or CAFOs.

    Hunger is an issue of politics and justice. It is a choice that we make as a nation and as group of developed countries. In order to tackle these problems of access we need to drastically change our food system. We need an international system of agriculture that supports food sovereignty, regenerative agroecological farming practices, and food security on a regional and local level. GMOs are not the answer.

    If GMOs are not feeding the world, then what do we do here in the US to decrease worldwide hunger?

    1. Overturn Citizens United v. FEC. Citizens United is a Supreme Court case that removed limits on campaign contributions by corporations allowing for unfettered financial influence of US politicians. This has major implications for agriculture and the food system within the US and worldwide as US companies and policies tend to have an international ripple effect.
    2. Prevent harmful trade agreements. The US is currently negotiating two major trade agreements, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP); both of these agreements further entrench our current failing food system. They will increase worldwide income disparities, increase GE crop production and pesticide use, and continue to spread the poor western diet abroad.
    3. Increase programs that work on education and poverty alleviation worldwide. As discussed above, hunger is an issue of equity and poverty. Until these issues are addressed it does not matter how much food is in the world; there will always be unequal distribution and hunger.
    4. Petition Congress to make a better farm bill that supports regenerative farming methods and increase funding for it. There has already been an international call for a change in farming practices. The International Assessment Agricultural Knowledge, Science, and Technology for Development (IAASTD) found it essential that we embrace methods of regenerative agriculture.
    5. Support international Food Sovereignty. Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through sustainable methods and their right to define their own food and agriculture. Not all regions are the same and they require diverse agricultural and food systems. We must support this movement for developing countries to establish their own systems that allow them to grow cultural foods and sustain their local environments and people.
    6. Switch to a more plant-based diet. The more meat we consume as a planet the greater demand we are putting on its precious resources. We should all cut back on our meat consumption, eaten only occasionally if at all. There are lots of wonderful plant-based options and alternatives to meat and other animal products. Don’t worry, you will be able to get plenty of protein.

    Anna|June 2, 2015

    Monsanto Bids to Take over Syngenta—a Move to Assure a Pesticide-Saturated Future?

    Monsanto recently made a bid to take over European agrichemical giant Syngenta, the world’s largest pesticide producer. The $45 billion bid was rejected, but there’s still a chance for a merger between these two chemical technology giants.

    Monsanto is reportedly considering raising the offer, and as noted by Mother Jones,1 “combined, the two companies would form a singular agribusiness behemoth, a company that controls a third of both the globe’s seed and pesticides markets.”

    As reported by Bloomberg,2 the possibility of Monsanto taking over Syngenta raises a number of concerns; a top one being loss of crop diversity.

    “…[A] larger company would eventually mean fewer varieties of seeds available to farmers, say opponents such as [science policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety, Bill] Freese.

    Another is that the combined company could spur increased use of herbicides by combining Syngenta’s stable of weed killers with Monsanto’s marketing heft and crop development expertise.

    ‘Two really big seed companies becoming one big seed company means even less choice for farmers,’ said Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food and Water Watch, a policy group in Washington.

    ‘From a public health and environmental perspective this is a complete disaster,’ said Bill Freese… ‘The more I look at this, the more it worries me and the more it needs to be opposed.’”

    What’s in a Name?

    According to one analyst, the takeover might boost Monsanto’s reputation, as Syngenta has been “less publicly enthusiastic” about genetically engineered (GE) crops.

    Personally, I don’t foresee Monsanto ever being able to shed its toxic reputation, no matter how it tries to rebrand itself. It recently tried to do just that by declaring itself “sustainable agriculture company.”

    But actions speak louder than mere words, and there’s nothing sustainable about Monsanto’s business. Taking on the Syngenta name would do nothing to change the obnoxious dichotomy between Monsanto’s words and deeds.

    In fact, Mother Jones astutely notes that by trying to acquire Syngenta, Monsanto contradicts “years of rhetoric about how its ultimate goal with biotech is to wean farmers off agrichemicals.”

    It’s quite clear Monsanto has no desire or plans to help farmers reduce the use of crop chemicals. On the contrary, it has and continues to push for the increased use of its flagship product, Roundup.

    Dr. Mercola|Mercola.com|May 26, 2015

    Swiss Supermarkets Stop Sales of Glyphosate over Health Concerns

    Swiss supermarket giants Coop and Migros have announced that they will no longer sell products that contain glyphosate, following the World Health Organization’s report stating that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen. They have also announced that they will be exploring non-toxic alternative weed-killers.

    Coop stated last week that “Even if the (Swiss) Federal Office for Agriculture (BLW) judges glyphosate can be continued to be sold without a health hazard for the population, we decided on Monday 18th May to no longer sell any glyphosate-based products in Coop supermarkets and Coop Building & Hobby hardware stores.” It is a preventive measure. “…we don’t sell the concentrate, but only a very diluted form, the ready-made products. These concentrations are up to 48 times lower than the range used in agricultural products.”

    Switzerland’s largest retail company Migros will also stop selling products containing glyphosate. A Migros spokesperson said that they would begin as early as this week to remove the products from their shelves.

    Coop’s and Migros’s decisions followed German giant retailer REWE Group’s decision, announced in early May, to remove glyphosate herbicides from the shelves of their 350 ‘toom Baumarkt DIY’ starting in September.

    The World’s number one herbicide and the chemical that the business model of the Biotech industry is based on – Glyphosate –  is now under huge scrutiny worldwide due to the health safety concerns raised by the World Health Organization in March 2015.

    If you would like to find out more information on Glyphosate herbicides and the health concerns related to them please visit: www.feedtheworld.info

    Sustainable Pulse|Jun 3 2015

    Big Ag Claims Cancer-Causing Glyphosate No More Dangerous Than ‘Coffee or Working the Night Shift’

    News that the world’s cancer experts are taking a fresh look at 2,4-D has farm organizations worried. Two months ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) concluded that glyphosate—the world’s most heavily-used weed killer—is “probably carcinogenic” to human health.

    Any day now, the same body is planning to issue its findings on the weed killer 2,4-D.

    As weeds have evolved to withstand glyphosate, more farmers are turning to a mixture of glyphosate and 2, 4-D being marketed by Dow as “Enlist Duo” to be used in fields of genetically modified crops (GMOs).

    Since scientists have found evidence that farmers are twice as likely to get certain kinds of cancers—and are also far more likely to be exposed to weed killers—it makes sense that farm organizations are worried, right?

    It turns out that the National Corn Growers Association and the American Soybean Association aren’t worried that farmers might get cancer from this potent pesticide. They’re worried that the WHO review might create “confusion” about two weed killers that have been “mainstays for farmers for decades.”

    The trade organizations for the producers of corn and soybeans, crops now dominated by genetically engineered varieties, are already on the defensive. Instead of protecting farmers, the National Corn Growers Association and the American Soybean Association said in a statement this week that weed killers linked to cancer and Parkinson’s disease are no more dangerous than “coffee, using aloe vera, or working the night shift.”

    Perhaps, farmers’ organizations should be as dedicated to “farmer protection” as they are to “crop protection.”

    Studies show that exposure to 2,4-D is linked to non-Hodgkin lymphoma,  Parkinson’s disease, immune system problems and hypothyroidism.

    Given the increased use of herbicides on GMOs, it’s no wonder that more than 90 percent of consumers want genetically engineered ingredients to be labeled. But the current voluntary labeling system is a failure, because no labels actually acknowledge the presence of GMOs. The only way for people to know for sure what’s in their food is to require nationwide labeling of GMO products.

    Mary Ellen Kustin|Environmental Working Group|June 4, 2015

    [I drink a lot of coffee, but I’ve never had the urge to drink a glass of glyphosate. I notice that the execs from Monsanto don’t want to drink it either.]

    Energy

    Koalas for coal: Will it come to this in NSW?

    Which is our more precious asset?

    Can we have our cake and eat it, or will offsetting cost our natural heritage? Koalas or coal; nature or one-off profits; short-term gain or things of wonder for our grandkids? These are the choices we have to make, writes Dr. Oisín Sweeney.

     

    THE BAIRD NSW government announced prior to the election that it would adopt all the recommendations contained in its recent biodiversity review. It is hard to overstate the magnitude of this: NSW is the most populous state in the country so future pressures on the environment will likely be felt most acutely here.

    The state also contains globally significant species and ecosystems, including a large part of the “Forests of Eastern Australia” biodiversity hotspot.

    To ensure that we don’t trade development for nature, the drafting and implementation of new biodiversity laws must be done well. The government’s ability to achieve this will determine the fate of the 970 threatened species and 104 threatened ecological communities in NSW.

    While there are some sensible recommendations in the review, others may hasten the demise of species and ecosystems. One such example is the “deepening and broadening” of biodiversity offsetting — a “solution” to development that is increasingly applied across Australia and internationally.

    If it sounds too good to be true …

    Offsetting sounds great. Development, some argue, is inevitable. So let’s offset the environmental damage by recreating or protecting habitat elsewhere. What’s not to like? It’s easy to see why offsetting is attractive to governments dealing with multiple development pressures. It removes the pesky problem of having to make a choice.

    But there are major question marks over whether recreating nature is possible. Even if it was, the time lag between the habitat destruction and the offset maturing means displaced animals will be long gone. And protecting similar habitat elsewhere to offset losses results in net habitat loss.

    There is a smorgasbord of other problems too. Calculating baselines and conservation benefits is difficult, as is designing effective offsets.

    In truth, development is not inevitable and society has a choice as to whether to sacrifice nature for commercial gain. This is why opponents see offsetting as a sweetener to get otherwise unacceptable projects over the line. In essence a political license to destroy forests, wetlands and anything else that stands in the way of development.

    When is an offset not an offset?

    Some of the complexities in offsetting become clearer when we consider a couple of examples. One hypothetical but certainly possible, and one currently being considered. Let’s start with the hypothetical.

    1.   Coastal upland swamps

    Coastal Upland Swamps in the Sydney Basin Bioregion are endangered at both state and federal level. 83 per cent of coastal upland swamps lie on the Woronora plateau with an area of occupancy of <4500ha. Only 8.6 per cent of swamps on the plateau are in reserves and all are critical to the communities’ survival. This is because of the highly specific set of variables required for swamp formation, which makes recreating the community nigh on impossible.

    Unfortunately, the swamps lie on top of a seam of valuable coking coal which Wollongong Coal extracts.

    Advice from the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development (IESC) indicated that swamps would be impacted by mining via subsidence and cracking of the beds of swamps causing water loss.

    As yet, Wollongong Coal has not been required to find offsets for their activities. But what if it had? Or has to in future? The biodiversity review recommends that a monetary payment would suffice in the absence of a “like for like” offset.

    So it seems that there is now no unacceptable, “red flag”, development. Money solves all problems. Even were payments ring-fenced for nature conservation, it is a prime example of a perverse outcome: the destruction of one ecological community is permitted for the ‘benefit’ of another.

    As a society, we need to ask whether a payment constitutes an acceptable offset to future generations for the loss of an ecological community.

    2.   Koalas in Gunnedah

    The Gunnedah district is home to the largest inland population of koalas in NSW. This results from the presence of food and shelter trees, soil type and groundwater availability. The Breeza plains near Gunnedah is the site of the controversial Shenhua Watermark coal mine proposal, approved by the NSW Planning Assessment Commission on 28 January.

    The mine is predicted to remove 847ha of preferred koala habitat over its 30 year life. But assessments also predict groundwater drawdown in the adjacent Breeza State Forest. The shallow aquifer is considered important as it is within reach of tree roots, resulting in better food for koalas — essentially groundwater dependency. Impacts to the water table would therefore likely result in a drop in habitat quality for koalas.

    Offset proposals include replanting or encouraging regeneration of food trees; using Breeza State Forest as an “avoidance measure” and the rehabilitation of 2357ha of koala habitat on the mine. Although the offset sites support similar vegetation communities to the mine, the aquifer is at a lower depth and the trees cannot access groundwater. Hence the offset is highly unlikely to ever reach the same quality for koalas as the mined area.

    Plus, although koalas can use young trees for food, there will be a time lag of 10-20 years in the creation of suitable feeding habitat. When we consider that koalas need tall non-feed trees with dense foliage as temperatures rise, the lag may be closer to 100 years.

    These offsets are likely to be woefully inadequate, and are not truly “like for like” as groundwater and shelter trees have not been considered. This starkly illustrates the problems in defining suitable offsets.

    What does the future hold?

    The NSW government has committed to a draft of the new legislation by November and looks likely to go way beyond the recommended framework for offsetting laid out by a Senate Inquiry in 2014.

    Leaving aside the fact that the testimony from some of Australia’s leading scientists rubbished offsetting, the Inquiry recommended that offsetting be used only as a last resort, that a list of “red flag” areas should be developed and that a consistent national standard be adopted based on the federal model. None of these are on the table in NSW. 

    All the evidence suggests that the NSW government is accelerating down a road to ruin, scattering out short term Band-Aids as the juggernaut thunders on.

    As always, we can’t have our cake and eat it. Koalas or coal; nature or one-off profits; short-term gain or things of wonder for our grandkids: these are the choices we have to make. 

    Dr Oisín Sweeney|Science Officer|National Parks Association of NSW|23 May 2015

    Asheville Coal Plant to Retire After High Profile Three-Year Campaign; Clean Energy Work To Continue

    This week I want to honor some of the most hard-working activists on our Beyond Coal campaign – Team Asheville in North Carolina. After years of rallies, public meetings, educational forums, leadership from the Asheville City council,  letter-writing, and even a visit from star Ian Somerhalder, on Tuesday, all that hard work paid off.  Duke Energy announced it will retire its filthy Asheville coal plant, the 190th plant to announce retirement during the Beyond Coal campaign.

    While Duke is unfortunately ignoring Asheville residents’ demands of replacing it entirely with clean energy (Duke plans to replace the plant with natural gas), these tireless activists can still claim a victory to be proud of – winning a reprieve for the French Broad river from coal ash, eliminating the region’s biggest source of air and climate pollution, and a making a strong show of grassroots power that held one of the nation’s most powerful companies accountable.

    “Duke’s announcement to retire the coal plant came with the unwelcome news of a new gas plant, which of course is not the vision we hold for a clean energy economy here in North Carolina,” said Kelly Martin of Asheville Beyond Coal. “We claimed our victory, but stayed honest about the outcome. At least now there is an end in sight to the coal ash pollution, the sulfur dioxide pollution, and the carbon pollution from this plant.”

    The Asheville coal plant was featured by Showtime’s Emmy-award winning climate series “Years of Living Dangerously,” and I traveled to Asheville several times, both for the series, and to support the campaign, which became even more intense after Duke spilled coal ash into North Carolina’s Dan River (for which they just ran apology ads in major newspapers nationwide). Just a few days ago, Duke pled guilty in federal court for Clean Water Act violations from coal ash at plants across the state, including at the Asheville plant.

    I know first-hand  that Asheville’s powerhouse team of clean energy advocates from Asheville Beyond Coal including MountainTrue, Waterkeeper Alliance, French Broad Riverkeeper and the Southern Environmental Law Center, along with thousands of individuals and local leaders, will continue their work to move beyond fossil fuels in their city and in all of North Carolina. For years they hammered this Duke Energy coal plant for its Clean Water Act violations, its coal ash pollution, and its immense air pollution and today they’re one giant step closer to a clean, healthy Western North Carolina.

    Let’s look at some of the highlights from the years of accomplishments they achieved on the road to Tuesday’s announcement:

    October 2012: More than 100 citizens and Asheville Beyond Coal activists formed a flotilla on Lake Julian — in front of Asheville’s coal-fired power plant — to raise three 17-foot banners to deliver the message loud and clear, “Let’s Move Asheville Beyond Coal.”

    August 2013: Hundreds of people gather for a rally encouraging Asheville to move beyond coal by retiring the plant. The rally includes Vampire Diaries star and enviro activist Ian Somerhalder.

    October 2013: After amazing pressure from residents, the Asheville City Council voted unanimously to approve a resolution to move Asheville from coal-fired electricity toward a clean energy future.

    May 2014: Showtime’s “Years of Living Dangerously” series airs its episode on Asheville’s coal battle and local activist Anna Jane Joyner, and it even includes yours truly.

    Ads, ads, ads! In 2013, 2014, and 2015, Asheville Beyond Coal aired TV ads about the filthy Duke Energy coal plant in their city and how it needs to be retired.

    February 2015: The team continues blasting Duke Asheville plant for fouling the air and water, this time with a report showing that the plant has been emitting harmful sulfur dioxide pollution at levels considered unsafe by the Environmental Protection Agency for the past several years.

    I look forward to seeing Asheville residents continue to push for clean energy. I know they will succeed. They are an inspiration to me, and to climate clean air and climate advocates nationwide.

    Mary Anne Hitt|director|Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign.

    Electric Utility Industry Created Their Own Air Pollution Permits, Held Private Meetings With Texas Regulators

    Emails obtained and released today by the Environmental Integrity Project show that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) worked behind closed doors with the state’s electric power trade association and utility companies to weaken standards for air pollution control permits.

    The emails and documents reveal that Association of Electric Companies of Texas (AECT) and utility employees held private meetings with state regulators to discuss revisions to the permits and provided language that was incorporated verbatim by the regulations into the final text of the revised permits. The language ended up nullifying the federal Clean Air Act hourly limits on particulate pollution during the startup, shutdown, and maintenance periods (SSM) at the coal plants.

    These changes to the permits allowed electric utility companies in Texas to emit more particulate pollution than allowed by federal standards. In one case, for example, the coal plants are allowed to emit 30 times more pollution than the previous limit. Particulate pollution is the fly ash emitted from power plants, which can cause serious health effects such as lung cancer and heart disease.

    It is possible that the reason AECT and its members sought to revise the permits was to avoid changing the emission limits in the EPA approved State Implementation Plan (SIP), because doing so would have required public notices and re-approval from the EPA.

    In fact, the EPA stated in 2010:

    If the State wishes to issue a NSR [new source review] SIP permit that does not meet the applicable requirements of the Texas SIP, then any such alternative limits would need to be submitted to EPA for approval as a source-specific revision to the SIP, before they would modify the federally applicable emission limits in the approved SIP.

    An email from Sean O’Brien, a technical specialist in the Air Permits Division at TCEQ, to other employees at the TCEQ shows awareness of EPA’s re-approval requirement:

    It is not sufficient to say that the emissions are not new to avoid a federal new source review (NSR). You may treat the authorization of maintenance, start-up, and shutdown (MSS) at your site as a project and determine federal NSR applicability as follows.

    A statement from Terry Clawson, a spokesperson from TCEQ, said, because there is less than “de minimis increase” in annual emissions (an increase less than 50 tons of carbon monoxide, 10 tons of sulfur dioxide, or a five ton increase of any other air contaminant) the public notice for the permits was not required. 

    The emails also show that the utility industry set the agenda for the private meetings. On March 22, 2010, Craig Eckberg, a senior manager at NRG Energy, sent an email to Erik Hendrickson, a technical specialist in the Air Permits Division at TCEQ, and other regulators, with the proposed agenda to discuss the air permits. The documents show additional meetings took place throughout the year, including a July meeting where the draft language for the permits was discussed. And a memo from AECT to Hendrickson directs any questions TCEQ might have to Usha Turner of Luminant, Craig Eckberg of NRG Energy, or Keith Courtney of Winstead PC, a law firm based in Texas.

    “The purpose of the meetings was to provide direction to regulated entities and address questions prior to submittal of planned MMS applications,” said TCEQ in the released statement.

    In addition to this discovery, Texas community and public interest organizations have petitioned the U.S. EPA to overturn the decision to exempt the coal power plants, 19 to be precise, from federal limits on particulates during SSM.

    “These exemptions for coal-fired power plants are evidence of the state’s chronic disregard of federal Clean Air Act standards,” said Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project, in a press release. “EPA should now step in and force Texas to tighten up these permits to protect public health.”

    The coal plants that have received the revised permits without approval from the EPA are operated by American Electric Power, Luminant, NRG Energy, San Antonio Public Service Board, San Miguel Electric Cooperative, and Texas Municipal Power Agency. 

    Brad Watson, a spokesperson for Luminant, said, “Regardless of the forum, EIP’s claims still collapse under the weight of the facts. These emissions are unavoidable and de minimis emission events.  EIP and other environmental groups have already sued over these emissions in at least two cases and lost both times, including a case filed by EIP that Luminant won last year involving Luminant’s Big Brown Power Plant in Freestone County.”

    Utility Industry’s Influence Increasing Across The Country

    The collaboration between Texas regulators and the utility industry is just the latest in an expanding list of examples showing the influence power companies have with state regulators and decision-makers.

    A report released this month from Greater Birmingham Ministries (GBM) finds that from 2007 to 2014, the Alabama Public Service Commission (PSC) approved rate increases for Southern Company’s subsidiary, Alabama Power, allowing the subsidiary to increase retail revenues by 18.6 percent. The average annual cost for residential customers has risen by $250 a year even though customers are using less electricity. Another rate hike for Alabama Power customers was approved in December 2014 by the PSC, which will add another $75 to the average residential customer’s bill.

    Alabama Power has said the reoccurring rate increases are the cost of doing business and updating power plants, but GBM reveals that earnings have been spent partially on boosting the salaries and other compensation for the company’s top executives, as well as increasing dividends for shareholders.

    In Wisconsin, it was revealed that the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC) was behind the push to have the Joint Committee on Finance defund the Citizens’ Utility Board, the state’s consumer advocate in the utility regulatory process. Gale Klappa, CEO of We Energies, the state’s largest utility, is vice-chairman of the MMAC board. MMAC has stated that We Energies was not involved.

    And just last week, new evidence was publicized suggesting Arizona Corporation Commissioner Bob Stump has been coordinating with an executive from the state’s largest utility, Arizona Public Service (APS), as well as a “dark money group” involved in the elections for commissioners. This in addition to a whistleblower letter alleging former commission chairman Gary Pierce held secret meetings with APS’ chief executive, Don Brandt, as well as helped steer money that targeted two Democratic candidates for the ACC in 2012. The attorney general’s office is now investigating the accusations. 

    Matt Kasper|May 27, 2015

    Clean Coal Is a Marketing Myth

    Politicians of all stripes like to tout the benefits of clean coal, a catch-all phrase for a host of technologies aimed at reducing the environmental impact of coal. But while the alliteration sounds nice in a campaign speech, “clean coal” is more myth than reality.

    Beyond the technological hurdles, it’s critical to remember that coal is dirty in a whole host of ways—from the moment it’s pulled out of the ground to the moment we use it to turn on the lights. Here are a few reasons to raise an eyebrow at the promise of clean coal:

    1. The technology doesn’t exist yet. Few technologies exist today that actually make coal cleaner. Take carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), wherein power plants trap carbon emissions and then bury them deep in the ground to keep them from reaching the atmosphere. China has gotten a lot of press from investing heavily in CCS research, but at this stage it’s just that: research. Other solutions, from gasifying coal to scrubbing out toxic minerals, are even further from real world use.

    2. Even if the technology was there, the numbers don’t add up. The larger reason clean coal has not been a breakout technology is that it’s just not economically viable. In general, most polluters pollute because it’s cheaper and easier than spending money to make their operations environmentally friendly. The coal industry is no different. All current ideas about clean coal technology are expensive. They’re expensive to research, expensive to install, and companies won’t make more profit for all that money spent. Economists just don’t think the numbers will ever work to make clean coal technology thrive on its own in the free market.

    3. That means we’d need government action. The coal industry doesn’t pay for the environmental damage they cause: we do (with taxes) for clean up and health problems from pollution. It’s a classic example of why we need the government to intervene and to make companies pay for the messes they create. We know it works. Power plant scrubbers, which successfully curbed acid rain, were only installed nationwide thanks to a legal mandate.

    We could incentivize reducing pollution through a carbon tax or adopt a cap-and-trade system. But not only is Congress generally unwilling to take up big issues or pass many laws, climate is near the bottom of Republicans’ priority list. Meaning, while coal gets pollution subsidies, no one gets help cleaning up.

    4. Burning coal produces lots of carbon emissions. This is the easy one. Of all the fossil fuels, coal is the worst for climate change, emitting 1.3 times more carbon pollution than oil and twice as much as natural gas, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency emissions calculations. Coal burning contributes one-third of the U.S. total carbon emissions.

    5. Burning coal creates other kinds of deadly pollution. Beyond carbon emissions, burning coal produces lots of other toxic chemicals and particles that harm human health, including soot and smog, a leading cause of asthma. In 2011, Earthjustice found that smog causes an estimated 35,700 premature deaths every year and 2.7 million missed school and work days. While some clean coal technologies target these health hazards, there’s no guarantee whatever clean coal technology gets adopted will have any impact on these toxic and dangerous pollutants.

    6. The coal industry produces industrial waste too. In 2008, a large retainer pond operated by a coal processing facility ruptured, spilling 1.1 billion gallons of toxic coal ash into the community of Kingston, Tennessee, eventually covering 300 acres of surrounding land. A similar disaster happened again outside Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 2011 when a We Energy coal ash pond ruptured and 2,500 cubic yards of coal ash spilled into Lake Michigan.

    These disasters are a reminder that burning coal isn’t the only problem: every step of the coal production process creates pollution and waste that harms the environment. Clean coal, generally, promises little, if anything, in the way of addressing these other impacts.

    7. Mountaintop removal mining. Among the most controversial and tragic mining methods is mountaintop removal, a practice dating from the 1970s where companies use dynamite to literally blow the tops of mountains in Appalachia, not only destroying a landscape 500 million years in the making, but gumming up freshwater streams and even sending massive boulders careening down mountainsides and into communities. Clean coal technology doesn’t even pretend to fix mining processes like this that have huge environmental impacts.

    stopmtrAs Appalachia charts its future, one thing is clear—it’s long past time to end mountaintop removal.

    8. Mining coal is dangerous and unhealthy. Beyond harming the environment, coal mining is a dirty and dangerous process for workers. Large scale disasters, like the explosion in West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch Mine in 2010, grab headlines and spotlight the dangers miners face every day. But beyond these catastrophic events, coal mining is a devastating profession for personal health. Small, dark and dusty mines leave lifers with severe back problems and cancers that often end careers and lives too early. A study identifying the least healthy places in America found that the top four were in coal country. Grundy County, Virginia, an area dependent on coal, was dubbed the sickest town in America, with more than 20 percent of people living on disability, many from mining related injuries.

    9. Clean coal doesn’t address the coal plants we have now. Even if clean coal became the norm for new electricity generation tomorrow, that doesn’t address the hundreds of existing coal-fired power plants already in operation. Lots of proposed technology would likely necessitate an entirely new processing system. That does nothing to impact emissions from what we’ve already built. If we want to fix what we’ve already got, we’ll need to rely on activists, like the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign that’s helped close nearly 200 dirty power plants, not clean coal technology alone.

    10. Coal is still finite. No matter how much we sanitize coal, the simple truth is we can’t make more of it. Coal may be, as the World Energy Institute describes, the “most abundant” of fossil fuels, but it’s not endless.

    Rather than invest significant research and design efforts into finding technology to make a dirty, dangerous energy source less so, it makes much more sense to work toward improving the successful and growing renewable energy technologies already on the market. Wind and solar power are not only truly clean and renewable resources, their industries are growing exponentially as they become price competitive with pollution subsidized fossil fuels.

    Achieving real clean energy means letting go of a legacy of fossil fuels and putting our hopes in new, truly clean sources.

    Emily Logan|Environmental Health News|June 3, 2015

    4 Reasons the Keystone XL Pipeline May Never Be Built

    Back in 2005, when Calgary-based energy infrastructure company TransCanada first proposed to build the Keystone XL pipeline to carry Alberta tar sands crude oil from the western Canadian province to processing and export facilities in the southern U.S., it kicked off years of controversy. Environmental and grassroots citizen groups drew a line in the sand, creating a storm of protest that made Keystone XL a symbol of the threat of climate change. Meanwhile, politicians in Congress made pushing the pipeline a top priority, with votes in Congress to demonstrate their loyalty to fossil fuel interests such as the Koch Brothers, Exxon and Chevron. President Obama vetoed their latest effort.

    But where it once seemed like a slam dunk that the pipeline would eventually be built, despite foot-dragging by the Obama administration on the required international border crossing approval, there are indications that things might not be looking good for the pipeline or for the companies extracting the heavily polluting tar sands oil. Here are four indications that Keystone XL may never become a reality:

    1. The May election in Alberta had an unexpected result that caused a big shift in its government. New provincial premier Rachel Notley’s left-wing New Democratic Party ended 44 years of Conservative Party control of the province, along with its limitless embrace of the fossil fuel industry.

    According to Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail, the new government is “making oil and gas executives and investors nervous and cutting off their access to decision makers.” It speculated that one oil company’s attempt to apply pressure by saying it can’t provide a business plan until it gets more information from the new government “could backfire.”

    “It is okay to be a bit afraid of change,” Melanee Thomas, professor of political science at the University of Calgary, told The Globe and Mail. “But being afraid of democratic change, and then being derisive about it as a result, is not an effective strategy. It doesn’t strike me as a savvy government relations. The solution is to go out and build good, respectful contacts with government.”

    Notley campaigned on tougher environmental standards and a review of province’s energy royalty rates. And while she has not expressed opposition to pipelines such as Keystone XL, she has said she won’t make trips to Washington D.C. to lobby for it. During her campaign, she said she would not continue to push for another pipeline, Enbridge’s Northern Gateway, as previous premiers have, reflecting her openness to the concerns of community and environmental groups.

    “Gateway is not the right decision,” said Notley. “I think that there’s just too much environmental sensitivity there and I think there’s a genuine concern by the indigenous communities. It’s not going to go ahead. I think most people know that.”

    2. The proliferation of natural gas has caused tar sands prices to plummet. And because tar sands extraction is an expensive process, this has put the expansion of tar sands production on hold, according to Oil Change International (OCI), a group devoted to exposing the environmental cost of fossil fuels.

    “Over 1.6 million barrels per day of planned expansion in tar sands production is currently delayed or ‘on hold’ as industry struggles to identify a profitable path forward for 39 projects,” says OCI.

    “The case for the tar sands is crumbling,” says Hannah McKinnon, OCI’s senior campaigner on private finance. “The tar sands are bad for the climate, the environment, impacted communities and now the sector itself is struggling to justify many new projects.”

    With less oil to ship, there’s less need to build pipelines to transport it.

    Most of the tar sands region of northeastern Alberta in currently under the two highest categories of drought. Image credit: Province of AlbertaMost of the tar sands region of northeastern Alberta in currently under the two highest categories of drought. Image credit: Province of Alberta

    3. Wildfires are currently engulfing huge areas of northern Alberta close to tar sands extraction facilities. With fires raging for more than a week and staff being evacuated, 10 percent of Alberta’s tar sands production—about 233,000 barrels a day—is currently offline.

    The wildfires themselves won’t cause a permanent shut down of mining operations, but they provide dramatic photos that call attention to the destructive nature of tar sands operations. Northeastern Alberta, where most of the tar sands operations are located, has been hard hit by drought in the last 15 years. Currently, most of that area is in the two highest drought categories. That opens up conversations about the connection of drought to climate change and whether tar sands oil, which fuels Alberta’s economy, is also sowing the seeds of its destruction.

    4. John Podesta, the former Obama White house official who is now Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, told The Guardian that Canada needs to deal with the heavy greenhouse gas emissions produced by tar sands mining, which make the country the world’s third largest carbon polluter per capita. While Podesta, like Clinton, would not comment on Keystone XL, he lambasted Canada’s weak climate goal.

    “I think that there is a C02 premium on oil that is coming out of the oil sands and I think that has to be offset through other policies that they need to implement, or else that is a strategy that is likely to result in excessive emissions,” he said.

    With Clinton a huge favorite to follow Obama into the White House, that’s at least an indication that the thinking in her circles is going against tar sands production, and potentially against green-lighting Keystone XL.

    Anastasia Pantsios|June 2, 2015

    CITGO Continues Gulf Coast Restoration Efforts with Tampa Bay Watch and the Southwest Florida Water Management District

    TAMPA BAY, Fla., June 1, 2015 /PRNewswire/ — Approximately 100 volunteers gathered at Tampa Bay’s largest wetland restoration site on Saturday, May 16 to plant native salt marsh to restore critical marine habitats and filter pollutants, thanks to support from CITGO Petroleum Corporation, Tampa Bay Watch and the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD). School children and community allies planted Spartina alterniflora, commonly known as salt marsh cordgrass, along the Rock Ponds shoreline just north of Port Manatee.  

    Formerly agriculture fields and shell mining pits, the Rock Ponds are dominated by non-native plant species and plagued by pollution from urban and agricultural runoff. By planting native salt marsh, volunteers took a vital step toward cleaning up the ponds and creating critical coastal wetland habitats that will improve water quality and restore essential fish and wildlife to the area.

    Salt marsh and other coastal habitat populations have declined more than 80 percent over the past 100 years due mostly to dredging, construction and waste water discharges. This loss has damaged a crucial link in Tampa Bay’s food chain for fish and wildlife resources, significantly impacting the bay’s fisheries. Saturday’s coastal restoration project sought to counteract this by stabilizing coastal land in order to feed and protect fish and other marine life.

    Tampa Bay Watch’s partnership with CITGO for Rock Ponds restoration efforts is part of the company’s Caring for Our Coast initiative to support environmental stewardship and sustainability. Caring for Our Coast includes programs designed to extend the commitment CITGO has made to environmental protection and restoration leading into the 10th anniversary of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in August and September of this year.

    As a result of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, a significant portion of beaches, dunes and wetlands surrounding the Gulf of Mexico were damaged by erosion – areas where CITGO employees and refineries are largely based.

    “Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the Gulf Coast region 10 years ago, but by working together with our neighbors, we were able to help one another rebuild,” said CITGO President and CEO Nelson P. Martinez. “While we have made great strides in the last decade, there is still more work to be done in order to ensure we restore the Gulf to what it once was, which is why we launched Caring for Our Coast last year. Projects like Tampa Bay Watch’s Rock Ponds restoration will help ensure a stronger, brighter future for the environment and for communities surrounding the Gulf.”

    CITGO has played an integral role in the Gulf Coast community for more than 80 years. After the storms, CITGO provided funding and fuel to non-governmental organizations and first responders and assisted in evacuating citizens out of harm’s way. The operations at the CITGO Lake Charles refinery were brought back online in record time so that fuel and other desperately-needed products could be provided to the region.

    About Tampa Bay Watch
    Tampa Bay Watch is a nonprofit 501 (c)(3) stewardship program dedicated exclusively to the charitable and scientific purpose of protecting and restoring the marine and wetland environments of the Tampa Bay estuary encompassing over 400 square miles of open water and 2,300 square miles of highly- developed watershed. Tampa Bay Watch involves more than 10,000 youth and adult volunteers each year in hands on habitat restoration projects. For more information, visit http://www.tampabaywatch.org, or call 727-867-8166.

    About CITGO
    CITGO is a Houston-based refiner, transporter and marketer of transportation fuels, lubricants, petrochemicals and other industrial products. The company is owned by CITGO Holding, Inc., an indirect wholly owned subsidiary of Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A., the national oil company of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. This year, CITGO is the official fuel sponsor of the Special Olympics’ Unified Relay Across America.

    PRNewswire|June 1, 2015

    IKEA Commits $1.13 Billion to Fight Climate Change and Invest in Renewable Energy

    IKEA, a company known for its ready-to-assemble furniture, is also a leader in renewable energy and climate mitigation. The Swedish furniture giant today announced a massive $1.13 billion commitment to address the effects of global warming in developing countries.

    IKEA is pledging $1.13 billion on renewable energy solutions, such as wind and solar, to support families and communities most impacted by climate change.

    According to an announcement, the generous measure was made to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy and to support the communities most at risk. The massive $1.13 billion total is made up of combined pledges from the IKEA Group and the IKEA Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the group. The majority of the commitment (around $560 million) will be invested in wind energy and around $110 million is expected to be invested in solar up to 2020.

    “Climate change is one of the world’s biggest challenges and we need bold commitments and action to find a solution,” said Peter Agnefjäll, IKEA Group president and CEO. “That’s why we are going all in to transform our business, to ensure that it is fit for the future and we can have a positive impact. This includes going 100 percent for renewable energy, by investing in wind and solar, and converting all our lighting products to affordable LED bulbs, helping many millions of households to live a more sustainable life at home.”

    IKEA said it’s on track to become energy independent, producing as much renewable energy as it consumes in its buildings. The company, which has invested around $1.7 billion in wind and solar since 2009, has also committed to owning and operating 314 offsite wind turbines and has installed 700,000 solar panels on its buildings.

    Agnefjall told Reuters that the newest investment would “absolutely not” increase prices at the stores, adding that the investments will be “good for customers, good for the climate and good for IKEA too.”

    The IKEA Foundation’s funding will go towards helping vulnerable communities build resilience to the impacts of climate change such as floods, droughts and desertification, Reuters noted. The funding will also go towards helping these nations adopt renewable energy technologies in homes, schools and businesses, IKEA said.

    “We’re working toward a world where children living in poverty have more opportunities to create a better future for themselves and their families. Tackling climate change is critical to achieving this goal,” said Per Heggenes, CEO of the IKEA Foundation.

    The IKEA commitment coincides with the Bonn Climate Change Conference, where world governments are preparing on a global climate agreement to be negotiated at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP21) meeting in Paris this December.

    IKEA’s announcement makes it clear that the private sector is not waiting for world governments to act. On the contrary, companies like IKEA are committing now to real climate action, including industry-changing investments in solar and wind projects.

    Hopefully, IKEA’s investment in the health of our planet and in at-risk communities will encourage other companies and governments to do the same.

    Lorraine Chow|June 4, 2015

    We Could Power Entire World on Renewables by 2025, Says Global Apollo Program

    The vision is simple, the cost would be eye-watering, and the result could stop the growing threat from burning fossil fuels in its tracks.

    The authors of an initiative called the Global Apollo Program say that, given the required high level of investment, it should be possible within 10 years to meet electricity demand with reliable wind and/or solar power that is cheaper—in every country—than power based on coal.

    They say the scale of ambition needed to produce “baseload” power from renewable energy that is generated consistently to meet minimum demand matches that which sent the first humans to the Moon in 1969—at a cost, in today’s prices, of about $230 billion.

    Each country involved in the Global Apollo Program would be expected to contribute at least 0.02 percent of its gross domestic product—the total value of its economy—for 10 years to finance research, development and demonstration with an annual boost of $22.9 billion.

    The seven authors of the program include Sir David King, former chief scientist to the UK government; Lord Martin Rees, a former president of the Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of science; Lord John Browne, a former CEO of the energy giant BP; and the economist Lord Nicholas Stern, who led the team that published the 2006 Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change.

    Irreparable damage

    To avoid irreparable damage to the planet, they argue, world governments’ agreement to limit the Earth’s temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels demands an absolute limit on the total accumulated CO2 that can be produced. On present trends, that limit will be breached by 2035.

    To reduce our annual output of CO2 as urgently as we must, carbon-free energy will rapidly have to become cheaper to produce than energy based on coal, gas and oil. The major scientific and technological research program required will demand the best minds in the world and the best science.

    The authors say the program should be modeled on the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors, which has reduced semiconductor prices year on year for 30 years.

    A committee appointed through the program’s member countries will coordinate international research to unblock bottlenecks it identifies, including electricity storage and transmission, and the generation of wind and solar power.

    The program hopes to be able to base itself beside the International Energy Agency in Paris, but it will include many countries that are not members of the International Energy Agency. All members will still be responsible for spending their own national renewable energy research, development and demonstration budgets.

    The authors say: “Over the last year, the program has been privately discussed with governments worldwide and has been widely welcomed. The issue will be discussed at the G7 meeting on June 7-8, and it is hoped that by the end of the year the major countries of the world will have decided to join.”

    Their timetable is challenging. Last year, Sir David King said, “The objective is that, by 2020, renewable power should be cheaper than coal in all sunny parts of the world, and by 2025 in all parts of the world.”

    Immense gains

    But the gains would be immense, not only in combating climate change but also in tackling health problems and poverty as well.

    The program is intent on replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy in baseload energy generation. But for the many millions of people who are not on the electricity grid, the need is for a solution closer to hand. Success for the program would spur renewables on both national and household scales.

    For example, the UK-based charity SolarAid aims to eradicate expensive kerosene lamps from Africa by 2020, replacing them with affordable solar lamps in remote rural regions. Set up by the company Solar Century, it says a $10 solar lamp pays for itself in a month, freeing up money for health, education and farming—and providing clean, free light for years.

    Sir David said green energy was already cutting air pollution and reducing carbon emissions, but making it cheaper mattered too. “Once we get to that point,” he says, “we are winning in all the battles.”

    Alex Kirby|Climate News Network|June 3, 2015

    Corn Ethanol Is Worse for the Climate Than the Keystone XL Pipeline, According to EPA’s Own Estimates

    Do you think the federal government couldn’t order something worse for the environment than the Keystone XL oil pipeline?

    Think again.

    Using the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) own estimate, we calculate that the corn ethanol mandate has been worse for the climate than projected emissions from the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

    What makes matters worse is that the U.S. EPA just mandated that more corn ethanol must go into American gas tanks.

    cornethanolchart

    Last week the EPA proposed new minimum volumes of corn ethanol that refiners would be required to  blend into gasoline this year and the next. Congress set this policy, called the Renewable Fuel Standard, in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. At the time, lawmakers hoped that using ethanol and other renewable fuels would reduce carbon emissions and American dependence on foreign oil.

    Last year, corn ethanol producers churned out 14 billion gallons, about 13.4 billion gallons of which were blended into the 135 billion gallons of gasoline the nation’s drivers used.

    Extracting tar sands and turning them into oil is more energy-intensive than traditional drilling for petroleum. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, dirty oil transmitted from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast by the Keystone XL pipeline would emit 24 million tons of carbon per year.

    But our calculations show that last year’s production and use of 14 billion gallons of corn ethanol resulted in 27 million tons more carbon emissions than if Americans had used straight gasoline in their vehicles. That’s worse than Keystone’s projected emissions. It’s the equivalent of emissions from seven coal-fired power plants.*

    So far the federal corn ethanol mandate has resulted in a massive influx of dirty corn ethanol, which is bad for the climate and bad for consumers. The only interest it benefits is the ethanol industry.

    As we’ve said before, it’s time for Congress to correct course and reform the broken Renewable Fuels Standard to make way for truly green biofuels.

    Emily Cassidy|Environmental Working Group|June 2, 2015

    * Calculated by comparing the emissions from 14.3 billion gallons of gasoline (using 2014 baseline) to EPA’s estimate of corn ethanol emissions. Coal plant emissions use an estimate that a typical coal plant emits 3.5 million tons of CO2 per year.

    Land Conservation

    200,000 Speak Out Against Grand Canyon Mega-development

    More than 200,000 people flooded the U.S. Forest Service with comments over the last month calling for the agency to reject a plan for roads and infrastructure that would enable construction of a mega-development on the Grand Canyon’s doorstep.

    The proposed roads, sewers and other utilities would pave the way for the transformation of the 580-resident community of Tusayan, Ariz., from a quiet tourist town into a sprawling complex of high-end homes, retail stores and restaurants only a mile from the Grand Canyon National Park boundary. The development would threaten local groundwater supplies that feed the canyon’s creeks and springs, as well as some of the park’s most important wildlife, including the Arizona wetsalts tiger beetle and Macdougal’s yellowtops (a flower in the aster family) — both of which were included in a Center for Biological Diversity petition for Endangered Species Act protection last month.

    Comments and signatures included more than 52,000 from Center supporters alone.

    “The local, national and international communities have spoken, and the message is clear — this development doesn’t belong next to Grand Canyon,” said Center cofounder Robin Silver. “Now it’s up to the Forest Service to act in the public interest and reject this proposal.”

    Read more about the 200,000 comments and the Center’s petition for the beetle and flower

    Air Quality

    U.S. Finalizes Settlement with Georgia-Based Millard Refrigerated Services over Ammonia Release that Sickened Workers Responding to BP Oil Spill

    WASHINGTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) today announced a final settlement with Millard Refrigerated Services that resolves alleged violations of the Clean Air Act, Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act and Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act for an airborne release of ammonia from Millard’s Theodore, Alabama, facility in 2010.  Millard will pay a $3 million penalty for the violations that sickened 152 people responding to the BP oil spill.

    “EPA is serious about holding companies that threaten people’s health and safety accountable,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “It’s imperative that companies that use and store potentially-hazardous materials like ammonia ensure their operations do not pose a health risk to their employees or the public.”

    “The release of ammonia created significant health problems,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Environment and Natural Resources Division.  “This settlement underscores how lapses in environmental management can have serious consequences, and today we are holding Millard accountable for this failure to ensure the safety of its workers and the surrounding community.”

    “The Clean Air Act exists to protect all of us from preventable threats to our health and safety, such as what happened in this case,” said Keyon R. Brown, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama. “On behalf of the citizens of our district, I commend the hard work of the EPA and the Department of Justice’s Environmental and Natural Resources Division in achieving such a significant settlement that vindicates these interests.”

    On August 23, 2010, the Millard Refrigerated Service warehouse in Theodore released approximately 32,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia, to which exposure in high concentrations can be lethal, into the air after refrigeration equipment malfunctioned. The ammonia travelled directly over a site where more than 800 people were working on decontaminating ships responding to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The Mobile, Alabama, Emergency Management Agency ordered an evacuation of the surrounding area and a one mile shelter in place situation following the ammonia release. 152 people working at the site and on ships were treated for symptoms of ammonia exposure at hospitals in the Mobile area, four of whom were admitted into intensive care units. One Millard employee sustained injuries after briefly losing consciousness from ammonia inhalation.

    During its investigation of the warehouse after the ammonia release, EPA discovered that Millard failed to adequately address a well-known risk for ammonia production systems called hydraulic shock, which can cause catastrophic equipment failures. These failures can lead to hazardous releases of anhydrous ammonia. The company’s failure to address this risk, in addition to other deficiencies in its production and safety systems, amounted to 37 distinct violations of the Clean Air Act’s Risk Management Program and General Duty Clause. These requirements compel companies that store or use potentially-hazardous substances like ammonia to identify the hazards posed by their operation, design and maintain a safe facility, and minimize the consequences of any releases that might occur. The company’s failure to immediately report a release of anhydrous ammonia above the reportable quantity to the National Response Center amounted to one CERCLA violation. The company’s failure to immediately report a release of anhydrous ammonia to the local and state emergency planning commissions and to file a follow-up reports for two releases amounted to three EPCRA violations.

    EPA also discovered that Millard had two prior smaller ammonia releases caused by hydraulic shock, which should have signaled a need to take steps to prevent a catastrophic release like the one that occurred at the Theodore warehouse. Millard sold the Theodore warehouse facility, which is no longer in operation.

    The settlement was entered today in the District Court in Mobile, Alabama.

    U.S. EPA Press Office|6/02/15

    Transportation

    10 Best Cities in the U.S. to Own an Electric Car

    Thinking about buying an electric car? While more people appear to be embracing these fuel-efficient, environmentally friendly rides, softening the financial investment in these cars is easier in certain cities.

    A recent analysis from personal finance technology company SmartAsset might help determine if buying an electric vehicle (EV) makes financial sense for you, especially if you live in the cities listed below.

    For the analysis, the company compared the total costs of ownership for three of the most popular EVs—the Tesla Model S, the Ford Focus EV and the Nissan Leaf—to ownership costs of their gasoline-powered equivalents. They also considered retail price for a new vehicle, fuel and energy prices, state and local taxes, state and federal subsidies, and average miles driven.

    Here are SmartAsset’s top five cities for electric car ownership in descending order. We’ve also added an unlikely shining star at the bottom of the list.

    5. San Diego, California

    Did you know that Golden State electric car owners are allowed to drive in carpool lanes without any passengers? As SmartAsset pointed out, this is especially helpful in San Diego, one of the country’s most congested cities.

    4. Los Angeles, California

    We mentioned previously that a whopping 40 percent of electric cars sold in the nation in the last couple of years were sold in California, with Tesla responsible for 10 percent of those sales. For many Angelenos, buying a Tesla over other luxury rides might be a no-brainer; SmartAsset’s analysis found that for the average LA driver, the total cost of a Tesla is about $5,124 less than a comparable BMW. Los Angeles also has three Tesla super charger stations, which allows Model S drivers to charge their cars for free for life.

    California’s EV drivers also receive a $2,500 rebate for battery-powered electric vehicle purchases.

    3. Seattle, Washington

    The city’s EV owners benefit from Washington’s cheap and clean hydroelectric energy that costs, on average, 8.83 cents per kilowatt-hour, which is the cheapest in the nation, the analysis said.

    The state also has a sales tax exemption on EVs for state residents. According to the analysis, with a tax rate of 9.5 percent in the city of Seattle, that adds up to between $2,700 and $6,500 in savings for owning a Tesla Model S, the Ford Focus EV or the Nissan Leaf.

    2. Augusta, Georgia and No. 1. Atlanta, Georgia (with a big exception)

    I’ll go ahead and lump these two into one. Both of Georgia’s major metropolitan cities took SmartAsset’s top spots thanks to the state’s subsidy program for electric vehicles that gives a generous tax credit worth 20 percent of the price of any zero-emission EV, up to $5,000. (Atlanta edged out Augusta because Atlanta’s residents drive more miles per capita, translating to extra savings for those EV drivers.)

    Unfortunately, Peach State cities probably won’t make next year’s list. Georgia legislature recently voted to discontinue the subsidy starting July 1, 2015, and added a $200 registration fee for anyone who already owns one, effectively punishing EV-car owners. As Green Car Report’s John Voelcker pointed out, this makes Georgia the second state (after Virginia) in which electric-car owners pay more in taxes for driving than do owners of gasoline and diesel cars.

    See how much money you’ll save by going electric in certain cities via SmartAsset infographic below.

    Photo Credit: SmartAssetDid your city make the cut? Photo Credit: SmartAsset

    As you can see, tax breaks and subsidies are a big reason why some cities are more EV-friendly than others. So if the state won’t help people buy electric cars, individual cities will have to step in, for example …

    Honorable mention: Kansas City, Kansas

    TIME Money’s Brad Tuttle recently praised Kansas City “of all places” for juicing up EV-car ownership in the region. Thanks to local utility KCP&L and its $20 million Clean Charge Network initiative, the area will be receiving 1,001 new electric charging stations (only a mere 40 existed before). As Tuttle pointed out, with about 1,000 EVs currently driving in Kansas City, “there will roughly be one public electric vehicle charging station for each of those cars.” Amazingly, the service will also be free for EV owners for the first two years.

    The aim of the initiative, according to the article, is to boost electric vehicle ownership by making the sight of charging stations so common that it’ll get more residents to think about the cars, while also proving to them that it’s convenient to charge the cars. It’s also no surprise that Nissan—the maker of the Leaf, aka the world’s top-selling plug-in—has a stake in the plan and is a partner in the initiative.

    As for the worst cities to own an electric vehicle? SmartAsset crunched the numbers and here are the top five, with the average added cost of going electric in parenthesis:

    • Honolulu, Hawaii ($4,005)
    • Topeka, Kansas ($3,065)
    • Greenville, South Carolina ($2,994)
    • Lubbock, Texas ($2,988)
    • Sioux Falls, South Dakota ($2,869)

    Lorraine Chow|June 1, 2015

    5 Eco-Cars Taking the Industry by Storm

    When Henry Ford’s assembly-line Model T debuted at the start of the 20th century, it completely revolutionized transportation as we knew it. But now—as we enter an era where we know burning fossil fuels contributes to climate change and renewable energy alternatives are working—transportation is clearly changing once again.

    The AIRPod is designed to run on compressed air and claims to have zero emissions. Photo Credit: AirpodThis $10,000 car is designed to run on compressed air and claims to have zero emissions. Photo Credit: AIRpod

    Cars, from battery-powered to (Ford’s own) solar-powered vehicle, now come in all shapes and sizes to save o