The Endangered Species Act is the strongest and most effective tool we have to repair the environmental harm that is causing a species to decline. — Norm Dicks
Seismic testing in the Big Cypress National Preserve for oil and natural gas
The National Park Service (NPS) has extended their comment period for Burnett Oil Company’s proposal to conduct seismic testing in the Big Cypress National Preserve until this Monday, January 4th, at midnight.
As many already know, Burnett Oil of Fort Worth, Texas has leased approximately 235,000 acres of mineral rights in the heart of the Big Cypress National Preserve from Collier Resources for the purpose of oil development. Their current application – “Phase One” – will impact more than 70,000 acres with seismic testing. And for those already scratching their head – the National Park Service did not acquire the underground mineral rights when the preserve was established in 1974. Most of those are privately owned – the majority by Collier Resources.
What you can do. Go to the following website and get some comments in by the deadline. …. The official comment form can be found here:
At this point, we’re suggesting a very narrow focus for your comments. According to the landmark National Environmental Policy Act (signed on January 1, 1970) – and usually referred to as “NEPA” – the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is required whenever decisions involving “major Federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment” are made. According to the White House Council on Environmental Quality – “Human environment shall be interpreted comprehensively to include the natural and physical environment and the relationship of people with that environment.”
Burnett Oil’s project – massive vibroseis trucks weighing tens of thousands of pounds each running on and off trails across a national preserve that contains jurisdictional federal wetlands and habitat for numerous federally listed endangered and threatened species – is definitely the kind of “major federal action” NEPA has in mind here. The preparation of an EIS should be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, the National Park Service has yet to come to that conclusion and has instead prepared a very basic Environmental Assessment (EA) that does not fully investigate all environmental impacts from this project – or the full range of alternatives open to Burnett in their search for oil in the Big Cypress. Outside the question of the appropriateness of the Big Cypress for this type of activity – the review process is, so far, insufficient and incomplete……
If you have some time, please try to get some individual comments in to the National Park Service by the Monday at midnight (Mountain Time) deadline.
South Florida Wildlands Association
P.O. Box 30211
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33303
Loxahatchee Friends Annual Membership Meeting
Sunday, January 31, 1:00 p.m.
Join the Friends for our annual membership meeting in the Visitor Center auditorium, followed by wine and cheese on the pavilion.
17th Annual Everglades Day
Saturday, February 20, 8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Join us for Everglades Day, our all-day family festival, with activities for all ages.
This year’s theme is “Songs of the Everglades,” in recognition of next year’s 100th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty.
Enjoy tours, nature walks, bird walks, wildlife demonstrations, presentations, exhibits, games,
kids’ fishing, kids’ archery, canoeing, music, dance, food trucks and much more!
All day free admission. Details to follow!
Everglades Day Volunteers Needed!
Anyone interested in volunteering to help on Everglades Day is asked to attend one of two volunteer orientations at the Visitor Center: Thursday, February 4, 5:30 p.m. or Saturday, February 6, 10:00 a.m.
Of Interest to All
As the prospect of oil drilling inches closer to the Everglades, a Senate committee passed a measure to prohibit local governments from banning the controversial practice of drilling for natural gas, known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking, but only after strengthening the protections against possible contamination and requiring lawmakers to sign off on any regulations.
The Florida Senate Environmental Protection and Conservation Committee surprised environmentalists by agreeing to a series of amendments that strengthen oversight of the practice – by requiring inspection of groundwater before and after the drilling begins – but the bill still allows companies to seek a permit to shoot thousands of gallons of water and acid into rock formations to release oil and gas trapped in the bedrock, known as acidization.
The proposal, by Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, would require the Department of Environmental Regulation to establish rules governing the process but it would also halt the ability of local governments to write local ordinances. Broward County has scheduled a hearing to become one of about 60 local governments that ban the practice as a wealthy developer has applied for a permit to drill for oil on the edge of the Everglades.
John Kanter, of Kanter Real Estate, has requested a drilling permit to conduct exploratory drilling for oil and gas along a major drainage canal about a half-dozen miles west of U.S. 27 and Miramar. Under current law, the state may grant the permit and impose no requirement that the chemicals be disclosed or ground water be tested.
Under the bill, a version of which is also moving in the state House, state regulators would conduct a $1 million, one-year study to determine what impact the chemicals used in the fracking process would have on the state drinking water supply and then write new rules regulating the practice, beginning in 2017.
The regulations would include how the contaminated water and chemicals will be disposed of and the study will consider the potential for water contamination once a well has been plugged. Concerned about the impact to the state’s water system, the Senate included a provision that will require testing of ground water before and after the drilling occurs and require that any rules developed by state officials get a vote of approval from the Legislature.
“It would give our constituents who have a lot of nervousness about this a little more comfort in knowing the folks they are electing are going to take one more look before we start fracking in the State of Florida,” said Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, who proposed the amendment.
Opponents warn that because of the state’s fragile limestone foundation, dangerous chemicals could seep into Florida’s porous rock formations and contaminate the state’s water supply too late for the state to do anything. Instead of regulation, they seek a ban.
But Richter argues that until a study is complete a ban is irresponsible.
“We need to responsibly do everything we can to be less dependent on others,” he said. “For 70 years we’ve been drilling for oil in the State of Florida and in fact over 600 million barrels of oil have been produced from 1,000 wells without any adverse impact.”
Todd Sack, a Tallahassee physician who has served on the environmental health committees of the Florida Medical Association and American Medical Association said both organizations have adopted policies opposing natural gas fracking. He said the bill allows drillers to hide any disclosure of chemicals used in the process by calling them a trade secret.
“This bill will interfere significantly with the ability of physicians to care for their patients,” he said. “Doctors caring for patients must know what chemicals are in our water.”
The Conservancy of Southwest Florida warned that the bill does not regulate all types of well-stimulation and said it fears that millions of gallons of drinking water will be used for the activity.
Supporting the bill was Associated Industries of Florida because of the “jobs it will create for the state of Florida,” said lobbyist Brewster Bevis.
Richter acknowledged, “it’s an emotional issue,” but vowed it would provide “absolute” disclosure of every chemical that goes into the ground.
“The status quo is much worse,” he said, nothing there would be no disclosure, regulation or requirement of bonds for the applicants. “This bill move the ball, maybe not as far as some would like.”
Arek Sarkissian|Naples Daily News|Tribune Bureau|Mary Ellen Klas|Herald-Times|Tallahassee Bureau
Fracking: Panel OKs ignoring local bans
TALLAHASSEE— A state Senate committee Wednesday approved a bill that would toss out local ordinances regulating or banning fracking.
The legislation would give the state control of overseeing the drilling method, triggering concerns the proposal would stop short of real oversight.
SEN. RICHTER’S BILL
Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, offered SB 318, which would create a specific state permit process for fracking and prohibit any new permits until the state Department of Environmental Protection conducts a yearlong study.
The bill also would require the Legislature to create rules from the $1 million study that would govern fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, for oil and natural gas.
The Senate Environmental and Preservation Committee passed Richter’s bill 6-3 and rejected by a 7-2 vote an amendment that would have restored local say on the drilling practice.
CURRE NT PROHIBITION
Current law forbids the DEP from issuing permits to oil and gas drilling companies that want to drill in municipalities that have passed ordinances or resolutions that oppose it.
Richter’s bill would remove that prohibition and pre-empt local regulations passed after Jan. 1, 2015.
Estero and Bonita Springs in Lee County passed ordinance s last year after the proposed deadline specified in the bill, and 64 other municipalities have passed resolutions opposing the process.
“Rather than having 400 different policies out there, this will create one uniform set of rules the entire state can follow,” Richter said. “And unlike those policies, these rules will be created with a firm idea of what fracking will do, its impact on the environment.”
Fracking is a drilling method where fluids such as rock-eating acid are injected into the ground at high pressure to release oil and natural gas.
Richter introduced the bill last year after members of the Collier County Commission raised concerns that DEP was unable to stop drilling performed by Texas-based Dan A. Hughes Co.
The company began fracking in Collier on the western edge of the Everglades and refused to heed orders from DEP to stop so the agency could perform a study to evaluate how it affected the environment. Hughes drillers eventually stopped, and the company was fined $25,000 and ordered to install groundwater monitors around the site.
Jorge Aguilar, of Floridians Against Fracking, said the environmental study proposed in the bill will not address the potential for environmental disasters.
“We certainly believe it won’t go far enough,” Aguilar said.
About 20 people who traveled from as far away as Orlando to testify were given short periods of time to speak.
“These were people who all traveled to give testimony, and I’m sure everyone in this room felt unheard,” said Kim Ross, of ReThink Energy Florida, which is opposed to the bill. “Clearly, we’ll be back at the next committee.”
The bill must pass two other committees before the full Senate considers it.
State Sen. Darren Soto, D. Orlando, filed the amendment that would have restored local government say on fracking. He said the long list of local governments that have voiced opposition to fracking through resolutions and ordinances led him to believe the majority of residents are against it.
“We’ll continue to push on that pre-emption language to see that local governments have some authority if not all authority on that issue,” Soto said. “I believe that’s the proper policy for an issue that’s so controversial and dangerous to the public health that I don’t want the state to be the final be-all on this issue.”
The language removing local control could kill the House version of Richter’s bill, which passed a House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee meeting last month with a 9-3 vote.
During that meeting, Republicans and Democrats told state Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, he needed to remove the pre-emption clause or it would not survive a vote on the House floor.
Richter said he planned to file an amendment to his bill that would soften pre-emption language.
“We’re working toward a solution so that the local municipalities retain their proper zoning authority,” Richter said. “They’ll have zoning authority.”
Richter’s bill drew several opponents, including the Florida Association of Counties.
Arek Sarkissian|Naples Daily News|Tribune Bureau
Changes at Arthur Marshall Foundation
Over the years, the Arthur R. Marshall for The Everglades Foundation has awarded more than $450,000 in scholarships and internships, planted nearly 100,000 native Florida trees in wetland areas, educated more than 25,000 elementary and high school students and involved more than 5,000 volunteers in hands-on restoration projects.
We are proud of this legacy and know that the work of preserving and restoring the Everglades is more important today, than ever before. However, it is time to let others take the lead and continue the good work of the Arthur R. Marshall Foundation for The Everglades and to preserve its legacy.
As you know, the founding family members have suffered overwhelming circumstances, in the last few years, which in turn, affected the foundation. This included the death of Josette George Kaufman, who was the machine behind the organization, the illness of John Marshall, who was the voice of the organization and community activist and Nancy Marshall, who was the oil, who made it all happen, who championed the programming, rallied supporters and the fundraising efforts.
The attempt to replace them has proven insurmountable. In 2016, the Board of Directors will work with other organizations to continue the key programs of the foundation and create a platform to continue the support of environmental education.
The legacy continues, the work is not complete, it’s up to each of us to continue to champion the restoration of the greater Everglades ecosystem. Your support in this endeavor will be the ultimate thank you to John, Nancy and Josette, in her memory, for the years of dedication they have given to Everglades restoration and educating the next generation about our environment.
Please visit our website at artmarshall.org for future updates.
The Arthur R. Marshall Board of Directors
REGULATORS BACK NEED FOR NEW FPL PLANT
Regulators decided Tuesday that a $1.3 billion, natural gas-fired power plant — proposed in rural Okeechobee County by Florida Power & Light — is needed to meet the demands of the state’s growing population.
The decision by the Florida Public Service Commission came after objections from a pair of environmental groups, the state Office of Public Counsel and the Florida Industrial Power Users Group. The Office of Public Counsel represents consumers in utility issues, while the Florida Industrial Power Users Group represents large electricity users.
Opponents questioned the need for the plant and argued it will hinder conservation efforts and slow the growth of renewable energy sources such as solar.
Commissioners agreed with a staff conclusion that the proposed 1,633-megawatt plant would increase FPL’s already-heavy reliance on natural gas. But Julie Brown, who formally began a two-year term as chair of the commission Tuesday, said the plant is the “most cost effective option” to bring more power to the state.
“We know there is a need. We know that it’s present. It will continue to grow,” Brown said.
The plant is planned for 250 acres of a 2,842-acre site that FPL owns in northeast Okeechobee County.
JIM TURNER|THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
10 Reasons Why It’s the Best Year to Enjoy National Parks
It’s the 100th birthday of the National Park Service, with opportunities to celebrate the parks throughout 2016. From planting a “Centennial Forest” in Texas to counting species of plants and animals on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., here are 10 ways to take your appreciation for national parks to historic levels in 2016.
Find additional practical details for these activities on our Find Your Voice events page as they become available.
1. Growing a National Park
January 18 through March 5, Big Thicket National Preserve, Texas
Don’t just enjoy the natural splendors of national parks—go one step further and plant your own. Starting on January 18—Martin Luther King Jr.’s Day of Service, when admission to all national parks will be free—volunteers will plant longleaf pine seedlings in Big Thicket National Preserve. Throughout the winter, a total of 100,000 seedlings will be planted right next to the park’s oldest longleaf pine forest. The planting of a “Centennial Forest” will help restore crucial habitat for several sensitive species in this part of East Texas, so not only will you leave a living legacy that will last for centuries, but rare animals like red-cockaded woodpeckers will be grateful, too.
2. Climbing Devils Tower?
No climbing skills are required as you experience the ascent of this Wyoming national monument from the comfort of your IMAX theater seat. “National Parks Adventure” is a 3-D feature film that offers bird’s-eye views of more than 30 national parks. The movie follows a trio of mountain climbers as they perform a series of vertigo-inducing stunts on America’s most venerated playgrounds, including scaling the Three Penguins rock formation at the entrance of Arches National Park. What’s more, the movie is narrated by renowned conservationist and Academy Award winner Robert Redford. The film opens February 12 in select theaters nationwide.
3. Stopping and Smelling the National Parks
March 5 through 13, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Spectacular flower displays, from the rare super blooms that grace Death Valley to the annual cherry blossoms that ring the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C., are big draws to national parks. But what if national parks themselves were entirely made of flowers? That is the concept the Philadelphia Flower Show will bring to life this March with acres of floral displays inspired by national parks, from Yosemite to Shenandoah, in honor of the National Park Service’s centennial. Park rangers will also give talks about the parks and organize scavenger hunts.
4. Beautifying a Fledgling National Park
April, Pullman National Monument, Illinois
Pullman National Monument will celebrate its first year as a national park site while the Park Service is celebrating its hundredth year. The park preserves the utopian company town George Pullman built on the outskirts of Chicago in the late 19th century to house workers making his then-famous Pullman sleeping train cars. The utopia didn’t last long: the town was the site of a deadly strike in 1894 as workers protested high rents and declining wages. The Pullman district is in a historic neighborhood in one of America’s largest cities, with thousands of residents. As a result, it has its fair share of litter. On several dates in April, you can join other volunteers to clean up the park, weed, and plant native plants. You’ll also get your own tour of the site that inspired the Labor Day holiday.
5. Counting Birds, Flowers, Insects, and More
May 20 and 21, National Mall and Memorial Parks, Washington, D.C.
National parks are home to iconic species, from Yellowstone’s bison to Sequoia’s, well, sequoias, but the parks’ biodiversity extends well beyond their most recognizable denizens. On May 20 and 21, you can get a better idea of the parks’ vegetal and animal residents by teaming up with scientists and other volunteers to identify as many species as you can (humans count as one) within a 24-hour period. These events directly contribute to our knowledge of the parks’ ecosystems: during last year’s count at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, participants identified more than 20 species previously undiscovered at the park. The main “BioBlitz” event will take place in and around Washington, D.C., but you can participate in parks across the country.
6. Gazing at the Parks’ True Star Attractions
May 7, Mojave National Preserve, California
With majestic mountains, deserts, and lakes in front of them, national park visitors may forget to look up. That would be a mistake. Some national parks are among the best places in the country to contemplate the immensity of the universe—and our relative insignificance. Mojave National Preserve is one such spot: located four hours from Los Angeles and more than two hours from Las Vegas, its skies have minimal light pollution and clouds rarely get in the way. In June and October, astronomers will assist visitors as they peer through large telescopes at the Milky Way and at other galaxies far, far away. Get ready to be starstruck.
7. Checking Out New York’s Other Nature Haven
July 23, Gateway National Recreation Area, New Jersey and New York
Most New Yorkers in need of an immediate nature fix head to Central Park, but there is another option. The beaches, wetlands and upland islands of Jamaica Bay, part of Gateway National Recreation Area, are home to more than 325 species of birds (about 100 more than Central Park) and 100 species of fish. The best part? It’s only a bike ride away—albeit a 45-mile one—from the cacophony of the city. On July 23, participants in the Epic Ride will ride from Greenpoint, Brooklyn, to Rockaway, Queens, along the Brooklyn Greenway and Jamaica Bay Greenway bike paths. NPCA is teaming up with the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative, Nature Valley, and Riis Park Beach Bazaar to bring the Epic Ride finish line to “the people’s beach” at Jacob Riis Park, Jamaica Bay. Once at Riis, bikers can enjoy local food and drinks, live music, and a well-deserved dip into the Atlantic Ocean.
8. Making the Great Pronghorn Migration a Little Bit Easier
May through October, Yellowstone National Park, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming
When winter comes, Yellowstone’s northern pronghorn herd needs to migrate to lower—and greener—pastures beyond park borders. The problem is that unlike deer or elk, pronghorn—the world’s second-fastest land mammal behind cheetahs—do not readily jump and often turn back when confronted with fences. This means Yellowstone’s pronghorn may not be able to reach their winter habitat, or they risk being hit by traffic as they look for alternate routes. The good news is that pronghorn can easily pass under modified fences, and you can help enhance their ability to migrate. From May through October, volunteers will work to remove or modify 3.5 miles of fencing on the pronghorn’s path. Some of the work involves replacing traditional barbwire with wildlife-friendly adjustable fences, removing fences that are no longer needed, and raising the height of the bottom of fences to allow the pronghorn to easily pass under them.
9. Learning a Century’s Worth of Park History—In 12 Hours
August 6, Denali National Park, Alaska, and April 25-30, on PBS affiliates nationwide
The National Park Service may be celebrating its centennial this year, but national parks got their start 44 years earlier when Yellowstone National Park—the world’s first—was established in 1872. The birth of that park and the 408 that followed wasn’t a foregone conclusion. It took the dedication of passionate Americans and, eventually, political support from Congress and various presidents to create each park unit. You can learn about it all in the six-episode, 12-hour documentary The National Parks, directed by celebrated filmmaker Ken Burns. The 2009 series, which is as much a tribute to the beauty of the parks as a history lesson, is set to air again on PBS in April. Want to learn more? Guests of Camp Denali in Denali National Park will hear from the man himself as Ken Burns reminisces about the making of the series on August 6.
10. Blowing Out the Candles
August 25, nationwide
The National Park Service will officially turn 100 on August 25, and the best way to celebrate the birthday is to visit a national park. Founders’ Day honors the people who made it happen, from environmentalist John Muir to first National Park Service Director Stephen T. Mather. This year, the celebration will include a range of activities from Arches to Zion, including special tours, bookstore discounts, and impersonations. Need more convincing? All park entrance fees will be waived that day and the weekend that follows, through August 28.
Birds and Butterflies
Outlook for 2016: Audubon Sets Sights on Big Wins for Birds
It may seem at times that nothing good comes from Washington these days. While gridlock is often the case, there are strong opportunities for progress on some noteworthy issues. Here is a short list of key bird protection and habitat issues that are moving forward that will make a huge difference for birds.
Blueprint for Gulf Restoration
Last year marked important advances in restoring the Gulf of Mexico from the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010. In July, a settlement for $18.7 billion was announced between BP, the Department of Justice, and the five states along the Gulf. This is the largest fine ever paid for an environmental disaster in U.S. history. It’s expected that this settlement will set the stage for a long term, Gulf-wide spending plan to restore marshes, coastlines, and other habitat devastated by the oil spill.
This direct infusion of money to restore the damaged Gulf would not have happened without the RESTORE Act of 2012, a legislative effort led by Audubon. This Act mandated that penalties paid by BP and their partners would be used to heal the Gulf. To spend the billions now in the bank, the Act requires the state and federal entities involved in restoration to create a Comprehensive Ecosystem Restoration Plan for the region. Now that the penalties and payment schedules are established, this group, known as the RESTORE Council, will get busy to hammer out this complicated and important plan. Audubon pushed hard for the creation of this approach and will work closely with local, state, and federal decisions makers, as well as Audubon chapters in the region, to adopt a plan that tracks closely with Audubon’s restoration agenda in the Gulf of Mexico.
Record Drought Brings Opportunity to Protect Water and Save Birds
This year promises to be an exciting and active time for water and drought policy in the West. There are several bills pending in Congress designed to create better and more efficient use of water. Many of these bills contain ideas that would create or restore essential habitat for birds and wildlife, increase water efficiencies, and modernize many of our water management systems. At the same time, there are also a host of ideas that would threaten core environmental laws like the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act as water policy gets reshaped. Audubon continues to promote the idea that we can safeguard critical water for wildlife while conserving water for other uses. This year Audubon will continue to work on proactive solutions to the drought issues in the west and also oppose any efforts that would threaten essential water for birds and other wildlife.
In parallel to Congressional action, the Obama Administration has recently prioritized water as a top tier issue and is working hard on innovative solutions. Many include new technologies, increased collaboration between federal and state governments, and more efficient use of water. Final proposals are not out yet, but Audubon remains confident that the White House is on the right path to achieving these goals as well as our goals of increased habitat for birds and wildlife. On March 22 we will celebrate World Water Day, which could include some important announcements and proposals aimed at more water for all.
Historic MBTA Changes Promise Best-Ever Protections for Birds
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) was signed into law in 1918, primarily to protect birds from overhunting. Audubon was the most important and vocal organization in its creation. Now, a century later, it is about to be refreshed by a bold new initiative coming from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Audubon again will be heavily involved in shaping the new direction for MBTA.
The administration is considering expanding the law’s reach from its traditional focus on regulating the direct take of birds through activities like hunting to a modern and much broader focus on regulating incidental take, which will lead to new protections for birds from a much broader array of 21st century threats, including power lines, cell phone towers, open oil pits, and wind turbines.
The Fish and Wildlife Service is currently in the process of updating the scope of the MBTA to provide greater protection for birds. This process provides an opportunity for Audubon to take a leadership role in the modernization of the MBTA, as well as an opportunity to heavily engage our chapters and other advocates in securing stronger bird protections. As this process firms up, we’ll be calling on everyone who cares about birds to help build in even stronger protections through the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
From Audubon Advisory
Calls to Action
Help stop California’s methane gusher – here
Tell Sec. Vilsack to Let Vermont’s GMO Labeling Law Take Effect – here
Tell President Obama – Protect the Grand Canyon from radioactive uranium mining – here
Help Protect Sea Turtles – here
Stop the Job and Democracy Killing Trans Pacific Partnership – here
Help Save the American Bison – here
Don’t Transfer Sacred Native American Land to Mining Company – here
Obama- Take Arctic drilling off the table – here
Study: Asian carp could develop huge presence in Lake Erie
TRAVERSE CITY – Asian carp could become the most common fish in Lake Erie if the ravenous invaders develop a breeding population there, while popular sport species including walleye and rainbow trout likely would decline, scientists said Monday.
A newly published study based on computer modeling projected that bighead and silver carp, which are Asian carp species, eventually could make up about one-third of the total fish weight in Erie, which has the most fish of the five Great Lakes even though it’s the smallest by volume.
“They would be quite abundant,” said Ed Rutherford, a fisheries biologist with the federal Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor and a member of the study team, which included scientists from several U.S. and Canadian universities and government offices.
The carp, which have overrun the Mississippi River and many of its tributaries since being imported to the southern U.S. from Asia in the 1970s to cleanse sewage treatment ponds, gorge on tiny plants and animals known as plankton that all fish eat at some point in life. They are migrating northward toward the Great Lakes, where agencies have spent more than $300 million to keep them out.
A few have been found in Lake Erie over the years, and some samples of its waters have tested positive for Asian carp DNA. But there is no evidence that it has self-sustaining populations of silver or bighead carp.
Even so, the study’s findings underscore the significance of the threat, said Marc Gaden, spokesman for the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, a U.S.-Canadian agency.
“It’s very sobering,” Gaden said. “Lake Erie is one of the most productive inland fisheries in the world.”
The study used an ecosystem modeling program and consultation with experts to estimate how Asian carp, which can weigh dozens of pounds and eat up to 20 percent of their body weight daily, would affect Erie’s food chains.
It found they would pose stiff competition for other plankton eaters.
JOHN FLESHER|ASSOCIATED PRESS
Study Erases Misconceptions About Endangered Species Act, Raises Questions About Enforcement
Forty-three years after being enacted by Richard Nixon, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is still widely considered to be the world’s most powerful law for protecting endangered and threatened species. But it remains controversial, drawing praise and ire from separate quarters. Environmentalists sometimes question how well it’s enforced, while business interests often argue that it’s burdensome, getting in the way of development and economic progress.
One hotly debated part of the law is Section 7, which stipulates that contractors building or working on federal lands must consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) or National Marine Fisheries Service if their actions have the potential to disturb endangered or threatened species, or their habitats. During this process, there are consultations between the contractor and the federal agency with jurisdiction over the land (most commonly the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) and the FWS.
After this consulting process, the FWS issues a biological opinion, the purpose of which is to ensure that the development or action doesn’t “jeopardize” or “destroy or adversely modify” a species’ critical habitat. If the agency thinks that action does present such “jeopardy,” it says so in its ruling, and the plan must be altered before continuing.
But a study published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences analyzed reams of government data and found that out of the 88,290 consultations in which the FWS was involved in the last seven years, only one project was determined to present a jeopardy to threatened species.
And even that project went forward, after slight modifications. (And the second project was initially determined to present jeopardy, a decision that was reversed as the result of a court case.)
This result shocked study authors Ya-Wei Li, senior director of endangered species conservation at Defenders of Wildlife, and his colleague Jacob Malcom. Li says it raises serious questions about whether the law is being followed, and also should put to rest the arguments that the ESA “kills jobs” and unduly restricts development.
“As a practical matter, all these stories about regulatory burden of the Endangered Species Act are almost certainly wrong,” Li says. “In the last seven years the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has not had to stop a single project because of a finding that it would threaten a species’ survival.”
This is a big change from the past, says Li, who inputted much of the paper’s data into an online tool you can see for yourself. One previous study found that out of 10,762 consultations by the FWS from 1979 to 1981, 192 (or 1.8 percent) were found to present an unacceptable risk to endangered or threatened animals. And a white paper from the World Wildlife Fund found that 350 (0.47 percent) of the 73,560 consultations between 1987 and 1991 did the same.
So what has changed? Is the Fish and Wildlife Service still protecting the interests of endangered species?
Daniel Rohlf, a law professor at Lewis and Clark University who has closely followed (and sometimes been involved in) litigation involving the ESA for the last 25 years, says he thinks two things are happening. First, federal agencies and contractors are becoming more familiar with the law and what it takes to comply with it. “Especially agencies that routinely deal with [these] issues, such as the U.S. Forest Service—I think they have improved in at least recognizing that it must take into account needs of endangered species,” says Rohlf, who wasn’t involved in the present study.
Second, though, the law doesn’t seem to be being implemented quite as it should. “I think that clearly some, or perhaps the majority of the decline [in jeopardy findings] we’ve seen over the years stems from federal agencies and government taking more creative interpretations of the Endangered Species Act that diminish protections of endangered species,” Rohlf says. “And frankly in some instances,” political pressure has pushed the agency “to allow actions to go forward even though they have adverse consequences for threatened and endangered species.”
Rohlf says that one problem is that the agency makes small allowances that chip away at species’ critical habitats, which aren’t carefully kept track of and could lead to serious problems down the road. For example, as discussed in a 2010 case Butte Environmental Council v. United States Army Corps of Engineers, an environmental group sued the Corps, the FWS and the city of Redding, California, for allowing a business park to be built on protected wetlands home to endangered vernal pool shrimp and Orcutt grass. In a decision that was upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the agency determined that although the development would indeed essentially destroy “critical habitat,” it was acceptable because it was only wrecking a small sliver of it.
Rohlf suggest these are “straws on the camel’s back” that aren’t being properly taken into account. Or, as the study states: “The cumulative effect of hundreds of these small projects is reduced populations or habitat, an outcome that some people refer to as ‘death by a thousand cuts.’”
Not everybody agrees that the study suggests implementation is slipping. Steve Quarles, an environmental lawyer based in Washington, D.C., says the study doesn’t take into account all the nuances of the negotiation process between the contractor and the various agencies involved. He says that in his own work representing contractors, significant changes have been made to development plans to protected endangered species as a result of negotiations with the FWS. But none of these changes were reflected in the final biological assessments of the service, and no jeopardy finding resulted—and thus, such changes are invisible to an analysis such as was done in this study.
In other words, contractors are just better at complying with the law these days, Quarles says. And all parties have gotten more sophisticated regarding the details of the ESA; they have access to better information and professionals consultants, and so more projects are probably being killed before formal consultations with the government even begin, he adds. “I’d say to a significant degree, the development community has learned to operate within the confines of the Endangered Species Act.”
Gary Frazer, who oversees the endangered species program at the FWS, says that it’s a “good study” but agreed that it didn’t reflect all the changes that are often made during consultations. The low jeopardy numbers are a matter of “agency learning,” Frazer says. “Most federal agencies and now very experienced in the Endangered Species Act, comfortable and knowledgeable about how to design their projects up front to avoid conflicts, and we are getting much better projects from the outset.”
“We are also finding as a general rule that throughout the consultation process conflicts are identified, and agencies are very responsive to modify their plans.” Ultimately, he says, the ESA “does accomplish good protection for species but in a way that allows projects to go forward and does not as a rule cause undue delay.”
The agency also pointed to recent testimony by the Department of the Interior’s Michael Bean attesting to recent success of the act and its implementation. Bean told the House Natural Resources Committee that since 2009 “more species have been taken off the endangered list due to recovery than in any prior administration. Though still endangered, many other species—among them the California condor, black-footed ferret, whooping crane, Florida manatee, Kirtland’s warbler, Kemp’s ridley sea turtle and Florida panther—have had their populations increase to or near their highest levels in decades.”
Despite these success, the ESA is still under legislative assault, Li says. There are around 90 riders or amendments in the works or making their way through congress to weaken various aspects of the law. “We’ve never seen so many attacks in the history of the act,” he says.
Li and Rohlf concede that agencies have gotten better at complying with the law, but think the fact that only one project was altered as a result of a final FWS biological opinions is unfathomably low. It just “isn’t reasonable, even given that federal agencies are better attuned to the needs of endangered species,” Rohlf says.
Douglas Main|Tech & Science|12/17/15
Groundbreaking news for wild bison!
In a landmark win for bison and all Americans, Montana just expanded year-round habitat for wild bison outside Yellowstone National Park.
Montana Governor Steve Bullock has agreed to expand year-round habitat for wild bison in Montana, outside Yellowstone National Park.
This is a huge step forward for wild bison and all of us who care deeply about wildlife.
It’s also a major victory for NRDC supporters like you, who have sent tens of thousands of messages over the years pushing for more critical habitat for bison outside Yellowstone National Park — and kept the pressure on until the job was done. Thank you.
Historically, thousands of wild bison have been hazed or slaughtered as they migrated from Yellowstone into Montana in the spring in search of grass for survival. This decision represents a significant change in bison management throughout the state.
You can read more about this landmark win online in this blog post by Matt Skoglund, director of NRDC’s Northern Rockies Office.
Of course, our campaign for wild bison is far from over. Just this week, for example, an ill-conceived plan to slaughter hundreds of bison around Yellowstone was announced. NRDC will continue to call for more year-round habitat and stronger protections for these majestic animals — and end the senseless slaughter of wild bison once and for all.
But today, please join us in celebrating this huge step forward for one of America’s most spectacular natural landscapes and its iconic wildlife.
FEDS SEEK TO CHANGE MANATEE STATUS TO ‘THREATENED’
Pointing to increased numbers of manatees and improved habitat, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Thursday it wants to change the status of the sea cows from endangered to threatened.
The agency said in a news release that Florida has an estimated 6,300 manatees, up from 1,267 when aerial surveys began in 1991. Under the federal Endangered Species Act, endangered animals are considered in danger of extinction, while threatened animals are likely to become endangered in the “foreseeable future,” the news release said. “The manatee is one of the most charismatic and instantly recognizable species,” Michael Bean, principal deputy assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks at the U.S. Department of the Interior, said in a prepared statement. “It’s hard to imagine the waters of Florida without them, but that was the reality we were facing before manatees were listed under the Endangered Species Act.
While there is still more work to be done to fully recover manatee populations, their numbers are climbing and the threats to the species’ survival are being reduced.” The agency said manatee-protection measures would remain in place.
But U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., sent a letter Thursday to the Fish and Wildlife Service asking it to withdraw the proposed status change, calling the move “misguided and premature” and saying manatees face threats such as collisions with boats, habitat loss and red tide. “Manatees have become an iconic symbol for the wilderness and beauty of Florida,” Buchanan wrote. “They are an engine in our economy even as they are a restorative presence in our tranquil waters. We must do everything possible to protect this treasured species.” The public will be able to submit information about the proposal during a 90-day comment period, which will start when the proposed change is published Friday. The agency is expected to make a final decision after the comment period.
The News Service of Florida.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Ignores Ongoing Threats and Proposes to Downlist Entire West Indian Manatee Species
Recently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposed to reclassify the West Indian manatee from endangered to threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Save the Manatee Club does not believe it is appropriate to reclassify manatees at this time.
It is completely unclear why FWS feels justified in downlisting the entire species since the agency’s own 12-month finding cites that “population trends are declining or unknown in 84 percent of the countries where manatees are found.”
The FWS should not move forward with downlisting Florida manatees without a proven, viable plan for further reducing mortality and preserving vital warm water habitat and establishing recovery benchmarks in an updated Recovery Plan.
The FWS decision for Florida is largely based on a computer model that does not include two recent, massive die-offs of hundreds of manatees. The manatee population suffered catastrophic losses from prolonged cold snaps and toxic red tide blooms from 2010 through 2013.
The computer model also does not deal with loss of habitat due to waterfront development.
In addition, there is no long-term plan for the anticipated loss of artificial winter warm water habitat on which more than 60% of the Florida manatee population depends.
Read a summary outlining reasons why the FWS proposal to downlist manatees is premature. Click the following link to read Save the Manatee Club’s official comments to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from Dr. Katie Tripp, Save the Manatee Club Director of Science and Conservation. Date: September 1, 2014 – See more at: http://www.savethemanatee.org/aa_fws_downlisting_1-16.html#sthash.I1St6w3k.dpuf
Mangroves move inland as seas rise
Adapting to the damaging effects of climate change, plants are gradually moving to where temperatures are cooler, rainfall is greater, freshwater is available or other conditions are ideal.
Florida’s mangroves move inland to keep up with salt water intrusion caused by sea level rise.
On a local scale, FIU biology student Sean Charles is examining how mangroves in the Florida Everglades are impacting the ecosystem around them as they gradually move inland from saltwater to freshwater communities. For now, this tactic is helping the plants keep up with salt water intrusion caused by sea level rise.
Wetland ecosystems like the Florida Everglades provide a number of services that benefit people, including flood control, water purification, and carbon accumulation that removes harmful carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Charles’ study specifically looks at how vegetation shifts and sea level rise, combined with ongoing restoration efforts, will impact ecosystem functions, soil elevation and the Everglades’ ability to store carbon. His research project is funded by the Everglades Foundation FIU ForEverglades Scholarship.
“The world’s largest wetland restoration effort is taking place right now in the Everglades,” said Charles, a Ph.D. student in John Kominoski’s Ecosystem Ecology Laboratory. “It’s a very interesting, yet scary, time for this amazing ecosystem, and we have the potential to make a difference. This study will improve our understanding of the risks and opportunities likely to confront the Everglades of the future, as well as coastal wetlands throughout the world.”
In addition to improving what is known about interactions among mangroves and their environment, Charles wants to informing Everglades conservation and restoration. He is also engaging K-12 students in Collier and Miami-Dade counties in a coastal plant restoration project. Known as “Marsh-Mangress,” the public school students will grow mangrove seedlings on school grounds until they are established and ready to be planted at local restoration sites.
“By learning through participating in active restoration projects, students will be engaged in the importance of environmental conservation and will, hopefully, better understand their role in it,” Charles said.
Wild and Weird
Going to Need a Tougher Buoy
The time a polar bear temporarily sunk important research equipment.
The top of the world is warming at almost twice the rate of the rest of the planet and scientists there are grappling with what that means for local wildlife.
For instance, as the ice retreats and shipping in the area increases, how will it impact resident marine mammals?
Answering such a question in the far north comes with unique challenges, though.
Our Arctic Beringia Program faced one such obstacle last year. As Dr. Stephen Insley detailed on WCS Canada’s blog, the team had placed a buoy in Sachs Harbor, in the western Canadian Arctic, to record underwater noise.
This would give a better picture of what the local whales and seals were up to and help the team better understand how the animals might be impacted by increased human activity.
At some point, before Insley and the team could retrieve the data they had recorded, the buoy disappeared underwater.
Suspicion fell on polar bears.
The disappearance coincided with a sighting on the outskirts of the nearby town. The local safety officer had chased two bears out of the area and one was seen swimming off in the direction of the buoy.
Eventually, after hours of dredging the water to no avail, Insley and a local colleague (who also happened to be said safety officer) struck research gold—they hooked onto the rope that was attached to the buoy and pulled it up.
On it, they had their smoking gun: water poured out of the busted float from a pair of teeth-sized holes, which were separated by roughly the width of a polar bear’s jaw.
Liz Bennett|Wildlife Conservation Society
Corps breaks ground on North Detention Area for Everglades project
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, alongside federal, state and local officials, celebrated the start of construction on one of the three remaining contracts for the C-111 South Dade project, an Everglades restoration project in Miami-Dade County today.
The contract, known as Contract 8, involves constructing the North Detention Area, which will connect the C-111 South Dade project to the Modified Water Deliveries to Everglades National Park project. These projects are Foundation Projects, which the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) builds upon to deliver essential restoration benefits to America’s Everglades.
“The Obama Administration has already invested $2.2 billion in the restoration of the Everglades. This is the second groundbreaking in just two months,” said Jo-Ellen Darcy, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works. “The C-111 South Dade project is critical to the overall efforts to restore the south Florida ecosystem. Together, we are saving this system and preserving it for future generations.”
Once completed, the project will work in concert with the Modified Water Deliveries project to create a hydraulic ridge that will reduce groundwater seeping out of eastern Everglades National Park. As a result, this will enable additional water flow into Everglades National Park and Florida Bay.
“When it comes to water, the entire Everglades ecosystem is interconnected,” said Col. Jason Kirk, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville Commander. “The North Detention Area will connect infrastructure from the C-111 South Dade and Modified Water Deliveries projects together to help ensure that water goes where it needs to go. This is an important step towards getting all of the necessary infrastructure in place, which will enable more flexibility in our water operations.”
The $13.9 million construction contract for Contract 8 was awarded to the Polote Corporation from Savannah, Georgia on Oct. 29. Two construction contracts remain for the C-111 South Dade project and are scheduled to be awarded within the next two years.
“The project exemplifies the collaboration of multiple state and federal agencies, as well as local area stakeholders, to protect America’s Everglades and the larger south Florida ecosystem,” said Florida Department of Environmental Protection Deputy Secretary for Ecosystem Restoration Drew Bartlett. “I commend the Army Corps and the South Florida Water Management District on advancing this project.”
The C-111 South Dade project is being constructed in partnership with the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), the local sponsor.
“The C-111 South Dade Project is critical to the ecology, economy and future of this beautiful area of southern Miami-Dade County. That is why our taxpayers have invested so much into this effort,” said South Florida Water Management District Governing Board Member Jim Moran. “I am extremely happy to see the progress we have made enhancing flood protection for the South Dade region and restoring the freshwater wetlands in Everglades National Park and the rest of the region.”
The completed project will restore natural hydrologic conditions in Northeast Shark River Slough, Taylor Slough and the eastern panhandle of Everglades National Park.
“We appreciate the partnership we have with the Army Corps of Engineers and the State of Florida, which is so vital to restoring more natural water flows to Everglades National Park, while also maintaining appropriate flood protection and water supply requirements,” said Pedro Ramos, Superintendent of Everglades National Park. “This ground-breaking signals that our continuing interagency partnerships have led to meaningful progress toward meeting these goals.”
The project will also provide maximum operational flexibility in providing environmental restoration of the area, while providing flood protection for the region.
“The C-111 South Dade South project will deliver long hoped-for benefits to Everglades National Park while protecting urban areas from the effects of moving more freshwater into the natural system,” said Audubon of Florida Executive Director Eric Draper. “Restoration efforts are starting to pay off in America’s Everglades. This important foundation project will provide infrastructure needed to increase freshwater flows in the future and will improve hydrology in Taylor Slough. Audubon is proud to be part of the effort to win authorization and funding for more restoration projects.”
Every restoration effort within the Everglades ecosystem directly or indirectly effects each other. Due to the interdependencies of these projects, the ultimate success of restoration efforts are dependent on the completion of others. In order for the southern portion of the Everglades ecosystem to be operated as effectively as possible, the necessary infrastructure needs to be in place, the necessary data to evaluate operational flexibility needs to be known, and the resulting Combined Operating Plan needs to be developed and implemented.
The completed C-111 South Dade and Modified Water Deliveries projects will provide this needed infrastructure and the ongoing G-3273 and S-356 Pump Station Field Test will provide the data needed to refine operations under the Combined Operating Plan. The Combined Operating Plan will enable additional water to flow south into Everglades National Park and provide optimal restoration and operational benefits for the southern Everglades ecosystem.
“Completion of this project will begin a new era in water management in the southern Everglades, which is important to both ecosystem restoration and water sustainability,” said Ramos. “This will improve the hydrologic conditions in the Taylor Slough headwaters, reduce groundwater seepage into the adjacent eastern agricultural areas, while sending additional freshwater into Florida Bay. It is a win-win for both the park and all our neighbors. We are very pleased to see this important component of the C-111 South Dade project moving forward into construction.”
Water Managers Break Ground On C-43 Reservoir
A water storage project in Hendry County recently broke ground after more than a decade of planning. Water managers are clearing land for the Caloosahatchee River West Basin Storage Reservoir project, or C-43 reservoir. This project is meant to keep the Caloosahatchee Estuary healthy.
The red area is where the C-43 reservoir is planned.
Credit South Florida Water Management District
The C-43 reservoir is planned along the Caloosahatchee River. It’s designed to grab and store water from the estuary when too much flows in during the rainy season. Then it will send some water back during dry season. Phil Flood is with the South Florida Water Management District, heading up this project. He said this is needed for the estuary’s water quality and habitat.
“The sole purpose of this project is to try to get the water right,” said Flood. “It’s all about trying to get the balance the salinity levels in the estuary and making sure that we have a productive and healthy estuary for the community.”
He said the C-43 reservoir will hold up to 55 billion gallons of water above ground. It’s part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. This component was developed by the state and federal government. Flood said the project will cost about $550 million. The state will likely front the initial cost, he said. But the feds will eventually share half the price. The water management district expects the reservoir to be operational by 2020.
Jessica Meszaros|Jan 13, 2016
Everglades Coalition Celebrates New Hope at Conference
For the 31st year a coalition of environmentally aware groups came together to find ways to help the Everglades, the natural Gem of Florida. While plans are decades away from being complete, the ballroom at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables was trafficking in hope. Hope that a steady revenue spring may finally fulfill the promise that many Floridians made by voting to fund a massive restoration plan.
Eric Draper of the Audubon of Florida was instrumental in getting Amendment One passed in the state with nearly 75% of the vote. The idea was that the money would go to for land conservation, and to fund Everglades Restoration for two decades.
“Last year we didn’t get much of what we needed to get, but this year we have great hope because of the Legacy Act,” said Draper.
That legislation would give a commitment of up to 200 million dollars a year for about 10 years.
“Not only is it a commitment of $200 million dollars a year ,a floor of at least $100 million a year to be spent on CERP projects,” said Draper.
CERP stands for the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, and it refers to a comprehensive plan to restore the South Florida ecosystem including the Everglades.
“The bill doesn’t just commit to the Everglades Restoration Plan, but to the new feature of the plan: the new Central Everglades plan. It is the real solution to moving water south,” he said. “We are very confident that at least the excuse of not having enough money will be removed.”
John Adornato of the National Parks Conservation Association said 2016 would be an amazing year for Everglades Restoration.
“With the Florida Legacy Bill is one step in the right direction. We have the groundbreaking of the C-111 project. We have proposed Earth Day 2016 ground breaking for the second bridge in Tamiami Trail. These projects are going to move water better through the Everglades as Everglades Restoration intended it,” said Adornato.
Frank Maradiaga|January 15, 2016
Water Quality Issues
Florida Department of Health toughens water quality standards
PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — Starting today, the sea water you’re swimming in will have to meet a higher water quality standard. Dubois Park posted a no-swim advisory five times in 2015. This year, the park goers could see an increase in days when bacteria counts put the water off limits.
The Florida Department of Health tests bacteria levels then notifies lifeguards if a beach needs to close.
“They’ll notify headquarters. Headquarters will let us know. We’ll change these signs and put up a red flag and notify the public of what’s going on and that they can’t enter the water safely,” explained Palm Beach County Ocean Rescue lifeguard Russ Gehweiler.
Florida Dept. of Health staff in Palm Beach County sample the water at 13 locations, from Boca Raton to Jupiter for enterococci bacteria. The new standards lower what prompts a bacteria-related no swim advisory; dropping the limit from 104 or greater Enterococci CFU (Colony Forming Unit) per 100 ml of marine water to 71 or greater Enterococci CFU per 100 ml. It’s all to keep you from being exposed to disease-causing bacteria.
“Whatever they can do to stop it is good,” said Gehweiler. “You do get a sore throat. If it’s dirty water sometimes you can just taste it. You go swimming that whole afternoon maybe even when you wake up the next morning with a sore throat or something you know you just don’t feel right.”
Gehweiler says he’s only seen a no swim advisory once or twice while he’s been on duty, but says swimmers were not upset.
“They were just happy that we tested and could let them know that you know it was unsafe to go in the water.”
Under the original beach sampling rules for palm beach county, bacteria advisories were posted less than five percent of the time. With the new standard advisories are expected to increase to about eight percent of the time.
Modified Water Deliveries: Improving Hydrologic Conditions in Northeast Shark River Slough
Long-expected benefits from Everglades restoration efforts are finally reaching Everglades National Park (ENP). A set of significant changes to the operation of the local water management infrastructure that controls the flow of water into ENP is about to begin, putting in place important first steps to allow more water to flow into Northeast Shark River Slough (NESRS). These changes will take place in three phases, with the first phase, referred to as Increment 1, to begin this summer (2015). (For project status, please see September and October updates at bottom of page).
Water Management System Background
The flow of water in south Florida is managed through a complex set of structures (e.g., pumps, gates) in a vast network of canals and levees, together known as the Central and Southern Florida (C&SF) project. How the system is operated, including how much water is delivered to ENP, has changed over time based on various operational plans (sets of specific rules for operation of pumps and gates). The construction and operation of the historic system disturbed the natural flow of water into the park, leaving Western Shark River Slough unnaturally wet and NESRS unnaturally dry.
The Modified Water Deliveries (MWD) project, a feature of the C&SF, was specifically designed to address the conveyance of water to ENP from the Water Conservation Areas (WCAs) to the north by 1) modifying Tamiami Trail to allow greater flow of water into NESRS; 2) providing flood mitigation for areas within the East Everglades given expected higher water levels in NESRS; 3) controlling seepage of water from the system to the east; 4) monitoring hydrologic and ecological response to changes in water deliveries; and 5) developing new operational plans. The MWD project features interface with the C-111 South Dade projects (provides for flood protection and water supply to south Miami-Dade County), which are located along the eastern boundary of the park. The C-111 projects consist of a set of pump stations and retention/detention areas built west of the L-31N Canal to control seepage out of the park.
MWD Incremental Field Tests – An Interagency Effort
The structural features of the MWD project, begun in 1992, are now nearing completion and will allow the incremental increase in water flow into NESRS. Planning and development of this field-test phase of the MWD project has been a complex, multi-year, interagency undertaking that considered and evaluated input from stakeholders and the public in specifying project components; conducting environmental assessments, compliance, and permitting; and developing project timelines. Agency partners include the US Army Corps of Engineers, South Florida Water Management District, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Miami-Dade County, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida, the agricultural and environmental communities, and the National Park Service, among others.
Phased Implementation – Three Increments
The resulting plan includes three steps, or increments, to allow phased implementation of operations. Increment 1 is expected to produce small but important hydrologic benefits based on the additional water flow and seepage return. Increment 2 is expected to provide additional hydrologic and ecological benefits to NESRS and data collected during the first two increments will be used in Increment 3 to design a new operational plan for the system.
Increment 1 (2015-2017)– Relax constraints on gage G-3273, and test seepage control pump S-356, while maintaining the L-29 Canal at the current level, or stage, of 7.5 ft
Increment 2 (2017-2019) – Relax constraints on G-3273, and test seepage control pump S-356, while allowing the L-29 Canal to reach a maximum stage of 8.5 ft
Increment 3 (2018-2021) – Develop a new operational plan for the system using data collected during Increments 1 and 2.
Increment 1 (2015-2017)
Increment 1 will begin this summer (2015), as soon as the rainy season is underway and canal levels are high enough to turn the pumps on, and will continue for up to two years. As a flood protection measure for residential areas to the east, the flow of water into the park through the S-333 structure in the L-29 Canal is currently halted whenever water levels at the G-3273 gage in NESRS exceed 6.8 ft. New flood protection features built into the MWD project are expected to reduce the amount of time that flow through S-333 will be restricted. The goals of the Increment 1 test are to:
- Discharge water through S-333
- while maintaining a stage in the L-29 Canal of less than or equal to 7.5 ft
- and while allowing the water levels at G-3273 to rise above 6.8 ft
- Return water that seeps out of the park into the L-31N Canal back to the park by using the S-356 pump along the L-29 Canal
- Continue to provide flood mitigation to the Las Palmas residential area east of the MWD project area
- Continue to provide water supply deliveries to south Miami-Dade County
- Collect hydrologic, water quality, and ecological data for use in designing Increments 2 and 3.
Increment 1 Benefits
Increment 1 is expected to produce small but important hydrologic benefits:
- An increase in water flow into the park from Water Conservation Area 3-A and from return of seepage from the L-31N Canal
- Water quality will be maintained because seepage water is of very good quality and has low levels of total phosphorus
- Hydrologic (water flows and stages) and water quality data will be collected for use in developing an operational plan to guide operation of the MWD and C-111 South Dade project features.
Increased water flow and better water quality are expected to improve habitat function and species composition and abundance, while promoting the build-up of soil and inhibiting soil loss. These goals will be achieved by:
- Increasing length of hydroperiods (duration of time water is above ground level)
- Increasing depth of inundation
- Improving seasonal timing and distribution of water deliveries
- Collection of ecological data for use in designing Increments 2 and 3
- Water quality
- Flocculent material
- Vegetation communities and composition
- Fish communities
September 2015 Update: 356 Pump Tests Begin
Increment 1 of the Modified Water Deliveries Field Tests, designed to bring more water into Northeast Shark River Slough, was set to begin this summer. Unfortunately, dry conditions persisted throughout south Florida from June through August and prevented water from reaching the levels required to start the test (higher than 6.8 ft at the G-3273 gage in Northeast Shark River Slough).
Nonetheless, work on an important precursor to Increment 1, a test of the mechanical and electrical systems of the 356 pump station, was begun on September 9th. This test, known as Increment 0, is designed to ensure the pumps are functioning reliably prior to the initiation of Increment 1. Located along the L-29 Canal, the 356 station, consists of four pump units, each with a 125 cfs maximum capacity. The 356 pumps will be used to return water that seeps out of the park as a result of the Incremental Field Tests back into the park. Though on initial start-up, two of the pumps had problems (one was overheating, another was making a grating noise), the issues have been resolved and all four are now functioning well (see photo to the right) and prepared for operation as part of Increment 1.
Click here to explore US Army Corps test results for each pump.
Click here for a daily US Army Corps report of hydrologic conditions in the area.
Two Key Factors Control Phosphorus Movement from Soil to Groundwater
New insights into how phosphorus leaches into groundwater could help reduce its potential impact on water and the environment, a UF/IFAS scientist says.
Phosphorus poses an environmental threat when it travels from soils to open water bodies, including lakes, streams and rivers. When too much phosphorus is applied to soils, the ground cannot hold all of the chemical, said Gurpal Toor, an associate professor of soil and water science at the UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Balm, Florida. As a result, phosphorus leaches out and migrates to water bodies, lowering water quality and leading to algal blooms. Such blooms can choke off oxygen to fish and underwater plants.
In a newly published study in the Vadoze Zone Journal, Toor examined phosphorus that percolated into soils in Maryland and Delaware. He conducted the study with his former mentor, Tom Sims, a retired associate dean and professor at the University of Delaware.
For several decades, animal manure has flowed into soils in Delaware and Maryland. Areas around Lake Okeechobee, in Florida, mirror the agricultural soils of southern Delaware and Maryland, Toor said. So the findings apply to many places.
In the study, Toor and Sims characterized the effect of soil properties and saturation on phosphorus leaching from three soil series in Delaware and Maryland. Researchers collected 18 soil columns using a tractor- mounted device from three soils that varied in their drainage characteristics. Some drained well; others drained moderately and others drained poorly.
Researchers identified soils with variable phosphorus concentrations and determined their phosphorus saturation ratio, which is the amount of phosphorus in the soil versus the amount that soils can hold. They found that scientists and regulators should use the phosphorus saturation ratio and their knowledge of water flow paths in soils to predict how much phosphorus may leach from soils.
“Anyone who is concerned about how much phosphorus they have in the soils can quickly find out through a soil test,” said Toor. “This would not only protect the environment but will also reduce the need to apply excess fertilizer to grow crops.”
They also concluded that two factors determine the potential dangers of phosphorus leaching into groundwater: how much of the nutrient is already in the soil and the paths available for it to wind up there, Toor said.
Brad Buck|UF-IFAS Communications|January 15th, 2016
Great Lakes and Inland Waters
Mild winter aids Great Lakes’ water levels
It has seemed more normal lately. But Michigan’s mild start to winter has Great Lakes levels doing strange things.
“We’ve seen some very interesting conditions, to say the least, so far this winter,” said Keith Kompoltowicz, the chief of watershed hydrology for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Detroit.
December saw record amounts of precipitation in many parts of the Great Lakes basin — but in the form of rain, not snow, he said.
“It basically put a pause button on the seasonal declines across the lakes in general,” Kompoltowicz said.
Water levels that typically decline at the onset of winter stayed constant, or even rose.
And then there’s the ice cover. The warmer temperatures and lack of snow and ice have led to the entire Great Lakes system being only about 6.6% ice covered as of Friday. On the same day last year, the lakes were more than one-third — 34% — covered with ice.
One group that would normally celebrate such conditions is the Great Lakes freight haulers, the cargo ships moving iron ore, cement and other minerals and goods. The industry endured early stops to the shipping season, late spring starts and ice-jammed, snail-speed travel in-between the past two years. But crashing demand for steel is putting a damper on the party, said Glen Nekvasil, vice president of the Lake Carriers Association.
“In a very real sense, it’s almost like summer sailing out there, but we haven’t been able to take advantage of it because of the lack of demand,” he said. “The demand for cargo is down, because of all of the foreign steel flooding the market. The U.S. steel industry is running at 60% of capacity.”
The problem has been ongoing for years, but has grown more acute, Nekvasil said. “In my career, I’ve never before seen 1,000-footers (barges) lay up in November due to lack of demand,” he said.
The relatively open, warmer water on the Great Lakes, combined with cold air passing over it, could spur evaporation of lake water, noted Andrew Gronewold, a hydrologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor.
“Usually, January and February is when we see big ice numbers,” he said.
But in 1997-98, the last mild winter in the Great Lakes region caused by the El Niño Pacific Ocean weather pattern, there was not a lot of evaporation of Great Lakes water because the air was so much warmer than usual, Gronewold said. Even a smaller-than-usual snow pack in the spring doesn’t necessarily mean slower seasonal rises in lake levels, he said, as other factors — including the amount and timing of rain and other precipitation — also play roles, he said.
The lake level forecast for the next six months shows some of the lakes making very slight dips in elevation as winter goes on, but rising even further by June — up to 3 feet higher on Lake Ontario; more than 2 feet higher on Lake Erie; about a foot and a half higher on connected Lakes Michigan and Huron, and just under a half-foot increase on Superior. All of the lakes exceed their long-term average elevation, a continuing trend over the last few years.
“The longer-term forecasts do show above-normal temperatures,” Kompoltowicz said. “That leads us to believe evaporation won’t be as much as it typically is in the wintertime.
“What we’re seeing now is largely being driven by El Niño. That doesn’t mean we’re never going to see winter — we’ve seen some evidence of winter in the Great Lakes already. But largely, we’re expecting a warmer and a little drier winter.”
KEITH MATHENY|DETROIT FREE PRESS
Wildlife and Habitat
Conservationists Challenge Helicopter Intrusions in Premiere Wilderness Area
POCATELLO, Idaho – A coalition of conservationists, represented by Earthjustice, today filed a legal challenge to the decision by the U.S. Forest Service to allow the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) to conduct approximately 120 helicopter landings in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness as part of a program to manipulate wildlife populations in the wilderness.
At issue is the Forest Service’s Jan. 6, 2016 decision to issue a permit allowing IDFG to land helicopters in the River of No Return through the end of March to capture and place radio telemetry collars on wild elk. The federal Wilderness Act prohibits the use of motorized vehicles including helicopters in wilderness areas.
The helicopter operations permitted by the Forest Service are part of IDFG’s broader program to inflate elk numbers above natural levels within the wilderness by eliminating wolf packs that prey on the elk. IDFG’s existing elk and predator management plans call for exterminating the majority of wolves in the heart of the River of No Return to provide more elk for hunters and commercial outfitters in an area that receives some of the lightest hunting use in the state.
“A wilderness is supposed to be a refuge from the noise and disturbance of motorized vehicles, not a helicopter landing zone,” said Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso. “This motorized intrusion on one of our premiere wild areas is made all the worse by the fact that the Forest Service has allowed the state to turn natural wolf predation on elk into a reason to degrade the wilderness with helicopter landings.”
Earthjustice is representing Wilderness Watch, Friends of the Clearwater, and Western Watersheds Project in challenging the Forest Service’s decision. The groups seek a court order to prevent the helicopter intrusions on the River of No Return.
“This proposal violates everything that makes Wilderness unique,” said Wilderness Watch executive director George Nickas. “It’s an unprecedented intrusion with helicopters for the sole purpose to make wildlife populations in Wilderness conform to the desires of managers rather than accept and learn from the ebb and flow of nature.”
Gary Macfarlane of Friends of the Clearwater added, “Wilderness, by law, is in contrast to areas that are heavily manipulated. This proposal to capture elk with net guns from helicopters is heavy-handed manipulation and denigrates the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.”
“The Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness wasn’t ideal elk habitat until predators like wolves and grizzlies were eradicated,” said Ken Cole, Western Watersheds Project’s Idaho Director. “Now, the IDFG wants to continue manipulating this area and turn one of the nation’s premier wilderness areas into a game farm for outfitters and their wealthy clients.”
At 2.4-million acres, the River of No Return is the largest contiguous unit of the National Wilderness Preservation System in the Lower 48 and hosts abundant wildlife including elk,mountain goats, bighorn sheep, wolves, cougars, and wolverines. It is one of the few public-land wilderness areas of sufficient size to allow natural wildlife interactions to play out without human interference, and for this reason was one of the original wolf reintroduction sites in the Northern Rockies.
From Wilderness Watch
Wildlife Wins and Losses in the Final 2016 Budget Bill
Just before the holidays, Congress closed out the year by passing a final omnibus spending bill for the 2016 fiscal year. While there were a few setbacks in the bill, it did achieve important wins that will benefit birds and conservation, including the defeat of most harmful policy riders and much-needed spending increases for key programs.
The omnibus bill, which funds every federal program and agency through this September, will increase spending for a number of vital programs. Compared to last year, it includes a nine percent bump for the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act, which protects bird habitat throughout the Americas; a 15 percent increase in WaterSMART to expand water conservation in the West; and a nearly 50 percent increase for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The omnibus also reauthorizes LWCF for three years, after opponents recently allowed it to expire, and will provide it with an additional $150 million for land acquisition over last year.
This bill had also been undermined by dozens of damaging policy provisions, known as ‘riders’, but nearly all of the riders were removed. These riders threatened to undo the significant conservation gains for sage-grouse, block enforcement of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), remove protections for the Lesser Prairie-Chicken and other wildlife under the Endangered Species Act, block the Clean Power Plan and the Clean Water Rule, build a road through Alaskan wilderness, and many more.
Additionally, the omnibus included extensions for key tax credits that incentivize new clean energy production, including the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) and Production Tax Credit (PTC).
Disappointingly, the bill does mandate cuts to important conservation programs in the Farm Bill, which helps protect and restore habitat and resources on working lands, and included a rider to end the ban on oil exports to foreign countries. Nonetheless, thanks to the hard work of conservation champions in Congress and supporters like you, many safeguards for birds remained intact.
From Audubon Advisory
Mountain Lions of L.A.
They are called pumas, cougars or mountain lions. But they are also being called neighbors by some residents of Los Angeles
What do you do when you cross paths with a mountain lion? It’s in their nature to avoid people. Attacks happen but they’re extremely rare. Experts say if you stand tall, wave your arms, yell, but don’t run, they’ll back off. In Southern California, that’s advice worth remembering.
Los Angeles and its suburbs are home to 19 million people — the only megacity in the world where mountain lions, also known as cougars and pumas, live side-by-side with humans. For 13 years, the National Park Service has been studying the animals: opening a window on their mysterious world and raising questions about their survival in the land of freeways and suburban sprawl. They’re the unseen neighbors up the hill. And sometimes, they come to call.
Bill Whitaker: When you moved here, did you know that there was a mountain lion in the vicinity?
Paula Archinaco: No. No. Not at all. Not at all. There’s signs for rattlesnakes. There’s not signs for mountain lions.
[Bill Whitaker: Some view you have here…]
Paula and Jason Archinaco’s house is something of a local landmark: not just for the killer view of Los Angeles, but also for an encounter a workman had one day in the crawl space under the house. He was doing some wiring when he saw something scary.
Jason Archinaco: He comes into my office terrified. And he says, “Bro, you have a mountain lion in your house, bro.” And so I said to him, “A mountain lion?” And he goes, “Yeah, man, a mountain lion, face-to-face, eye-to-eye, it came eye-to-eye with me.” And he was like terrified.
He had been eye-to-eye with P22, so named by the Park Service: “p” for puma, number 22 out of 44 they’ve studied, photographed here with a small camera on a very long stick. P22 wears a park service tracking collar that sends GPS signals on his location. Signals that were blocked this day because he was under the house.
Paula Archinaco: He was just laying there, trying to snooze, completely just like, we woke him from a nap.
Soon the house was packed with cameras and reporters. P22 was already a local celebrity because of this National Geographic picture, taken by a remote camera a mile or two from the Archinacos’ house. Wildlife experts finally decided to shoo everybody out after the 11 o’clock news, hoping P22 might head back into the hills nearby which he did.
Bill Whitaker: So when did he leave? How did he leave?
Paula Archinaco: We don’t know how.
Bill Whitaker: They call ’em ghost cats.
Paula Archinaco: There you go.
And though they live in the shadows, in much of Southern California they’re never far away. A trail camera caught this one a stone’s throw from the rooftops of suburbia.
Jeff Sikich: These animals do their best to, you know, stay elusive and away from us. Even us researchers, who follow them almost daily, we hardly ever see them.
Jeff Sikich is a Park Service biologist, an expert on big cats who holds something of a record: he’s seen and captured P22 four times now.
This time, he corners the animal and hits him with a tranquilizer dart. Quickly, it knocks P22 out, with his eyes still open. The batteries on his GPS collar were running low. Replacing them gives Sikich and his crew a chance for a checkup. P22 is healthy, weighing in at 125 pounds. From experience, Sikich knows that when the animal comes to, it’s no threat: the instinct to get away from people kicks in. Sure enough, a groggy P22 wakes up and stumbles back into the shadows.
Jeff Sikich: Here’s the past eight months of where P22 has traveled.
The GPS signals from their collars tell Sikich and his colleague Seth Riley where the animals roam. P22 wanders the hills of Griffith Park, a small enclave in Los Angeles frequented by hikers and visitors to the park’s famed observatory.
Seth Riley: We haven’t, knock on wood, had any major conflicts with him and people. And it shows that even a large carnivore like a mountain lion can live right among people for many years.
They think P22 migrated east across the Santa Monica Mountains for 20 miles or so, perhaps chased out by a bigger male. He somehow crossed the 405 freeway, one of the world’s busiest, worked his way through Bel Air and Beverly Hills. And, somewhere near the Hollywood Bowl Amphitheater, crossed a second busy freeway, the 101, to Griffith Park.
Jeff Sikich: P22 had it great. No competition. No other adult males in Griffith Park. Seemed to be plenty of prey for him.
He’s been in Griffith Park for three years now: all alone, looking for love in all the wrong places.
Jeff Sikich: Yeah, you know, still hanging out there, which is pretty surprising. I would have bet he would have left looking for a potential mate.
If the mating urge overwhelms him, he could take his chances crossing the freeways again to find a female. A very risky business.
Bill Whitaker: Why not move him?
Jeff Sikich: Usually it doesn’t work moving lions. We’ll just be moving this animal, this adult male, into another adult male’s territory. And that usually results in the death of one of ’em.
And in the Verdugo Mountains, a small range overlooking the San Fernando Valley, there’s another lonely lion.
Nancy Vandermey: I never thought one would actually come through our backyard. And he was right next to our bedroom window.
Nancy Vandermey and Eric Barkalow moved here to be close to wildlife. And got their wish, in the form of a mountain lion named P41, who seems to love their backyard deck.
P41 is caught on a home surveillance camera
Nancy Vandermey and Eric Barkalow
Bill Whitaker: So he’s right out here where we are.
Nancy Vandermey: Exactly where we are.
He has come to visit at least 10 times, triggering security cameras taking both video and still pictures. The area is called Cougar Canyon. What else?
Eric Barkalow: Here he’s just literally made a loop around our house for some reason.
Like proud parents with baby pictures, they show off their video scrapbook.
Eric Barkalow: And let me point out how his paws are on the wood and not on the gravel so that he can make as little noise as possible. They want to be silent at all times.
Camera technology has revolutionized the way mountain lions and other wild animals are studied. Johanna Turner is a sound effects editor for Universal Studios. On her own time, she’s one of several “citizen scientists,” as they’re called, who put remote cameras up in the wild, hoping to get that perfect shot.
Bill Whitaker: How do you know where to look?
Johanna Turner: We’ll look for tracks and we’ll look for signs of them. And we look for deer, because that’s their food source.
To lure the lions into camera range, she’ll sprinkle catnip, vanilla extract, even men’s cologne on a branch. And just like housecats, they love it.
The Holy Grail is a shot like this one, of P41. But her cameras also catch bobcats, coyotes, foxes and bears: trouble-makers.
Johanna Turner: You come and find that a bear has, you know, turned the camera sideways or licked the lens or something. And that happens weekly.
Bill Whitaker: What’s the most amazing thing you’ve seen?
Johanna Turner: My favorite is a video of a female mountain lion and her two kittens, and they’re nursing on her. I still can’t believe that happened. That she decided to lay down right in the front of the camera.
Science is learning much more about what happens when the lions are penned in by freeways and houses. The Santa Monica Mountain range is about 200 square miles, the area usually staked out by just one male mountain lion. Here, there’s often a mix of a dozen or so males and females.
Bob Wayne: It’s a family you wouldn’t want to belong to….
Bob Wayne is an evolutionary biologist at UCLA. Using DNA from the blood samples taken by the Park Service, primarily in the Santa Monica Mountains, his scientists have built a family tree, unlocking some strange and deadly secrets.
Bob Wayne: It’s just rife with incestuous matings. It’s not a healthy situation.
The DNA shows males are mating with their own offspring. And killing them as well. Sometimes even killing their mates.
Bill Whitaker: And that doesn’t happen in the wild normally?
Bob Wayne: Rarely. Both the incest and this excessive amount of strife are very unusual.
Bill Whitaker: You think that is all because of this limited amount of space they have?
Bob Wayne: It is.
And on some primal level, they long for more space. At least 13 have been killed in traffic in recent years, trying to move on. It’s a double-edged sword: being penned in, the lions can’t get out to the wide open spaces away from the city – and the incestuous inbreeding will only get worse if lions from the wilderness can’t get in, to mate and strengthen the gene pool. But there is a possible solution.
It’s an ambitious plan to build the animals an overpass on the 101 freeway to open up a migration route. It’s been done elsewhere in the world – this one crosses the Trans-Canada Highway in Banff National Park. At the proposed site on the 101, the freeway is 10 lanes wide, traveled by 175,000 cars a day. It would be a complicated, costly project.
Seth Riley: It would be an amazing statement to say, “OK, we care this much in Southern California about wild places and wild animals that we would do this and make a place for animals to get back and forth.
Bill Whitaker: Is that their only hope?
Jeff Sikich: Pretty much for our Santa Monica mountain lion population, yes.
And what about future generations?
Jeff Sikich: That’s a pretty good signal.
The beeps are coming from a collared female lion, P35. Researchers think she might have a newborn kitten or two at one GPS location where she’s been spending a lot of time. When the signals show P35 is a safe distance away from the spot, Jeff Sikich moves in: working on sheer intuition, looking for a needle in a haystack.
And he finds it. A feisty, three-and-a-half week old female, P44.
Her blue eyes will change to amber in a few months, the spots that camouflage her will disappear.
Sikich and his crew work in whispers, in case the mother is within earshot. P44 is given tags to identify her on trail camera pictures. She appears healthy: but given the danger she faces on the edge of civilization, her future is a question mark.
Jeff Sikich: Alright, time to go back.
All Jeff Sikich can do is put her back where he found her, to take her chances in the shadow of the city.
Global Warming and Climate Change
Scientist says Barrier islands could be unlivable in 50 years
Says warming will raise sea level drastically, but some call him ‘alarmist’
TOMS RIVER, N.J. – Much of this country’s barrier islands will be under water in 50 years because of climate change, according to a University of Miami professor and expert on sea-level rise.
On the Jersey Shore, not only would places like Long Beach Island and Seaside Heights be partially covered by sea water, but so would flood-prone coastal communities from Bay Head to Tuckerton. These areas also would face more flooding and greater risk from storm surges, according to Harold Wanless, chairman of the university’s Department of Geological Sciences.
“Most of the barrier islands of the world will become largely uninhabitable” within 50 years, he said, using the U.S. government’s official projections.
Wanless, whom some in the media have dubbed “Dr. Doom,” believes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is underestimating the onset of “a rapid pulse of sea-level rise” — perhaps as much as 30 feet by the end of century, or 4.5 times the official projection.
“I think by the middle of the century, people are going to become afraid of the (Jersey) Shore,” he said during a November conference by the Institute on Science for Global Policy here. “Right now, it’s where we all want to live.”
Brick Wenzel, a property and business owner from Lavallette, New Jersey, is worried that basing policy on Wanless’ “alarmist ideology” will only result in bad laws and regulations.
Wenzel, a commercial fisherman and owner of a restaurant and ice cream parlor in the half-mile-wide borough on the Barnegat Peninsula, said he believes climate change is real. Yet he thinks scientists like Wanless are blowing its effects out of proportion to attract attention.
“He is taking facts and using them to benefit himself,” he said.
Wanless admits that his forecast deviates from the center of academic discussion on rising sea levels, but he’s not the only one who thinks official projections are too low.
“All I’ve recommended people do is to u se the U.S. projections and incorporate accelerating ice melt because that’s what’s happening,” he said. “If we’re blindsided by this … then we’re going to see a mass migration away from the shore and low-lying areas.”
Wanless made three main points in his November presentation:
1. Stop thinking you have time.
“ (Sea level rise) is not something that is going to be stoppable at 2 feet or 3 feet or 5 feet. There are some people who go around saying, ‘Well, if we start behaving, it’s going to get better.’ It’s not. We warmed the ocean,” he said. “This is going to keep happening through this century and well beyond.”
Warm water in the North Atlantic and Arctic has been thawing polar ice around Greenland since about 1995, Wanless said.
“Even if we stopped burning fossil fuels tomorrow, the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will keep warming the atmosphere for at least another 30 years,” he wrote in a policy paper.
2 . Stop spending money on sand and sea walls.
“It’s really throwing money in the ocean when we do beach renourishment with accelerated sea-level rising,” Wanless said Earlier this year, federal tax dollars paid to transport nearly 10 million cubic yards of sand onto beaches in separate projects in New Jersey’s Monmouth and Ocean counties. The combined bill was about $168 million. That’s money Wanless said could be better spent preparing for the inevitable.
“At what point when you realize that the sea level is going to be rising at an accelerated rate do you say, ‘Maybe we should put aside money to help people relocate’?” he said. “People are going to lose everything at some point.”
3. Set — and stick to — rules on new development and rebuilding.
“We have to strengthen our regulations for rebuilding after storms,” Wanless said.
A seemingly never-ending debate surrounds flood insurance on the Jersey Shore and other areas subject to tidal flooding and storm surges. Congress passed the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act in 2012 to push premiums up by as much as 25 percent or more to more accurately reflect risk.
“Then the bills came in, and everybody got on the phone with their senators a nd congressmen, and guess what, they reversed it,” Wanless said.
He contends that politicians need to hold firm on raising flood-insurance premiums, designating hazard zones and not encouraging development in areas that essentially are already lost.
RUSS ZIMMER|ASBURY PARK (N.J.) PRESS
What scientists just discovered in Greenland could be making sea-level rise even worse
Rising global temperatures may be affecting the Greenland ice sheet — and its contribution to sea-level rise — in more serious ways that scientists imagined, a new study finds. Recent changes to the island’s snow and ice cover appear to have affected its ability to store excess water, meaning more melting ice may be running off into the ocean than previously thought.
That’s worrying news for the precarious Greenland ice sheet, which scientists say has already lost more than 9 trillions tons of ice in the past century — and whose melting rate only continues to increase as temperatures keep warming. NASA estimates that the Greenland ice sheet is losing about 287 billion tons of ice every year, partly due to surface melting and partly due to the calving of large chunks of ice. Because of the ice sheet’s potential to significantly raise sea levels as it runs into the ocean, scientists have been keeping a close eye on it — and anything that might affect how fast it’s melting.
The new study, published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, focuses on a part of the ice sheet known as “firn” — a porous layer of built-up snow that slowly freezes into ice over time. It’s considered an important part of the ice sheet because of its ability to trap and store excess water before it’s able to run off the surface of the glacier, an essential service that helps mitigate the sea-level rise that would otherwise be caused by the runoff water.
“As this layer is porous and the pores are connected, theoretically all the pore space in this firn layer can be used to store meltwater percolating into the firn whenever melt occurs at the surface,” said the new paper’s lead author, Horst Machguth of the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, in an email to The Washington Post. Over time, the percolating meltwater trickles down through the firn and refreezes.
Until recently, many scientists have assumed that most of Greenland’s firn space is still available for trapping meltwater. But the new research shows that this is likely no longer the case. Through on-the-ground observations, the scientists have shown that the recent formation of dense ice layers near the ice sheet’s surface are making it more difficult for liquid water to percolate into the firn — meaning it’s forced to run off instead.
A UCLA-led study reported that melt-prone areas on Greenland’s ice sheet use a drainage system of streams and rivers that carry meltwater into the ocean. However, the the study also found that measurements at the ice’s edge show that climate models alone can overestimate the volume of meltwater flowing to the ocean because they fail to account for water storage beneath the ice.
“If you look at some of the other studies which have been arguing that you have unlimited capacity for retention of water in the firn, this study shows that that is not the case,” said Kurt Kjaer, a curator and researcher at the Natural History Museum of Denmark, who has studied glacier dynamics on the Greenland ice sheet but was not involved in the study.
The researchers conducted their study by examining ice cores drilled into West Greenland’s firn between 2009 and 2015. They wanted to find out how a series of particularly warm summers, which caused especially significant melting events in 2010 and 2012, might have affected the ice sheet.
“I think the most notable result of our study is showing that the firn reacts faster to an atmospheric warming than expected,” Machguth said in his email. By examining the cores, the researchers found that the deluge of meltwater in recent years had trickled into the firn and frozen into chunks called “ice lenses.” These lenses then began to hinder any additional liquid water from trickling down through the firn, meaning the meltwater began to accumulate and freeze near the surface, increasing the number and thickness of the existing lenses in a kind of vicious cycle.
The cores suggested that the lenses thickened quickly between 2009 and 2012, Machguth said. Then, starting in 2012, another change took place.
“At our main field site the very intense melt of summer 2012 did not result in a strong increase of the ice layer as the layer was already in place,” he wrote to The Post. “Instead, at the main field site we could observe how the ice layer forced the meltwater to run off along the surface.”
This effect was most pronounced at lower elevations in West Greenland, where the water first ran down the ice sheet and accumulated. But Machguth and his colleagues predict that the same ice lens formation process will continue to occur at higher and higher elevations — and the amount of meltwater forced to run off the glacier, having no available firn to trickle into, will only increase.
This is not only a concern on the basis of its possible contribution to sea-level rise — the researchers also suggest that an increase in runoff could lead to certain feedback processes that will cause even more melt to occur in the future. Runoff water can carve channels into the ice sheet’s surface and create slushy areas, they note in the paper, which can cause a reduction in albedo — the ability of the ice sheet to reflect sunlight away from its surface. With more sunlight being absorbed, rather than reflected, surface temperatures could become even warmer and cause melt rates to accelerate.
And these changes to the firn are largely irreversible. While new firn can form as more snow falls and accumulates on Greenland’s surface, the process can take decades — and might not be able to occur at all in a warming climate.
This particular study was only conducted in West Greenland, so the scientists can’t say for sure whether their findings apply to the entire island. It would be enlightening to conduct similar studies elsewhere on the ice sheet, Machguth noted.
But in the meantime, the observations represent an important step forward in understanding the processes affecting Greenland, and could help scientists improve the simulations they use to make predictions about what will happen to the ice sheet in the future. “When you get this kind of dataset, a new kind of knowledge, of course it should be put into the models,” said Kjaer, the Natural History Museum scientist.
Chelsea Harvey|January 4
The Arctic Is Melting at a Record Pace — and It’s Having a Scary Impact on Global Weather
Scientists warn that we are entering uncharted territory when it comes to the loss of Arctic sea ice.
Arctic sea ice is melting at a record pace – and every summer looks grimmer. This past summer saw the ice pack at its fourth-lowest level on record, and the overall trend in recent decades suggests this will only continue.
“Using satellites, scientists have found that the area of sea ice coverage each September has declined by more than 40 percent since the late 1970s, a trend that has accelerated since 2007,” according to the recent report “Arctic Matters: The Global Connection to Changes in the Arctic” by the National Research Council of the National Academies.
The report added that by the end of each of the eight summers from 2007 to 2014, Arctic sea ice extent was over less area than at any time in the preceding three decades.
In addition to rapid melting of the sea and land ice in the Arctic, temperatures there are warming at least twice as fast as those of the rest of the planet – provoking other dramatic changes.
“Eventually we should see an Arctic Ocean ice free in summers as global temperatures continue to warm.”
Massive wildfires on frozen ground, resulting from increasingly dry conditions caused by anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD), are becoming common; this phenomenon is unprecedented over at least the last 10,000 years.
These and other recent changes across the Arctic are making the weather and climate patterns there – and across the rest of the planet – more difficult to predict.
As Arctic Matters reports, “Changes in the Arctic have the potential to affect weather thousands of miles away. Because temperatures are increasing faster in the Arctic than at the tropics, the temperature gradient that drives the jet stream is becoming less intense.”
This causes the jet stream to weaken and shift away from its typical patterns, which then leads to weather patterns becoming more persistent and lasting longer in the mid-latitudes. This then results in longer droughts, more intense heat waves, and far longer and deeper cold snaps, such as those witnessed in the Northeastern United States and Europe during the last two winters.
Truthout interviewed several leading scientists on these issues, seeking a consistent expectation for what the dramatic changes in the Arctic mean. The verdict? If there’s one thing that all the scientists’ predictions have in common, it is significant change.
The Vanishing Arctic Ice Pack
Dr. Julienne Stroeve is a senior research scientist with the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado. She specializes in the remote sensing of snow and ice, and works in the Arctic measuring changes in the sea ice.
“Eventually we should see an Arctic Ocean ice free in summers as global temperatures continue to warm,” Stroeve told Truthout. She expects us to begin seeing summer periods of an ice-free Arctic ice pack around the year 2040.
Bob Henson is a meteorologist with the Weather Underground, and author of The Thinking Person’s Guide to Climate Change.
He believes that while there will most likely be some small areas of year-round ice clinging to far northern Canada for decades to come, “I would expect a summer in the next 20 to 30 years in which sea ice covers as little as 10 percent of the Arctic for at least a few days in August or September,” he said.
Everything in the planet’s climate system is linked, and when one part of it changes, all the other parts will respond.
Henson pointed out that if we extrapolate data and make predictions from more recent conditions in the Arctic, the timeline for seeing a total loss of sea ice seems faster, but he said we will most likely see summer sea ice declining “in a two-steps-forward, one-step-back process, with record ice loss in some years (as in 2007 and 2012) and a temporary, partial ‘recovery’ in other years (as in 2009 and 2013).”
Regardless of the specifics of the timeline, many agree that an ice-free Arctic will appear before the next century begins.
Dr. Steven Vavrus at the Center for Climatic Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison focuses on the Arctic and serves on the science steering committee for the Study of Environmental Arctic Change. “The precise timing is nearly impossible to pin down, but most estimates range from around 2040 until the end of this century,” he told Truthout. “I would be very surprised if seasonally ice-free conditions during summer do not emerge by 2100.”
Dr. David Klein is the director of the climate science program at California State University, Northridge. Like others, he pointed out how the Arctic is warming two to three times faster than the rest of the planet, and pointed out how ice loss there is “proceeding more rapidly than models have predicted.”
“The loss of sea ice decreases albedo [reflectivity] and results in greater absorption of energy in the water, and the warm water then heats the air above it,” Klein told Truthout. “NASA’s CERES satellites have observed an increase of 10 watts per square meter of solar radiation absorbed by the Arctic Ocean from 2000 to 2014.”
By way of comparison, overall net planet-wide warming from greenhouse gases thus far is only one-twentieth that amount of heating.
While that might not sound like very much, as James Hansen has pointed out, cumulatively that amount corresponds to 400,000 Hiroshima atom bombs per day, 365 days a year, across the planet.
Dahr Jamail / Truthout|January 9, 2016
This Year’s El Niño Looks Menacingly Familiar
The world is bracing for record rains and droughts
Do these satellite sea surface images look similar? Experts think so. The image of the Pacific Ocean on the left was taken recently. To the right is a sea surface image taken in December 1997. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Weather watchers have found a doppelgänger—the evil twin of a past weather system that suggests Earth is in for a wild 2016. Satellite images of the Pacific Ocean suggest that El Niño 2015/16 could be as bad as the one that happened in 1998.
In a release, NASA shared satellite imagery of this year’s sea surface heights. The image looks quite similar to observations taken in December 1997. El Niño conditions that were brewing 18 years ago were truly vengeful, causing an epic winter with the warmest, wettest winter temperatures in 104 years and was responsible for hurricanes, floods, record rainfalls and ice storms.
El Niño events occur when warm waters in the Eastern Pacific Ocean influence everything from ocean conditions to weather on land. The events are part of a dual cycle called the El Niño Southern Oscillation cycle, which describes the ways in which the ocean and atmosphere typically fluctuate in the area between the International Date Line and 120 degrees West.
During El Niño, warm water builds up in the ocean, which then fuels a warming atmosphere, subsequently spurring tons of rain. During La Niña, the other side of the cycle, cool waters build and cool the atmosphere, drying up rain and causing parched weather conditions on land.
The current El Niño is actually running a bit late. Last summer, scientists began to sound the alarm about rising sea temperatures, and Japan’s weather bureau confirmed the phenomenon in December 2014. But the big event never materialized.
Scientists defended their predictions, pointing out that weaker El Niño events are largely unpredictable by definition. Since the event relies on the interaction of the water and the atmosphere, both parties must play ball in order to create an El Niño. “The possibility of a major El Niño was just that: one among many possible outcomes,” Michelle L’Heureux wrote early this year on NOAA’s blog.
This event, though, seems to be the real thing. The prospect of the strongest El Niño on record is causing concern among humanitarian groups—especially because El Niño can cause droughts in areas that aren’t struggling with record rains. But the phenomenon’s existence doesn’t necessarily spell global doom: As Tim Radford writes for The Guardian, the climate event could simply peter out.
Whether strong, weak or nonexistent, one thing’s for sure: El Niño knows how to keep weather experts on their toes.
Erin Blakemore|smithsonian.com|December 30, 2015
Tornadoes, severe storms in US cost $10B in 2015
For an eighth consecutive year, tornadoes and other severe thunderstorms likely caused at least $10 billion in property damage in the United States, according to an analysis by Germany’s Munich Re, the world’s largest re-insurance firm.
The deadly tornadoes in December damaged or destroyed thousands of homes and businesses across the South, which should push the total over the $10 billion mark for 2015.
“No year prior to the 20082015 period had insured thunderstorm losses been in excess of $10 billion,” said Mark Bove, a Munich Re research meteorologist.
Factoring in other damaging weather such as winter storms, floods and tropical storms, the United States had a total of $15 billion in insured losses in 2015, which is half of the recent average of $30 billion per year.
The quiet hurricane season helped suppress the damage total.
Hurricanes typically are the main contributors to property damage in the U.S.
El Nino helped suppress hurricane activity in the Atlantic Ocean, Munich Re said.
Wintertime floods among costliest ever to strike US
Disaster slowly making its way down Mississippi
As floodwaters continue to rise along the lower Mississippi River, it’s clear the slow-motion disaster will be among the costliest wintertime flood events in U.S. history. Officials are simply trying to tally the price tag.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday that damage from the floods will top $1 billion. That number is likely to climb as the unpredictable and overflowing Mississippi continues its march south.
Over the weekend and into next week, floodwaters will continue to rise along the Mississippi River in Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana, including the cities of Greenville and Natchez, Mississippi, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, according to AccuWeather. Minor to moderate flooding is possible south of Baton Rouge to New Orleans this month.
In recent weeks, the floods severely damaged homes, businesses and farms that line the Mississippi and its tributaries in Missouri and Illinois, where at least 25 deaths were blamed on the weather.
Once all the costs of lost business and damaged roads, bridges and public buildings are added up, it’s a “safe bet” the total loss will exceed $1 billion, said Steve Bowen, a meteorologist with Aon Benfield, a global reinsurance firm based in London.
That estimate comes from preliminary damage assessments from federal and local officials and from early insurance claims in affected areas.
For example, in and around the St. Louis area, floods have damaged or destroyed an estimated 7,100 structures, according to Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, and at least a half-million tons of debris will need to be removed. Repairs to roads in St. Louis County will top $200 million.
In southwestern Missouri’s Greene County, flood damage cost almost $1 million, according to the Springfield-Greene County Office of Emergency Management.
Government officials are calculating damage in Illinois, where Gov. Bruce Rauner issued state disaster declarations for 23 counties, mainly in central and southern parts of the state.
Most of the costliest wintertime flood disasters on record occurred in the West. The highest price tags occurred with the California floods in 1995 that cost $5 billion, and the El Nino-driven West Coast floods in 1997 that cost $4 billion, Bowen said.
“That is what has made this current event so unique, since we don’t expect this kind of flooding in the Midwest and Mississippi Valley until the spring,” he said.
Missouri picked up almost three times its average rainfall in November and December, said Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
The Mississippi River at Cape Girardeau, Missouri, set an all-time flood record of 48.86 feet last week, breaking a record set during the floods of 1993, the National Weather Service said.
Doyle Rice|USA TODAY
First Jan. hurricane since ’38 forms in Atlantic
Alex became the first hurricane to form in the Atlantic Ocean in January in nearly 80 years Thursday morning, the National Hurricane Center said.
A hurricane warning was in effect for the Azores as the storm headed north-northeast at 20 mph toward the island chain with winds of 85 mph. The storm is forecast to bring hurricane conditions to the central Azores by early Friday.
Alex is only the third hurricane ever recorded in January in the Atlantic Ocean, according to Colorado State University meteorologist Phil Klotzbach.
It is the first hurricane to form in January since an unnamed storm in 1938. The last storm to occur in January was Alice in 1955. That storm formed in December 1954. Hurricane records began in 1851.
The Atlantic hurricane season typically runs from June to Nov. 30.
Alex’s development was spurred by water that is at record highs for this time of year, about 72 to 77 degrees, said Weather Underground meteorologist Jeff Masters.
Two dead as tornadoes slam Florida
Dozens of homes struck; at least $3M in damage dealt
Two people were killed and dozens of homes destroyed or damaged as tornadoes and storms roared through southwest Florida early Sunday.
In Manatee County, a tornado with winds reaching 127mph swept through the town of Duette, 40 miles southeast of Tampa.
Sheriff ’s spokesman Dave Bristow said two adults died, and one adult and four children suffered non-life-threatening injuries in one devastated home. Four of the injured were between 6 and 10 years old, Bristow said.
Bristow identified the victims as Steven Wilson, pronounced dead at the scene, and Kate Wilson, who died at a local hospital.
The EF2-rated, or “strong,” twister ripped a 300-foot-wide swath of destruction along a 9mile stretch of the county, the National Weather Service said.
“I’m amazed to see anybody got out of this alive,” Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube told the Associated Press.
In nearby Sarasota County, another EF2 storm with winds reaching 132mph blasted a mile stretch with a width varying from 350 yards to 100 yards. Gov. Rick Scott toured some of the wreckage in Siesta Key, a barrier island between the Gulf of Mexico and Roberts Bay that was hammered by the storm.
Sarasota Fire Rescue reported multiple rescues, and the county Emergency Operations Center said preliminary damage assessments indicated 45 properties suffered a total of more than $3million in damage.
Florida Power and Light reported that 17,000 customers lost power. The utility tweeted that it hoped to have most power restored by 6 p.m. Sunday.
“Crews are responding safely and as quickly as possible to restore power,” FPL said in a statement. “We’ve added resources to help speed restoration efforts.”
The regional American Red Cross said volunteers were responding in both counties.
Photos posted to social media showed significant damage to homes. The storm damaged several condominiums on Siesta Key, where winds were estimated to have reached 70 mph, according to the National Weather Service. The Sarasota County government Twitter account reported no serious injuries.
Farther south, Weather Underground reported, severe thunderstorms swept through the Naples area with wind gusts topping 80 mph.
John Bacon and Matthew Diebel|USA TODAY
This Is What a Massive Methane Leak Looks Like
A leak is spewing millions of tons of the invisible gas into the skies above Los Angeles
Thousands of feet beneath Los Angeles’ suburban San Fernando Valley, an environmental disaster is playing out in real time. Since October 23, an underground storage well at a natural gas storage facility in Aliso Canyon has been spewing methane and other pollutants. Now, an environmental group has released infrared aerial footage of the leak’s above-ground consequences.
The video, which was filmed by Environmental Defense Fund, shows the otherwise invisible leak that has displaced thousands of residents and prompted L.A. County to declare a state of emergency. Officials from SoCal Gas, which administers the well site near Porter Ranch, recently pinpointed the location of the leak to a shallow location within the 8,700-foot well.
Air sampling near the site met state safety thresholds, but residents have complained of dizziness, nausea and a foul odor. Despite the evacuations, the state’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment says that the gas will not create long-term health effects. They note that the odorless gas contains chemicals with noxious odors that allow people to identify leaks using their sense of smell. These chemicals can cause nausea, headaches and other complaints even in small, non-lethal amounts. However, some residents, claiming that there are deleterious long-term effects from the emissions, have filed a class-action lawsuit.
It will be February or March before SoCal Gas manages to stop the leak, says the company on their website. A preliminary estimate of greenhouse gas emissions released by the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Resources Board suggests that the leak has already emitted over 1.6 million metric tons of methane and other gases. To put that number in perspective, that’s nearly 3.9 percent of the amount of methane emitted by California in 2013.
Methane can trap much more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide—28 to 36 times more. That makes the gas of particular concern to regulators. California recently announced that it will try to cut statewide methane emissions by 40 percent by 2030.
How much will the catastrophic leak at San Aliso undercut that goal? It isn’t yet certain: Officials are monitoring emissions using airplanes and will release final estimates once the leak has been mitigated by a relief well. Until then, the disaster will continue to play out in slow motion—and invisible to the human eye.
See the video
Erin Blakemore|smithsonian.com|December 29, 2015
Bomb Trains Seeing Red In WA
No matter how you feel about the agreement reached at the COP21 Global Climate Summit, one thing was made clear in Paris and worldwide: The People Of Earth Are Ready For A Fossil Free Future.
But Big Oil has been fighting back. And last month they won a victory when Congress voted to lift the crude oil export ban last month. The worst thing about the vote to is that it puts dozens more towns and communities in the path of dangerous bomb train shipments of crude oil by rail. Now that Big Oil companies can sell more-explosive Bakken and Tar Sands crude anywhere in the world, they’re rushing hundreds of new shipments of this dirty stuff towards our coasts every day. That’s why we needed 2016 to commence with renewed energy and a revolutionary fervor to reject fossil fuels and resist climate change. I saw just that, first hand yesterday in Vancouver, WA, at one of the best anti-oil rallies I have ever attended.
Tesero Corporation and Savage Companies (Tesero-Savage) have applied to build the largest oil train facility in the country just along the Columbia River. The facility would handle 360,000 barrels of oil per day (over 15 million gallons) and require, at minimum, four one mile-and-a-half long trains each day — that’s over six billion gallons of oil per year traveling in 43,000 train cars. Tesero-Savage recently completed an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed facility, which is currently under review by the State of Washington’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Committee (EFSEC) who will eventually recommend Governor Jay Inslee to approve or reject the project.
EFSEC held a public hearing yesterday, and if the people who attended are any indication of the type of activism to expect in 2016, it’s gonna be a very good year. Halfway through the hearing I got to take part in a rally organized by a coalition of friends from great organizations like Climate Solutions, Friends of Colombia Gorge, Forest Ethics and Washington Conservation Voters. But the real leaders of this coalition are representatives of First Citizens like the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (Umatilla).
The Umatilla and other First Citizens have lived here since before there was even such things as the states of Washington or Oregon. They are fighting this facility because it threatens their livelihoods, their lives, their cultures and their legacies. They made this clear during the rally and during their testimony to EFSEC. And there is a very good reason that the nearly 1,000 people who attended the hearing (all dressed in red) and rally are skeptical of permitting bomb trains right next to a river – history suggests there would almost certainly be a catastrophic spill. Between 2010 and 2014, our nation experienced nearly 400 train derailments that spilled over one million gallons of crude oil into our communities and waterways.
Communities affected by massive oil spills never fully recover. Three years after 800,000 gallons of Canadian crude tar sand oil was spilled into the Kalamazoo river, residents still complain of adverse health and economic impacts. And tar balls are still washing up on shores, sea life is still turning up dead and businesses have still not recovered five years after the Deepwater Horizon blowout and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. If even a small amount of the more than 15 million gallons of crude oil that Tesero-Savage proposes to handle daily was spilled into the Columbia River or surrounding areas, the damage could be irreparable. This was our collective message to EFSEC, to Gov. Inslee and to Tesero-Savage: The risks to our climate, communities and waterways are just too great.
Anthony Rogers-Wright|Climate Solutions|Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation|Energy Facility Site Evaluation Committee|Forest Ethics, Friends of Columbia Gorge|Oil Trains|Tesero-Savage|Washington Conservation Voters
Drilling in Big Cypress: Rejected Bush Plan to Purchase Florida Mineral Rights Looks Genius in Retrospect
My how perspective changes! On May, 29th 2002, President George W. Bush and his brother, then Florida Governor Jeb Bush, proposed the federal purchase of $235 million dollars worth of oil leases in Florida: nine oil leases in the Gulf of Mexico for $115 million and $120 million dollars to buyout mineral rights in Big Cypress National Preserve. Eight years before the 2010 Deepwater horizon spill in the Gulf, Jeb Bush described the purchase of mineral rights as needed to stop “oil drilling in two of the most environmentally-sensitive areas of the state.”
In 2005, Taxpayers for Common Sense decried government efforts to purchase Florida mineral rights as “one of the worst land deals in history.”
Today, environmentalists bemoan the failure to purchase mineral rights in Big Cypress as a terrible mistake.
Big Cypress National Preserve was created in 1974 to “ensure the preservation, conservation, and protection of the natural scenic, floral and faunal, and recreational values of the Big Cypress Watershed.” As a swamp, Big Cypress is critical to the watershed of the Everglades. Wetlands purify freshwater and absorb storm surge to prevent floods.
The ecology of Big Cypress is not, however, pristine. Oil production began in Big Cypress in the 1940s. The preserve is home to numerous threatened or endangered species (including about 30 to 35 Florida panthers) considered “indicator species” — indicating the ecosystem, here Big Cypress, is sick.
Burnett Oil Company filed an application with the National Park Service to conduct a seismic survey of 110 square miles (70,454 acres) in the preserve. The study will evaluate the feasibility of drilling more oil wells. The National Park Service just completed an Environmental Impact Study evaluating the Burnett plan.
Burnett Oil Company owns the mineral rights on more than half the 730,000 acres that make up Big Cypress. When Big Cypress was created, the swampland was transferred to the federal government but the the mineral rights lying below the park were retained by the Collier family, who leased their right to drill for oil and gas to Burnett. Since efforts by the Bush administration to buyout the mineral rights on about 500,000 acres in Big Cypress for $120 million dollars were firmly rebuked in 2005, mineral rights in Big Cypress continue to be privately held.
Public debate over further drilling in Big Cypress is contentious. Homeowners worry drilling may occur close to their homes. Environmental groups are concerned that the seismic study may lead to drilling that could contaminate the aquifer that most of Florida relies on for its drinking water.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, National Parks Conservation Association and Conservancy of Southwest Florida expressed concern that even studies exploring the possibility of increased oil drilling in Big Cypress will exacerbate ecological distress since the oil exploration will require use of large trucks and heavy machinery over a 110 square mile swath of pristine wetlands.
The controversy over increased oil drilling in Big Cypress is intensified by the fear that Burnett might use “acid fracking” (a process of pumping acid to stimulate well production).
Although state and federal government may limit the scope of oil drilling activities by permit to protect public health and the environment, the US Constitution protects mineral owners from taking without compensation. Hence, the only way to completely prevent further oil and gas development (with or without acid fracking) in Big Cypress is for the government to purchase the mineral rights.
Which takes me back to my opening statement.
In hindsight, the Collier sale of oil rights hardly looks like a “taxpayer ripoff.” In hindsight, the Bush plan to purchase Florida mineral rights looks like genius.
Elizabeth Glass Geltman is the author of 17 books on environmental and natural resources policy and is an associate professor and program director for Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences at the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Public Health and the Urban School of Public Health at Hunter College. Geltman serves as the Secretary of the Environment Section of the American Public Health Association.
Environmentalists say oil exploration will damage Big Cypress
Exploration would cover additional 110 square miles; Environmental groups want more extensive review; National Park Service says the impacts would be mostly short-term
Plans by a Texas company to deploy massive thumper trucks to seismically explore for oil in the Big Cypress National Preserve are being challenged by more than a half dozen environmental groups.
In an 88-page report, the Natural Resources Defense Council, National Parks Conservation Association, Conservancy of Southwest Florida and other groups say testing in a 110-square mile section of the preserve will disturb vast new swaths of land. When the park service tentatively signed off on plans in November, the groups say that it failed to consider climate change or new technology, and too hastily made a decision based on old information from decades of drilling in the swamp.
This seismic testing and oil drilling will do irrevocable damage.
John Adornato, National Parks Conservation Association regional director
“A more thorough environmental review will reveal what we already know. This seismic testing and oil drilling will do irrevocable damage to one of Florida’s most iconic landscapes and should not be allowed to move forward,” John Adornato, a regional director for the conservation association, said in a statement.
In reviewing the request from Burnett Oil, the park service looked at the potential damage from driving the 33-ton trucks through the swamp. While some wildlife could suffer from short-term stress, park officials said damage would likely be minimal if workers complied with a lengthy list of requirements. Some wildlife could even benefit from new data collected in the process of looking for pockets of oil, the assessment found.
But the environmental groups say Burnett’s plans for five new staging areas require a more thorough review. Four of those areas would occur on pristine wetlands and could damage more than a thousand miles of untouched land, the groups say.
Approving the test without a full review could also set a precedent for expanding oil exploration, the groups say, and could lead to less land being more fully protected with a wilderness designation.
Drilling in the preserve, a refuge for panthers and other rare wildlife, dates back to the 1940s. When the preserve was created in 1974, the Collier Family, which owned much of the land, held on to mineral rights and over the years sold off drilling rights. Today, Exxon operates two drilling facilities including the Bear Island field, which was discovered in 1972 and includes 23 wells on nine pads and 17 wells in the Raccoon Point field, which was discovered in 1978.
Invisible gas leak empties Cal homes
LA suburb that E.T. once called home overwhelmed by out-of-control methane
LOS ANGELES – Laura Gideon and her family endured the sickening stench from an out-of-control natural gas leak for about a month before they could no longer tolerate the nausea, headaches and nosebleeds.
After she went to the emergency room in November vomiting and with a severe migraine, Gideon, her husband and their two children abandoned their home in the upscale Los Angeles suburb of Porter Ranch.
They moved in with her parents about 10 miles away to await a fix that could still be months away.
“We’re in mourning now,” she said. “We didn’t ever want to leave. We were in a nice gated community. We were safe, you know, supposedly good schools. This wasn’t our plan.”
Thousands of her neighbors have followed suit in an exodus from an invisible threat that wafts occasionally and doesn’t sicken everyone in its path, though it continues to spew enormous amounts of climate-changing methane.
The leak has cost the utility $50 million so far and is expected to balloon as the company tries a tricky fix to plug a well deep underground, while also compensating residents and fighting dozens of lawsuits.
Gov. Jerry Brown declared an emergency last week for the prolonged blowout that requires the utility to cover the costs and instructs state regulators to protect ratepayers.
Gas field massive
The well is one of 115 in the Santa Susana Mountains where Southern California Gas Co., a division of San Diego based Sempra Energy, stores natural gas in a vacant oil field about a mile and a half underground. It is the largest natural gas storage facility west of the Miss issippi River and holds enough to provide energy to all of Southern California for a month.
It has been gushing the equivalent of about a quarter of the state’s daily output of methane, along with other gases, since it was reported Oct. 23. It is also blamed for depositing tiny oil droplets on cars and houses that are about a mile away.
The hillside Porter Ranch community of about 30,000 people has grown considerably in the three decades since scenes in the movie “E.T. The Extraterrestrial” were filmed there.
Public health officials said most of the gas is dissipating and not causing long-term problems, but foul-smelling additives that make highly flammable gas detectable have been blamed for maladies including irritated throats, coughs and respiratory problems.
“It’s like being in a disaster area, but it’s not a disaster you can see,” said Sue Hammarlund, who has seen her share of national disasters as a Red Cross volunteer and has suffered from headaches and nosebleeds recently. “I think this is more debilitating mentally.”
Two local schools closed before the end of the year, and nearly 1,900 students will start the year at different schools.
While more than 4,500 families have either left or are on the move, many have stayed behind — because they either aren’t bothered by the smell, aren’t worried or don’t want to hassle with moving.
Bob Casselman has lived near the entrance to the gas facility 43 years. His wife, Pat, has only noticed the smell a few times and had very few symptoms.
“I can’t understand all these people,” Bob Casselman said. “Everybody wants a freebie. … Unless something’s really bad, we don’t complain.”
The company has apologized for failing to disclose the leak after residents began complaining about the smell and for reacting slowly to their concerns.
The incident is unprecedented for a utility, and it is “forging new ground,” said Gillian Wright, a SoCalGas vice president.
Under orders from the county health department to relocate people who want to leave, SoCalGas has offered to pay up t o $250 a night for hotels, plus $45 per person per day for food, or up to $7,500 a month for rental homes. The leak is expected to be stopped in March.
Some residents have complained about not getting help calls returned and not finding relocation services helpful.
Cheri Derohanian said representatives she spoke with in Chicago and Colorado were useless because they didn’t know the lay of the land. One found her a downtown Los Angeles condo that was 30 miles away and better suited for urban hipsters than her family of four.
“We’re not a bunch of hicks. We’re like Porter Ranch, it’s like, you know, the Beverly Hills of the valley.”
BRIAN MELLEY|ASSOCIATED PRESS
[They say ‘it isn’t really a disaster’, but it is when you consider that the methane that ”dissipates” is entering our atmosphere where it is 50+ times more detrimental than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.]
Fracking wars heat back up
EPA’s independent Science Advisory Board tugged fracking back into the limelight with a draft report yesterday criticizing the agency for an “inconsistent” finding on fracking risks. Recall that oil and gas companies hailed EPA’s June report, which found that fracking poses no “widespread, systemic” risk to drinking water, as validation that the popular extraction method posed no risk to public health. The agency responded by vowing to consider its independent advisers’ recommendations before finalizing the report sometime this year, but an EPA spokeswoman also stood by the agency’s contextualizing of fracking-water impacts as relatively minor: “EPA’s assessment cites examples where hydraulic fracturing has impacted drinking water resources,” the agency told ME. “However, based on available data, the number of cases is small compared to the number of hydraulically fractured wells.”
Katie Brown, spokeswoman for the Independent Petroleum Association of America-backed Energy in Depth project, said the EPA advisers’ draft report is “concerning, to say the least. [The advisory board’s] members are asking EPA to alter scientific findings based on what they admit are ‘outliers.’”
Recall that former EPA chief Lisa Jackson testified before Congress in May 2011 that she was “not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself has affected water.” Even if the final version of the agency’s study materially alters its headline finding of no broad threat from fracking, it is not expected to offer any specific edicts on stricter regulations
Eric Wolff|01/08/16 |With help from Elana Schor, Annie Snider, and Darren Goode
Obama Halts New Coal Mining Leases on Public Lands
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration announced on Friday a halt to new coal mining leases on public lands as it considers an overhaul of the program that could lead to increased costs for energy companies and a slowdown in extraction.
“Given serious concerns raised about the federal coal program, we’re taking the prudent step to hit pause on approving significant new leases so that decisions about those leases can benefit from the recommendations that come out of the review,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. “During this time, companies can continue production activities on the large reserves of recoverable coal they have under lease, and we’ll make accommodations in the event of emergency circumstances to ensure this pause will have no material impact on the nation’s ability to meet its power generation needs.”
The move represents a significant setback for the coal industry, effectively freezing new coal production on federal lands and sending a signal to energy markets that could turn investors away from an already reeling industry. President Obama telegraphed the step in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night when he said “I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet.”
Last year, Mr. Obama used his executive authority under the Clean Air Act to complete regulations that would limit carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants, the nation’s largest source of planet-warming pollution. Republicans have attacked the rules, which could lead to the closing of hundreds of coal plants, as a “war on coal.” A halt to new leases would go even further by leaving coal unmined.
The action is certain to further inflame a political debate over the federal government’s control of public lands, most recently illustrated by an armed takeover of a wildlife refuge in Oregon. About 40 percent of the nation’s coal is mined on public land, and most of that land is in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming.
“It appears that they’re going after the federal coal leasing program with the intention of keeping coal in the ground,” said Luke Popovich, a spokesman for the National Mining Association.
But companies can continue to mine the coal reserves under lease, estimated to be enough to sustain current levels of production from federal land for about 20 years, according to the administration official.
“Even as our nation transitions to cleaner energy sources, building on smart policies and progress already underway, we know that coal will continue to be an important domestic energy source in the years ahead,” Ms. Jewell said. “We haven’t undertaken a comprehensive review of the program in more than 30 years, and we have an obligation to current and future generations to ensure the federal coal program delivers a fair return to American taxpayers and takes into account its impacts on climate change.”
Mr. Obama hopes to make curbing climate change a cornerstone of his legacy. The administration’s action is the latest step in his ambitious efforts to use his executive authority to tackle climate change, though it could be reversed by another president.
As the administration has sought additional ways to discourage production and consumption of the fuel most responsible for global warming, economists have proposed a “production fee” associated with emissions from coal. Administration officials have estimated that cost — tied to what they call the “social cost of carbon” — at about $40 per ton of carbon dioxide produced.
A fee of that size “would shut down the industry on federal lands entirely,” said Alan Krupnick, an economist at Resources for the Future, which studies environmental economics.
He added, “But even a small charge that begins to internalize these costs — say, a couple of dollars per ton — would put the industry on notice.”
The environmental advocacy group 350.org, which led the successful campaign against the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, has since turned its efforts to pushing Mr. Obama to shut down new leases for coal mining on public lands.
“The administration’s top priority needs to be to keep fossil fuels in the ground,” said Jamie Henn, a spokesman for the group. “Any move that increases the cost of extracting fossil fuels on public land.”
The push to increase the cost to coal companies comes as the industry is struggling after one of its worst years in recent memory. The industry is suffering from a one-two punch from market forces and government policies. For decades, coal has dominated the American electricity market as the cheapest source of fuel, but in recent years, it has been overtaken by cheap natural gas.
At the same time, Mr. Obama’s new climate change regulations are driving electric utilities to shut down coal plants and invest in cleaner sources of energy, including natural gas, which produces half of the carbon pollution of coal, as well as wind and solar power.
A wave of bankruptcies has hit the nation’s largest coal companies, most recently on Monday with the bankruptcy filing of Arch Coal, the nation’s second-largest coal company. United States production of coal and employment in the coal sector have fallen to their lowest levels since the 1980s.
CORAL DAVENPORT|JAN. 14, 2016
Corkscrew developer fights for project
The developer who won Lee County approval last year for the 1,325 unit Corkscrew Farms development east of I-75 said he plans to intervene in a suit seeking to kill the development.
The developer of Corkscrew Farms near Estero says he’s “shocked” that a suit has been filed to stop the 1,325 unit project on a 1,361 acre site east of Interstate 75, and said his lawyers will be filing papers to intervene in the case.
The Estero Council of Community Leaders joined with the Responsible Growth Management Coalition in the case filed in Circuit Court last month. The suit attacks the decision not being “consistent” with provisions of the Lee Plan, which sets out comprehensive standards for development in the county.
Developer Joe Cameratta, whose Cameratta Companies is the developer of the project, said he is will do whatever is necessary to defend the project, including becoming a party to the suit, which names only Lee County and the Board of County Commissioners as defendants.
“I am going to do everything in my power to help the county defend its decision,” Cameratta said in an email response to questions from The News-Press. “Our project received overwhelming support from so many groups and organizations, and concerned environmental groups such as the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.”
A spokesman for the county said this week that the suit has not yet been formally served on the county, but when it is, the county attorney’s office will “take all appropriate action” to defend the case.. The suit seeks to throw out a rezoning decision that was based on the recommendation of the county hearing examiner
Attorney Ralf Brookes, who represents the ECCL and the Growth Management Coalition has filed the suit under a provision of law that will give opponents a second chance to argue their case. after presenting only a token case against the plan at the county hearing.
In an email, Brookes said the court proceedings will mean “brand new” consideration of the controversial development.
“There will be a new trial and the parties can include additional experts, witnesses and evidence,” Brookes said. “The parties are not limited to the record below.”
During the two days of hearings in September, three members of the public spoke in opposition to the development, and no expert testimony was offered to counter the developer’s presentation. By contrast, a half dozen individuals testified as expert witnesses for Cameratta and an additional six witnesses spoke on behalf of the county planning and development staff.
The suit claims that the development poses a risk to the Density Reduction/Groundwater Resource area that protects the region’s water supply. It cites recent traffic deaths of Florida Panthers and claims that the project is “an irreversible land-use change” that fails to meet legal requirements of the Lee Plan.
Cameratta said the project provides environmental benefits, including restoring wetlands disrupted by agricultural use, reducing water consumption and preserving existing wetland and forest land.
Senators Introduce Bill to Permanently Protect the Arctic Refuge
In December, a record number of cosponsors in the Senate introduced an important conservation bill that would protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge once and for all.
Led by Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Ed Markey (D-MA), the legislation (S 2341) would designate as Wilderness the coastal plain—the heart of the Arctic Refuge, and the region under threat by oil and gas interests—providing it with permanent protection from industrial development.
The coastal plain harbors nesting birds that migrate through all 50 states. More than one hundred species of birds depend on its pristine habitat, including Tundra Swans, American Golden-Plovers, and Snowy Owls, along with caribou, polar bears, wolves, musk oxen, and more. The pressure to drill here has continued for decades, putting at risk the astonishing wildlife and critical habitat of the Refuge.
Companion legislation, HR 239, was also introduced last year in the U.S. House, led by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) and Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA). Nearly one year ago, President Obama announced that the administration recommended protecting the Arctic Refuge as Wilderness, and called on Congress to pass legislation. It’s time for Congress to act.
If you haven’t already, please ask your members of Congress to cosponsor these bills.
From Audubon Advisory
Justice Department alleges VW violated Clean Air Act
EPA says talks with automaker for fix are not going well
The Justice Department filed a civil complaint Monday against Volkswagen, alleging that nearly 600,000 cars with diesel engines in the U.S. violate emissions laws and that many were imported in violation of the Clean Air Act.
The lawsuit was filed in Detroit on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which worked with the California Air Resources Board in exposing the violations last year. VW has admitted to rigging cars with 2-liter diesel engines, and the EPA found violations in vehicles with 3-liter diesels as well.
The complaint alleges that the nearly 600,000 diesel-engine vehicles built since 2009 were equipped with illegal “defeat devices” installed to impair emission-control systems. That resulted in higher emissions than allowed by law.
The lawsuit also alleges that VW violated the Clean Air Act by importing vehicles into the U.S. that have far higher emissions than are allowed under their certification.
“Car manufacturers that fail to properly certify their cars and that defeat emission-control systems breach the public trust, endanger public health and disadvantage competitors,” Assistant Attorney General John Cruden said.
The lawsuit was filed against Volkswagen in Germany and the U.S., as well as its Audi and Porsche brands.
Volkswagen responded by saying it is “working with EPA on developing remedies to bring the (diesel) vehicles into full compliance with regulations as soon as possible.” The EPA issued a statement saying the lawsuit will hold Volkswagen accountable while it tries to reach a deal with the automaker on how to resolve the issue with recalls. However, EPA Assistant Administrator Cynthia Giles said the talks are not going well so far.
The complaint says 499,000 cars equipped with the 2-liter, four-cylinder diesel engines were designed to exceed EPA clean-air standards for nitrogen oxides by up to 40 times the legal amount during normal driving. They were rigged with software to detect when they were being tested for emissions. Only while being tested did their engines meet the standard.
In addition, it says Volkswagen Group equipped 85,000 vehicles with 3-liter, six-cylinder diesel engines to beat emissions tests.
Chris Woodyard|USA TODAY
Twelve New Museums to Visit in 2016
Whether you’re a fossil hunter, a history buff or a basketball fan, you won’t want to miss these 12 must-see museums in the new year
What better way to ring in a new year than at a new museum? 2016 is shaping up to be a great year to visit new (or newly reopened) museums all over the world. From art and music to culture, literature and sports, these 12 museums all provide an in-depth look at the things that make the world great.
Explore Charlie Chaplin’s home, see the massive fossil collection of a lifetime, embrace African-American history, or enjoy international painted masterpieces—just make sure you don’t miss these much-anticipated debuts.
Pompeii (Naples, Italy)
Just in advance of the 2016 season, six restored sites at the famous Pompeii ruins are newly open to the public. The reopened remnants of the city were preserved after Mt. Vesuvius erupted in the year 79, killing up to 20,000 inhabitants and burying the city in volcanic ash. They include a fabric business, a thermal bathing area, a laundry house and a middle-class dwelling. The restored villas are part of the Grand Pompeii Project, a preservation effort at the site that’s tackling wear and tear from weather and time.
These six sites were closed to visitors for several years. Labor disputes, monetary problems and management issues had the area in a holding pattern, causing a lack of maintenance funds, the collapse of some buildings and restricted tourist access. Now they’re open again—and should make it onto any ancient history buff’s must-see list.
The House of Marbury (Beijing, China)
As of late December, fans of Stephon Marbury—the NBA player who moved to China to play for the Beijing Ducks—have a new way to enjoy his celebrity: by visiting the newly-opened House of Marbury in China. The museum follows Marbury’s basketball career from Brooklyn to Beijing and is the latest in the country’s series of extravagant tributes to the player.
China’s love for Marbury appears never-ending—in the past, he’s been on a Chinese postage stamp and has even been the subject of a Chinese-language musical. Not to mention the bronze statue, erected in 2012, that shows Marbury lifting the Chinese Basketball Association championship trophy.
Audain Art Museum (Whistler, Canada)
Opens March 5, 2016
Canadian homebuilder Michael James Audain needed a place to store his extensive art collection—so he decided to build a 56,000-square-foot gallery in Whistler to share his love of art with the public. When it opens in January, the space will house the world’s most extensive collection of the region’s art and artists.
The museum will feature art from Jeff Wall, a Vancouver-based fine art photographer, who will present his work in the context of British Columbia’s artistic history. Twenty-one of Wall’s pieces will be on display at the Audain for about five months.
GRAMMY Museum Mississippi (Cleveland, Mississippi)
Opens March 5, 2016
There’s already a GRAMMY museum outside of Los Angeles, but now it’s spinning off into the deep South. The museum’s Mississippi branch will echo the same dedication to music’s past, present, and future as its California-based sister museum—with a much stronger emphasis on the unique music of the Mississippi Delta.
Part of the museum’s mission is to fill in the missing pieces left by Mississippi’s removal of arts programs in many public schools. A group of about 30 teachers are helping put together a curriculum for children that includes blues and dance history mixed with overall American history like the Great Depression and the Civil Rights Movement.
National Blues Museum (St. Louis, Missouri)
Opens April 2, 2016
Celebrate the origin of nearly every modern form of popular music with a visit to the new National Blues Museum. The finished museum will have 15,000 square feet of exhibit, theater, and classroom space devoted to all things blues and will develop and show traveling exhibits, too. Want a preview? The museum’s radio station is already live, sharing updates and songs from a roster of well known and under-the-radar blues musicians.
Even with all that exhibit space, artifacts aren’t the focus of the new museum. Instead, technology-driven interactive features are designed to tell the story of the genre, following it from its Delta roots and tracing its many influences on modern music.
Boverie (Liège, Belgium)
Opens May 2016
Belgium’s Wallonia region is collaborating with the Louvre to open a new art museum in 2016. The Boverie will sit on an island in the middle of the Meuse River and brings Liège the best of Belgian art. But it won’t stop there: Its opening will be marked by the first of several annual exhibits of international masterpieces curated by the Louvre.
The first exhibition, Open Air, will present 60 pieces by the likes of Van Gogh, Renoir, Monet, and more that capture the essence of painters working outside the studio and their representations of outdoor activities.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (San Francisco, California)
Opens May 14, 2016
San Francisco’s MOMA closed its doors in 2013 for renovations and will finally reopen in May. The new building nearly triples the exhibition space of the old one and includes a ten-story addition, a new Pritzker Center for Photography and an ongoing film program. The fourth floor alone will be larger than the entire space used by the museum’s previous iteration, creating plenty of room for SF MOMA’s impressive collection.
Three thousand art pieces from 200 donors are expected to fill the new space, and the launch exhibition will feature more than 600 works by artists including Pablo Picasso, Robert Rauschenberg and Diane Arbus.
Chaplin’s World: The Modern Times Museum (Corsier-sur-Vevey, Switzerland)
Opens Spring 2016
Get ready for a long overdue date with one of film’s greatest stars. After several years of delay, this museum is expected to open in the spring at Charlie Chaplin’s sprawling Switzerland estate, Manoir de Ban. The main house will explore the man himself, while his comedic works and film legacy will be showcased in outbuildings.
One of the most anticipated exhibits is a pair of wings Chaplin created for his daughter to wear in the movie he never finished, The Freak. Others include a replica of Easy Street from Little Tramp and an exhibit specifically dedicated to Chaplin’s creative process.
The Etches Collection, Museum of Jurassic Marine Life (Kimmeridge, England)
Opens Summer 2016
Kimmeridge sits on the east end of the Jurassic Coast in England—a UNESCO World Heritage Site where Jurassic-period fossils are found in abundance. Fossil enthusiasts will find a lot to admire in local man Steve Etches, who collected and researched more than 2,000 fossilized marine treasures over the last 30 years. The museum is devoted to fossils, fossils and more fossils, all specimens from Etches’ epic collection of things that swam the prehistoric seas 150 million years ago.
Many of the Etches Collection’s fossils are new to scientists, and the museum will present them in a novel way: following the story of how each creature lived, bred and died. Come for the ichthyosaurs and ancient barnacles—leave with an even greater sense of the wonder of the deep past.
Levi Coffin House Interpretive Center (Fountain City, Indiana)
Opens September 2016
Before the Civil War, the Levi Coffin House was the Grand Central Station of the Underground Railroad—a pass-through point for more than 2,000 slaves en route to safety. The house was named after its owner, the so-called “president of the Underground Railroad,” and has long been open to the public as a National Historic Landmark. For Indiana’s bicentennial, the building next door will open as a more than 5,000-square-foot interpretive center that explores the state’s role in abolishing slavery and adds important context to the historic house.
The new center will feature an exhibit called “Souls Seeking Safety: Bringing Indiana’s Underground Railroad Experience to Life,” which will share stories from slaves who passed through the Coffin house on their way to the North.
Museum of Image and Sound (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
Opens September 2016
Immerse yourself in the sights and sound of Brazil at the newly renovated Museum of Image and Sound. This museum, opened initially in 1965, will move into luxurious new digs on Copacabana Beach in 2016. Guests can see and hear national radio and video recordings and explore photography archives, regional exhibits and an entire floor dedicated to Carmen Miranda. The new building was designed to allow visitors to walk up the front facade in a vertical boulevard and is the brainchild of the architecture group responsible for other iconic buildings such as Los Angeles’ new Broad Museum.
The museum’s much-debated location used to be home to the old Club Help, a discotheque that became a symbol of Rio’s past prostitution problem. This building will have a club, too—a much more subdued piano bar.
National Museum of African American History and Culture (Washington, D.C.)
Opens Fall 2016
Last, but not least, is one of Smithsonian’s own, a long-anticipated museum that will find its home on the National Mall this fall. Devoted to the diversity, culture and richness of African American history, NMAAHC evolved from an exhibit space at the National Museum of American History. Though it won’t open until the fall, the museum is already hosting a spate of events to start the conversation the museum itself will continue in depth.
Pieces in the museum’s collection of 33,000 artifacts include objects from a sunken slave ship, a segregated rail car, Harriet Tubman’s hymn book, Chuck Berry’s Cadillac convertible, a guard tower from Angola Prison in Louisiana and items from #BlackLivesMatter protests.
Jennifer Billock|smithsonian.com|December 31, 2015
New Street Lamps Lure Mosquitoes With Fake Human Scents
Lighting the way in the fight against mosquitos
When setting a trap, it makes sense to tailor the bait to the tastes of whatever critter you’re trying to snag. Whether it’s a mousetrap or a roach motel, that old saying about catching more flies with honey tends to be true. So when it comes to baiting mosquito traps, it makes sense to make them smell like one of their favorite foods: people.
A group of researchers at the University of Malaysia have developed a new kind of street lamp that not only uses energy-efficient LEDs to light dark streets, but also act as mosquito traps by exuding an odor that mimics natural human scents. According to lead researcher Chong Wen Tong, the lamp emits low levels of carbon dioxide mixed with titanium dioxide and ultraviolet light, the combination of which drives mosquitoes wild, Carla Kweifio-Okai reports for The Guardian.
“The mosquito trap takes advantage of the mosquito’s sensory abilities by tricking them with features that mimic the odors associated with humans,” Chong tells Kweifio-Okai. Once the scent lures in the unsuspecting mosquito, a fan sucks them into a net inside the street light that makes it impossible for them to get away.
Chong developed the combination street lamp/mosquito trap as a way to bring better light sources to Malaysian cities and remote communities while fighting the disease-spreading insects. In addition to dangerous diseases like malaria, mosquitoes also spread dengue fever, which has grabbed a particularly strong foothold in Asian and Pacific countries over the last 50 years. According to the World Health Organization, 1.8 billion people in Asia and the Pacific are at risk of being infected with dengue annually, and about 500,000 people worldwide are hospitalized from the disease each year. Across Asia, the economic impact of dengue fever alone is an estimated $2 billion per year, Kweifio-Okai reports.
While Chong has yet to install the lamps outside of a small pilot program in Kuala Lumpur, a group of sensory biologists at the University of Washington have discovered an orchid that uses similar bait to lure in mosquitoes. According to a new study, a certain species of bog orchid that grows in the United States’ Pacific Northwest uses a scent similar to human body odor to trick mosquitoes into becoming pollinators, Elizabeth Pennisi writes for Science.
The smell given off by the orchid species Platanthera obtusata isn’t strong enough that the human nose would think it needs a hit of deodorant, but researchers discovered that the scent sets off electrical sensors in the mosquitoes’ antennae. That suggests that the buzzing insects might be attracted to the smell, which is composed of several chemicals found in human B.O., Pennisi reports.
In a presentation Monday at the 2016 annual meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, the researchers noted that the orchids supply female tiger mosquitoes with the necessary carbs, and the mosquitoes pollinate the plants in return, Sarah Sloat writes for Inverse. By observing how the mosquitoes behave around the orchids, researchers could figure out new kinds of bait to lure the biting bugs away from their human prey.
Danny Lewis|smithsonian.com|January 6, 2016
Scientists say humans have now brought on an entirely new geologic epoch
A group of 24 geoscientists on Thursday released a bracing assessment, suggesting that humans have altered the Earth so extensively that the consequences will be detectable in current and future geological records. They therefore suggest that we should consider the Earth to have moved into a new geologic epoch, the “Anthropocene,” sometime circa 1945-1964.
The current era (at least under present definitions), known as the Holocene, began about 11,700 years ago, and was marked by warming and large sea level rise coming out of a major cool period, the Younger Dryas. However, the researchers suggest, changes ranging from growing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to infusions of plastics into marine sediments suggest that we’ve now left the Holocene decisively behind — and that the proof is already being laid down in polar ice cores, deep ocean sediments, and future rocks themselves.
“In a way it’s a thought experiment,” said Naomi Oreskes, a geologically trained Harvard historian of science and one of the study’s authors. “We’re imagining what a future geologist will see when he or she looks at the rock record. But it’s not that difficult a thought experiment to do, because so many of these signals are already present.”
The paper was published Thursday in the journal Science and was led by Colin Waters, a geologist with the British Geological Survey.
“Quite unlike other subdivisions of geological time, the implication of formalizing the Anthropocene reach well beyond the geological community,” the authors conclude. “Not only would this represent the first instance of a new epoch having been witnessed firsthand by advanced human societies, it would be one stemming from the consequences of their own doing.”
It’s important to emphasize that the new study does not itself amount to a formal or official declaration of a new geologic epoch. Rather, the 24 authors are part of what is called the “Anthropocene Working Group,” convened by the University of Leicester’s Jan Zalasiewicz (the current paper’s second author) and organized under the Sub-commission on Quaternary Stratigraphy, a scientific body that oversees geological definitions for the period spanning roughly the last 2.6 million years (the “Quaternary” period). That sub-commission, in turn, is part of the broader International Commission on Stratigraphy, the body that would ultimately have to approve the authors’ suggestion if a new era is to be formalized.
So the new paper certainly doesn’t mean geology textbooks will be rewritten — that would require numerous further scientific steps, and assent extending far beyond the current 24 authors. But it makes a strong case that they ought to be.
“The scale is incredible,” said Waters of the geological changes that the “Anthropocene” has brought on. But he also admits that defining a new epoch, even as we’re observing its beginning, is a rather tricky affair — and one that will inevitably be shaded not only by how we think in the present, but also by how generations in the far future think of us.
“I suppose it’s a bit like, if you were writing this article just at the start of the Holocene, and you’re finding that Washington, D.C., or New York no longer has an ice sheet across it, would you know what the repercussions of that would be in several thousand years’ time?” Waters asked.
The concept of the “Anthropocene” was originally suggested by Paul Crutzen, a Nobel Prize winning atmospheric chemist who is also part of the “Anthropocene Working Group,” in the year 2000. The term has always denoted a new era or epoch uniquely defined by humans’ large scale impact on the environment — but the precise time of its beginning has been variously defined.
After all, humans started deforesting vast landscapes, and causing species extinctions, thousands of years ago. The industrial revolution, meanwhile, began around 200 years ago and represented a major step in how we influence the environment and consume Earth’s materials — as well as the kickstart to global warming.
However, the new study homes in on the middle of the last century as the likely marker for when the geologic “Anthropocene” truly began. The authors suggest that around this time, a confluence of major trends — population explosion, new technological advances, and booming rates of consumption — triggered changes that will be unmistakable in geologic records.
We began the 1900s with 1.65 billion people on Earth and ended them with 6 billion, according to the United Nations. But the majority of the growth was in the second half of the century — the world population did not reach 2 billion until 1927 and 3 billion until 1960.
Over the same broad period we managed to design nuclear weapons and warm the climate. And along with technological leaps and the population boom has come dramatically more uses of resources and transformations of natural environments — which, in turn, has affected the sediment layers that have been formed recently, or are being formed right now. These are likely to feature unprecedented levels of aluminum, concrete, plastics, and black carbon, the study asserts.
Humans have also dramatically changed the sedimentary processes of river systems — look what we’ve done to the Mississippi River and its wetlands, for instance. Soil levels of nitrogen and phosphorous have also exploded, the study asserts, from use of fertilizers. Perhaps the most distinctive change of all, however, may be the unmistakable signature of thermonuclear weapons testing, which began in 1952, and leaves a clear geological record of plutonium 239 that, the paper said, “will be identifiable in sediments and ice for the next 100,000 years.”
And then, well, there’s the record of human caused climate change. Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have grown at an extraordinarily rapid rate, roughly 2 parts per million per year of late, and this will be distinctly recorded in the air bubbles contained in polar ice cores, one key type of geologic record. “Modern rates of atmospheric C emission … are probably the highest of the Cenozoic era,” or the last 65 million years, the study says.
Atmospheric methane levels have shown a similar rapid burst. And sea levels are surging rapidly upward, at least when viewed in geological context. They are probably higher now than they have been in the past 115,000 years, the paper said.
It’s all of these changes, at roughly the same time, that mark the onset of the Anthropocene, the authors suggested. “It’s not just carbon dioxide, and it’s not just in Europe and the United States,” said Harvard’s Oreskes. “It’s this whole set of things that reflect human economic activity basically since World War II.”
Previous reasons for geological demarcations, the researchers note, include changing solar cycles or major volcanic activity — but also sometimes stark and sudden events. For instance, the famous K-T event or K-T boundary, which marked the end of the Cretaceous period 65 million years ago, features a global layer of the element iridium in rock, the signature of a major asteroid impact.
It’s perhaps only fitting, then, that the current paper hints that something much bigger than a mere shift into a new geologic epoch may be afoot. Epochs, after all, are relatively short periods in the grand geological scheme of things, when compared with larger units of time like eons, eras, and periods.
More momentous geological demarcations have often been based upon major changes in the composition of life on Earth — the Cambrian explosion, say, or the extinction of the dinosaurs. However, the paper notes that there are also signs that we may be at the beginning of what some have termed the “Sixth Great Extinction” in all of Earth’s history.
“Current trends of habitat loss and overexploitation, if maintained, would push Earth into the sixth mass extinction event (with ~75% of species extinct) in the next few centuries, a process that is probably already underway,” the paper said.
So, yes — we don’t formally, officially live in the Anthropocene yet. On the other hand, when you look at what we’ve done to the planet, saying that we still live in the Holocene seems to really miss something pretty important.
Chris Mooney|January 7
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