ConsRep 1511 D

Mankind has probably done more damage to the Earth in the 20th century than in all of previous human history. — Jacques Yves Cousteau 


Audubon Hog Island Camp Early Bird Registration

Early Birds save $50.00

The EARLYBIRD deadline for camp is quickly approaching.  Hog Island Audubon Camp offers six-day programs for adults, teens and families. 

Individuals who sign up for one of Hog Island’s birding and nature programs by December 15th will receive $50 off the price of enrolling by using the EARLYBIRD code during checkout.

What’s great about 2016?
Instructors include returning favorites Steve Kress, Scott Weidensaul, and Pete Dunne. 

Also joining us new this year is Laura Erickson for Breaking Into Birding and Joy of Birding sessions.

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

Want to give back and help seabirds?

Sign up for our Road Scholar sessions where you will get the chance to improve seabird habitat on Project Puffin research islands.  

This hands-on week covers basic birding and allows you to make a difference in the lives of seabirds!

Register Now

On December 8 & 9, 2015 Florida Earth will be hosting an international conference on Big Data & Decision Making: The Future of the Water Space, at the University of Florida in Gainesville.  This conference will bring together experts from all over the world to address practical methods of data management and downsizing, so that decision makers in water-related endeavors can have functional tools with which to make comprehensive and meaningful decisions.  Highlights of the conference include keynote speakers including:

Steve Bourne, Atkins
Steve Bourne is a professional engineer and software developer at Atkins. He has 17 years of water resources research, engineering, and software development experience involving geographic information systems (GIS), climate research, water resources decision support system design, and software development and training. Currently, his responsibilities at Atkins include project management and information solutions design, development, and implementation. Recent projects include the BMP Assessment Tool, North Slope Decision Support System, WIEB Grid Tracker, StormCaster, and Asset Master Planner.

Greg van der Vink, Terrametrics and Princeton University  Gregory E. van der Vink was a visiting faculty member in the Department of Geosciences between 1991 and 2015, teaching courses in environmental decision making and investigating natural hazards.  As the President and CEO of Terrametrics, van der Vink’s specializes in predicting human responses to environmental change that impact poverty-reduction efforts and that are precursors for conflict. Terrametrics is a firm specializing in poverty reduction, conflict mitigation, and environmentally-sustainable economic growth in the developing world.
Robert J. Lempert (Invited), Rand Corporation

Robert Lempert is a senior scientist at the RAND Corporation and director of the Frederick S. Pardee Center for Longer Range Global Policy and the Future Human Condition. His research focuses on decision making under conditions of deep uncertainty, with an emphasis on climate change, energy, and the environment. Lempert and his research team assist a number of natural resource agencies in their efforts to include climate change in their long-range plans. He has also led studies on national security strategies and science and technology investment strategies for clients such as the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Conference sponsorships are available at

To see the draft agenda and register for the conference, click here or call Florida Earth at (561) 281-5081 or email at for more information. The Hilton UF Conference Center is the conference site and has a special rate of $129 per night.  Click on the Hilton logo to go directly to the hotel reservation page.

Florida plan conserving 57 imperiled fish and animals ready for public comment ‏

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

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Suggested Tweet: Get to know, get involved with @MyFWC in conserving 57 imperiled wildlife species! #Florida

Florida plan conserving 57 imperiled fish and animals ready for public comment

Today at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) meeting in Panama City Beach, staff presented the draft of the Florida Imperiled Species Management Plan, an innovative, integrated and comprehensive approach to conserving multiple imperiled species.

The plan combines managing the specific needs of 57 imperiled species with a new, larger-scale strategy addressing how to help multiple fish and wildlife species thrive and survive in the habitats they share.

The plan’s key objectives include working on filling data gaps and identifying more systematic, coordinated approaches to imperiled species management. The FWC designed the plan to make more efficient use of its resources in order to achieve measureable goals on important conservation priorities.

“This is an exciting and groundbreaking strategy with science working the way it should,” said Julie Wraithmell, director of conservation for Audubon Florida. “We are excited to see a tailor-made plan that will fit each species like a glove.”

Stakeholder involvement throughout this process has been very important to the FWC.

“Working closely with stakeholders, we are blazing the trail with this innovative process,” said FWC Chairman Brian S. Yablonski. “Some species are going on the list and some are coming off but all 57 are winners in this process.”

The public is invited to read and comment on the draft of the plan, with the opportunity to provide feedback over the next 60 days. It is available online at

The FWC first approved this new conservation model in 2010, and creating the plan has been a continuing collaborative effort. Recently, the public and stakeholders submitted more than 500 comments on improving earlier drafts of the plan.

“From the tiny blackmouth shiner to the Florida sandhill crane, the Imperiled Species Management Plan will conserve 57 species that reflect the diversity and beauty of our state’s wildlife. Floridians’ input, support and actions are also critical to making the plan a success,” said Dr. Brad Gruver, HSC section leader for Species Conservation Planning. “Once the plan is approved in 2016, the FWC will need many partners, both individuals and organizations, to help make this plan a living, working approach to conserve these imperiled species for future generations.”

Important things to know about the Imperiled Species Management Plan:

  • It includes one-page summaries for each species, including a map of their range in Florida and online links to their Species Action Plan. The action plans contain specific conservation goals, objectives and actions for all 57 imperiled species.
  • It also has Integrated Conservation Strategies to benefit multiple species and their habitats that focus implementation of the plan on areas and issues that yield the greatest conservation benefit for the greatest number of species.
  • The 57 species in the plan include (* indicates it is coming off the list of imperiled species):
    • 8 mammals: Big Cypress fox squirrel, Eastern chipmunk*, Everglades mink, Florida mouse*, Homosassa shrew, Sanibel rice rat, Sherman’s fox squirrel and Sherman’s short-tailed shrew
    • 21 birds: American oystercatcher, black skimmer, brown pelican*, Florida burrowing owl, Florida sandhill crane, least tern, limpkin*, little blue heron, Marian’s marsh wren, osprey (Monroe County population), reddish egret, roseate spoonbill, Scott’s seaside sparrow, snowy egret*, snowy plover, southeastern American kestrel, tricolored heron, Wakulla seaside sparrow, white ibis*, white-crowned pigeon and Worthington’s marsh wren
    • 12 reptiles: alligator snapping turtle, Barbour’s map turtle, Florida brown snake (Lower Keys population), Florida Keys mole skink, Florida pine snake, Key ringneck snake, peninsula ribbon snake* (Lower Keys population), red rat snake* (Lower Keys population), rim rock crowned snake, short-tailed snake, striped mud turtle* (Lower Keys population) and Suwanee cooter*
    • 4 amphibians: Florida bog frog, Georgia blind salamander; gopher frog* and Pine Barrens treefrog*
    • 9 fish: blackmouth shiner, bluenose shiner, crystal darter, harlequin darter, Lake Eustis pupfish*, key silverside, mangrove rivulus*, saltmarsh top minnow and Southeastern tessellated darter
    • 3 invertebrates: Black Creek crayfish, Florida tree snail* and Santa Fe crayfish
  • Among the plan’s 57 species, 14 were listed as state Threatened prior to the plan and will remain listed as state Threatened; 23 will change listing from Species of Special Concern to state Threatened; five will remain Species of Special Concern; and 15 will be removed from the imperiled species list but continue to be included in the plan for direction in monitoring and conserving them.

Find out more about the plan at

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission |11/19/15

How to Prevent Wildlife Conflicts, a free family-friendly community workshop

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

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Free, Family-Friendly Wildlife Workshop Set for Naples on Saturday, Nov. 21

VERO BEACH, Fla. – Several conservation agencies are sponsoring a free public workshop designed to help Floridians learn to prevent and live with wildlife conflicts—primarily focused on black bears and Florida panthers. 

“With increasing populations of bears and panthers, we’re seeing an increase in human interactions,” said Jennifer Korn of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).  “We’re hoping this educational workshop provides citizens with the tools and insights they need to prevent and better understand these potential interactions.”

The workshop is set for Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015 at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Collier County Extension Office at 14700 Immokalee Road in Naples.  There will be two identical sessions. The first session will run from 10 a.m. until noon and the second from 1-3 p.m.  Lunch and a bake sale will be available between the two sessions from noon to 1 p.m., with proceeds benefitting local 4-H clubs.

Each session will include hands-on training and presentations on subjects including:

Pen building (protect livestock from panthers and other animals);

  • What to do if you encounter a bear, panther or coyote;
  • Bear deterrence methods;
  • Financial assistance programs; and
  • Questions and answers with panther and bear biologists.

In addition, children can enjoy free games, activities and face-painting.

“This is a great opportunity for residents to meet the biologists and others working to preserve Florida’s wildlife heritage, and also learn more about living more harmoniously with the spectacular wildlife we’re privileged to have here,” said Ken Warren of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service).

Conservation partners joining with FWC and the Service to conduct these workshops include the Friends of the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, Big Cypress National Preserve, Audubon Florida, Defenders of Wildlife, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, Florida Gulf Coast University’s Wings of Hope, Collier County, Florida Wildlife Federation and Florida Panther Protection Program.

For more information, call Ken Warren at (772) 643-4407 or via email at

Of Interest to All

Dream in Green of Miami, Fla. awarded a nearly $30,000 Environmental Justice Small Grant ‏

ATLANTA – An Environmental Justice Small Grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been awarded to Dream in Green of Miami, Fla. for their project titled: Green Schools Challenge: Evidence-Based Practice. Dream in Green is one of 40 non-profit and tribal organizations selected for award of nearly $1.2 million in competitive grants for work to address environmental justice (EJ) issues nationwide.

Dream in Green will use the grant money to conduct an in-depth research study and theoretically evaluation to understand the influence the program has on school staff and students’ understanding on the effects of climate change on human health and the environment, behavioral changes, empowerment and leadership building. Specifically, the program focuses on creating resource-efficient behaviors, increasing the school staff and students’ understanding of the challenges of climate change and empowering them to take action to reduce their carbon footprint through solutions that reduce energy, waste, and water use, implementing recycling programs, and learning about alternative-modes of transportation, green buildings and green careers

“EPA’s environmental justice grants help communities across the country understand and address exposure to multiple environmental harms and risks at the local level,” said Matthew Tejada, Director of EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice. “Addressing the impacts of climate change is a priority for EPA and the projects supported by this year’s grants will help communities prepare for and build resilience to localized climate impacts.”

The grants enable these organizations to conduct research, provide education, and develop solutions to local health and environmental issues in minority and low-income communities overburdened by harmful pollution.

EPA’s EJ Small Grants have been a foundational piece to the portfolios of many community organizations that have gone on to make a visible difference in their communities. The 2015 grants will help organizations in 22 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands carry out projects that will educate residents about environmental issues that may impact their health, collect data about local environmental conditions, and work collaboratively to address environmental justice issues in their communities. The grants support activities that not only address a range of community concerns, but also support activities that are educating and empowering youth and the next generation of environmental stewards. Specific grant projects will focus on reducing exposure to air pollutants from diesel exhaust, developing resilient sustainable agriculture, protecting farm workers from health impacts of pesticides, and increasing community climate resiliency.

For 2015 Environmental Justice Small Grant recipients and project descriptions:
For more information on the Environmental Justice Small Grants Program, including descriptions of previously funded grants:

Connect with EPA Region 4 on Facebook:
And on Twitter: @EPASoutheast

Dawn Harris Young|US Environmental Protection Agency|11/18/15

Calls to Action

    1. Tell Attorney General Lynch- Make BP, not American taxpayers, pay the price for Deepwater Horizon – here
    2. SOS (Save Our Southern Forests) – here
    3. Keep Big Oil out of caribou birthing grounds – here
    4. Stop polluters from gutting protections for our health, wildlife and public lands – here
    5. Tell the EPA that you support its efforts to reduce dangerous methane pollution – here

Birds and Butterflies

FWC designates new Critical Wildlife Area to protect nesting birds in southwest Florida ‏

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

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Nov. 19, 2015

Photos available on FWC’s Flickr site. Go to:

Suggested Tweet: New Critical Wildlife Area created by @MyFWC will help protect nesting #birds in southwest #Florida!

FWC designates new Critical Wildlife Area to protect nesting birds in southwest Florida

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) today designated a sandbar in Collier County, known as “Second Chance,” as a Critical Wildlife Area. The island, which is part of a larger shoal complex, is an important nesting site for Wilson’s plovers and state-listed least terns and black skimmers.

For protection of these birds, the sandbar, which has ranged from half an acre to 5 acres in size, will be closed to public access during the least tern, Wilson’s plover and black skimmer nesting season from March 1 through Aug. 31. Second Chance hosted the largest least tern ground colony in the region for four of the last five years and is an important site for Wilson’s plovers and black skimmers.

“With broad public support and unanimous support from the Commission, the FWC is moving forward with this very important conservation effort,” said FWC Chairman Brian S. Yablonski. “This is the second CWA recently added to the system in more than 20 years.” Bird Island in Martin County was added in 2013.

In June, the FWC held two public meetings and invited local citizens and interested stakeholders to discuss plans for Second Chance. Attendees at these meetings supported protecting the area.

There are a number of uninhabited islands nearby that provide alternative sites for recreational activity during the closure period.

CWAs are established by the FWC to protect important congregations of one or more species of wildlife from human disturbance during critical life stages. People and dogs can cause shorebirds to fly from their nests, leaving eggs and chicks vulnerable to predation and overheating. In the long-term, human disturbance also can cause wildlife to abandon high-quality habitat that is necessary for their survival.

With the addition of the Second Chance sandbar there are now 20 CWAs throughout Florida that are managed for shorebirds, wading birds, gopher tortoises and bats.

The new CWA, approximately 1.5 miles off of Morgan Point, Cape Romano Island, is owned by the state of Florida and is managed by the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.

Second Chance received its name in 1997 when a local ecologist observed least terns nesting there for the first time. The sandbar was considered a second chance for nesting least terns, which had abandoned other nesting sites in Collier County.

For more on Critical Wildlife Areas, go to, click on “Terrestrial Programs” then “Critical Wildlife Areas.”

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission|11/19/15

[Still no help for the Florida Panther.]

Read the Summary of the 115th Christmas Bird Count

The final tallies and accounts of the 115th Christmas Bird Count are here. The count featured both mild conditions and also some intense inclement weather (hello, Polar Vortex II: Son of Polar Vortex!), and a record number of participants for the largest and longest-running bird life census. Explore the details, reported by Audubon’s Geoff LeBaron. Read more. →

Protect birds by reducing climate pollution ‏

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has broken new ground and proposed its first-ever regulations on a potent source of greenhouse gas pollution—methane from the oil and natural gas industry. The new standards will reduce methane pollution leaking from oil and natural gas wells.

According to Audubon’s Climate Report, nearly half of all birds in North America are threatened by climate change. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more dangerous than carbon dioxide for our climate. It is critical that we reduce methane pollution as part of our work to reduce the threat of global warming and give birds a chance to survive in a warming world.

Regulating methane pollution is a win-win for people and birds. Methane and other toxic pollutants from oil and gas drilling threaten human health and our climate.

David Yarnold|President & CEO|National Audubon Society|11/21/15

[Please sign # 5 in Calls to Action” above.]

Endangered Species

Deadly Bat Disease Hits Nebraska

White-nose syndrome — the disease that’s killed millions of bats since it was first discovered on the East Coast eight years ago — is still spreading west quickly, and the fungus that causes it has just been confirmed present in Nebraska, where it was found on northern long-eared, tricolored and big brown bats in the state late last winter.

This disease has been called the worst wildlife health crisis in recent memory, causing mortality rates ranging up to 100 percent among bats in affected caves. Since it broke out in New York in winter 2006, it’s affected bats of seven different species in 26 states and five Canadian provinces.

“The spread of white-nose syndrome has been an extinction tsunami that will eventually break in the West,” said the Center for Biological Diversity’s Mollie Matteson. “Given wildlife agencies’ failure to provide the strong protections that several eastern bats now need to survive, the prospects for western bats are troubling.”

Read more in our press release.

Spotted Turtle Among Top 10 Victims of Habitat Fragmentation

No Room to Roam, a new report released by the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups in the Endangered Species Coalition, names the charismatic spotted turtle one of the top 10 U.S. species threatened by habitat fragmentation. This highly mobile turtle visits multiple wetlands throughout the year to forage, mate, thermo-regulate and overwinter, and these wetlands must be of top quality, offering specific conditions like clear, clean water.

When the wetlands are degraded, destroyed and divided by development and roads, the turtle can’t move around — and can be easily run over. This species is already on the brink of extinction, with a 50 percent reduction in its historic population size.

After a Center petition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced this summer that it may protect the spotted turtle under the Endangered Species Act; in 2013 we earned it safeguards against international trade.

Other imperiled species named in the report include the California tiger salamander, Karner blue butterfly, lesser prairie chicken, Yellowstone grizzly bear and Mexican gray wolf.

Read more (and check out the report) in our press release. > Earth Matters > Animals

U.S. puts an end to all experiments on chimps

After decades of testing, agency says 50 remaining chimps will be retired to a sanctuary.

The National Institutes of Health is shuttering its chimpanzee research program after decades of experimentation and research that has put animal rights activists and scientists at odds.

Two years after sending more than 300 of its research champs into retirement, the NIH said on Wednesday that it will place the final 50 chimps into sanctuary. The move puts an end to government-led experiments on chimpanzees, the primate most closely related to humans. Chimp DNA is nearly 99 percent identical to human DNA.

“It’s time to say we’ve reached the point in the U.S. where invasive research on chimpanzees is no longer something that makes sense,” Dr. Francis Collins, director of

of NIH, told the Associated Press.

The news was heralded by animal rights groups. “We really see the [NIH] closing and locking the door behind the chimps and throwing away the key on their way out of the laboratories,” Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, wrote in a blog post.

The NIH first established primate research facilities in 1960. But in the past few years, under increasing outside pressure, the agency had scaled back its work. In 2013, the NIH retired all but 50 chimps, hanging on to them in case they were needed for some essential research.

But in the past nearly three years, not a single request for research on a chimp has been made. “[W]e have moved on from the time when research on chimpanzees was considered essential,” Collins told the journal Nature.

Wednesday’s news did not come without some backlash. Some scientists working on a vaccine to protect chimps in the wild from the Ebola virus decried the decision. Others wondered if some future health crisis would be worsened without chimps available for testing.

The final decision by the NIH was not made without some arm-twisting and years of bureaucratic machinations. The NIH asked the Institute of Medicine (now the National Academy of Medicine) to look at the need for chimp research back in 2010, and the IOM came back with a report in 2011 that determined most of it was unnecessary. That led to the retirement of hundreds of chimps in 2013.

Then in June, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service classified captive chimps in the U.S. as an endangered species, so any experiments on the remaining 50 chimps would have had to been OK’d by that agency.

Now, the NIH will spend the next couple of years relocating the chimps from facilities in Texas. Most, if not all of them, will end up in a 200-acre federal chimpanzee sanctuary in Keithville, Louisiana, called Chimp Haven. (If you haven’t watched the video below of chimps exploring their new environment at Chimp Haven — literally stepping on grass and seeing the sky for the first time in their lives — it’s worth a watch.)

The 50 chimps, now housed in facilities throughout Texas, are not the only ones that will eventually need homes. More than 150 other chimps, supported by the NIH but not owned by the government, will need to be relocated, according to Nature. And there are more chimps out there that need a home, the Humane Society’s Pacelle said in his blog post.

“Approximately 700 chimpanzees remain in laboratories with around 300 owned by the federal government.” he wrote. “But we are working on travel plans for every one of them … The HSUS stands ready to work with stakeholders, including the government, Chimp Haven and other sanctuaries, laboratories, the public, and other animal protection groups, to ensure all chimpanzees are retired to high-quality sanctuaries.”

John Donovan|November 19, 2015

NIH to Retire Its Last 50 Research Chimps

This week animal advocates are celebrating a historic victory with an announcement from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that it will be retiring the last 50 research chimpanzees it owns to sanctuaries.

We have marveled over their complexity and similarities to us, but have still exploited chimpanzees for decades in unthinkable and indefensible ways in the name of science. Despite being unable to undo the past, we’re now making some big changes that will drastically impact their future for the better.

Care2 member, Brittany E.G. started a petition asking the NIH director to retire research chimps, which received more than 21 thousand signatures.

In 2011, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) issued a report that concluded most research on chimpanzees in biomedical and behavioral research was unnecessary and unethical, and made recommendations about their future use.

Following the release of the report, the NIH announced it would be retiring most of the research chimps it owned or funded in 2013. The news meant hundreds of chimpanzees would finally be free from harm, after what had been decades in labs for some.

While the news was well received by those who have been campaigning for years to see this day come, it was also tempered by the fact that while 310 chimps would be retired, 50 would be left behind for possible use in future research.

That changed this week, with another announcement from the NIH that the remaining 50 will also be permanently retired to sanctuaries.

“I think this is the natural next step of what has been a very thoughtful five-year process of trying to come to terms with the benefits and risks of trying to perform research with these very special animals,” NIH director Francis Collins told Nature. “We reached a point where in that five years the need for research has essentially shrunk to zero.”

The news is a little surprising, but it follows a growing number of obstacles to using them as test subjects. Earlier this year, the status of captive chimps was officially changed to endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The listing set the bar even higher for anyone who wanted to use them by requiring any experiments be for the benefit of chimpanzees.

As of this fall, there have been no permit requests to use them in experiments, and while there are still many more privately owned chimps waiting to be liberated from labs, it doesn’t look like any more will be subjected to invasive research – at least not with funding from our taxpayer dollars.

Collins added in a letter that relocation will be “conducted as space is available and on a timescale that will allow for optimal transition of each individual chimpanzee with careful consideration of their welfare, including their health and social grouping.”

So far, reports indicate the next to go will be 20 from the Southwest National Primate Research Center, otherwise known as Texas Biomedical Research Institute, which was the subject of a scathing investigation conducted by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) last year.

Now it’s a matter of finding room for them in the national sanctuary system. Chimp Haven has said it is now ready to take 25 and will start working on making space for more next year. While the organization does receive funding from the government, it is required to partially match it through donation, so public support is hugely important in the effort to get these chimps into the long overdue retirement they deserve.

 Alicia Graef|November 20, 2015

Yellowstone National Park Proposes Slaughtering 1,000 Wild Bison

Yellowstone National Park officials are proposing a plan to slaughter 1,000 bison—mostly females and calves—from its herd this winter. The reason for the cull is to lessen the risk of Yellowstone bison infecting cattle herds in Montana with brucellosis, a bacterial disease, officials said yesterday.

Park officials will meet today with tribal leaders, state and other federal agencies to reach a decision on the exact number to kill. “No formal decision has been made, but the park proposal is for 1,000 fewer bison,” park spokesperson Amy Bartlett said.

The annual cull is deeply controversial. Yellowstone bison are the last wild herd of bison in America with fewer than 5,000 left. The amount slaughtered varies from year to year, but a 1,000-bison slaughter would be the largest cull since the winter of 2007-2008, when more than 1,600 were killed.

The cull formally began in 2000 when the state of Montana and the federal government reached an agreement to annually decrease the herd to prevent the spread of brucellosis, though annual culls date back even further. Brucellosis, a European livestock disease originally introduced by cows, was first detected in Yellowstone buffalo in 1917.

“Through the legal agreement the National Park Service has to do this,” Yellowstone spokesperson Sandy Snell-Dobert said. “If there was more tolerance north of the park in Montana for wildlife, particularly bison as well as other wildlife, to travel outside the park boundaries, it wouldn’t be an issue.”

As of this summer, there were 4,900 bison in the park, and officials are hoping to bring that number closer to 3,000.

Montana ranchers say the cull is necessary because bison who roam outside of the park infect their cows with brucellosis, which causes miscarriages. They also say that relocation is not an option because the bison will compete for grazing land with their herds. Wildlife conservationists, on the other hand, argue that the bison attract millions of visitors to the park every year and that their numbers are dangerously low, so they should not be killed.

“Ecologically extinct throughout their native range, and not yet federally protected, bison are endangered,” the Buffalo Field Campaign said. The organization keeps a running tally of the number of Yellowstone bison killed since 1985. To date, that number is 8,567. Buffalo Field Campaign contended that “there has never been a single documented case of wild buffalo transmitting brucellosis to livestock.”

The organization pointed out that “Yellowstone elk and other wildlife, also known to carry brucellosis, are allowed to freely exit the park without coming under fire as the buffalo do.” They blame Montana’s powerful livestock industry for the unnecessary slaughter.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) believes that there’s a better way forward. “It’s time to stop shipping bison to slaughter and give them access to year-round habitat in Montana,” said Matt Skoglund, Director of NRDC’s Northern Rockies Office. “This proposal reinforces the need for the Governor to make a final decision and put into place the plan to expand wild bison habitat in Montana. This would be a huge step in the right direction, as it would allow bison to access important habitat outside the Park and improve the ability for bison to be managed like other wildlife in Montana.”

“Yellowstone’s iconic wild bison are central to the long-term conservation of the species, as they are a large population and the only continuously wild and free-roaming population in the U.S.,” he added.

The total number killed may largely depend on winter weather. If the snowfall is heavy, bison will be forced to migrate to lower elevations in search of food. And if they wander outside the park, they are more likely to face slaughter.

“You can’t predict how many bison will go into the trap,” Montana State Veterinarian Marty Zaluski said. “Nature has a way of defying your best expectations.”

Most of the 700 bison that were captured as part of last year’s cull were turned over to Native American tribes in the area for slaughter. “Hunters, including from tribes with treaty rights in the Yellowstone area, are anticipated to kill more than 300 of the animals,” Associated Press reported. “Others would be captured for slaughter or research purposes.”

But not all tribes support the cull. Jimmy St. Goddard, a spiritual leader of the Blackfeet Tribe in Montana, told Reuters, “the culling, for him, evokes a painful chapter of American history in which U.S. extermination campaigns pushed the massive, hump-backed creatures to the edge of extinction … Killing these buffalo is shameful.”

Cole Mellino | November 19, 2015

Wild Bison Return to the Colorado Prairie

There was a big party on the rolling prairie of northern Colorado, and the only thing the guests of honor wanted to do was gallop away.

The roughly 200 celebrants were thrilled watching as 10 bison were introduced to their new home – a thousand acres of open space north of Fort Collins. The release on Nov. 1, National Bison Day, marked the first time wild bison have thundered across the Colorado prairie in about 150 years.

“The restoration of bison to the Soapstone Prairie Natural Area is another important step forward in the conservation of the species,” says Garrit Voggesser, the National Wildlife Federation’s national director of tribal partnerships.

The National Wildlife Federation has worked for more than two decades to restore wild bison to public and tribal lands. In March 2012, along with our tribal partners, NWF succeeded in getting 61 Yellowstone bison transferred to the Fort Peck Reservation. The next fall, 34 of those Yellowstone bison were transferred to the Fort Belknap Reservation in Montana. Then, in November 2014, an additional 134 genetically pure Yellowstone bison were restored to Fort Peck. NWF also worked with the Crane Trust in Nebraska to restore over 60, genetically-pure Yellowstone buffalo to Trust lands in February 2015.

The recent release on open space owned by the city of Fort Collins and Larimer County follows research by Colorado State University into preserving the genetically pure bloodlines of Yellowstone bison while eliminating the threat of disease. The bison in Yellowstone National Park don’t have cattle genes found in most other bison but they do have brucellosis, a disease that can cause pregnant females to abort.

There has never been a documented case of bison spreading brucellosis to livestock but the threat has prompted the policy of killing bison that wander out of Yellowstone. Any Yellowstone bison relocated to tribal or public lands would have to be quarantined for up to two years.

The Return of a Western Icon

Now, Colorado State University researchers believe they’ve found a way to rebuild populations of genetically pure, disease-free bison. The 10 bison roaming in northern Colorado include the offspring of Yellowstone bison whose embryos and semen were rid of brucellosis bacteria before artificial insemination and embryo transfer.

The long-term goal is to have hundreds of the animals roaming about 10,000 acres of prairie – and to build a herd of genetically pure, disease-free bison that can be a foundation for more herds in the West.

The day of the bison’s release, everyone was focused on the immediate: celebrating the return of a big part of the Western landscape that’s been missing for far too long.

Brian Kurzel, the National Wildlife Federation’s Rocky Mountain Regional Center executive director, and his family, including his kids Peter and Sophie, joined Voggesser at the event.

The National Wildlife Federation and partners have worked with tribes on the Fort Peck and Fort Belknap reservations in Montana to transfer Yellowstone basin to tribal lands and to get wild bison on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming.

Members of the Crow Nation in south-central Montana led prayers and songs to welcome the return of bison to its historic homeland. Listen to some of the Crow tribe members singing at the bison release.

Preserving and perpetuating the genetics of the Yellowstone bison is crucial to rebuilding wild bison populations. The Yellowstone herd is the link to an era when as many as 30 million bison wandered in huge masses across North America. After over-hunting and westward settlement, only a few wild bison were left.

A.J. Not Afraid, secretary-elect of the Crow Nation, told The Denver Post that bison are a national animal, like the eagle. He said, “Their survival depends on these conservation programs. The tribes cannot do it alone.”

Judith Kohler|11/6/2015

[Duh! Why not move the 1000 Bison from Yellowstone to Colorado where they will be appreciated?]

Scientists Say They’ve Found the ‘Missing Link’ on Bees and Pesticides

Scientists believe that they’ve cracked the seeming conflict between their research that shows pesticides can harm honeybees and the fact that in field tests larger colonies of bees seem to be able to survive pesticide exposure.

The pesticide industry has long used this as a reason why governments shouldn’t ban the pesticide family called neonicotinoids because, they say, the discrepancy shows that the lab tests are unreliable and have toxicity rates that are not reproduced in the wild. However, the lab results have been fairly consistent so clearly neonicotinoids were having an effect on bees, it just wasn’t translating into a real world setting the way that scientists had expected. Now, scientists think they have the answer as to why.

Writing in the journal Royal Society journal Proceedings B French researchers say their tests prove that honeybees foraging around neonicotinoid areas do indeed die off faster than their counterparts who haven’t been exposed to these pesticides. Lab tests have shown that neonicotinoids appear to alter the bees’ ability to navigate, weakens their immune system and, through cumulative effects, may lead to early death. 

To find evidence of this the researchers monitored 18 bee colonies that had been exposed to oilseed rape that had been treated with the neonicotinoid thiamethoxam.

The researchers found that the colonies were able to compensate for die-off by producing more female workers at the expense of male drones. This serves to keep the bee colony fed and may ensure its survival despite what the researchers called “significant excess mortality.”

Researcher Dr. Mickael Henry of the French National Institute for Agricultural Research, INRA, told the BBC: “We could find evidence of troubles at the individual scale in the field but these troubles were compensated for by the colonies. The population inside the hive was able to compensate for the increased loss of worker honeybees by increasing brood production.”

The researchers saw no major effects at the colony level, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any. There could be a cumulative threat from neonicotinoids: the greater exposure and die-off of female workers, the more the colony will have to adapt its demographics. What was only a slight imbalance could create a pressure that might be easily exacerbated if other stress factors were introduced, for example parasites or a shortage of food. This could account for the sudden collapse of colonies, though of course that would have to be scrutinized by further experiments.

It’s worth noting, too, that figures for 2014 show that honeybees had suffered the second-highest rate of die-off since records began in the United States. So clearly it’s probably a combination of factors that are driving down their numbers.

It’s also true that the data suggests honeybees are actually far more resilient to pesticides than had once been thought. That might be good news for them, but other insects and even other kinds of bees have been shown to struggle far more. The above finding may signal how neonicotinoids can make insects vulnerable. That of course doesn’t even touch on the fact that cumulative insecticide exposure appears to be negatively impacting other species, like birds.

This research, then, is important because it appears to support–subsequent to more tests–that neonicotinoids do drive up mortality rates in bees as had been shown in the lab. That will be important as policies surrounding insecticides continue to be debated. For example, the EU issued a ban on neonicotinoids in 2013 but that must be renewed this year. The UK government has fought heavily to keep using neonicotinoids, saying that the science simply isn’t there to prove that neonicotinoids do harm bees. This research may serve to reinvigorate that debate and give greater insight into the connection between insecticides and our declining pollinator numbers.

Steve Williams|November 20, 2015

Georgia Aquarium Won’t Be Getting Wild-Caught Belugas

In a huge win for captive marine mammals, this week the Georgia Aquarium announced it is finally giving up on its drawn out attempt to import 18 wild-caught belugas from Russia.

The controversy started back in 2012 when the aquarium applied for a permit from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to import the belugas, who were taken from Russia’s Sea of Okhotsk between 2006 and 2011.

This was the first request in 20 years from a facility in the U.S. to import wild-caught marine mammals for public display. Fortunately, NOAA denied the permit for multiple reasons, citing concerns that the move would further harm wild populations, a few were still young enough to be dependent on their mothers and that the import could help create more of a demand for wild-caught cetaceans, among other serious issues.

That should have been the end of the matter, but the Georgia Aquarium just wouldn’t let it go and has been in court ever since trying to get the decision overturned until this September, when a federal court denied the aquarium’s latest attempt and gave it 60 days to decide whether or not to appeal.

This week a victory for everyone who has been opposing the import finally came when Georgia Aquarium announced it would give up on trying to get these belugas, writing in a statement:

As many have come to know, Georgia Aquarium has been diligent in our ongoing efforts to ensure the approval of this import. However, several weeks ago, we learned of the U.S. District Court’s denial of our permit. Although we firmly disagree with the Judge’s ruling, after much consideration we have chosen not to appeal the decision. Extending the appeal process would only add to an already lengthy series of legal proceedings, and we believe our decision is in the best interest of the beluga whales residing in Russia.

Diligent is certainly one word to describe what they’ve been doing. While the Georgia Aquarium and other facilities continue to claim keeping cetaceans captive supports education and conservation goals, the tide of public opinion continues to turn against them – especially when it comes to wild captures.

Unfortunately, the battle to keep them captive has come with a hefty price. Just a few weeks ago we heard the heartbreaking story about the death of Maris, one of the female belugas at the Georgia Aquarium. Her death came shortly after she lost her calf over the summer, who was her second loss after her first died just days after being born in 2012.

Just last week Stella, another beluga, died at SeaWorld San Diego. She was only two years old. She was also the second recent loss for SeaWorld, following the death of a calf who lived for just three months before passing over the summer.

With a low success rate for breeding and a captive population that won’t sustain itself without new babies, aquariums are going to have to look to the wild to keep their exhibits open. The Georgia Aquarium’s announcement is another definite blow to the captivity industry and a huge win for those fighting to make sure the U.S. isn’t going to play a role in taking more cetaceans from the wild where they belong.

Alicia Graef|November 20, 2015

Offshore & Ocean

Cuba and U.S. Announce Historic Partnership on Marine Conservation

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Park Service (NPS) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Cuba’s Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment (CITMA) yesterday. The agreement will facilitate collaboration in marine science, stewardship and management of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). The MOU also aims to promote education and outreach initiatives in both countries.


Photo credit: David Guggenheim

The effort will focus on Guanahacabibes National Park in Cuba, a biosphere reserve. Also included are the waters of Banco San Antonio that lie off Cuba’s northwestern coast, the Flower Garden Banks and Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuaries, the Dry Tortugas national park and Biscayne national park.

The MOU builds upon the work led by a number of U.S. nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including Ocean Doctor, Center for International Policy and Environmental Defense Fund, which have worked for more than 15 years to elevate collaboration in marine science and conservation in Cuba during a period with no diplomatic relations and limited government-to-government dialogue. Marine conservation is recognized as one of the most successful areas of collaboration between Cuba and the U.S. during the years without formal diplomatic relations.

I co-led a decade of research expeditions with the University of Havana’s Center for Marine Research to create the first ecosystem maps of Cuba’s northwestern coast, until then its most unexplored waters. Banco San Antonio, the key Cuban component of today’s agreement, was part of those expeditions. In the process, this research helped train the next generation of Cuban marine scientists who today are in positions of leadership in Cuba.

Ocean Doctor works in Cuba, housed by its Cuba Conservancy Program. It has advanced beyond basic scientific research to comprehensive conservation efforts, including:

  • Coral Reef Health and Resilience: Ocean Doctor is leading research efforts focused on the health and resilience of Cuba’s coral reefs along Cuba’s southwestern coast, including the Isle of Youth. This research will help ensure the ongoing protection of these reefs and may help provide insights to protecting coral reefs throughout the Caribbean.
  • The Cuba-U.S. Sustainability Partnership (CUSP): In collaboration with the Center for International Policy, CUSP was announced earlier this year. It aims to help Cuba prepare for the immense wave of tourism and foreign investment from the U.S., and also to prevent it from following the path of other regions in the Caribbean that have lost their culture and natural ecosystems, such as Cancún.
  • Valuing Cuba’s Ecosystems: In collaboration with World Resources Institute, University of Colorado Boulder, the Cuban Center for Coastal Ecosystem Research and other partners, Ocean Doctor is working to apply the tools of environmental economics to Cuba’s natural ecosystems to support sound decision making. This effort is focused on a proposal to expand the protection of one of Cuba’s most important marine protected areas.
  • Cuba Environmental Film Festival: In partnership with the Antonio Nuñez Jimenez Foundation for Humanity and Nature and the Global Foundation for Democracy and Development (Dominican Republic), Ocean Doctor is leading efforts to launch Cuba’s first environmental film festival in October 2016. The festival will feature renowned filmmakers and environmentalists from around the world as well as Cuba, and through film presentations and round tables, will serve to foster dialogue in Cuban communities about environmental issues.

David Guggenheim|November 19, 2015

Global Warming and Climate Change

It’s Zachariae Isstrom, the latest in a string of Greenland glaciers to undergo rapid change in our warming world. A new NASA-funded study published today in the journal Science finds that Zachariae Isstrom broke loose from a glaciologically stable position in 2012 and entered a phase of accelerated retreat. The consequences will be felt for decades to come.

The reason? Zachariae Isstrom is big. It drains ice from an area of 35,440 square miles (91,780 square kilometers). That’s about 5 percent of the Greenland Ice Sheet. All by itself, it holds enough water to raise global sea level by more than 18 inches (46 centimeters) if it were to melt completely. And now it’s on a crash diet, losing 5 billion tons of mass every year. All that ice is crumbling into the North Atlantic Ocean.

“North Greenland glaciers are changing rapidly,” said lead author Jeremie Mouginot, an assistant researcher in the Department of Earth System Science at the University of California, Irvine. “The shape and dynamics of Zachariae Isstrom have changed dramatically over the last few years. The glacier is now breaking up and calving high volumes of icebergs into the ocean, which will result in rising sea levels for decades to come.”

Mouginot and his colleagues from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California; and the University of Kansas, Lawrence, set out to study the changes taking place at Zachariae Isstrom.

The team used data from aerial surveys conducted by NASA’s Operation IceBridge and satellite-based observations acquired by multiple international space agencies (NASA, ESA, CSA, DLR, JAXA and ASI) coordinated by the Polar Space Task Group. The NASA satellite data used are from the joint NASA/USGS Landsat program. The various tools used — including a highly sensitive radar sounder, gravimeter and laser profiling systems, coupled with radar and optical images from space — monitor and record changes in the shape, size and position of glacial ice over long time periods, providing precise data on the state of Earth’s polar regions.

The scientists determined the bottom of Zachariae Isstrom is being rapidly eroded by warmer ocean water mixed with growing amounts of meltwater from the ice sheet surface. “Ocean warming has likely played a major role in triggering [the glacier’s] retreat,” Mouginot said, “but we need more oceanographic observations in this critical sector of Greenland to determine its future.”

Image is a Landsat-8 image of Greenland’s Zachariae Isstrom and Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden glaciers, acquired on Aug. 30, 2014. Credit: NASA/USGS

Read more at JPL NASA.

JPL NASA|November 17, 2015

Report: Huge Greenland Glacier Breaking Up

A study just published in Science reveals that a major glacier in Greenland, which holds enough water to raise sea levels by more than a foot and a half, has begun to crumble into the North Atlantic. Beginning in 2012 the enormous Zachariae Isstrom glacier began receding three times faster than in previous decades, at a rate of around 410 feet per year.

The glacier has now become detached from a stabilizing sill and is losing ice at an alarming rate of 4.5 billion metric tons per year. If it and its neighboring large glacier melt completely, they’ll contribute more than 3 feet to global sea-level rise.

Read more about the new research in The Guardian.

Climate change could push snow leopards over the edge

Urgent international action must be taken in the face of climate change to save the snow leopard and conserve its fragile mountain habitats that provide water to hundreds of millions of people across Asia.

It is not just snow leopards that are at risk, since their high-altitude habitat spans many of Asia’s major watersheds. Over 330 million people rely on rivers originating in snow leopard territory and directly depend on them for their daily water supplies. Climate change could drastically alter the flow of water down from the mountains, threatening the livelihoods of vast numbers of people across the continent.
“Urgent action is needed to curb climate change and prevent further degradation of snow leopard habitat, otherwise the ‘ghost of the mountains’ could vanish, along with critical water supplies for hundreds of millions of people,” said Rishi Kumar Sharma, WWF Global Snow Leopard Leader, who is coordinating WWF’s first ever global strategy to conserve the iconic species.

Read about climate vulnerability in Asia’s High Mountains.

Read about show leopards, water provision, and climate vulnerability.

Learn more about Asia’s high mountains.

Help save snow leopards. Take climate action now!

Watch a Video

Report: Gulf Coast fragile, vulnerable to sea level rise


Florida is a dangerous place to be a roseate spoonbill.

The birds need coastal habitat along the Gulf of Mexico to thrive, and that habitat is either disappearing or will not be able to adapt to expected ecological changes over the next 45 years.

Barrier islands, oyster reefs, tidal flats and mangrove forests have seen significant losses over the past century, and current and future development is only expected to continue that trend, says a study designed to guide planning and future development in Gulf Coast states.

Manley Fuller, with the Florida Wildlife Federation, said planners on the local and state level should work to move urban areas toward drier ground while also building infrastructure designed with sea level rise in mind.

“The Gulf Coast is vulnerable to sea level rise and storm surge, so we would like to see future infrastructure go more inland and not in areas subject to coastal and river flooding,” Fuller said. “Don’t spend taxpayer dollars there.”

The research focused on tidal and coastal areas from just south of Miami to the Panhandle and west to the Texas-Mexico border.

Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey, Mississippi State University, Louisiana State University, Valdosta State University and the Gulf Coast Prairie Landscape Conservation Cooperative out of Lafayette, Louisiana focused on development how it has changed the natural shoreline as well as what local, state and federal planners can do to help stabilize those threats or avoid them in the future.

“One anticipated application of this information is in project and proposal review, as a means to identify vulnerable resources that may require a greater level of scrutiny to ensure sustainability,” the report reads.

Florida’s tourism industry is directly tied to coastal water quality, and Southwest Florida is renowned for having a relatively undisturbed coastline — at least when compared to other areas of the state.

Southwest Florida is also particularly vulnerable to future threats like continued sea level rise (waters along the coast have risen about 9 inches over the past 100 years according to the U.S. Geological Survey) because this region is only a few feet above sea level.

Overall, the top threats to the coastal Gulf of Mexico include wetland loss, urbanization, sea level rise, altered freshwater flows and invasive species.

Southwest Florida gets a check for each of those categories, and virtually all of this region’s coastal features and many of its native species are in danger between now and 2060, the time frame selected for the assessment.

The assessment says Gulf of Mexico coastal regions offer an abundance of fish and resources, and that a decline in ecosystem health can have a direct, significant impact to the overall well-being of residents in those area and the local economy.

Roseate spoonbills, the report says, are particularly at threat because their preferred nesting habitat (mangroves) has shrunk considerably over the past 100 years.

Eric Draper, with Audubon Florida, said spoonbills will nest in other areas as long as there is enough food to sustain themselves and their chicks.

“It takes about 400 pounds of fish to fledge a roseate spoonbill chick,” he said. “That’s a lot of work for the parents and that food source has to be relatively close by. The parent’s need the calories to do all the work and they don’t have the energy to go on long flights.”

Draper said spoonbills also tend to nest at the exact location they were born, another disadvantage in a changing ecosystem.

“If a chick is raised on a mangrove island and that island washes away or is gone, they may never become a successful breeder,” he said. “They might find another place, but they might return to the same area and say ‘nothing’s available, so I’m just going to fend for myself.’”

Threats to oyster reefs are most prominent from south of Miami to the Panhandle and in Texas. Mangroves are threatened as well, the report says, because of sea level rise and the inability of mangroves to migrate onto developed lands. Florida is the most dangerous place for the magnificent birds, the report says, because of the expected increase in coastal development and the associated water flow and water management practices.

Species like spotted sea trout, blue crab and mottled duck have low threats along the entire Gulf because these critters are adept at adapting to a variety of conditions and salinity concentrations.

Threats to American oystercatchers and black skimmers are moderate in Lee County and high in Collier County, mostly due to beach erosion and other forms of habitat loss.

Wilson’s plover scored high here for threats as well because the bird has little ability to adapt to other habitats and feeding sources or methods.

There are, however, ways to plan for future conditions and even combat some of the conditions experienced now.

Fuller said water quality from upstream sources is a major concern because the freshwater flows help keep saltwater in the oceans while also providing critical brackish conditions in estuaries.

Everglades restoration projects like the Caloosahatchee Reservoir, also known as C-43, will help, but more needs to be done, he said, to prepare Gulf Coast states for the next 45 years.

“(Solutions) include the purchase of strategic conservation lands and acquiring perpetual land easements in the watershed so we don’t get future water quality problems associated with development runoff,” Fuller said. “Clearly we have areas where we need to enhance stormwater treatment and we need to do a better job treating water from urban areas.”

A closer look 

Gulf of Mexico habitats and the animals that live there

Mangrove: Thrive in salty habitats because they are able to extract freshwater from saltwater. Sometimes referred to as Walking Trees, mangroves move over time, and some research shows these trees will be able to move inland as sea levels rise. However, mangroves will not be able to expand into developed areas, which limits their future movement in many parts of the state. Mangroves provide habitat for a variety of marine creatures and also help protect the mainland from tropical storms. The roseate spoonbill nests in these forests. 

Barrier island: Formed mostly over the last 5,000 years as sea level receded, barrier islands shift and move over time and are Florida’s first line of defense against tropical systems. Most large barrier islands in this region have been developed and no longer move. Home to black skimmer, Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles and Wilson’s plover. 

Oyster reefs: Created by both live and dead oysters, these reefs provide habitat for a variety of marine creatures while at the same time filtering millions of gallons a day of brackish water. Oyster larvae attach themselves to the existing reef, eventually adding to its size. Red drum, American oystercatcher and the Eastern oyster call this ecosystem home. 

Tidal emergent marsh: Dominated by emergent vegetation in tidal areas with low wave energy. Found mostly in the Big Bend region and can tolerate a range of salt and freshwater. Blue crab, mottled duck, clapper rail and spotted sea trout are found here. 

CHAD GILLIS|NEWS-PRESS.COM|November 20, 2015|Source: Gulf of Mexico Alliance

President Obama’s failing climate legacy ‏

The international climate negotiations in Paris are happening now, and it’s clear that world leaders are not going to reach an agreement sufficient to avert the climate crisis.

That’s no surprise. How can they, when President Obama — the leader of the country most responsible for the problem — has only committed the U.S. to one-fifth of our fair share? 

So now, it’s time to show President Obama that you’re angry about his inaction. When he brings a bad deal home, you need to be there to say it’s not okay. 

President Obama is refusing to commit to drastic emissions reductions at home and to provide a fair share of funds to help poor country address climate change. That means the U.S. is demanding that other countries pick up our slack for saving the planet. This is climate colonialism.

An effective climate deal must be based on science and justice. Since the U.S. is top among those refusing to do its fair share, the world is quickly nearing catastrophic climate tipping points. 

While the deal in Paris won’t be adequate, it’s still an important moment. We need to show that we won’t sit passively while our leaders condemn the planet to devastation. How we react at home when President Obama brings back a weak deal matters because it will set the tone for the climate movement going forward. We can’t sit this one out.  

Paris provides us with an opportunity to show that Americans demand more! This is our chance to make it clear that we’re angry about President Obama’s failure of climate leadership — and we need to do it loudly! 

The day after the negotiations end, we’ll be at the White House showing the President how disappointed we are in him. But we need your support. We need people like you around the country to flood the White House and social media to share your outrage about how President Obama is letting us, the rest of the world, and the planet down.

We know this can work. By taking to social media, activists like you provided a megaphone for the on-the-ground demonstrations that stopped the Keystone XL pipeline. You relentlessly voiced your opposition and demanded that President Obama reject the pipeline, and eventually, he had to listen. You took on the oil industry and you won.

Now we need take to social media again to demand that the U.S. do it fair share on climate change. We need to accept nothing less than drastic emissions reductions and international climate finance. This fight is too important for us to lose. 

The truth is: this is going to be difficult, and at first, it’s going to be lonely. Too many people I know are willing to applaud any action on climate, even if that low bar means acquiescing to an unspeakable future. They are so used fighting climate deniers that they praise even the smallest progress.  

But when we reward every weak action, we let our leaders off the hook. We don’t build pressure for what’s really needed.

We cannot go slowly. We are running out of time. We don’t have the luxury of measuring our politicians against what they tell us is politically feasible, and against the inaction of the past. We need to hold them accountable to what is necessary according to science and justice and we need to start now. Our elected officials won’t act unless they are pushed. And it’s up to you and me to push them. 

Not everyone has the courage to stand up and demand what is necessary. In fact, only a few of us will at first. That’s why you are so important — and why we need your leadership.

When we start standing together and demanding stronger climate action, others will eventually follow us. They will follow because they will have no choice once we have set the bar.

That’s what happened with Keystone XL. Countless friends told me we were crazy to take on a pipeline carrying oil from Canada, but we built a movement and we built momentum and we won the fight. We can and must fight again. 

Ben Schreiber|Climate and energy program director|Friends of the Earth

Extreme Weather

Snowfall shift threatens water supply

Climate change-induced changes in snowfall patterns could imperil two billion people who rely on melting snow for their water supply — and developing countries must work to protect citizens from these variations, researchers say.

Out of 421 drainage basins studied in the northern hemisphere, a study published on 12 November identified 32, serving nearly 1.45 billion people, which are most sensitive to these changes because of their high reliance on snowmelt. In these regions, precipitation falling as rain instead of snow due to climate change is likely to decrease the volume of snowpacks, which are natural reservoirs of freshwater. 

These snow-sensitive basins include for example the Indus river basin, which is shared between Afghanistan, China, India and Pakistan, says the paper published in Environmental Research Letters.

“Both increases and decreases [in snowfall] are entirely consistent with global warming,” says lead author Justin Mankin, a climatologist at Columbia University in the United States. “We have to be prepared for both.”

The study has identified areas where there is a high demand for water and a large role for snowmelt in the hydrological cycle, says Walter Immerzeel, a geoscientist at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, who has worked in developing countries.

Rural populations are likely to suffer most, particularly those living near mountains, according to Immerzeel. “The closer you are to the source, the more dependent you are on the snowmelt,” he says.

Protecting those vulnerable to changing snowfall patterns requires locally adapted responses, says Mankin. “Some areas will need changes in the legal institutions, others in infrastructure or technological access,” he adds.

For ease of modeling, the study assumed that water demand per person would remain the same over the next century, but growing populations and changing consumption patterns will put increasing pressure on water resources. “Humans are the largest source of uncertainty and that means we have a tremendous amount of agency in the outcome,” says Mankin. He adds that consumption patterns and conservation efforts will determine how vulnerable each nation is to the change.

Continue reading at ENN affiliate SciDev.Net.

Genetically Modified Organisms

Food Advocacy Group to Sue FDA Over Controversial Approval of GMO Salmon

Opposition against the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval of the first genetically engineered food animal, AquaBounty’s GMO salmon, is fiercely mounting.

The Center for Food Safety, an nonprofit organization, announced plans to sue the federal agency. Grocery store chains around the country have also made commitments to not sell the controversial fish.

“The fallout from this decision will have enormous impact on the environment. Center for Food Safety has no choice but to file suit to stop the introduction of this dangerous contaminant,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of Center for Food Safety. “FDA has neglected its responsibility to protect the public.”

Kimbrell, on behalf of the environmental organization, submitted a citizen petition to the FDA requiring “foods that are genetically engineered organisms, or contain ingredients derived from genetically engineered organisms” be labeled under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic (FD&C) Act.

The FDA has since responded to the petition with a 35-page document that denies the Center for Food Safety’s request. It states:

Under the FD&C Act [the] FDA cannot require that all foods derived from genetically engineered plants, as a class, be labeled as having been genetically engineered.

Further, while we appreciate consumer interest in the labeling of food derived from genetically engineered plants, consumer interest alone does not provide a sufficient basis to require labeling disclosing whether a food has been produced with or without the use of such genetic engineering.

AquaBounty’s salmon is genetically altered to grow to market size in half the time of conventional salmon. According to Reuters, “the fish is essentially Atlantic salmon with a Pacific salmon gene for faster growth and a gene from the eel-like ocean pout that promotes year-round growth.”

It will take about two more years to reach the market as distribution is being worked out, the Massachusetts-based company says.

Still, this GMO food fight is getting heated. The Center for Food Safety pointed out that millions of Americans and more than 40 members of Congress have expressed vocal opposition of GMO salmon.

Nearly 2 million people filed public comments opposing the approval of GMO salmon by the FDA, the largest number of comments the FDA has ever received on an action.

A Pew Research Poll last year also revealed that 57 percent of U.S. adults believe that GMO-foods are “generally unsafe” to eat.

Some people might be wondering whether this fish will make it onto plates since “more than 60 grocery store chains representing more than 9,000 stores across the U.S. have made commitments to not sell the GMO salmon, including Safeway, Kroger, Target, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Aldi and many others,” according to the environmental nonprofit, Friends of the Earth.

However, many Big Food grocers are absent from this list. Costco, one of the largest retailers of salmon and seafood in the U.S., remains open to selling GMO salmon despite vehement opposition from activists. Similarly, Walmart, the country’s largest supermarket chain (which accounts for 15 percent of fresh food sales in the U.S.), has not announced whether or not it will sell GMO salmon.

Additionally, a lack of GMO labeling laws might mean that consumers will not have a choice over the matter. AquAdvantage Salmon, the trade name for the genetically modified Atlantic salmon developed by AquaBounty Technologies, will not require a GMO label under FDA guidelines.

Wenonah Hauter, the executive director of Food & Water Watch, wrote after yesterday’s announcement from the FDA:

“To add insult to injury, this product will be hitting store shelves without labeling, making it impossible for concerned consumers to distinguish GMO from non-GMO salmon. Not only does this ignore consumers’ fundamental right to know how our food is produced, it is simply bad for business, since many consumers will avoid purchasing any salmon for fear it is genetically engineered.”

Hauter also says that the “FDA’s decision also disregards AquaBounty’s disastrous environmental record, which greatly raises the stakes for an environmentally damaging escape of GMO salmon.”

Critics of GMO salmon have called it “frankenfish” and have made their feelings about it very clear, as seen in this video:

“Despite FDA’s flawed and irresponsible approval of the first genetically engineered animal for human consumption, it’s clear that there is no place in the U.S. market for genetically engineered salmon,” said Lisa Archer, food and technology program director at Friends of the Earth. “People don’t want to eat it and grocery stores are refusing to sell it.”

Scott Faber, executive director of Just Label It, said that the decision to approve GMO salmon without a mandatory disclosure is “yet another example of how FDA’s outdated policy keeps consumers in the dark.”

The FDA as well as many major food companies maintain that GMO foods are safe for consumption and for the environment and that mandatory GMO labels would be misleading. As EcoWatch reported in October, Big Food has spent millions of dollars and extensively lobbied lawmakers for a national ban on GMO labels … and it might actually happen.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of H.R. 1599 in July, which bans states from requiring GMO labels on food. It also blocks the FDA from ever implementing mandatory GMO food labeling and allows food companies to continue to make “natural” claims for foods containing GMO ingredients. The bill has been dubbed the “Deny Americans the Right to Know” Act or DARK Act by opponents. A Senate version of the bill could hit the floor in the coming weeks.

“Consumers will have no way of knowing whether the salmon they are buying comes from nature or comes from a lab,” Faber added. “It makes sense to give consumers the right to know and to choose whether this fish, or any other food that contains GMO ingredients, is right for their dinner table.

“A non-judgmental, factual disclosure of the presence of GMOs is all we are asking for. FDA’s continued reliance on voluntary labeling schemes will only further consumer confusion. It’s time the federal government trusted American consumers enough to make their own decisions about this novel technology.”

The debate over the FDA’s approval of GMOs raises questions about the future of our food. As Ecowatch reported earlier this month, in addition to GMO salmon, there are two different varieties of GMO pork that are currently in development: a pig that is “edited” with a warthog gene to resist African swine fever; and a “double-muscled” designed to have leaner meat and have a higher yield of meat per animal.

Genetically engineered cows are also in development: one that produces B-lactoglobulin-free milk (which causes allergies and digestive and respiratory reactions in infants), and another type of cow that has been genetically modified to be born without horns to reduce the risk of injury to farmers and other animals.

Lorraine Chow|November 20, 2015

Monsanto’s Roundup: The Whole Toxic Enchilada

Last week, while we waited for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to announce whether or not the agency will give Monsanto’s Roundup a free pass by green lighting the use of glyphosate for another 15 years, the EPA’s counterpart in Europe made its own big announcement.

Glyphosate is “unlikely to cause cancer” said the authors of the new report by the European Union Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

That headline, music to Monsanto’s ears, seemed to fly in the face of the findings published earlier this year by the World Health Organization (WHO). After extensive review of the evidence, all 17 of WHO’s leading cancer experts said glyphosate is a “probable human carcinogen?”

Sustainable Pulse, publisher of global news on GMOs and other food-related issues, quickly reported the glaring omission made by the majority of news sources reporting on EFSA’s findings.

According to Sustainable Pulse, what EFSA really concluded is this: Glyphosate by itself doesn’t cause cancer. But products like Monsanto’s Roundup, which contain glyphosate and other additives and chemicals that are essential to making the herbicide work? That’s another, or in this case, the rest of the story.

According to the EFSA report:

It is likely, therefore, that the genotoxic effects observed in some glyphosate-based formulations are related to the other constituents or “co-formulants.”

Bingo. Take some glyphosate, mix it up with other chemicals, and you’ve got yourself a cancer-causing concoction. (Genotoxic means “damaging to DNA and thereby capable of causing mutations or cancer). Remove those additives (or adjuvants as scientists refer to them), and you’ve got yourself a weed killer that doesn’t work.

From Sustainable Pulse:

Independent scientists have long warned that pesticides are authorized for use based on medium- or long-term tests on laboratory animals carried out with a single chemical ingredient, which is known as the active ingredient because it is assumed to be responsible for giving the pesticide its pest—or weed-killing action.

However, the complete pesticide formulations as sold and used also contain additives (adjuvants), which increase the pest—or weed-killing activity of the pesticide. These complete formulations do not have to be tested in medium- and long-term tests—even though they are the substances to which farmers and citizens are exposed.

That would explain the difference between EFSA’s conclusion, based on its assessment of glyphosate alone, and the WHO findings, based on studies of glyphosate in combination with the other additives .

EFSA’s statement, and strong warning to EU member states that they might want to take a closer look at the whole toxic enchilada before they draw their own conclusions about glyphosate and Roundup, was anything but music to Monsanto’s ears. Because EFSA’s findings could, and should, change the way agencies like the EPA and EFSA study the toxic effects of herbicides.

We checked in with André Leu, author of the Myths of Safe Pesticides, for his take on the EFSA report.

“No surprise,” said Leu, who told us he’s devoting a whole chapter in his new book to how the pesticide industry has corrupted EFSA and the EPA. “I’ll reveal the background on how Monsanto’s ‘Glyphosate Task Force’ wrote the EFSA glyphosate reassessment report almost word for word to justify lifting the residue limits.”

According to Leu, both glyphosate alone, and formulations like Roundup, are genotoxic. He said research has shown that glyphosate “can cause genetic damage, developmental disruption, morbidity, and mortality even at what are currently considered normal levels of use.”

Leu cited a study published in 2004, which found that glyphosate-based herbicides caused cell-cycle dysregulation, which leads to cancers. Researchers involved in that study said: “Cell-cycle dysregulation is a hallmark of tumor cells and human cancers. Failure in the cell-cycle checkpoints leads to genomic instability and subsequent development of cancers from the initial affected cell.” The researchers behind the 20014 study tested several glyphosate-based pesticides and found that all of them caused cell-cycle dysregulation.

Leu also referred to the article Differential Effects of Glyphosate and Roundup on Human Placental Cells and Aromatase, published in 2005  in Environmental Health Perspectives. The article revealed evidence that glyphosate damaged human placental cells within 18 hours of exposure, even at concentrations lower than those found in commercially available pesticides and herbicides. According to the scientists who conducted the study “this effect increases with concentration and time or in the presence of Roundup adjuvants.”

And then there’s the study published in the journal Toxicology.  Scientists studied four different commercial glyphosate formulations and observed breaks in 50 percent of the DNA strands in human liver cells at doses as low as five parts per million. This damage affects the way DNA sends messages to several physiological systems, including the endocrine system. According to the study’s authors, Leu said, this is significant because the liver is the first detoxification organ and is sensitive to dietary pollutants.

“The good news is that this may be the beginning of testing pesticide formulations for chronic and non-contagious diseases,” Leu said. “Currently pesticide formulations are tested for acute toxicity—the amount that will kill you in two weeks—but not for all the long-term diseases like cancer, endocrine, nervous, immune metabolic, birth defects, and on and on. Not one of the thousands of formulations that are used on our food are tested for these longer term diseases.”

We’ve heard from EFSA. Now it’s time to hear from the EPA, an agency known for not heeding the warnings of its own scientists, at least not when Monsanto’s profits hang in the balance.

Katherine Paul|Organic Consumers Association|November 20, 2015


‘Keep It in the Ground’ Win: Utah Oil and Gas Auction Halted

A planned protest turned into a celebration Tuesday for Salt Lake City climate activists, including the Center for Biological Diversity, when the Bureau of Land Management made a last-minute decision to halt an oil and gas lease sale owing to a “high level of public interest.”

The Bureau’s decision postponed the auction of 73,000 acres of publicly owned oil and gas in Utah — which harbored an estimated 1.6 million to 6.6 million tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution. The planned protest had been led by elders calling on the agency to keep publicly owned fossil fuels in the ground to prevent catastrophic climate change and ensure a livable future.

“The BLM knows the public is watching, and that they don’t want our lands and our climate auctioned off to the highest bidder,” said Valerie Love, a Center campaigner. “We pushed the BLM to stop this lease sale, and we won’t rest until all new fossil fuel lease sales on America’s public lands are ended.”

Read more in E&E News and sign our petition.

Lawsuit Fights 19 New Oil Wells in Lush Southern California Canyon

The Center for Biological Diversity and allies filed suit Tuesday against the Ventura County Board of Supervisors to halt a board-approved plan to allow an oil company to drill 19 new wells along the Santa Paula Canyon Trail, a popular hiking gateway to waterfalls, swimming holes, backcountry campsites and endangered species habitat in Los Padres National Forest. The new oil-drilling plan would double the number of wells in the area, defying objections from nearly 1,000 hikers and locals and overwhelming scientific testimony.

The board approved the plan last month, relying on an outdated study from 1978 and failing to evaluate the new wells’ threats to public safety or the environment. Dangers include potential oil spills from a pipeline directly above steelhead habitat in Santa Paula Creek and threats to the new presence of highly endangered California condors nesting in the area.

Our suit aims to halt drilling pending a review that fully discloses the project’s risks.

Get more from KEYT News.

Strong Earthquake Rattles Oklahoma, Felt in 7 Other States

A 4.7 magnitude earthquake struck northern Oklahoma Thursday night, followed by two more. Kansas and other neighboring states also felt the quakes miles away.

Oklahoma City’s KOCO 5 News reports that the first and strongest earthquake was Oklahoma’s largest since 2011.

According to Reuters, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said the 1:42 a.m. quake’s epicenter was centered 8 miles southwest of Cherokee, Oklahoma, with a depth of 3.8 miles.

KOCO 5 News reported that there were two additional Cherokee quakes on Thursday: a 3.1 magnitude earthquake at 3:46 a.m. and a 3.7 magnitude earthquake at 6:03 a.m.


A 4.7 magnitude earthquake and its two aftershocks rattled Oklahomans as well as its neighbors Thursday night. Photo credit:

While there have been no reports of significant damage, both Oklahoma and Kansas have seen repeated seismic activity over the past decade, especially in recent years. The frequent temblors have been tied to the states’ drilling booms.

The Oklahoma Geological Survey concluded that the injection of wastewater byproducts into deep underground disposal wells from fracking operations has awakened the state’s dormant fault lines.

Oklahoma now has more earthquakes than anywhere else in the world, a spokesperson from the Oklahoma Corporation Commission reported.

Before 2009, Oklahoma felt two earthquakes per year, but now there are two per day, EcoWatch reported in September. This year, roughly 700 earthquakes of magnitude 3 or higher has shook the state compared to a mere 20 in 2009.

In a joint statement last year, the USGS and the Oklahoma Geological Survey said that the risk of a damaging earthquake—one larger than magnitude 5.0—has significantly increased in central Oklahoma.

As for Kansas, the Washington Post reported last month that the number of earthquakes in the state have jumped from only four in 2013 to a whopping 817 in 2014.

The quakes happen so often that officials in both states have been forced to shut down multiple disposal wells. The Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which oversees the Sooner State’s oil and gas industry, required changes to 500 disposal wells around the state, including the shutdown of wells near Cushing, Oklahoma, which holds one of the largest crude oil storage facilities in the world.

The Kansas Corporation Commission also decided to limit the underground injection disposal of saltwater from oil wells in April.

In August, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin admitted that there was a “direct correlation between the increase of earthquakes that we’ve seen in Oklahoma [and] disposal wells.” Fallin, however, must weigh the pros and cons of fracking in her state, as the sector provides a significant number of jobs.

Still, thousands of disposal wells in both states are still in operation, which suggests that the constant seismic activity is far from over.

Many Oklahoma and Kansas residents have voiced concerns about the earthquakes:

In addition to Oklahoma and Kansas, other major oil and gas states such as Arkansas, Colorado, Ohio and Texas have observed more earthquakes that are linked to wastewater injection activity, IBTimes reported.

Lorraine Chow|November 19, 2015

[Who cares? There’s money to be made here – keep on frackin’.]

Following Shell, another oil company pulls out of Arctic

Following in the wake of Shell’s decision to abandon its operations in the Arctic, another drilling company has announced that it will be pulling out of the region. In a statement, Norwegian oil company Statoil said:

The leases in the Chukchi Sea are no longer considered competitive within Statoil’s global portfolio, so the decision has been made to exit the leases and close the office in Anchorage, Alaska.

“Since 2008 we have worked to progress our options in Alaska. Solid work has been carried out, but given the current outlook we could not support continued efforts to mature these opportunities,” says Tim Dodson, executive vice president for exploration in Statoil.

The decision means Statoil will exit 16 Statoil-operated leases, and its stake in 50 leases operated by ConocoPhillips, all in the Chukchi Sea. The leases were awarded in the 2008 lease sale in Alaska and expire in 2020.

While environmentalists applaud the decision, not everyone has their party hat on. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) is pissed, and she’s directing her rage at one Barack H. Obama.

“I am very concerned that, for the second time in as many months, a major company has decided to walk away from Alaska because of the uncertainty surrounding our federal government’s support for Arctic development,” Murkowski said in a press release. “Low oil prices may have contributed to Statoil’s decision, but the real project killer was this administration’s refusal to grant lease extensions; its imposition of a complicated, drawn-out, and ever-changing regulatory process; and its cancellation of future lease sales that have stifled energy production in Alaska. These actions threaten to undermine Alaska’s economy, our security, and our environment.”

Yup. The environment, which must be what Murkowski calls her share of the oil money.

Unfortunately for those of us who care more about the planet than dividends, this development doesn’t mean that Statoil is getting out the oil business and opening up a solar-powered florist shop.

“The fact of the matter is, Norway is an energy-producing economy,” Heather Conley, Arctic expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies told ThinkProgress. “They are not going to stop.”

Katie Herzog|17 Nov 2015


New super Soo Lock? Study to decide

WASHINGTON – More than a year’s worth of effort trying to get the Obama administration to launch a study that could someday lead to a new super-sized shipping lock being built on the Upper Peninsula appears to have paid off.

Late Monday, Michigan’s U.S. senators announced that the Army Corps of Engineers and the White House Office of Management and Budget had agreed to move $1.35 million into a cost-benefit study that, if it goes as supporters hope, could be the first step toward a new $600million lock in Sault Ste. Marie that freight companies, steelmakers and other industry partners have wanted for years.

For more than a year, members of Michigan’s congressional delegation have been urging the Corps to undertake a new study of the economic rationale for building a second lock the size of the existing Poe Lock at the key choke point between Lake Superior and the lower Great Lakes on the Upper Peninsula.

Of the two locks operational at the Soo Locks, the 47-year-old Poe is the only one large enough to handle the 1,000-foot freighters that move the bulk of cargo through the locks. Up to 70% of the freight being moved through the locks, much of it iron ore moving from mines in the Upper Midwest to steel mills elsewhere, are transported through the Poe.

As the Free Press reported in August, a 30-day shutdown of the Poe could lead to economic losses in the neighborhood of $160 million and have far-reaching effects, especially on the auto industry and other manufacturers.

An earlier economic analysis, however, questioned the need for a second Poe-sized lock, which was authorized by Congress to be built some 30 years ago but n ever adequately funded. That earlier analysis suggested rail lines or trucks could move iron ore to steel mills in the event of a shutdown, a contention that closer scrutiny in recent years showed to be untrue because there aren’t enough train cars or trucks available to do the work and the needed infrastructure hasn’t been built.

“The Soo Locks are the gateway for Great Lakes freighters,” said U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. “This support will allow the Army Corps to start the process of making upgrades and building a replacement lock. A failure of the aging locks causing even a temporary outage could cost our economy millions of dollars.”

“This funding will help the Army Corps of Engineers make critical upgrades,” said U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, also D-Mich., who made the announcement with Stabenow and noted that the Soo Locks are among the busiest in the nation.

Great Lakes shipping companies, steelmakers and others have been agitating for work to begin on a new Poe-sized lock at the Soo especially in recent years as lock outages have increased and a maintenance backlog has grown. This summer, the neighboring MacArthur Lock was out of commission for 20 days during the shipping season, increasing the pressure on the Poe by forcing smaller ships through it as well.

U .S. Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, said the Office of Management and Budget had been holding back the funds on a technicality and noted that he had sent OMB Director Shaun Donovan a letter this summer asking him to release the money.

“Ever since I came to Congress, I have been fighting to see a replacement lock built in the Soo,” said Benishek, who also this summer led a delegation of officials from Michigan, Minnesota and Canada to the locks for an update from the Corps. “This study by the Army Corps is an important step in the process, and I am pleased to see that it is moving forward.”


Leon Kaye, Triple Pundit, More from this Affiliate
Published November 19, 2015 07:15 AM

EVs vs. Gasoline-Powered Cars – Which has the cleaner lifecycle?

It’s the trick question that has left many of us stumped: from the earliest stages of manufacture to the years driving on the road until they are sent to the junkyard, are conventional automobiles or electric cars cleaner for the environment? While acknowledging that electric vehicles (EVs) emit no emissions when running on our streets and highways, many have assumed that those pesky rare earth metals in their massive batteries and the emissions associated with producing the power canceled out any environmental benefits that their drivers enjoyed.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), a two-year study has provided the answer. The EV is the cleaner option, hands down.

In order to reach that conclusion, UCS researchers evaluated the entire life cycle of an EV based on the two most popular models sold in the United States—the Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S. Looking at the raw materials needed to make a car, the assembly and manufacturing processes, driving, disposal and recycling, the UCS team compared the emissions of EVs to a similarly sized gasoline-powered automobile, with examples including the Ford Focus, Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback, Kia Forte5 and Volkswagen Golf.

When emissions are measured during the early manufacturing phases, UCS found that the manufacture of EVs at first were less clean than that of conventionally fueled cars. But within anywhere from six to 16 months after both cars have been driven, those early emissions are quickly offset by their cleaner driving. So when comparing these cars’ respective environmental performance over their lifetime, UCS’ researchers concluded that an EV will generate less than half of the greenhouse gas emissions compared to those of a gasoline-powered car. For a smaller EV, only 4,900 miles of driving will offset those higher emissions from that vehicle’s manufacture; in the case of a full-sized, long-range EV, those earlier emissions are canceled out after approximately 19,000 miles of driving.

UCS based its assumptions on the fact that both cars would have a 15-year life cycle, with 135,000 miles driven and a weight of approximately 3,000 pounds. The researchers also assumed that in comparison for this study, the average gasoline-powered car would have an average fuel economy of 29 miles to the gallon.

Continue reading at ENN affiliate, Triple Pundit.


Half the world’s natural history specimens may have the wrong name

Even the most accomplished naturalist can find it difficult to tell one species of plant from another or accurately decide which genus a small insect belongs to. So when a new specimen arrives at a museum, finding the right name from existing records can sometimes prove difficult. In turn, that can lead to specimens being given the wrong name – which can prove problematic for biologists.

‘Many areas in the biological sciences, including academic studies of evolution and applied conservation, as well as achieving the 2020 targets under the Convention on Biological Diversity, are underpinned by accurate naming,’ explains Dr Robert Scotland of the Department of Plant Sciences at Oxford. ‘Without accurate names on specimens, the records held in collections around the world would make no sense, as they don’t correspond to the reality outside.’ Dr Scotland also points out that the negative effects of this are increasingly multiplied as large databases are aggregated online, gathering together vast amounts of specimen data, many of which have incorrect species names.

So his team, which includes researchers from the University of Oxford and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, decided to carry out a formal study to establish just how bad the situation was. Gathering data into the Botanical Research and Herbarium Management System (BRAHMS), developed at Oxford by co-author Denis Filer, it was possible to compare and analyze the species names used on the sampled specimens. The team actually used three different approaches to work out how many mistakes there were likely to be.

First, they considered how the name of a single specimen might change over time. Over the years, specimens in museums gradually have their names reviewed, as scientists learn more about the family, or new specimens help to redefine an existing species. The team studied 4,500 specimens of the African ginger genus Aframomum, a detailed monographic study which had been completed in 2014, providing an accurate account of all the species and their specimens. The team were surprised to find that prior to this monograph at least 58% of specimens were either misidentified, given an outdated or redundant name, or only identified to the genus or family. As few plant groups have been recently monographed, the team suggests that a similar percentage of wrong names might be expected in many other groups.

Continue reading at the University of Oxford.

Environmental Links

SFAS International Wildlife News Audubon Advocate Audubon Restore Eco-Voice South Florida Wildlife Care Center Sawgrass Nature Center & Wildlife Hospital The Turtle Hospital The Marathon Wild Bird Center Climate change info Audubon’s Coastal Strand Audubon of Florida News Blog Bioenergy News Climate Progress – climate science, politics and solutions Collins Center for Public Policy Comprehensive Everglades Restoration News EcoWatch – feeds from the WaterKeeper Alliance Everglades Foundation – press releases Everglades Hub Fort Myers News – Press Green Front Pages from Florida Newspapers Herald Tribune Newspapers –  Environmental News Naples Daily News  – Environmental News National Public Radio Eco-News Riverwatch News about the Caloosahatchee Sierra Club Sierra Club Florida South Florida Watershed  Journal South Florida Water Management District Union of Concerned Scientists – news Yahoo News Search: Everglades NASA Climate Information American Littorial Society log NASA Climate Information Sun Newspapers – Lake Okeechobee News Everglades City News  – Mullet Wrapper

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ConsRep 1511 C

If people destroy something replaceable made by mankind, they are called vandals; if they destroy something irreplaceable made by God, they are called developers. — Joseph Wood Krutch


FWC to meet Nov. 18-19 in Panama City ‏

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

(Having trouble viewing this email? View it as a Web page.)

For immediate release: Nov. 9, 2015
Media contacts: Inland issues: Katie Purcell, 850-459-6585; Marine fisheries issues: Amanda Nalley, 850-410-4943

Suggested Tweet: Fish and #Wildlife meeting Nov. 18-19 in Panama City open to public: @MyFWC #conservation

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will meet Nov. 18-19 at the Majestic Beach Resort,

10901 Front Beach Road, Panama City, FL 32407. Both sessions are open to the public.

The meeting both days starts at 8:30 a.m. CST and the public will be provided opportunities to speak.

For the full Nov. 18-19 agenda and links to background reports, go to and select “Commission Meetings.”

Those who cannot attend can follow live coverage at (Twitter@MyFWC) and join in the conversation at the #FWC2015 hashtag.

Check the Florida Channel for possible live video coverage at

7th Annual Southeast Florida Regional Climate Leadership Summit

December 1-3

Monroe County and the City of Key West are pleased to host the 7th Annual Southeast Florida Regional Climate Leadership Summit on December 1-3, 2015.

The annual summit is coordinated by the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact,

a partnership between Miami-Dade, Broward, Monroe and Palm Beach counties, their municipalities and other partners.

The Climate Leadership Summit is a major regional event focused on facilitating climate-related collaboration and knowledge sharing.

The summit attracts innovative thinkers and leaders from business, government, academia and the

non-profit community to exchange ideas and dialogue at panel discussions and networking breaks.

Register here

View the agenda

Read more about the history of the summit, and view past summits, here.

Casa Marina
1500 Reynolds Street
Key West, FL 33040



• Folio No. Portion of 1469800000 •

• Bid No. DSL-BID-15-016•



The subject property is located in the Vilano Beach area of St. Johns County, Florida, and is being offered

FOR SALE by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection via bid DSL-BID-15-016

The parcel is comprised of one Vacant Lot totaling approximately 0.22+/- acres of vacant land.

                                    Frontage – Approximately 77′ on Sherwood Avenue

    Lot 2 – Approximately 0.22+/- Acres 

Parcel ID – Portion of 1469800000

                Zoning – RS-3 (Residential Single Family)

FLU – Residential – C

Flood Zone – AE

The property is to be sold via DSL-BID-15-016 “as is”, “where is”.

Bids will be accepted until 12:00 NOON EST, THURSDAY, DECEMBER 10, 2015.

Any bids received after that time will be returned to the BIDDER unopened.

The Department of Environmental Protection is not responsible for bids mailed but not arriving by 12:00 NOON EST, THURSDAY, DECEMBER 10, 2015.

All bids received by the bid submission deadline will be publicly opened at 1:00 PM EST, THURSDAY, DECEMBER 10, 2015.

The minimum acceptable bid for LOT 2 is $75,000.

Any bid that is less than the minimum acceptable offer will be considered a counterproposal and will be deemed non-responsive and rejected.


Welcome Dr. Jessica Bolson, Miami Waterkeeper’s new Climate and Freshwater Program Director!

Jessica Bolson joins Miami Waterkeeper as our newest program director, leading the organization’s climate and freshwater programs.

MIAMI (November 11, 2015)– Miami Waterkeeper (MWK) is thrilled to introduce Dr. Jessica Bolson as the new Director of Climate and Freshwater Programs. Jessica will focus on ensuring that climate and fresh water management decisions are based on the best available science and will work to develop resilience strategies aimed at mitigating the impacts of climate change in vulnerable South Florida, while also supporting ecosystem and clean water protections. “Jessica’s extensive expertise will help to guide Miami Waterkeeper’s positions and actions on these critical and timely issues,” said Rachel Silverstein, Executive Director and Waterkeeper.

Jessica is completing a Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Wharton Risk Management and Decision Processes Center, where she has been coordinating the $5 million National Science Foundation (NSF) South Florida Water Sustainability and Climate project and leading the project’s behavioral research team.  She is also a member of an interdisciplinary team of scientists who were recently awarded $12 million by NSF to develop an Urban Water Innovations Network.

Jessica also has extensive secondary science education experience, and she will be instrumental in launching our new Junior Waterkeepers program, which aims to educate and engage youth in becoming future environmental leaders. “My passion for the environment and education are motivated by my love of the outdoors and my dedication to ensuring a sustainable future for my children,” says Bolson. She looks forward to joining the non-profit sector and promoting environmental protection in a new capacity.

Jessica received a Ph.D. in Environmental Science and Policy from University of Miami in 2010.  Her dissertation focused on understanding the effects of climate change on freshwater resources and their management in South Florida. In 2008, Jessica worked as a Gubernatorial Fellow in the Florida Department of Environmental Protection where she crafted a statewide policy for climate change and water resource management. Jessica has also completed an M.A. at Columbia University in Climate and Society, an M.Ed. at NYU in Biology Education, and a B.A. in Environmental Science at Barnard College. Prior to her graduate studies, Jessica taught high school biology in NYC.

MWK has become a leading advocate and a powerful voice for sustaining Miami’s clean water economy. We look forward to continuing this important work together with the community of South Florida to ensure swimmable, drinkable, fishable water for all.

Help us welcome Jessica to the team!

South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force Meeting

The November 19, 2015 South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force meeting is  scheduled from 1:30 – 5:00 PM in the Governing Board Auditorium at the South Florida Water Management District in Building B-1 located at 3301 Gun Club Road, West Palm Beach, Florida 33406. 

Save the Date

“Racing to Extinction”

December 2nd @ 8PM

Only on TV’s Animal Planet

Check your local listings for channel and time.

Of Interest to All

The Everglades Coalition comes out in support of Floridians for Solar Choice amendment

The Everglades Coalition, an alliance of more than 50 local, state and national conservation and environmental organizations dedicated to full restoration of America’s Everglades, has endorsed the constitutional amendment being advocated by the group Floridians for Solar Choice. 

“Water quantity and quality are critical for Everglades restoration, yet the Everglades ecosystem has competing demands for water from the power sector,” said Laura Reynolds, director of Tropical Audubon Society in a prepared statement issued  Thursday. “Unlike conventional power plants, solar power uses no water – the Solar Choice initiative moves the state towards a water-smart and sustainable energy future.” 

Floridians for Solar Choice is one of two competing solar amendments fighting to get on the 2016 ballot. If passed, its constitutional amendment would end the utilities’ hegemony on energy generation in Florida and give homeowners the flexibility to enter into contracts with solar companies, also known as Solar Power Purchase Agreements (SPPA). If passed, the initiative would make Florida the 47th state to allow SPPA’s.

Consumers for Solar Choice is the other campaign fighting to get on the ballot. It’s the solar power measure backed by the utility companies such as Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy and TECO.

Jennifer Hecker, director of Natural Resource Policy with the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, stated, “Expanding access to solar provides consumers more environmentally sustainable choices for meeting their energy needs. With the expansion of oil and gas proposals that can involve immense amounts of freshwater, and the need for additional freshwater flows to restore natural systems all over Florida including the Everglades, promoting less water intensive energy alternatives, such as solar, will be vital to the success of restoration efforts.”
“The Everglades ecosystem is threatened by two proposed Florida Power & Light natural gas power plants that will use enormous amounts of water. Removing barriers to access clean solar power will reduce the state’s reliance on natural gas to generate electricity. Additionally, rooftop solar power doesn’t destroy valuable habitat and migratory corridors for wildlife – expanding solar choice just makes good sense,” stated Rhonda Roff, Energy chairwoman, Sierra Calusa Group.

This past month the Florida Supreme Court approved the proposed ballot language for Floridians for Solar Choice.  Consumers for Smart Solar amendment has also collected the 10 percent of required signatures and is awaiting its chance for a court review. Both groups are working to obtain the 683,149 petition signatures required to put the measure on next year’s ballot by next February.

Mitch Perry||November 6, 2015

Microplastics: A macro threat

Eight trillion microbeads enter into marine habitats every day in the United States alone. That’s enough to cover over 300 tennis courts every day, according to a research paper published in September in the Environmental Science and Technology journal.

Maia McGuire of University of Florida Institute Food and Agricultural Sciences has made it her passion to spread awareness about microplastics. McGuire was awarded a Marine Debris grant from NOAA to continue her research.

“I have this great new project called Florida Microplastic Awareness Project. This was funded by a grant from NOAA’s Marine Debris Project,” says McGuire.

Volunteers help McGuire collect water samples along the coast and look for the presence of plastic.
“Microplastics are microscopic pieces of plastic debris, generally defined as being less than 5 millimeters in size,” says McGuire.

The type of microplastics that are found in everyday products such as face wash, toothpaste, deodorant and even cosmetics are called microbeads. They are made of polyethylene or polypropylene and they are contaminating the world’s oceans.

“Marine debris is one of the greatest man-made threats our oceans face today,” says NOAA Director Nancy Wallace.

“Our wastewater treatment systems, whether they’re septic tanks or waste water treatment plants, are not set up to remove these very small pieces of floating plastic,” says McGuire.

As part of the treatment process, water goes through settling tanks which separate solids and liquids, but not plastics.

According to research from the Environmental Science and Technology journal, 95 to 99.9 percent of microbeads become part of the solids, or sludge that is processed during the wastewater treatment. If 8 million microbeads are separated into the liquid waste that enters marine environments, then 800 trillion microbeads become part of the solid waste every day. The solid waste is often used as fertilizer. It is sprayed on land, then enters aquatic habitats via runoff from precipitation.

Once polyethylene has been introduced into the environment, it takes anywhere from 500 to 1,000 years to disintegrate.

Microplastics are virtually everywhere. They have been recorded in all five of the ocean’s currents, known as gyres, and even the Arctic sea ice. A University of Wisconsin study published in April 2013 found up to 1.7 million plastic particles per square mile in three out of the five Great Lakes. The highest concentration was in Lake Erie.

“The sources of these microplastics, unfortunately, are ultimately people,” says McGuire. “There are two types of microplastics: There’s what we call primary microplastics, which are the things that are deliberately made to be small pieces of plastic. This includes the microbeads that many people have heard about in the media that are in a lot of personal care products. The second type of microplastics is called secondary Microplastics. These are plastics that result from the breaking down of larger plastic items. Microfibers are one of the most abundant types of microplastics that we’re finding in water samples. These are coming from synthetic clothing that goes through the washing machine where the fibers are loosened, they become part of the water that gets flushed out in the waste water treatment system.”

When these tiny bits of plastic are introduced into the rivers and oceans, smaller organisms like plankton confuse them with food. Plankton that consume plastic aren’t able to consume enough real food, which affects their survival and reproductive characteristics, according to a study done by Matthew Cole of the Marine Laboratory in the city of Plymouth, England.

Microplastics contain chemicals from the manufacturing process as well as pollutants that are absorbed once they are introduced into the water. Chemical-filled plastics lay dormant in the organism that consumed them until they are eaten by a larger organism, thus transferring the pollutants.

“Microplastics are getting incorporated into the food chain. When fish are filter feeding, eating the plankton, without a doubt they’re consuming microplastics as well. There are absolutely fish out there that are consuming more plastic than plankton,” says Ed McGinley, a Flagler College biology professor.

Coral also consumes microplastics, according to a March. Researchers with the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University found that coral consumes the tiny plastic pieces, only at a slower rate than when consuming plankton. The plastic binds to the coral’s digestive system, starving the organisms because the plastic prevents digestion.

The declining health of coral affects humans directly. Coral reefs provide surrounding algae in the water the proper nutrients needed for photosynthesis. The loss of coral reefs would destroy marine ecosystems ability to produce oxygen. Species would begin to die off in mass numbers resulting in areas known as dead zones, where the ecosystem could not survive.

A study conducted by Boris Worm, a researcher of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, states:
“The loss of ocean biodiversity is accelerating, and 29 percent of the seafood species humans consume have already crashed. If the long-term trend continues, in 30 years there will be little or no seafood available for sustainable harvest.”

“While there have been some proposals about ways to perhaps clean up the oceans, they’re not really realistic or feasible given the large amount of plastic in the ocean and the very small size that we are now realizing of the plastics that are out there compared to the living organisms. So if you were trying to remove the micro plastics you’d also be removing all of the plankton in the same water sample,” says McGuire.

There are many types of plastics produced for different purposes, and they have different characteristics. One key difference is density. Some plastics float and some sink. This directly impacts where the microplastics end up in the environment.

“Microplastics just aren’t at the surface of the ocean. They extend through a fair depth of the water column which again makes it a challenge to remove,” says McGuire.

A study published in the journal Science estimated that humans release between 5.3 million and 14 million tons of plastic into the ocean each year. Jenna Jambeck, the University of Georgia environmental engineer who led the study, wrote that this amount of trash is equivalent to lining up five grocery bags of trash for every coastline around the world.

The same research indicated that if nothing changes, by 2025 those five grocery bags of plastic would then be 10.

“Ultimately, most scientists seem to believe and seem to agree that the biggest thing that we can do to help with this situation is to reduce our use of plastics,” says McGuire.

With all of the recent studies and media coverage recently, people are becoming more aware of the problems that microplastics are producing. Microplastics is not an issue that can be ignored because of the number of negative consequences it holds for humans and the environment.

Microplastics along with the chemicals that bind to them are working their way up the food chain and causing major survival and reproduction issues along the way, only to reach to human population in a matter of time.

“Unfortunately plastics, they’re cheap, easy to produce and they’re really durable. So that’s why as a society that we’ve grown to use them in Tupperware, bags, that sort of thing. But now we’ve recognized the problem of them getting into the environment,” says Matt Brown, a Flagler College coastal environmental professor.

These scientists and professors say consumers should significantly reduce overall plastic use and avoid or refuse plastics whenever possible.

“My personal goal at the moment is to eliminate my use of drinking straws because I’m going to use it one time and then it’s going to be thrown away, and could end up being plastic in the ocean,” McGuire says.

“I think for a long time the emphasis was on recycling. I think were sort of at that point now where we need to come up with ways other than plastic. Reduction and reuse is part of it, but we just need to move away from the plastic,” says Brown.

Because of all the recent scientific studies, research and media publicity, there has been a lot of federal pressure applied to companies that manufacture personal care products that contain polyethylene.

As of Jan. 1, 2015, the company Unilever removed polyethylene from all of the products it manufactures. Up and Up, a Target brand, has removed polyethylene from its facial scrub, and promised to remove plastic from all of its other branded products by the end of this year, says McGuire.

Companies like Unilever, The Body Shop, IKEA, Target Corporation, L’Oreal, Colgate/Palmolive, Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson have all pledged to stop using microbeads in their personal care products.

“When the state of Illinois banned microbeads about a little over a year ago that brought a lot of public attention to the topic and the fact that these microbeads were in personal care products. And since then, several states have filled suit,” says McGuire.

Colorado, Connecticut, New Jersey, Maine, Maryland, Wisconsin and the province of Ontario in Canada have regulated or banned microbeads as well.

Gov. Jerry Brown of California signed a bill on Oct. 8, 2015 banning the use of these microbeads as well. Starting in 2020 sales of personal care products that contain these microbeads will be lawfully banned. Rep. Richard Bloom, author of the bill, said, “We cannot afford to wait any longer to end microplastic pollution, the cost to the environment and wildlife is much too great.”

A non-profit organization called the Plastic Pollution Coalition has started a movement asking individuals sign a pledge that requires them to refuse, reduce, reuse and recycle. The idea behind the movement is that reusing unnecessary disposable plastic, such as straws, could make a huge impact if every person joined the cause.

“There’s not an ocean where it’s not a problem. There’s not an estuary where it’s not a problem. It’s a big concern, agencies and state governments are going to have to take measures like that, to sort of ban the use of them if we want to solve the problem,” says Brown.

Although the prevention of microbeads from becoming microplastic pollution will take time, people whom are educated on this topic will agree that something needs to be done.

“Our oceans and coasts are resilient, but we need to take action now to help protect our living resources and habitats,” says Wallace.

The probability of risk from microbead pollution is high and the solution is simple. Banning microbeads from products that enter wastewater will then protect water quality, wildlife and resources used by people.

“This is something that if not addressed immediately, will have severe ramifications on fish in the environment, on the food chains in the environment. Not only is it physically bad for the fish to have plastics, but there’s also chemicals that can be associated with them. They’re going to get into the food chain and ultimately will have some effect on the human population,” says McGinley.

Shelby Gillis and Richard Zarrilli ||November 8, 2015

Congress Attacks Landmark Wetland and Climate Rules

Two of the most important recent advancements for the environment are under attack in Congress. Critical clean water and wetlands protections and historic action on climate change are being challenged with a new, obscure tactic.

The Clean Water Rule, also known as Waters of the United States, ensures that the Clean Water Act protects streams and wetlands across the country. Without it, more birds could be threatened from the loss of wetlands or pollution in streams. Last week, the Senate voted to block the Clean Water Rule using a little know law, the Congressional Review Act (CRA). Used only once before, the CRA allows Congress to prevent regulations from becoming final with a simple majority vote. President Obama has vowed to veto the assault on the Clean Water Rule.

The same tactic is being used in an attempt to roll back the Clean Power Plan, which set limits for the first time on dangerous carbon pollution from power plants. A resolution using the Congressional Review Act was filed in late October to block the Clean Power Plan from going into effect. This recent salvo is part of a multi-pronged attack on the Clean Power Plan, as opponents introduced a separate bill in the House last week that would prevent the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases. In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that EPA had the authority to regulate carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act.
These efforts come at a time when more bipartisan voices in the House and Senate are stepping up to support climate action. Recently, eleven House Republicans introduced a resolution calling for action, and four Senate Republicans formed a working group to address climate and broaden the dialogue.

From Audubon Advisory

Port Ambrose Stopped in its Tracks! 

New York Governor Cuomo just vetoed Port Ambrose, the liquefied natural gas facility that was proposed off the coast of Long Island and New Jersey! This project would have locked us into decades of continued reliance on fossil fuels, since this port could have been used to import gas from overseas or export fracked gas from the United States.

This couldn’t have happened without our supporters who have taken action time and again to stop this project.

Because the project would have impacted both New York and New Jersey, Governor Cuomo and Governor Christie each had the ability to stop Port Ambrose with a veto. With your help, we’ve been putting pressure on them to take action to protect our health, our environment and our climate — and today we won!

We know, of course, that the fight against the fossil fuel industry is far from over. Let’s savor today’s victory as we continue working to stop fracking and dirty fossil fuel infrastructure in communities across the country.

Alex Beauchamp|Northeast Region Director|Food & Water Watch

[Nothing has been said about the dangers of LNG. An explosion aboard a LNG ship, even 28 miles offshore, could obliterate several hundred square miles of onshore area.]

Portland Bans Fossil Fuel Export

The City of Portland in Oregon took a stand yesterday against dirty fossil fuels. It passed a resolution—with teeth—against new fossil fuel transportation and storage infrastructure in Portland and on our iconic rivers. Coal, oil and gas companies want to export stunning volumes of dirty fuel through our communities—the City of Portland just made that harder.

Policy resolutions are fine, but Portland’s resolution will make an on-the-ground difference. The city council directs staff to propose changes to the city’s code that will protect Portlanders from dirty fossil fuels. City laws about land use, public health, safety, building, electrical, nuisance and fire can all be updated to prevent fossil fuel exports. In other words, the city council message was: Do something. Write laws that matter.

What’s at stake?

The Columbia River faces nearly a dozen terminals proposed to ship coal, tar sands oil, Bakken crude and fracked gas overseas. Tesoro, for example, proposes America’s largest oil-by-rail export terminal—42 percent of the capacity of Keystone XL—across the river from Portland. And just downstream, a liquefied natural gas terminal would export more gas each year than the state uses. Building these terminals would ensure the use of fossil fuel infrastructure for decades, while energy giants mine, drill and frack to feed their export terminals.

Image credit: Columbia RiverkeeperImage credit: Columbia Riverkeeper

Critics may say cities can’t stop fossil fuel exports, but cities actually have a significant say in whether fossil fuel shipping terminals are built. Earlier this year, Portland rejected a propane export terminal by refusing to bend its rules in order to protect the Columbia River. The goal is simple: if the city blocks new fossil fuel export terminals, it also blocks the dangerous trains, pipelines and oil tankers that would serve those terminals.

From Portland to Paris

As global leaders descend on Paris, Portland will not watch from the sideline; it will lead by example. Portland took action to address fossil fuels and carbon pollution instead of waiting (and waiting) for a top-down federal climate policy. Mayor Charlie Hales will travel to Paris to share Portland’s plan and encourage others to take real steps forward on the global, national and local levels.

We are all in this together. It’s time to do what we can.

Brett VandenHeuvel|Columbia Riverkeeper|November 13, 2015

[If we really must extract our exhaustible natural resources, we should do so only if or when we need then for US consumption, not to put more money into some already well-stuffed pockets through export.]

Calls to Action

  1. Tell President Obama you support a strong climate agreement in Paris! – here
  2. Tell President Obama- end oil, gas and coal leasing on public lands! – here

Birds and Butterflies

How One Small Songbird is Making Big Trouble in Texas

The golden-cheeked warbler may be small (smaller than an ounce, in fact), but it’s creating a big controversy. If developers and military officials convince authorities from the Fish and Wildlife Service to take away the bird’s Endangered Species status, the Texas songbird may be singing a very sad tune

The Golden-Cheeked Warbler “Is All Texas”

As the President and CEO of the National Audubon Society David Yarnold explains in My San Antonio, the warbler “is all Texas.” It’s not just a nice metaphor for the bird’s deep Texas roots. In the United States, the golden-cheeked warbler only breeds and raises young in 33 counties along Texas Hill Country – that’s it.

The golden-cheeked warbler is famous for creating its nests from mature junipers and nesting in junipers and oaks. But there’s bad news: The golden-cheeked warbler isn’t the only one trying to build in Texas Hill Country. Slowly but surely, Texas Hill Country’s junipers and oaks have been bulldozed, and buildings now stand where great trees once grew. Whole woodlands were also cleared for ranching and agriculture, primarily for livestock grazing and fuel wood collection, says the IUCN Red List.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recognized the bird was endangered in 1990. And yet, even with protections, from 1999 to 2011, one-third of the bird’s home range, or 1.5 million acres, disappeared.

The endangered listing has made some improvements. There’s more green space, better water quality and better water conservation. There’s also more natural, recreational space for residents to soak up their natural beauty.

However, many influential people are pushing the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to delist the bird, even though the most recent review said the bird “continues to be in danger of extinction throughout its range.” As reported in The New York Times, Susan Combs, a former Texas comptroller, creator of Texans for Positive Economic Policy and George P. Bush, the son of Jeb Bush and the Texas land commissioner are strong voices for delisting the songbird. Combs tells the New York Times she ”truly believe[s] that they did not have adequate science” when the original decision was made to list the bird as endangered.

Lt. Gen. Sean B. MacFarland, Fort Hood’s commanding general, is another voice in favor of delisting the bird, saying delisting the bird would “benefit Fort Hood both operationally and administratively.” According to the New York Times, the bird’s protection prevents military groups from using grenades near the nests and limits the duration of training operations near nesting habitats.

Jessica Ramos|November 9, 2015


Of all the butterflies in North America, the monarch can probably claim the largest fan club. Over recent decades, love for the monarch spawned a network of loyal enthusiasts growing milkweed and creating backyard oases across the country. Despite this, years of declining populations in both the eastern and western U.S. led to a petition to protect the butterfly as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, as well as the focused attention of the White House’s national pollinator strategy released in May of this year. The government is still considering whether to give the butterfly federal protection, but thanks to the impetus resulting from these national efforts, many organizations are stepping up to climb aboard what might be called the “Monarch Conservation Express.”

Because the Xerces Society has been involved in monarch conservation since the 1980s, we are well placed to be able to help move forward the protection of this amazing insect. Our executive director, Scott Hoffman Black, serves as an ex officio member of the Federal Monarch Butterfly High Level Working Group and as co-chair of the Monarch Joint Venture. Xerces staff are also engaged in the U.S. Geological Survey-led Monarch Science Partnership, and serve on the Keystone Monarch Collaborative Steering Committee. In addition to these collaborations, which enable us to guide national-level policy, we are involved in a host of initiatives at the regional and local level across the United States. The following are just some highlights made possible thanks to all of you!

  • We work with farmers across the U.S. to implement habitat projects for the benefit of monarchs and are working with the NRCS to develop their monarch conservation strategy.
  • We are helping develop management guidance for the Monarch Highway project with the goal of improving habitat in a swath of land that extends for 100 miles on each side of Interstate 35 from Texas to Minnesota.
  • We are at the forefront of the national development of milkweed production best practices, so growers can produce monarch host plants for restoration.
  • We are working with the NRCS to develop region-specific monarch nectar plant lists for restoration practitioners. While milkweed is essential for breeding, adults need nectar plants to fuel their migration and to store fat for the winter. Two lists have been released for the Midwest and Southern Plains.
  • We collaborated with monarch scientists to develop a policy statement about the risks associated with mass releases of farmed monarchs.
  • We are gathering records of milkweeds and breeding monarchs in the western U.S. To support this effort, we produced Milkweeds and Monarchs in the Western U.S., which includes how land managers can contribute data to Xerces mapping efforts. We also have a brochure about Western Monarchs in Peril.
  • We are working with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to create a western monarch habitat suitability model to guide restoration and enhancement efforts. As part of this, we conducted milkweed surveys on nine national wildlife refuges this last summer. This will be synthesized and used to develop conservation and habitat management recommendations for monarchs in natural landscapes in the western states.
  • In collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Xerces scientists are developing best management practices for management of monarch habitat on public lands in the western U.S.
  • The Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count now has 150 volunteers counting overwintering monarchs in California, coordinated via an updated website and Facebook group. There is also a smartphone app in development.

With all of these ongoing efforts from Xerces Society scientists, as well as other NGOs, agencies, citizens, and homeowners, we hope to turn around the steady declines we have seen in monarch populations over the past twenty years. As was written in the national pollinator strategy, we will need an “all hands on deck” approach to turn this ship around — or rather, keep the express on time.

What can you do to help monarchs? The best thing is to make your garden (or park or farm) monarch friendly by growing milkweed and nectar plants. There is information in the links in this e-newsletter or you can get a copy of Attracting Native Pollinators.

The Xerces Society

Audubon Requests Drought Relief for Birds

An unprecedented 15-year drought is drying out the Colorado River Basin, threatening the birds and people that live there. We are calling on people to contact President Obama, urging him to provide robust funding for programs that benefit the Basin.

In the water-scarce West, birds rely on ribbons of rivers and streams, essential wetlands, and the vegetation they nourish. The Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Southwestern Willow Flycatcher have been pushed to the brink and have been listed under the Endangered Species Act.

We need the President to support short-term and long-term solutions such as WaterSMART, which supports locally-driven efforts to save water across the West, and the Multi-Species Conservation Program, which helps restore thousands of acres of vital habitat for birds and other wildlife in the Colorado River Basin.

If you haven’t already, write to President Obama and ask him to provide strong support for water conservation and habitat restoration in the Colorado River Basin.


Invasive species

Invasive marine species benefit from rising CO2 levels

Ocean acidification may well be helping invasive species of algae, jellyfish, crabs and shellfish to move to new areas of the planet with damaging consequences, according to the findings of a new report.

Slimy, jelly-like creatures are far more tolerant of rising carbon dioxide levels than those with hard parts like corals, since exposed shells and skeletons simply dissolve away as CO2 levels rise.

The study, conducted by marine scientists at Plymouth University, has found that a number of notorious ‘nuisance’ species – such as Japanese kelp (Undaria pinnatifida) and stinging jellyfish (Pelagia noctiluca) are resilient to rising CO2 levels. They show why global warming and changes in seawater chemistry can help the spread of hundreds of damaging marine organisms.

The study, published in Research and Reports in Biodiversity Studies, notes that in the tropics, coral reefs face a host of interconnected problems (bleaching, corrosion, disease, spreading seaweed, invasive species) that are all caused by rising CO2 levels.

“We are witnessing the spread of marine life that cause problems – such as toxic jellyfish blooms and rotting algal mats,” said Professor Jason Hall-Spencer, lead author of the report. “Based on a synthesis of evidence available to date, we predict the problems associated with harmful marine life will get worse in response to rising CO2. Pathogens like cholera don’t recognise national borders so seawater warming is a health issue for cities like London, and nobody knows what organisms will spread and cause problems as Arctic shipping routes open up.”

The study arose from observations at volcanic sites in the Mediterranean, where Professor Hall-Spencer has led expeditions to record what forms of marine life cope well with higher CO2 levels. They found that invasive species of algae and jellyfish thrive at levels of carbon dioxide predicted to occur this decade. Their extensive review of laboratory experiments reveals stand-out cases such as so called ‘Killer algae’ (Caulerpa taxifolia), which is spreading world-wide, that benefit from higher CO2 but are so toxic that native herbivores die of starvation rather than eat it. 

The report highlights the American slipper limpet, Crepidula fornicate, as an example of ocean acidification both helping and hindering a species, with evidence to show it has spread to Europe to become one of the 100 most invasive species, while at the same time, the species’ larvae has been placed at greater risk of predation due to reduced shell growth.

Continue reading at Plymouth University.

Endangered Species

The Culprits Behind Mysterious Mass Antelope Deaths Finally Exposed

More than half of the world’s endangered saiga antelopes died suddenly on the Central Asian steppes last spring

The saiga antelope is a funny yet endearing looking creature with large dark eyes, a light tan coat and an odd floppy nose. It’s also critically endangered and only lives on the steppes of Central Asia. That makes the sudden deaths of more than half of the world’s population last May a tragic mystery that researchers are scrambling to solve.

Now they have pointed the finger toward the agents responsible for the die off, reports Carl Zimmer for The New York Times

Work in the weeks immediately following the deaths and over the summer led scientists to believe that the saiga succumbed to a bacterial infection of the blood. Some kind of pathogen multiplied so rapidly in their bodies that toxins overwhelmed them. Testing continued through the early fall and now researchers have announced that the infectious agents are two bacteria, Pasteurella multocida and Clostridium perfringens.

Experts also updated the count of saiga killed from initial estimates of 120,000 to 211,000. That’s 88 percent of the saiga that visit Betpak-dala in Kazakhstan every spring, the calving grounds for the species’ largest population.

“I’ve worked in wildlife disease all my life, and I thought I’d seen some pretty grim things,” Richard A. Kock, of the Royal Veterinary College in London, tells The New York Times. “But this takes the biscuit.”

However, the case isn’t closed quite yet. The two pathogens named are normally harmless microbes that live in the respiratory systems and intestinal systems of many animals. For reasons the scientists don’t fully understand, they can occasionally turn deadly. But for the microbes to kill, the saiga must have had weakened immune systems.

A windy, cold spring could have done it, Zimmer reports, and this past year’s was unusually harsh. Climate change is a potential culprit on many experts minds.

The timing of the spring’s rough weather meant that the antelope were shedding their winter coats and also giving birth or nursing. All the factors stacked together could have been enough to cause the catastrophic number of deaths in a species already prone to such die offs. 

The only thing humans can do is bolster the numbers of saiga still living to protect against future dangers. Representatives from Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Russia,Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan agreed in a meeting last week to improve captive breeding programs and look for ways to open and keep migration routes for the saiga. Otherwise, another mass die off could leave the saiga facing extinction.

 Marissa Fessenden||November 5, 2015

Oregon Wolves Lose Protections ‏

Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife has voted to remove gray wolves from Oregon’s endangered species list.

This outcome for Oregon’s small wolf population seemed at times to be predetermined. While there was overwhelming public support for continued protections for wolves, and more than enough scientific criticism to cast doubt on ODFW’s staff opinion and recommendation for delisting, neither appeared to factor into the ultimate decision. The Commission would have been well advised to begin overdue revisions of Oregon’s Wolf Management Plan and delay a final vote until ODFW had completed a meaningful scientific review by independent biologists. Conservation groups had urged ODFW officials to take up this course of action for the months leading up to this vote, hoping to clarify several points of ambiguity in the Wolf Plan and build a constructive dialogue leading into the more contentious delisting process.

Unfortunately, this preferable course was dismissed and the state opted to charge stubbornly along with a floundering, opaque process.

State law requires an independent scientific review before a species can be removed from the Oregon endangered species list. ODFW originally called for comments and feedback from biologists on its draft plan to be received by October 30th. On October 29th, the day before its own deadline and before all the feedback could be received, ODFW announced its formal recommendation to delist. The following week, ODFW allowed additional comment from a cherry-picked panel of biologists who submitted their feedback in small comments written out in the margins of ODFW’s draft plan. 

More than a dozen scientists whose criticisms were not deemed to be “mostly positive” were discounted and not included in the final ODFW presentation. Few of the questions, concerns, and suggestions provided by independent scientists, including those that ODFW had solicited, were addressed by the agency in its final presentation. There appears to have never been any intention to provide a final, peer reviewed report to the Commission. 

Ultimately, the Commission voted to side with political expediency over sound public and scientific process. 

While this is certainly a blow for our tiny population of 81 known gray wolves, and for the legitimacy of wildlife management in Oregon, it is not the end of the struggle. Conservationists will be looking both back at the flawed process than lead up to this vote, and forward to the upcoming revision of Oregon’s Wolf Plan, for opportunities to continue the fight for gray wolves. At a minimum, it appears ODFW and the Fish and Wildlife Commission ignored state law and requirements for independent scientific review in making their decision.

Oregon’s wolves, and all Oregonians who treasure wildlife and wild places, owe a debt to the everyday citizens like you who poured hundreds of hours of volunteer work into research, training, lobbying, testifying, writing, and taking action on behalf of wolf recovery over the last year. While those efforts were not rewarded today, the hard work and dedication is an inspiration to us here at Oregon Wild to continue fighting to protect the wildlands, wildlife, and waters that make our state a special place. 

Sean Stevens|Executive Director|Oregon Wild

No, SeaWorld Is Not Phasing Out Orca Shows

Yesterday’s headlines proclaiming that SeaWorld will be ending orca whale shows were almost as misleading as the alleged “educational value” of the shows themselves.

On Monday, SeaWorld announced that it will “phase out” the San Diego park’s theatrical killer whale show in 2016 and unveil a “new orca experience” in 2017. According to the announcement, which was made in a presentation to investors, the new experience will be “informative.” SeaWorld also says the new shows will be take place in a “more natural setting” and that they will carry a “conservation message inspiring people to act.”

This announcement was quickly picked up by media outlets around country, generating headlines that SeaWorld was “ending” or “getting rid of” its killer whale show.

Unfortunately, many of Monday’s headlines exaggerated the announcement. SeaWorld’s infamous orca shows are being reworked, rather than eliminated, at the San Diego, California park. (The announcement does not pertain to SeaWorld’s other parks.) The announcement does not mean that SeaWorld will end orca exploitation or that it will release orcas to marine sanctuaries, the preferred course of action among many advocates.

The lack of meaningful change left many advocates frustrated. “SeaWorld fully intends to continue forced breeding of orcas in captivity,” says David Phillips, director of the International Marine Mammal Project (IMMP), an Earth Island Institute project that works to protect dolphins and whales. “They will continue to keep orcas in concrete tanks with no intention of retirement or release. They intend to continue to import and export orcas to other captive facilities as they see fit.”

Responding to the announcement in a press release, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said: “This move is like no longer whipping lions in a circus act but keeping them locked inside cages for life.”

SeaWorld has faced mounting public pressure in recent years. The 2013 release of Blackfish, a popular documentary criticizing SeaWorld’s treatment of orcas, sparked public outrage and company profits have taken a hit. The marine mammal giant has also faced several lawsuits this year, including one by Earth Island’s IMMP, arguing that SeaWorld has misled the public about the health and wellbeing of captive orcas.

In October, the California Coastal Commission voted to ban SeaWorld San Diego from breeding orcas in captivity and to restrict transfer of whales. (SeaWorld has said it will sue the commission over these restrictions.) And just last week, California Representative Adam Schiff announced that he will introduce a bill in Congress to phase out orca captivity throughout the U.S. If passed, the bill would ban breeding, import and export and wild capture of orcas.

Given the timing of SeaWorld’s announcement, many animal welfare advocates believe it is simply a public relations response to negative publicity and amounts to nothing more than greenwashing. Referencing the October Coastal Commission vote on orca breeding and transfers, former Coastal Commission chairwoman Sara Wan notes that “[SeaWorld] is still proceeding with their litigation against the commission and with their captive breeding program as well, proving that this is all a PR stunt for their investors.”

On Monday SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby acknowledged the benefits that a more positive public image would bring. “People love companies that have a purpose, even for-profit companies,” he told SeaWorld investors in a webcast. “Just look at Whole Foods … I don’t see any reason why SeaWorld can’t be one of those brands.”

Manby also assured investors that any capital expenditures to spruce up orca tanks at SeaWorld San Diego will be “minimal,” leaving advocates to wonder how exactly the “theatrical” shows will be transformed into a more “natural” and “educational” experience.

What Manby doesn’t seem to understand is that the public is not only upset with the tricks the orcas are forced to perform for large crowds or the appearance of their tanks—it is the very fact of their captivity and the suffering it causes. SeaWorld is not phasing out orca shows, it is simply calling these shows by a different name, a semantic difference that makes no difference to the orcas still living in captivity.

Laura Bridgeman|Earth Island Journal|November 10, 2015

Tackling Issues To Protect Manatees And Their Habitat

The weather is cooler in Florida, and that means the return of manatees to warm-water areas throughout the state. At Blue Spring State Park, Wayne Hartley, Save the Manatee Club’s Manatee Specialist, goes out almost daily to do his “Manatee Roll Calls.” You may not be there in person, but you can
still watch the manatees on the Club’s Blue Spring webcams at The Club has strategically placed underwater and above-water cameras in the park’s spring run to provide live streaming of endangered manatees and other Florida wildlife.

The webcams have viewers from around the world and allow people to observe manatees in their natural environment. 

It has been a busy time for comment letters, with communications going out to the Southwest Florida Water Management District for their Kings Bay Surface Water Improvement Management (SWIM) Plan for Citrus County. We served on the Technical Working Group that helped identify Plan projects and their District Regional Water Supply Plan. We also provided comments on the Central Florida Water Initiative ( and to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for the Silver Springs Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP), Surface Water Quality Standards Triennial Review, and Mooring Field General Permit rulemaking.

Additionally, we provided comments to the federal Surface Transportation Board regarding a plan for rail-based cargo shipping from Port Canaveral that could have negative impacts on the  Indian River Lagoon. We also provided comments to the Army Corps of Engineers on the Miami Boat Show, which
could cause resource impacts as currently proposed in a new location.

We attended a DEP workshop wherein alternative  methods for meeting state water quality standards under the federal Clean Water Act were discussed. We provided very detailed comments to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in response to their Draft Environmental Assessment for in-water access at
Three Sisters Springs.

We reviewed a first draft of the Flagler County Manatee Protection Plan in September, a long awaited document that leaves much to be desired. Unfortunately, it seems the primary reason the County is working on the Plan is to facilitate more waterfront development. Also in September, we filed a motion to intervene on behalf of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in a rule challenge against speed zones in Western Pinellas County.

We continue to review development applications and consumptive use permit applications for water withdrawals, and to work with citizens concerned about projects in their communities.

We began our strategic planning for 2016 early in the fall of 2015, setting meetings with agency representatives to learn what they were planning for the upcoming year so that we might set out our own strategy. 

We continue to work with a number of coalitions around the state.

Please visit the following links to learn more about some of our collaborative work:

► The Floridians Against Fracking Coalition:

► The Floridians’ Clean Water Declaration Campaign: 

► The Florida Springs Council: 

► The Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership:

Save the Manatee Club

Mote releases two rehabilitated sea turtles back into the wild

Mote Marine Laboratory and Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve released an adult Kemp’s ridley sea turtle named Mufasa and a juvenile green sea turtle named Mila back into the wild in the Ten Thousand Islands within Rookery Bay Reserve on Friday, Nov. 6.

“We are pleased to assist in this effort,” said reserve director Keith Laakkonen. “Protected submerged habitats such as those within Rookery Bay Reserve are crucial for the successful rehabilitation, and overall success, of many species including the Endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle.”

Mufasa was found floating at the surface of Sarasota Bay, unable to dive on Aug. 7, 2014 and was brought to Mote Marine Laboratory’s Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Hospital. Sea turtles must dive to feed in the wild.

Upon initial observation, Mufasa had a fresh boat strike wound near the rear of her carapace (upper part of her shell).

The turtle also had older wounds that appeared to be healing, including constriction marks on both front flippers from fishing line or netting entanglement, her left front flipper was damaged with severe constriction marks and a boat strike wound on the front of her face.

Following Mufasa’s arrival, Mote’s sea turtle care and veterinary staff gave her fluids and antibiotics and performed routine medical examinations.

Once Mufasa was healthy enough to withstand surgery, the veterinary decision was made to amputate the damaged left front flipper because there was an opening that was a possible source of infection. The damaged rear section of the carapace was surgically removed as well. The turtle was given antibiotics and time to heal after surgery and on Oct. 23, 2015 the decision was made that she was releasable.

“It is always our goal to release our rehabilitated animals back to the wild when the time is right for the animal,” said Lynne Byrd, Mote’s Rehabilitation and Medical Care Coordinator. “Mufasa was with us for over a year and it was especially fulfilling to release her back to her home, because Kemp’s ridley turtles are the most endangered of all of the seven sea turtle species, and we consider her return to the wild a success for her species.”

Mila was found stranded with very heavy epibiota (barnacles, mollusks and algae) coverage on its shell on Jan. 28, 2015 in Manatee County and was brought to Mote Marine Laboratory’s Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Hospital.

Mote’s veterinary staff performed routine medical examination and two surgeries to remove fibropapilloma tumors from the turtle’s flippers. Surgery was also performed to alleviate an abscess that had developed on the neck.

On Nov. 6, 2015, Mote staff and Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve staff returned Mufasa and Mila back to sea near the Ten Thousand Islands.

“It was incredible to not only release one turtle today, but two,” said Byrd. “It was the perfect day for a release. The release went flawlessly and the animals swam off as they should back into the wild to continue their journey.”

Please report distressed or dead sea turtles. Mote’s Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program monitors sea turtle nesting from Longboat Key through Venice, and Mote’s Stranding Investigations Program responds to reports of sick, injured or dead marine mammals and sea turtles in Sarasota and Manatee counties.

•To report issues with sea turtle nests, nesting turtles or hatchlings (babies) from Longboat Key through Venice (such as disoriented hatchlings or storm-damaged nests), please call Mote’s Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program at 941-388-4331.
•Within Sarasota or Manatee county waters, if you see a stranded or dead sea turtle, dolphin or whale, please call Mote’s Stranding Investigations Program, a 24-hour response service, at (941) 988-0212.
•If you see a stranded or dead manatee anywhere in state waters or a stranded or dead sea turtle, dolphin or whale outside of Sarasota and Manatee counties, please call the FWC Wildlife Alert hotline at 1 (888) 404-FWCC (3922).

Kaitlyn Fusco|Mote Marine Laboratory|Press Release|10 November 2015

Despite Ban, Rat Poison Confirmed as Killer of California Mountain Lion

For the first time since 2004, the National Park Service has confirmed that a mountain lion in the Los Angeles area has died as a result of ingesting rat poison.

P-34 was found dead in Point Mugu State Park on Sept. 30. A necropsy discovered the female puma, not yet 2-years-old, had been exposed to five toxic anticoagulant compounds commonly found in rat poison: brodifacoum, bromadiolone, chlorophacinone, difethialone and diphacinone.

The puma probably ate a squirrel that had eaten the poison, or ate another animal that had preyed on a poisoned rodent. This is known as secondary or tertiary poisoning.

“This is the latest indication that local wildlife continues to be exposed to these rodent poisons,” said Seth Riley, a wildlife ecologist and leader of a mountain lion study by the National Park Service, in a news release.

Another female puma, P-25, was found dead in the same park in 2012. Although it was never confirmed, the cause of her death was also believed to be rat poison.

In July 2014, California banned the sale of so-called “super toxins” — deadly second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides – to consumers, but apparently the ban is not having much of an impact on protecting wildlife.

“I thought there would be more improvement than I’m actually seeing,” Stella McMillin, senior environmental scientist with the California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, told the Los Angeles Times. “We’re still seeing non-target exposure at pretty high levels.”

Perhaps the reason the ban isn’t helping is because the rodenticides can still be legally purchased by pest-control companies.

“The idea is to take it away from the general population, who could misuse it, and keep it in the hands of trained professionals,” Charlotte Fadipe, assistant director of communications for the Dept. of Pesticide Regulation, told the San Jose Mercury News in March 2014.

This is not a good idea, as the death of P-34 shows.

Death by rat poison is a slow and painful process. The anticoagulant compounds cause severe internal hemorrhaging; in other words, the animals bleed to death from the inside out.

P-34 is the third mountain lion to die from rodenticide poisoning since 2002, when the National Park Service began studying mountain lions in and around the Santa Monica Mountains to determine how they survive as their habitat is destroyed by urban sprawl. Anticoagulant compounds have been found in 12 of 13 mountain lions tested by the National Park Service during that time.

And it’s not only mountain lions that are victims, but also bobcats, coyotes and other wildlife. In an upset of the natural order, poisoned rats have become the killer rather than the prey.

“We hope that P-34′s death will continue to raise awareness about how anticoagulant rodenticides work their way up the food chain, often with deadly effects,” Dr. Riley said.

rat poison infographic

Photo Credit: National Park Service

P-34 made local news headlines last December, when she was found hiding under a trailer in a Ventura County mobile home park. She was tranquilized and returned to the wilderness.

Her brother, P-32, died one month before she did, but not from consuming rat poison. P-32 was hit by a car as he tried to cross a busy interstate – another all-too-common killer of mountain lions as they try to expand their territory.

To prevent these deaths, a wildlife freeway overpass has been proposed. The Let’s Buy a Mountain campaign is also trying to help by saving an important Laurel Canyon wildlife corridor from being destroyed by developers.

Laura Goldman|November 12, 2015

25 African countries unite and call for immediate action to save elephants

Representatives of 25 African countries meeting have adopted a ground-breaking Declaration demanding a total ban on ivory trade worldwide, The David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation have reported. The  Cotonou Declaration  calls for immediate and decisive action to save the African elephant.

Representatives from the countries stressed that African elephants are facing the worst crisis since 1989 when all populations were listed on CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), banning international ivory trade.

As a result, elephants are being decimated at an alarming rate throughout Africa, while human lives are being lost in attempts to protect this global flagship species. Protection was weakened in 1997 and 2000 when populations in four Southern Africa countries; Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe were down-listed to less endangered status to allow two sales of ivory stockpiles in 1999 and 2008. Between 2011 and 2013 alone, more than 100,000 elephants were killed for the ivory trade. 

The Cotonou Declaration aims to end this crisis by committing to strengthen collaboration between member States to secure the highest possible protection for all African elephant populations under international law.

Participants called for a strict ban on all international and domestic ivory trade, including re-listing all African elephant populations as most endangered. They also called on other countries and organisations to support the proposal.

The coalition also discussed other threats to elephants, particularly human-elephant conflict, as well as the difficulties member States face against determined and well-armed poachers, and in enforcing laws to combat poaching and ivory trade.

“This is very welcome news,” says DSWF CEO, Sally Case. “DSWF is pleased to be able to support these initiatives wherever possible.”

About The African Elephant Coalition:  the Coalition was established in 2008 in Bamako, Mali. It comprises 28 member countries from Africa united by a common goal: “a viable and healthy elephant population free of threats from international ivory trade.”

From Wildlife Extra

New report shows shocking extent of UK exotic pet trade

Two  animal welfare organisations are calling for a Government review of the exotic pet trade, as a worrying new report reveals the huge scale of unsuitable and potentially dangerous animals widely available to buy online.

The One Click Away report1, compiled by Blue Cross pet charity and the Born Free Foundation, found that at any one moment across a sample of just six websites, there were around 25,000 adverts2 offering more than 120 types of exotic animals for sale online. Animals for sale included reptiles, exotic birds and primates, many of which are particularly vulnerable to welfare problems when kept as pets. With little or no regulation of online sales, the charities are concerned for the health and welfare of the animals available to inexperienced owners, as well as the safety of the public and want to see laws surrounding the sales of exotic pets brought up to date.

Very few adverts offered advice on the animals’ history or how to care for them, potentially leaving new owners unaware of health or behaviour problems and sellers are not required to state whether an animal could be harmful.

Steve Goody, Blue Cross Deputy Chief Executive, said: “This report shows the shocking scale of the exotic pet trade and the urgent need for action. For the inexperienced, it can be difficult to care for many of these animals in a domestic environment and as a result the animals’ welfare often suffers.

“With ever-increasing demand for more and more unusual pets and the huge growth in internet sales, it is high time for the Government to take action to ensure that this exotic pet industry is properly regulated.”

Although existing laws in Britain – including the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and the Pet Animals Act 1951 – offer all pets a certain level of protection, there is confusion over their application and enforcement. The Pet Animals Act 1951, which controls the sale of animals in pet shops, was drafted long before the advent of the internet or the growth in popularity of exotic pets and, the charities are convinced, is no longer fit for purpose. Blue Cross and the Born Free Foundation would like to see this legislation amended to ensure that it becomes relevant and effective today.

Chris Draper, Programs Manager for Captive Wild Animals at the Born Free Foundation said: “It is truly shocking how many exotic animals and of such diversity are available online, with so many advertised incorrectly or incompletely and with no indication of their often complex needs. The Government needs to review the Pet Animals Act as a priority to ensure people are made aware of the issues related to buying exotic pets online and we should urgently examine how these animals are faring in the pet trade.”

Angela Smith MP said: “As this report shows, the welfare of thousands of exotic pets is at risk and we need to act to change the situation for them. I am fully committed to raising awareness of this important issue and getting it onto the Government’s agenda.

Download the full report, One Click Away: An Investigation into the Online Sale of Exotic Pets

From Wildlife Extra

Gone, but not forgotten: Carolina parakeet

The vibrant Carolina parakeet, an indigenous American parrot, became a victim of high fashion and farmers’ wrath during the 19th century and was declared extinct in 1939.

For centuries, what is now the USA was home to a species of parrot called the Carolina parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis), a colourful, vocal bird that was widespread in many of North America’s forests and swamps, from the Ohio valley to the Gulf of Mexico.

These social, gregarious birds were about 30cm in length and thrived in forests along rivers, using large hollow trees for roosting and nesting sites. A single nest often housed up to as many as 30 birds. Their constant chatter as they flew meant flocks – sometimes numbering up to 1,000 birds – could be heard from miles away.

However, the approach of these cheerful-sounding flocks was not often welcomed by people – thanks chiefly to the birds’ choice of diet. Its preference for seeds and fruits resulted in the destruction of crops, and meant the bird was soon regarded as an agricultural pest and disliked by farmers. As a result, the birds were often shot on sight – something that had a disastrous effect on nearby parakeets, as well as the individual, as the victim’s distress call would bring many other birds to its aid. Entire flocks ended up being shot as they rallied around a single wounded bird.

The situation got even worse for the species in the 1800s, when it became all the rage for women to trim their hats with the brightest feathers they could find. Needless to say, the parakeet’s emerald green, bright yellow and blood-orange plumage was eagerly sought. Trappers also began catching them for the exotic pet trade and, to add further to the bird’s woes, their forest habitat continued to be lost as the industrial age took hold. Numbers started declining rapidly and by 1860 the Carolina parakeet was rarely seen outside Florida.

The last reported killing took place in 1904 in Okeechobee County in Florida and, in 1917 and 1918, the last two known Carolina parakeets died in captivity in Cincinnati Zoo. The species was declared extinct in 1939.

Since then, rumors of their survival have persisted, with the most hopeful being the sighting and filming of three parakeets between 1937 and 1955 in the Okefenokee Swamp of Georgia. However, the American Ornithologists’ Union concluded that feral parakeets had likely been filmed instead. All that’s left of the Carolina parakeet in Florida today is a sculpture memorial to the bird, situated in Kissimmee Prairie Preserve Street Park in Okeechobee.

From Wildlife Extra


Water Quality Issues

USDA Expands Investment in Water Conservation and Improvement ‏

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced USDA will invest about $8 million in the Ogallala Aquifer Initiative (OAI) in Fiscal Year 2016 to help farmers and ranchers conserve billions of gallons of water annually while strengthening agricultural operations. The eight-state Ogallala Aquifer has suffered in recent years from increased periods of drought and declining water resources.

The Ogallala Aquifer is the largest aquifer in the U.S,. and the primary water source for the High Plains region. Covering nearly 174,000 square miles, it supports the production of nearly one-fifth of the wheat, corn, cotton and cattle produced in the U.S. and supplies 30 percent of all water used for irrigation in the U.S. NRCS supports targeted, local efforts to conserve the quality and quantity of water in nine targeted focus areas through the OAI adding two new focus areas for fiscal year 2016, while continuing support for seven ongoing projects.

Learn more.

Previous messageGreat Lakes & Inland Waters

EPA Awards New Great Lakes Restoration Funding for Projects in the Clinton River Area of Concern

HARRISON TOWNSHIP, MICH. (Nov. 9, 2015) — The U.S Environmental Protection Agency today announced the award of new funding for major Great Lakes Restoration Initiative projects in the Clinton River Area of Concern totaling nearly $20 million.

Senior Advisor to the EPA Administrator Cameron Davis was joined by U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, U.S. Rep. Sander Levin, U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, Clinton River Public Advisory Council Chair Lynne Seymour and representatives of the grantees. They announced the projects at the Harbor Club South Apartments near the Clinton River Spillway, which connects the two congressional districts.

“Once completed, the projects we’re announcing today will move the Clinton River AOC toward a more vibrant environment and local economy,” Davis said. “With such strong bipartisan support in Congress, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is producing results in Michigan and across the Great Lakes.”

“Our lakes and rivers are part of who we are and our way of life,” U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, Co-chair of the Great Lakes Task Force, said. “Investing in the Clinton River watershed is critical to the health and conservation of our waterways and wildlife habitats. This support for our counties, townships and cities will help keep our waters clean and healthy for generations to come.”
“The Great Lakes are an economic engine for Michigan, driving industries including tourism, agriculture and commercial shipping, and supporting more than half a million jobs,” Sen. Peters said. “Investments made possible by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative are essential to revitalizing the Great Lakes and the communities that rely on them. I’m proud to help announce nearly $20 million in Great Lakes Restoration Initiative investments that will help ensure the Great Lakes are protected for generations to come.”
“This is an important development for everyone who cares about the Clinton River,” Rep. Levin said. “With these federal grants, we are taking a giant step forward toward the restoration of the Clinton River and the eventual removal of this waterway from the list of Great Lakes Areas of Concern. We need to build on this work – not just in the Clinton River, but throughout the Great Lakes – by continuing the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which is making this progress possible.”
“Those of us who grew up along the shores of the Great Lakes know they are more than just a source of recreation; they are a way of life. Yet, we haven’t been the best environmental stewards and we owe it to future generations to do more to restore and preserve them,” Rep. Miller said. “Throughout my tenure, one of my principal advocacies has been protecting the Great Lakes basin’s water quality as it accounts for 20 percent of the world’s fresh drinking water supply. I am excited to help celebrate these GLRI grants and believe they will go a long way to restore, preserve and protect these beautiful waterways.”
The following projects and grants will be funded:

· Clinton River Corridor Project – City of Sterling Heights ($4,500,000) will improve habitat diversity along a nine-mile section of the Clinton River by creating riffle-pools, managing woody debris, stabilizing stream banks, controlling invasive species and enhancing native vegetation.

· Partridge Creek Commons, McBride Drain and Clinton River Spillway Projects – Macomb County ($6,300,000) will restore more than 32,000 linear feet and almost 90 acres of in-stream, streamside and upland habitat. The projects will control invasive species, plant native vegetation, stabilize and naturalize the shoreline, increase habitat diversity through restoration of riffle and pool complexes, and improve habitat connectivity.

· Clinton River Spillway Project – Macomb County ($2,500,000) will restore the eastern end of the spillway in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The project includes invasive species removal and other restoration efforts near the area where the spillway meets Lake St. Clair.

· Wolcott Mill Metropark Wetland Project – Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority ($335,374) will restore sections of the north branch of the Clinton River floodplain to native grassland and forested wetlands as part of a long-term strategy to address stormwater impacts to the watershed. This project will help restore native wildlife species such as pollinators and grassland birds.

· Galloway Wetland Project – City of Auburn Hills ($140,000) will restore wetlands adjacent to Galloway Creek, a key tributary to the Clinton River, in the City of Auburn Hills. The project includes removing significant debris that had been previously dumped at the project site, allowing for the re-establishment of native wetland vegetation that had historically occupied the site. The wetlands will improve habitat as well as buffer the impacts of stormwater run-off.

· Sylvan Glen Project – City of Troy ($375,000) will restore 3,500 feet of stream, reduce sediment loads from reaching the Clinton River, and improve habitat for aquatic life.

· Harley Ensign/Clinton River Mouth Project – U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Interagency Agreement ($2,694,201) will improve fish and wildlife habitat and restore former coastal wetland habitat where the Clinton River meets Lake St. Clair. This project will control invasive species, establish 14 acres of fish habitat and restore 4 acres of upland habitat as well as 6,000 feet of shoreline.

· Shelby Township Stream Bank Stabilization Project – U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Interagency Agreement ($914,412) will restore the aquatic and terrestrial habitat on the main stem of the Clinton River by reducing stream bank erosion and re-establishing near-shore habitat.

· The Galloway Creek Fish Passage Project – U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Interagency Agreement ($2,202,000) will restore approximately 3,000 linear feet of channel and 2 acres of riparian habitat in Galloway Creek, which will improve floodplain and in-stream connectivity, increase stream channel stability, provide in-channel aquatic habitat, increase habitat diversity and increase shade for riparian wetlands.

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative was launched in 2010 to accelerate efforts to protect and restore the largest system of fresh surface water in the world. Since then, three Great Lakes Areas of Concern in the U.S. or shared with Canada have been cleaned up and taken off the bi-national list of Areas of Concern: the Presque Isle Bay AOC (on Lake Erie in Pennsylvania), the Deer Lake AOC (on Lake Superior in Michigan) and the White Lake AOC (on Lake Michigan in Michigan). Twenty seven Areas of Concern remain on the list.

Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding has also been used to complete all necessary restoration actions at three additional Areas of Concern: the Waukegan Harbor AOC (on Lake Michigan in Illinois), the Sheboygan River AOC (on Lake Michigan in Wisconsin) and the Ashtabula River AOC (on Lake Erie in Ohio). Environmental monitoring is ongoing at those AOCs to assess their eligibility for delisting. GLRI funding is being used to accelerate cleanup work in all remaining Areas of Concern on the U.S. side of the border. GLRI funding is also used to improve habitat, prevent and control invasive species and reduce runoff.

More information about the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is available at:

Peter Cassell||11/09/2015

Offshore & Ocean

$20 million to benefit marine life

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation is awarding nearly $20 million from its Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund to six state projects designed to remedy harm and reduce the risk of future harm to natural resources affected by the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Five projects will directly impact the marine life and waterways surrounding Escambia County. Commissioner Grover Robinson IV (District-4) said the projects will benefit the local economy and recreational opportunities for the community by improving the environmental health of the Gulf of Mexico.

“It’s a great step forward to taking care of our habitat issues,” he said.

Enhanced assessment of Gulf fisheries tops the projects in the amount of funding at $5.8 million. This will be third phase of a five-year study to expand collection of data on both catch effort and stock assessment in the northern and eastern Gulf.

Florida Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund Restoration Strategy follows at about $4.5 million with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Suwannee River Water Management District and Northwest Florida Water District as the recipients. Chips Kirschenfeld, Escambia County senior scientist and division manager, said Perdido and Pensacola will be two of the watersheds focused on for the estuary-based planning.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and stranding response organizations will receive $4.4 million in funding to improve capacity and date-collection efforts for marine mammal field stations and eight marine mammal stranding response and research organizations patrolling the Gulf. The project will provide supplemental equipment and staff capacity to recover carcasses, conduct necropsy examinations, determine cause of death, transmit data to appropriate agencies, and improve first-response care.

The FWC and Sea Turtle Conservancy will be the beneficiaries of about $2.1 million in funding to eliminate light pollution on sea turtle nesting on Florida Panhandle beaches. This is the second phase of the project, which entails reducing the visible light on an estimated 85 properties by retrofitting lights identified in the first phase. Robinson said Pensacola Beach and Perdido Key are among the locations that will benefit from the project.

Another focus of the sea turtle lighting project is engaging all FWC Marine Turtle Permit Holders along the Gulf Coast in timely and accurate reporting of all disorientation events on their beaches. An online database will be created as a tool for local government, property owners and others to address documented impacts to sea turtle nests.

NFWF awarded more than $1.9 million to the Nature Conservancy to fund the first phase of oyster habitat restoration in Pensacola Bay. This is the first step to design and construct oyster habitat along about eight miles of shoreline in East and Blackwater bays to enhance nursery habitat for finfish and shellfish considered to be commercially and recreationally important.

Robinson said NFWF is a powerful ally and the county stands to benefit long-term from that relationship. The nonprofit agency contributed in excess off $11 million last year for Bayou Chico projects.

Thomas St. Myer|



Soil acidification from acid rain that is harmful to plant and aquatic life has now begun to reverse in forests of the northeastern United States and eastern Canada, according to an American-Canadian collaboration of five institutions led by the U.S. Geological Survey.

The new research shows that these changes are strongly linked to acid rain decreases, although some results differ from expected responses.  

“Reduced acid rain levels resulting from American and Canadian air-pollution control measures have begun to reverse soil acidification across this broad region,” said Gregory Lawrence, a USGS soil and water chemist and lead author.  “Prior to this study, published research on soils indicated that soil acidification was worsening in most areas despite several decades of declining acid rain.  However, those studies relied on data that only extended up to 2004, whereas the data in this study extended up to 2014. ”

As acid rain acidifies soils, it depletes soil calcium reserves, which are important in preventing the formation of aluminum that is toxic to plants and aquatic life.  Calcium is also a nutrient essential for healthy ecosystems.   Results of this study show that soils are no longer being depleted of calcium and that toxic aluminum levels have substantially decreased. 

The uppermost soil layers have shown a strong recovery response, but deeper layers are actually increasing in aluminum, which suggests further acidification.  However, this may be part of the recovery process as aluminum moves downward in the soil to be stored in a non-toxic form.

“The start of widespread soil recovery is a key step to remedy the long legacy of acid rain impacts on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems,” according to Lawrence.

The results were obtained by resampling soils that had been originally sampled eight to 24 years earlier.  The collaboration among the USGS, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Forest Service, University of Maine, Canadian Forest Service and the Quebec Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks, was developed through the Northeast Soil Monitoring Cooperative, a group of scientists focused on how soils are responding to our rapidly changing environment.  

Acid rain’s effects on forest soils found to be reversing

Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Plan Revision Update

The U.S. Forest Service is currently identifying and evaluating areas in the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest that may be suitable for inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation System and the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. This is a critical time to tell the USFS what makes these areas special, and why they should be protected.

A public meeting is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 16, 6-8pm at UNCA, Asheville, NC. (View USFS PDF). USFS staff will explain the process and be available to talk with you individually in an informal setting.

The USFS needs your input. Please submit evaluation forms for the places that you know best, and that are near and dear to your heart. The more specific information that you provide, the better!

The deadline for submitting evaluation forms is Dec. 15.

Kids Derail $900 Million Development Project in Cancun

Young environmentalists in Mexico have permanently suspended the development of a 69-hectare project in Cancún that would have cleared a large chunk of a mangrove forest, Quartz reports.

In September, 113 kid activists filed a lawsuit to halt construction of the $900 million project that would have paved over a mangrove-covered area for homes, shops and a promenade.

“If we cut everything down then we’re going to die,” Ana, a four-year-old plaintiff, told Quartz. “Trees help us breathe.”

On Nov. 4, a judge ruled in favor of the group of children, but said they should pay a bond of 21 million pesos (about $1.2 million) to offset the developers’ losses. The group’s attorneys have argued that the bond should not apply to minors.

Mangroves—which provide food and shelter for marine life, reptiles and birds—have been devastated over the decades by the tourism industry in the popular vacation spot.

Cancún is Mexico’s number one tourism destination, drawing 4.8 million visitors last year and pumping billions of dollars into the economy. For developers, it seems, tourism dollars are just more economical than saving mangroves.

Alfredo Arellano of the Commission for Protected Areas told Reuters that Mexico loses nearly 25,000 acres or 1 percent of its mangroves annually.

Not only are mangroves important for ecosystems, scientists say that mangrove forests can help slow climate change as they “suck an uncommon amount of industrial carbon out of the atmosphere and bury it deep within their underground network of roots,” Reuters reported.

Residents and environmental activists have been fighting Cancún hotel and resort development ever since it became a hotspot in the 1970s.

Significantly, this is the first lawsuit filed in Mexico advocating for the collective rights of kids over corporate interests in order to protect the environment, Carla Gil, the group’s lawyer, told Quartz.

Antonella Vazquez, the mother of a 5-year-old plaintiff, told Quartz it’s important for children to raise their voices as hotels and beach resorts spread around Cancún. If her daughter doesn’t speak up, Vazquez says, “there’s going to be nothing left for her.”

Children, teens and young adults around the world are doing more than their fair share for the environment.

On International Youth Day this past August, 21 kid activists from across the U.S. filed a landmark constitutional climate change lawsuit against the federal government, asserting that the government has violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, property and has failed to protect essential public trust resources in causing climate change.

Lorraine Chow|November 13, 2015

[Mangroves are an integral part of their ecosystem; they have a symbiotic relationship with reefs, seagrass beds and coastal wetlands. Rather than destroying mangroves, we should be planting more.]

Global Warming and Climate Change

5 Unexpected Heroes of Climate Change

Thank the pope for making people care more about climate change. Pope Francis touting climate change as a moral and social justice issue has influenced the views of at least 35 percent of Catholics and nearly nearly 20 percent of Americans altogether, according to a recent Yale study. Here are five other heroes of climate change activism you may not expect.

1. Pope Francis

“The exploitation of the planet has already exceeded acceptable limits and we still have not solved the problem of poverty,” wrote Francis in a letter to Church members this summer. “We cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation…

“Both everyday experience and scientific research show that the gravest effects of all attacks on the environment are suffered by the poorest.”

Catholicism’s leader has become quite the environmentalist over the past two years. He’s headed a United Nations climate talk, written a papal encyclical on caring for our planet and framed working against climate change as “essential to faith.” Faith’s common good, he’s said, should include Earth.

While the Catholic Church has rallied for environmental causes for centuries, Francis’ outspokenness is a breath of fresh air in a climate where other traditionalists urge the Church to shut up about climate change and focus on theology and morality—as if they’re mutually exclusive.

2. Bjorn Lomborg

The Danish academic publicly dismissed the harms of man-made climate change until a few years ago. In the book The Skeptical Environmentalist he argued that cutting down on carbon emissions wasn’t worth the trouble. Now Lomberg’s changed his tune.

He wants the world to spend $100 billion a year to cut down and cope with the effects of carbon emissions. From investing in clean energy tech to exploring geoengineering, where scientists manipulate nature to alleviate the effects of climate change, the controversial figure calls for a variety of solutions that span beyond “we have all got to live with less, wear hair-shirts and cut our carbon emissions.”

3. Brazilian Farmers

In a country often known for its deforestation of the Amazon, some of the largest perpetrators are now working to be role models in reducing carbon emissions.

Brazil’s more than 1 million cattle ranchers and farmers are leading an effort to trim carbon dioxide emissions from farms by 170 million tons a year, New Scientist reports. As agriculture creates about 15 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, this is important.

Part of their work is managing pastures better. They use techniques like planting trees and crops among cattle and using no-till farming, where farmers plant seeds in holes left over from past years instead of plowing again. Such practices also lead to better soil and crop yields, so it’s a win-win.

4. Brian Moynihan

Some heroes of climate change activism are deeply flawed. Moynihan, CEO of the Bank of America, is one of them. While the bank leads in investing in coal, a great threat to climate stability, and partners with companies with dubious workers’ safety records, the bank still leads corporations in green business practices.

Moynihan’s operation won an award for climate leadership this year from the Environmental Protection Agency. They’ve put $20 billion toward efficiency and renewable energy projects so far. They’ve also started the first ever corporate “green bond” that funds energy efficiency projects.

5. Anna Jane Joyner

The din of climate change denial is particularly loud for the U.S.’s 80 million evangelical Christians. Only half of them believe that the phenomenon is actually happening. Joyner, a prominent Episcopalian activist, seeks to change a few minds.

“The core narrative I use is stewardship,” Joyner tells Rolling Stone, “the idea that we’re charged to care for and protect the land, God’s creation, and these amazing gifts that God gave us.”

She wants to bridge the divide between environmentalists and evangelicals, deepened by misunderstanding on both sides.

“From the evangelical camp, there’s a lot of fear around environmentalists and climate change and liberals. On the other side, you have this snobbery that these people aren’t smart, they’re not educated, and that isn’t true,” Joyner says. “Our message would go much further if we realized that we aren’t dealing with a lack of intelligence, we’re dealing with a lack of scientific literacy.

“A lot of people in this country don’t understand climate change—it’s complex, it’s scientific, it feels distant. One of the keys is connecting it to the people, places and things we love— not making it about the future and occasional hurricanes or natural disasters, but how are things in your backyard changing? How are the things you love being impacted? That’s where it starts to shift a little.”

Emily Zak|November 7, 2015

Carbon Levels Rising at ‘Frightening Speed’ as Greenhouse Gases and Global Temperature Hit Record High

Atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations hit yet another new record in 2014, “continuing a relentless rise which is fueling climate change and will make the planet more dangerous and inhospitable for future generations,” said the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in a report released today.

The WMO Greenhouse Gas Bulletin found a 36 percent increase in greenhouse gas emissions in the last 25 years and a 43 percent increase from pre-industrial levels. The report also highlighted the “enhanced greenhouse effect” that more water vapor in the atmosphere is having. As the Earth’s surface temperature warms because of record CO2 concentrations, it’s creating a “vicious cycle” where “higher temperatures lead to more atmospheric water vapor,” explains the Guardian, “which in turn traps even more heat.”

Levels of two other major greenhouse gases, methane and nitrous oxide, rose “at the fastest rate for a decade,” reports Reuters. In 2014, methane levels reached 1,833 parts per billion (ppb) and nitrous oxide levels reached 327.1 ppb.

“We will soon be living with globally averaged CO2 levels above 400 parts per million as a permanent reality,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud.

In the Northern hemisphere, CO2 concentrations reached 400 parts per million (ppm) in the spring of 2014 (when CO2 is most abundant), and the global average reached 397.7 ppm. Then, this past spring the global average “crossed the 400 ppm barrier,” reports the WMO. March marked the first time ever that global carbon levels surpassed 400 ppm for an entire month. To avoid catastrophic climate change, scientists have said global concentrations need to be below 350 ppm.

Greenhouse gas concentrations have hit a new record every year since reliable records began in 1984, according to Reuters. “Every year we report a new record in greenhouse gas concentrations,” Jarraud said. “Every year we say that time is running out. We have to act now to slash greenhouse gas emissions if we are to have a chance to keep the increase in temperatures to manageable levels.”

“Carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for hundreds of years and in the ocean for even longer,” he added. “Past, present and future emissions will have a cumulative impact on both global warming and ocean acidification. The laws of physics are non-negotiable.”

These findings mean “hotter global temperatures, more extreme weather events like heat waves and floods, melting ice, rising sea levels and increased acidity of the oceans,” said Jarraud. “This is happening now and we are moving into uncharted territory at a frightening speed.”

“Two degrees will be bad enough but it will be better than three degrees,” said Jarraud. “Of course it would have been better to have one degree … But one degree is not possible any longer. It’s just not feasible. Too late.”

The UK’s Met Office reported today that for the first time global mean temperature at the Earth’s surface is set to reach one degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

“This year marks an important first but that doesn’t necessarily mean every year from now on will be a degree or more above pre-industrial levels, as natural variability will still play a role in determining the temperature in any given year,” said Peter Stott, head of Climate Monitoring and Attribution at the Met Office. “As the world continues to warm in the coming decades, however, we will see more and more years passing the one degree marker—eventually it will become the norm.”

The Met Office reports two important findings: two thirds of the two degrees Celsius budget for CO2 emissions have already been used and we’ve already seen one-third of the sea level rise that could be seen by 2100 in a two degrees Celsius world.

The Met Office says:

We know cumulative emissions of carbon dioxide will be key to determining the amount of eventual global warming we’ll see. It is estimated that up to 2,900 gigatons of CO2 (GtCO2) can be emitted to have a likely (more than 66 percent) chance of limiting warming to below two degrees Celsius.

As of 2014, about 2,000 GtCO2 had already been emitted, meaning society has used about two thirds of the two degrees Celsius budget. This gives an indication that we are already committed to some level of further warming.

Currently, we have seen about 20 centimeters of global mean sea level rise since pre-industrial times and this is about one third of the level that could be seen by 2100 in a two degrees Celsius world.

Sea levels would continue to rise further into the next century, however, and potentially beyond.

The agency says that it’s still possible to limit warming to two degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. “However, the later that global CO2 emissions peak—the faster subsequent emissions cuts would need to be in order to keep global temperature rise below the limit,” says the Met Office.

And while these numbers seem esoteric, there is concrete evidence that this rapid rise in greenhouse gas concentrations, which has in turn driven a rapid rise in surface temperatures, is taking its toll on the planet’s inhabitants. The World Bank warned yesterday that “rapid, climate-informed development” are needed to keep climate change from “pushing more than 100 million people into poverty by 2030.”

These findings come just as climate experts predict this year will surpass 2014 as the hottest year on record and just three weeks before global leaders are set to meet at COP21, the Paris climate talks. More than 150 countries have created plans to limit emissions, but “the plans revealed so far will not curb emissions enough to meet a target agreed in 2010 to limit global warming to within 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) of pre-industrial levels,” says Reuters.

Cole Mellino|November 9, 2015

A rising tide

Miami is sinking beneath the sea-but not without a fight.

“When I started this job, people kept asking me, ‘Why do we have so much flooding now?’ and I said, ‘Well, there’s just one problem: The whole city’s four feet too low-that’s all!'” But as Miami Beach city engineer Bruce Mowry, the person responsible for maintaining and improving the island’s public infrastructure, steered his car through the Flamingo Park neighborhood this past January, his typically cheery mood dimmed. “You know, I drive around a lot, looking at all these streets and trees and homes and thinking about what’s coming,” Mowry said. “If we get the four feet of rise that’s predicted, all of this area will be two-and-a-half feet underwater.”

“This whole beautiful landscape’s going to change,” he said.

Miami Beach consists of a long, low barrier island accompanied by a scattering of manmade islets. It’s one of the lowest-lying municipalities in the country, and its residents are leading the way into the world’s wetter future. Along the island’s low western side bordering Biscayne Bay, people have come to dread full-moon high tides, when salt water seeps into storm-drain outlets and the porous limestone that provides the island’s foundation, forcing water up and out into the streets and sidewalks and threatening buildings and infrastructure.

And Miami Beach is just one small part of a region that’s in big trouble. If sea levels rise as projected, no major U.S. metropolitan area stands to rack up bigger losses than Miami-Dade County. Almost 60 percent of the county is less than six feet above sea level. Even before swelling of the seas is factored in, Miami has the greatest total value of assets exposed to flooding of any city in the world: more than $400 billion. Once you account for future sea-level rise and continued economic growth, Miami’s exposed property will far outstrip that of any other urban area, reaching almost $3.5 trillion by the 2070s.

The sea level around the South Florida coast has already risen nine inches over the past century. Among experts, the optimists expect it to edge up another three to seven inches in the next 15 years and nine inches to two feet in the next 45 years. More pessimistic (some say increasingly realistic) predictions say the rise will be much faster. Even the very gradual rise of recent decades will make extensive infrastructure reengineering necessary-Mowry’s job. However, according to a report published by the Florida Department of Transportation, it will become difficult, expensive, and maybe impossible for these efforts to keep up with the accelerated sea-level rise that is actually expected. 

Stan Cox and Paul Cox||November 8, 2015

Read more

Slow-Motion Disaster: New York Prepares for Up to Six Feet of Sea Level Rise

By the end of the century, LaGuardia Airport will have fish swimming where airplanes once parked.

LaGuardia Airport is about to be rebuilt in New York City, but by the end of the century, fish could be swimming where airplanes once parked at the terminal. That’s because sea levels in the area could rise by as much as 6 feet over the next 75 years, according to new predictions released by the state of New York.

New York State environment officials announced Friday that they’re creating new sea level rise regulations that will help coastal communities build more resilient homes and other buildings that will be better able to withstand storm surges and other flooding made worse by rising seas driven by climate change.

The new regulations will require developers in New York City, along Long Island and on the shores of the Hudson River to prepare for sea levels that could rise between 15 and 75 inches by 2100.  At the far end of that scale, many of the areas hit hard by Hurricane Sandy — the Rockaway Peninsula and the shores of Staten Island, for example — could be underwater.

In addition to increasing temperatures and more frequent extreme weather, rising seas are expected to be among the most destructive effects of climate change. If greenhouse gas emissions are left unchecked, most of the U.S. population could be affected by rising seas, submerging some of America’s most famous icons, such as Wall Street, New Orleans and the Everglades.

About 500,000 people live on the 120 square miles of land that lie less than 6 feet above the mean high tide line in the state of New York. More than $100 billion in property value exists in that area.

The sea level rise projections were created as part of New York’s Community Risk and Resiliency Act of 2014, which requires the state to set official sea level rise projections for the end of the century. It also requires many building permit applicants to consider future flooding risks posed by rising seas.

The sea level rise range the state uses comes from a study conducted by Cornell and Columbia universities and Hunter College showing that rapid melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets could raise sea levels much faster and much higher than previously expected.

The study projects that sea levels could rise between 15 and 72 inches at Montauk Point on the eastern edge of Long Island, and between 15 and 75 inches in New York City. The level of the Hudson River near Albany, more than 150 miles inland from New York Harbor, could rise by up to 71 inches.

Cynthia Rosenzweig, study co-author and senior research scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University’s Center for Climate Systems Research, said the state’s use of the study ensures consistency between resilience planning at both the state and city levels because New York City’s climate change panel is using the same methods to determine the threat from sea level rise.

“The New York State sea level rise projections, developed using state-of-the-science methods, will provide the best available climate risk information for decision makers throughout the state,” she said.

Daniel Zarrilli, director of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency, said in a statement that accurate science is critical to effective climate adaptation.

“These coordinated projections, which also inform the city’s investments, will support critical work of making investments in climate adaptation and resiliency across the entire state,” he said.

Bobby Magill / Climate Central|November 3, 2015

What’s Going on in Antarctica? Is the Ice Melting or Growing?

Last week a study was published in the Journal of Glaciology by a group of NASA researchers reporting that satellite data shows that, as a whole, Antarctica has been gaining—rather than losing—ice mass during the past two or more decades.

So was NASA and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) wrong about Antarctica’s ice loss? Is the Antarctic ice growing?

The short answer is best summarized by the title of Andrew Freedman’s article on Mashable (which everyone should read): “No, NASA has not reversed itself on the dangerous melting of Antarctica.”

However, in less enlightened (or maybe honest) circles, the study’s finding is being reported as a massive turnabout of previous research showing the continent to be shedding ice at an increasing rate.

According to this study, the gains in ice from increased precipitation in the continent’s interior, particularly across the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, is enough to offset the melting occurring in the West Antarctic and Antarctic Peninsula.

What these reports usually are missing are several critical points:

  • This is one NASA study. Other NASA studies say different and research continues. It is a mistake to simply assume that this one is right and the others are wrong.
  • Even if the study is correct, it doesn’t indicate that global climate change is not occurring. The increase in ice mass is the result of increased precipitation, which is the result of increased atmospheric water vapor, which is the result of increased global temperatures. (There are numerous other indicators that our climate is changing).
  • The study’s lead author, Jay Zwally of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, agrees that the overall global rate of ice discharge into the oceans is increasing. “The good news is that Antarctica is not currently contributing to sea level rise, but is taking 0.23 millimeters per year away,” said Dr. Zwally. “But this is also bad news,” he added. “If the 0.27 millimeters per year of sea level rise attributed to Antarctica in the IPCC report is not really coming from Antarctica, there must be some other contribution to sea level rise that is not accounted for.”
  • The lead author also notes that the state might be temporary. It could take only a few decades for the ice melt in Antarctica to outweigh the ice gains.

What’s Going on in Antarctica? 

According to this study, the gains in ice from increased precipitation in the continent’s interior, particularly across the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, is enough to offset the melting occurring in the West Antarctic and Antarctic Peninsula.

However, the study does not contradict the troubling trends seen in Western Antarctica where there has been widespread loss of ice along the Bellingshausen and Amundsen Seas.

And what this study really illustrates is how difficult it is for scientists to measure small changes in ice. Fortunately, NASA is developing new tools—due to launch in 2018—that will help scientists more accurately measure long-term ice changes in Antarctica. The research on this continues, but is hardly a reason for not taking action on climate today.

The Climate Reality Project|November 10, 2015

World Bank Climate Envoy Delivers Powerful Message on Coming Low-Carbon Revolution

The World Bank’s Rachel Kyte is a whirling dervish these days in advance of key international climate change negotiations, but she managed a quick stop-by this week at the University of Massachusetts-Boston to share her optimism that a big climate breakthrough is possible next month in Paris.

“We’re at a very different position than we were at Copenhagen [the ‘09 climate talks]. We’re more on track for a pivot, not a pirouette,” said Kyte, vice president and special envoy for climate change at the World Bank, speaking to a riveted audience Tuesday night.

Kyte’s said her “excitement” is guided not by wishful thinking, but powerful shifts on the climate front, among those:

  • Contentious debates over climate science and the cost of action versus inaction are over. “”The cost of inaction will be brutal,” Kyte said, pointing to the climate-influenced El Nino that is wreaking storm and marine life havoc right now across the Pacific Rim and beyond.
  • Climate risk has moved from a fringe college campus topic to a core economy-wide concern. Kyte referenced the Bank of England’s recent warnings of more severe storms, crop failures, coastal flooding and overall economic instability.
  • Global investors are clamoring for action, as evidenced by a recent letter from more than 400 investors representing $24 trillion—yes, trillion—calling on governments to achieve an ambitious climate deal in Paris.
  • Unprecedented willingness of developed and developing countries alike to make strong climate commitments, known formally as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). More than 145 countries, most of them developing countries, have already announced their INDCs, the latest being Fiji which committed this week to reduce its carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030. “(They’re a first-generation investment prospectus for a low-carbon world,” she said.
  • Growing momentum for carbon pricing, including explicit support from most of the countries submitting INDCs as well as 1,000-plus companies, including a half dozen major European oil companies.

While it is clear “we’re on the right side of history,” Kyte says key obstacles remain before the low-carbon economy can really take off. Topping her list are fossil fuel subsidies which must be abolished and “silly politics,” which is impeding coherent action in key political hubs like Washington, DC.

She also chided institutional investors a bit for their parochialism—“they won’t invest south of the Alps”—on clean energy investing. Despite double-digit annual growth in developing countries, clean energy investing is still dominated entirely by multinational financial institutions. “Morocco is just as safe a market as Spain,” she said, highlighting the potential for healthy 7 percent investment returns. “(Investor) money isn’t moving as fast as it should be.”

Peyton Fleming|senior director|Ceres

Scientists discuss sea level rising, global warming at University of Miami

5,000-page report paints harsh reality for South Florida

The University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science hosted the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Thursday, who discussed global warming and sea level rising.

A 5,000-page report paints a harsh reality for South Florida. Since 1950, the sea has risen 10 inches, and in the next 20 years it is forecast to rise an additional 6 to 9 inches.

“That is a commitment,” Ben Kirtman of UM said. “It is guaranteed to happen. Sea level rise will continue to happen over that time scale.”

The 831 scientists from 85 countries agreed, and cited 30,000 scientific studies and papers.

Cities like Miami Beach have accepted the scientific facts and have implemented a $400 million pump and road raising project, but new data shows that while it is a good start, it will not solve the problem.

“But over time, that system is going to have to evolve,” Kirtman said. “It is going to be challenged. There are going to have to be new investments and they know that…Our systems are already challenged at 10 inches. Imagine how much more challenged they are going to be at 6 to 9 inches.”

Kirtman said a two-prong approach is needed — mitigation to lower carbon dioxide levels and adaptation to rising sea levels, but he said people need to stop living in denial.

“I am confident that when we accept this problem we are going to start to really think about holistic solutions that communities can rally around, so there will be a robust South Florida 30 to 40 years from now,” he said.

See Channel 10 News report.

Todd Tongen|Reporter, Anchor||Nov 12 2015

Extreme Weather

Explaining Extreme Events from a Climate Perspective

Human activities, such as greenhouse gas emissions and land use, influenced specific extreme weather and climate events in 2014, including tropical cyclones in the central Pacific, heavy rainfall in Europe, drought in East Africa, and stifling heat waves in Australia, Asia, and South America, according to a new report released today. The report, “Explaining Extreme Events of 2014 from a Climate Perspective” published by the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, addresses the natural and human causes of individual extreme events from around the world in 2014, including Antarctica. NOAA scientists served as three of the five lead editors on the report.

“For each of the past four years, this report has demonstrated that individual events, like temperature extremes, have often been shown to be linked to additional atmospheric greenhouse gases caused by human activities, while other extremes, such as those that are precipitation related, are less likely to be convincingly linked to human activities,” said Thomas R. Karl, L.H.D., director of NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. “As the science of event attribution continues to advance, so too will our ability to detect and distinguish the effects of long-term climate change and natural variability on individual extreme events. Until this is fully realized, communities would be well-served to look beyond the range of past extreme events to guide future resiliency efforts.”

In this year’s report, 32 groups of scientists from around the world investigate 28 individual extreme events in 2014 and break out various factors that led to the extreme events, including the degree to which natural variability and human-induced climate change played a role. When human influence for an event cannot be conclusively identified with the scientific tools available today, this means that if there is a human contribution, it cannot be distinguished from natural climate variability.

The report this year added analysis on new types of events including wildfires and Antarctic sea ice extent, and in one case looked at how land use patterns may influence the impacts and severity from precipitation.

Continue reading at NOAA News.

NOAA News|November 9, 2015

Interactive Map Shows 96% of Americans Live in Counties Hit by Extreme Weather

Ninety six percent of Americans live in a county affected by at least one weather-related disaster in the last five years, according to new interactive map created by Environment America and Frontier Group using federal government data.

Scientists have confirmed that global warming is causing an increase in extreme weather around the world. A recent study published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society was even able to link at least 14 extreme weather events in 2014 to climate change. And last year, the World Bank warned in a report that extreme weather will be the “new climate normal” unless world leaders take immediate action.

“We used to think of climate change as a problem that would happen someday, somewhere,” said Anna Aurilio, director of Environment America’s Global Warming Solutions program. “But as this map helps demonstrate, global warming is happening now, and it’s already hitting close to home.”

Superstorm Sandy, California’s drought, flooding in Texas and Oklahoma this past spring and most recently the flooding in South Carolina are all examples of the headline-grabbing extreme weather that has rocked the U.S. in recent years. But since September 2010, weather-related disasters were declared in all 50 states and Washington, DC, according to the online map.

And scientists predict that if global warming is left unchecked, extreme weather will only increase in frequency and intensity—more intense hurricanes, more heavy downpours, more flooding, more drought, more heat waves and more wildfires.

To create the interactive map, the researchers collected data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The map also includes case studies and personal stories from Americans impacted by extreme weather events across the country, says Environment America.

“The 2015 Memorial Day Weekend flood of the Blanco River was an unprecedented, historic, catastrophic event,” began the story from Scott from Wimberley, Texas, where deadly floods struck last spring. “I speak for many in saying that we’ve lost many personal possessions that can not be replaced; family photos, baby books, family heirlooms, furniture, a lot of our family history … gone forever.”

“The drought in California has hit every single resident hard. Living in Northern California, my family is one of those families struggling to reduce water from being wasted,” wrote Julia from Kensington, California. “I now also track the path of wildfires in Northern California hoping they can be stopped. Yet I watch them creep ever closer to my home and family. It’s hard to watch the state I love go through all of this at once.”

The map comes just weeks before world leaders convene in Paris for COP21 to try to reach an agreement to slash carbon emissions to keep warming below the dangerous two degrees Celsius warming above pre-industrial levels. So far, more than 150 countries comprising 90 percent of the world’s pollution have already pledged reductions. A recent UN Framework Convention on Climate Change report found that the climate action plans (known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions or INDCs) will not be enough to avoid the worst impacts of warming alone, but they provide a significant foundation that can be built on.

The urgency of the crisis could not be any more apparent. Earlier this week the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) announced that greenhouse gas emissions have hit yet another record. This past spring the global average “crossed the 400 ppm barrier,” reports the WMO. March marked the first time ever that global carbon levels surpassed 400 ppm for an entire month. The UK’s Met Office also reported earlier this week that for the first time global mean temperature at the Earth’s surface this year is set to reach one degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Still, many, including notable environmental activist Al Gore, remain positive about the upcoming talks. “I’m optimistic,” said Gore in an interview this week with the Associated Press. “We’re going to win this.”

In more positive news, a new report this week from the International Energy Agency found that renewables will overtake coal as the largest power source globally in the 2030s. The report says, “there’s a clear sign an energy transition is underway.”

Environment America and Frontier Group hope this interactive map will “hit home” with Americans, as well as, international leaders on the need to act immediately to stop the worst effects of climate change. “To avoid even more devastating climate impacts,” said Aurilio, “we need our leaders to act boldly to slash carbon pollution and transition to 100 percent clean renewable energy.”

Cole Mellino|November 12, 2015

Snow sweeps into central states

Gusts up to 60 mph could hit parts of US on Thursday

A snowstorm roared into Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas on Wednesday as a large swath of the Midwest and Plains braced for howling winds Thursday.

The threat of severe storms, including tornadoes, remained high late Wednesday in portions of Nebraska and Iowa. A possible tornado Wednesday afternoon damaged buildings in Corning, Iowa, the National Weather Service reported. There were no reports of injuries.

A winter storm warning or blizzard warning was in effect through Wednesday for parts of Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas. Sustained winds of 30 to 40 mph were expected.

The main threat Thursday will be strong winds across a wide portion of the north-central U.S. Gusts up to 60 mph are expected in some areas from the central Rockies to the Great Lakes.

Strong winds could lead to power outages, tree damage and travel disruptions Thursday in Chicago, Detroit and Pittsburgh, AccuWeather said.

While wind speeds may die down a bit Thursday night, gusts over 50 mph may persist, particularly over and downwind of the southern Great Lakes, according to the Weather Channel. The high winds will spread into the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic on Friday. On Wednesday, 6 to 12 inches of snow fell on the Front Range in Colorado and the mountains in Wyoming, with several inches of snow around the Denver metro area, according to AccuWeather.

The Nebraska State Patrol reported several minor accidents involving vehicles sliding off icy or slushy roadways, but no injuries were reported.

At Denver International Airport, spokesman Heath Montgomery said airlines canceled about 50 flights in anticipation of the bad weather — out of the airport’s 1,500 daily flights — and ground crews kept up with the snowfall. No major delays were reported.

Earlier in the week, snow blanketed portions of the western U.S., with up to 10 inches in parts of the Reno area, the Weather Channel reported.

Blame the recent tumult on the jet stream. A powerful southern dip punched into the Plains and Midwest, clashing with warmer, moist air sliding north, the Weather Channel reported.

Severe weather is not unusual in November, according to the Weather Channel. In fact, the month is considered a “second season” for severe weather, after spring.

Doyle Rice|USA TODAY|Contributing: The Associated Press

2 Billion People to Face Water Shortages as Snowpack Declines

Up to 2 billion people who depend on winter snow to deliver their summer water could see shortages by 2060 as upland and mountain snowpacks continue to dwindle.

An estimated 300 million people could find, 45 years on, that they simply won’t have enough water for all their needs, according to new research.

Melting snowpack in Turkey’s Lesser Caucasus mountains. Photo credit: Dario Martin-Benito

Melting snowpack in Turkey’s Lesser Caucasus mountains. Photo credit: Dario Martin-Benito

Climate change driven by rising atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide—in turn, fed by human combustion of fossil fuels—may already be affecting global precipitation. Researchers have consistently found that much of the world’s drylands will increase as global average temperatures rise.

But warmer temperatures increasingly also mean the water that once fell as snow, to be preserved until the summer, now falls as winter rain and runs off directly. The snow that does fall is settling at ever higher altitudes and melting ever earlier.

Reliable Flow

This is bad news for agricultural communities that depend on a reliable flow of meltwater every summer.

California is already in the grip of a sustained drought, made worse by lower falls of snow. Great tracts of Asia depend on summer meltwater from the Himalayan massif and the Tibetan plateau.

Justin Mankin, an environmental scientist at Columbia University’s Earth Institute in the U.S. and colleagues report in Environmental Research Letters journal that they studied 421 drainage basins across the northern hemisphere.

They took account of the water used now and the patterns of population growth and tested the impact of global warming, using computer simulations of a range of possible future patterns.

From this larger picture, they isolated 97 drainage basins that deliver water to 2 billion people who are reliant on snow on the high ground as a reservoir of summer water.

All of these face at least a 67 percent risk of a decline in stored snow, given the demand for water now. But in 32 of those basins, home to 1.45 billion people, snowmelt is already needed to meet a substantial proportion of demand.

These include northern and central California, the basins of the Colorado River and the Rio Grande in the U.S. West and northern Mexico, the Atlas basin of Morocco, the Ebro-Douro basin that waters Portugal and Spain and a series of basins in eastern Italy, the southern Balkans, the Caucasus nations and northern Turkey.

It also includes the Shatt al-Arab basin that brings meltwater from the Zagros mountains to Iraq, Syria, eastern Turkey, northern Saudi Arabia and eastern Iran. Research has linked civil conflict in the region and in other parts of the world with climate change.

But although snowpack will continue to decline, the researchers think rainfall will continue to meet demand across most of North America, northern Europe, Russia, China and southeast Asia. There may be no real change for India’s Indus and Ganges basins, which are home upwards of a billion people.

And accelerated melting of the glaciers could actually increase water supplies for some central Asian nations, including Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

Planning for Change

The message of the research is that national, regional and civic authorities must start planning for change.

“Managers need to be prepared for the possibility of multi-decadal decreases in snow water supply,” Dr. Mankin says. “But at the same time, they could have large multi-decadal increases. Both these outcomes are entirely consistent with global warming.”

The authors warn that their projections do not consider the water demands of forests and wild things, as they had been focusing on human needs. Nor had they taken into consideration future population growth or migration.

“Total human population—and thereby total water demand—will almost certainly increase in the future,” the researchers write. “However, we do not predict changes in total population or the geographic distribution of people, nor the changes in consumption patterns that are likely to accompany future socio-economic changes.”

“To do so would introduce additional sources of uncertainty, whereas our aim is to isolate the uncertainty from climate change.”

Tim Radford|Climate News Network|November 13, 2015

Wild Texas weather spurs concern about ‘new norm’

Scientists looking at whether big swings are here to stay

WIMBERLEY , TEXAS Deadly flooding in the Hill Country. A withering flash drought across Texas. Wildfires near Bastrop. Record rainfall and more flooding in Central Texas.

Texas has been hit this year by wildly fluctuating weather that has destroyed homes, ruined thousands of acres of crops and led to more than a dozen deaths.

Weather patterns influenced by El Nino jammed the jet stream in a holding pattern over Texas, causing much of the extreme weather, meteorologists say. Climatologists are studying the patterns to determine whether the weather swings are one-off occurrences or signs of a “new normal” brought on by climate change.

Some residents in Wimberley, Texas, where severe flooding from the Blanco River in May killed 12 people and destroyed more than 70 homes and businesses, aren’t taking any chances.

Mike and Gay Sullivan are rebuilding their two-story home on the river’s north bank with hurricane straps, steel beams and a metal porch to keep it and themselves from being washed away in another flood. The couple survived the May floods, only to be hit with a three-month drought, followed by more heavy rains last month that swelled the Blanco River to within a foot of their home.

“It’s the new normal,” said Gay Sullivan, 76.


The question with which climatologists are wrestling is whether more of these swings will occur with the warming of the planet and climate change. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has con­firmed in multiple studies that a warming world will intensify extreme precipitation events and their frequency.

Intense swings from drought to flooding have been recorded a few times since the 1950s, said Steve Bowen of Aon Benfield, a London global reinsurance firm. “The question now becomes whether we should expect to see the frequency of these rapid shifts from drought to flood increase as a result of climate change,” Bowen said.

In Texas, a key culprit in the weather was El Nino, a periodic warming of tropical Pacific Ocean water that affects weather around the world, said Matt Lanza, an energy industry meteorologist in Houston.


Texas’ wild weather year began in May with a steady deluge that dropped 9.05 inches of rain statewide, making it the wettest single month since records began in 1895 and shattering the previous record of 6.66 inches from June 2004, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information.
The deadly deluge was followed by a “flash drought” that left Texas vulnerable to wildfires. A few weeks later, more heavy rain pounded central Texas, triggering tornadoes and causing flooding in some areas. At least six deaths were attributed to those storms.

Besides being destructive to homes and dangerous to people, the whiplash weather has been hard on crops. Texas cotton growers initially welcomed the May rains after slowly emerging from a withering, multiyear drought, said Gaylon Morgan, a cotton agronomist at the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

But that enthusiasm faded quickly as the rains persisted through planting season. About 700,000 acres of Texas cotton weren’t planted because of the prolonged deluges, he said. Then the rains stopped and didn’t return for two months, withering thousands of more acres.

Rick Jervis and Doyle Rice|USA TODAY

Genetically Modified Organisms

Monsanto Handed ‘Double Whammy’ by Mexican Courts Over Planting GMOs

Opponents of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have claimed victory after Mexico’s Supreme Court blocked last week a move that would allow the cultivation of GMO soy in the Mexican states of Campeche and Yucatan. In a separate appeals court decision, a federal judge upheld a 2013 ruling that barred companies such as Monsanto and DuPont/Pioneer from planting or selling their GMO corn within the country’s borders.

The court decisions were heralded as a “double whammy” against agribusiness giant Monsanto, according to a celebratory Facebook post from sustainable food advocacy organization GMO Free USA.

According to a report from Mexico News Daily, the ruling on Wednesday favored an injunction filed by Maya beekeepers on the Yucatán peninsula, where honey production and collection is its main industry.

“The decision suspends a permit granted to the agrichemical firm Monsanto to farm genetically modified soybeans on over 250,000 hectares in the region and instructs a federal agency it must first consult with indigenous communities before granting any future permits for transgenic soy farming,” the report said.

Environmental organizations such as Greenpeace, Indignación and Litiga OLE reportedly said that farming GMO soybeans in the region would put honey production and approximately 15,000 Maya farm families at risk due to the use of the herbicide glyphosate (which has been linked to cancer). It was also claimed that soy production would lead to deforestation in Campeche.

Monsanto has since given a response to the decision, denying that its GMO soy has impacted bees, causes deforestation or damages the honey industry in the two states, Reuters reported.

“We do not accept accusations that put us as responsible for deforestation and illegal logging in the municipality of Hopelchén, Campeche, or any place of the Republic, because our work is rigidly attached to the guidelines provided by law,” the company said in a statement.

As for GMO corn, Sustainable Pulse reported that federal judge Benjamin Soto Sánchez, head of the second Unitarian Court in Civil and Administrative Matters of the First Circuit, “upheld a provisional suspension prohibiting pertinent federal agencies from processing and granting the privilege of sowing or releasing into the environment of transgenic maize in the country.”

This decision came despite 100 challenges by transnational agribusiness interests and the federal government, according to Sustainable Pulse.

According to Al Jazeera, “Fewer than 30 percent of Mexican farmers even use conventional hybrid maize—high-yielding, single-use seeds, which need to be purchased every year,” and prefer “to stick with seeds they can save year to year, often varieties of the native ‘landraces’ of maize the injunction is intended to protect.” Still, Monsanto “has the Mexican market for yellow maize seeds; 90 percent of U.S. maize is in GM seeds, and that is the source for Mexico’s imports of yellow maize.”

Mexico’s initial ban of GMO corn in September 2013 was overturned in August 2015, which opened the door for more business opportunities for Monsanto pending favorable later court decisions, as Telesurtv noted. The multinational company announced that it was seeking to double its sales in the country over the next five years.

However, this latest ruling from the appellate court could drive Monsanto’s ambitions to the ground.

A staunch anti-GMO movement has swelled in the country in order to preserve the country’s unique biodiversity of its staple crop. Lawyer Bernardo Bátiz, advisor to the lead plaintiffs’ organization, Demanda Colectiva, spoke about the significance of the two separate cases.

He said that Mexico is “a country of great biological, cultural, agricultural diversity and [therefore the courts should consider the impact of] planting GMO corn, soybeans or other crops.”

He added, “in a country like ours, among other negative effects that would result, is that Mexican honey would be difficult to keep organic.”

Lorraine Chow|November 9, 2015

Does Monsanto’s Glyphosate Cause Cancer?

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has rejected the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s (IARC) classification of glyphosate as a possible carcinogen, declaring that the active ingredient in Monsanto’s widely used weedkiller Roundup, is “unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans.”

However, the EFSA has made a very important admission in their report, as noted by Sustainable Pulse. Unlike the IARC, the Italy-based EFSA examined glyphosate alone, not glyphosate formulations.

The adverse health effects of the herbicide, therefore, could be related to reactions with “other constituents or ‘co-formulants,’” the EFSA report said.

As Sustainable Pulse writes:

“A very important point is that glyphosate-based herbicides would not work well to kill weeds for farmers or gardeners without the addition of these extra additional chemicals known as adjuvants.”

“However, the complete pesticide formulations as sold and used also contain additives (adjuvants), which increase the pest—or weed-killing activity of the pesticide. These complete formulations do not have to be tested in medium- and long-term tests—even though they are the substances to which farmers and citizens are exposed.”

The EFSA provides independent scientific advice to the European Union and plays a key role in the authorization of thousands of products ending up in Europe’s food chain, including genetically modified organisms (GMOs), pesticides, food additives and nanotech products, according to the Corporate Europe Observatory, a non-profit corporate lobbying research group.

Could the EFSA’s conclusion in it latest report be influenced by larger players though? Sustainable Pulse suggests that “corruption” might be at hand. This video from the Corporate Europe Observatory alleges that Big Food corporations and biotech companies, including Monsanto, might have intimate ties with EFSA.

In March, the IARC (the World Heath Organization’s cancer research arm) famously linked Monsanto’s weedkiller to cancer. If the EFSA had a similar classification, it would mean that glyphosate would no longer be used.

The EFSA explained today why their conclusion differed from the IARC’s:

This is because the EU and IARC take different approaches to the classification of chemicals. The EU scheme—assesses each individual chemical, and each marketed mixture separately. IARC assesses generic agents, including groups of related chemicals, as well as occupational or environmental exposure, and cultural or behavioral practices.

This is important because although some studies suggest that certain glyphosate-based formulations may be genotoxic (i.e. damaging to DNA), others that look solely at the active substance glyphosate do not show this effect. It is likely, therefore, that the genotoxic effects observed in some glyphosate-based formulations are related to the other constituents or “co-formulants.”

Interestingly, the EFSA has also, for the first time, proposed a maximum exposure on glyphosate. The maximum safe daily dose is recommended at 0.5 milligrams per kilogram of body weight.

According to Reuters, “that means an 80-kg person could eat food containing 40 milligrams of glyphosate per day for the rest of their life.”

Monsanto has vehemently denied glyphosate’s link to cancer and has demanded a retraction of the IARC’s report. Today, the agrotech giant also sent out this tweet touting the herbicide’s benefits to farmers.

Glyphosate is the go-to weed killer for use on genetically engineered (or Roundup Ready) crops grown around the world. In the U.S., farmers sprayed 2.6 billion pounds of it on U.S. agricultural land between 1992 and 2012, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Since the IARC’s classification, however, several communities have demanded bans, France has ceased sales of Roundup in garden centers, California’s Environmental Protection Agency issued plans to list glyphosate as a possible carcinogen and a slew of lawsuits have been mounting against Monsanto. EcoWatch recently reported that personal injury law firms around the U.S. are gathering numerous plaintiffs to build “mass tort actions” alleging that exposure to the company’s popular weedkiller has caused cancer in their clients.

Last month, a majority of the European Union officially “opted out” of growing genetically modified crops (GMOs) within their territories. These member states were targeting Monsanto’s GMO maize, the only GMO crop approved for cultivation in the EU.

Lorraine Chow|November 12, 2015


If a Solar Plant Uses Natural Gas, Is It Still Green?

The giant Ivanpah solar power plant in the California Mojave Desert recently detailed how much natural gas it burned to generate power when the sun wasn’t sufficient – the equivalent to 46,000 tons of CO2 emissions in its first year, according to reports.

Along with its impacts on wildlife and its receipt of federal incentives, news of the CO2 emissions has renewed criticism of the 377-megawatt facility, which supplies 140,000 California homes during peak hours of the day.

Why is a solar power plant using natural gas, and does the associated CO2 disqualify it as “green”?

The use of natural gas to complement solar in fact highlights a trend toward what I call “speckled green” electricity generation – approaches that are not completely green, but in which natural gas enables more widespread, reliable, and affordable deployments of renewables.

Power Tower

Unlike the solar photovoltaic (PV) panels that are proliferating on rooftops such as my own, Ivanpah generates its power by angling mirrors to gather the intense sunlight of the Mojave Desert to produce heat. The mirrors reflect sunlight onto three power towers, where steam turns turbines to generate electricity.

This “concentrating” solar thermal approach is even more sensitive to clouds and particles than PV panels, since the mirrors can concentrate only the sunlight that arrives in a direct beam from the sun. Clouds and particulate matter scatter the light into directions that can still be utilized by photovoltaic panels but not the precisely angled mirrors.

Ivanpah was designed and built to burn some natural gas to maintain peak power generation during times of intermittent clouds. Without the natural gas, Ivanpah’s steam turbines could trip off-line, interrupting power generation. The extra energy from natural gas can enable peak power production to continue until sunny conditions resume or the turbines pause for the night.
Ivanpah, which is the largest solar concentrating plant in the world, began operation in early 2014, but unexpectedly cloudy conditions dampened electricity generation to below intended levels. Thus, soon after opening, Ivanpah petitioned the California Energy Commission to increase its use of natural gas. The commission’s staff analysis noted that the request would increase the plant’s carbon dioxide equivalent emissions limit from 62 pounds per megawatt hour (lb/MWh) to 75 lb/MWh. Of course, actual emissions are lower if sunnier conditions negate the need for extra natural gas use and increase solar output.

On a percentage basis, this looks like a big increase. But context is needed. US power plants in 2012 emitted an average 1,137 lb/MWh of CO2 – 15 times Ivanpah’s “dirtier” new limit. In fact, this number understates the gap, since the Ivanpah limit includes associated maintenance vehicle emissions not counted in the national average.

Fox News and others have branded Ivanpah a “carbon polluter” by noting that its CO2 emissions top a federal threshold that requires reporting as a greenhouse gas emitting facility. Not mentioned is that Ivanpah’s emissions are just half the threshold of a “major stationary source,” denoting large facilities such as fossil fueled power plants or factories.

Transitional Technology?

Critics rightly note that Ivanpah’s natural gas use and associated emissions are far higher than originally anticipated, with gas-fired auxiliary power now at times needed 4.5 hours per day rather than one as originally expected. Some critics specifically attack the use of natural gas with solar as “dirty power.”

Indeed, natural gas is a nonrenewable fossil fuel whose use causes CO2 and methane emissions. However, unless we expect to switch to completely renewable fuels overnight, which is unrealistic, fossil fuels will remain a major part of our energy mix in the decades ahead.
I believe using those fossil fuels synergistically with renewables offers great potential. The joint deployment of natural gas with solar thermal energy, sometimes referred to as a “hybrid solar” plant, is one such approach. At Ivanpah, natural gas provided less than 5% of the energy, yet may have substantially boosted solar power output by keeping the turbines online.

More broadly, the rapidly dispatchable – that is, able to generate power on demand – and adjustable nature of natural gas power generators enable greater penetration of variable wind and solar on the grid while maintaining reliability.

Desert Tortoises

There are, however, other arguments that critics could lodge against Ivanpah.

Its electricity output underperformed expectations in its initial year, though output in 2015 has increased sharply. It’s likely that the added flexibility to use more natural gas, together with an extra year of experience, has contributed to the big boost in output.

As a cutting-edge energy project, Ivanpah received US$1.6 billion in loan guarantees from the Department of Energy, plus a $660 million tax refund under the 30% Investment Tax Credit. Ivanpah also benefits from the tradeable renewable energy credits it generates under California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard. Critics of government incentives for renewable energy may oppose the policies that enabled those incentives and credits. Also, as costs have fallen faster for utility scale solar photovoltaics than for solar thermal, Ivanpah is no longer seen as representing the most affordable possible future for solar.

In terms of environmental impacts beyond CO2, Ivanpah has been linked to 3,500 bird deaths. Environmentalists have also criticized Ivanpah for its proximity to some endangered species such as the desert tortoise.

Indeed, Ivanpah does not deserve to be considered the pure electric green energy source that we might seek in an ideal world. But all energy sources have environmental impacts, whether from emissions of combustion or obtaining the fuels or building the power plants and solar panels. The bird deaths from solar are tiny compared to those from fossil fuels.

At least from a climate perspective, I believe this particular case of “speckled green” energy is doing pretty well, reducing CO2 emissions per MWh by over 90% compared to our national average for electricity. For costs and more flexible siting, though, other approaches are likely to displace Ivanpah as exemplars of the path toward greener, more affordable electricity.

Daniel Cohan|Associate Professor of Environmental Engineering|Faculty Scholar|Baker Institute for Public Policy|Rice University|November 9, 2015

Deepwater LNG Port Passes Final Review — Will NJ or NY Governor Shut it Down?

Liberty Natural Gas proposes building a deepwater LNG terminal almost 30 miles off the New Jersey coast. Will controversial project get the go-ahead?

The clock is running on a proposal to build a liquefied natural gas terminal 28 miles off the Jersey Coast.

With the conclusion of public hearings on the Liberty Natural Gas plan to build a $600 million deepwater port 18 miles off Long Beach, NY, the governors of both New Jersey and New York have 45 days to weigh in on the project and kill it by vetoing the proposal.

Gov. Chris Christie previously vetoed a slightly modified version of the project and has repeatedly vowed to block any LNG facility off the Jersey shore, home to a multi-billion dollar tourism industry.

So far, however, neither he nor Gov. Andrew Cuomo has threatened to deep-six the new proposal, despite the pleas of environmental groups and others who strongly oppose it.

Liberty Natural Gas proposes to build a deep-water terminal where LNG tankers would deliver the liquefied fuel. It would then be converted to gas and shipped through a subsea pipeline to serve the New York City and Long Island markets.

The project would be the latest to take advantage of new supplies of natural gas discovered in Marcellus Shale formations in Pennsylvania and neighboring states. Those supplies have driven down the cost of heating homes in the winter and helped lower electricity prices by making power plants cheaper to run.

Backers of the project say demand for the fuel will only grow, particularly in the metropolitan area. New York state is already the fourth-largest consumer of natural gas in the country. Liberty Natural Gas executives claimed that a final environmental-impact statement completed last month by the U.S. Maritime Administration and Coast Guard demonstrates the project is safe and does not pose a threat to the environment.

The project has stirred a great deal of criticism; opponents view it as a step toward the industrialization of the ocean. They argue that project is unsafe because of the high volatility of LNG and that the energy demand can be better met through the use of renewable sources. They also question whether the gas will be shipped overseas rather than used in domestic markets.

Foes further argue that the project would be very vulnerable in the event of another extreme storm, such as Hurricane Sandy. Backers of the LNG proposal say that argument is not supported by the environmental-impact statement.

Tom Johnson|November 9, 2015

Global Coal Use Falling Fast, Arch Coal Could Face Bankruptcy

Listen to congressional Republicans and you would think that President Obama’s regulations are behind the nosedive the coal industry has taken this year. Alpha Natural Resources filed for Chapter 11 this summer, Arch Coal may follow next. Its stock, which traded as high as $3,600 in 2011 dipped to $1.50 this week.

There’s no question that the president’s Clean Power Plan and his other air pollution regulations cloud the future of the industry. But coal’s bleak present has much more to do with other factors; chief among them the low price of natural gas and bad business decisions that the country’s biggest coal companies made in recent years. “These are undoubtedly difficult, if not unprecedented, times for the coal sector,” Glenn Kellow, CEO of Peabody, the world’s largest coal company, reportedly said on the company’s recent earnings call.

Both Arch Coal and Peabody Energy paid billions of dollars to acquire metallurgical coal mines when prices of this type of coal, which is used to make steel and other metals, were soaring. The price has since collapsed, leaving the companies swamped in debt and their stock prices a small fraction of what they used to be. In Arch’s case, it spent $3.4 billion in 2011 to buy International Coal Group, Inc., acquiring 13 mines in the eastern U.S. At the time, the only company more invested in metallurgical coal was Alpha National Resources, (remember that name), which was buying Massie Energy for $7.1 billion. That same year, Peabody shelled out $5.2 billion for metallurgical coal mines in Australia.

The companies borrowed to buy these metallurgical coal mines, with the expectation that Asia, especially China, would gobble up all the metallurgical coal they could produce. What they didn’t count on was the price of metallurgical coal spiraling downward due in part to increased supplies of metallurgical coal from other countries and slower growth in China. Now U.S. metallurgical coal sells for less than half what it did in 2011.

Arch’s debt comes due next year. Scrambling to avoid bankruptcy, Arch tried to get creditors to renegotiate its debt, but the effort collapsed at the end of last month. Peabody has until 2018 and yet its stock has fallen from more than $1,000 in 2011 to less than $13 this fall.

The West is largely a bystander to this high drama, except that the companies that produce the most coal in the West are caught in the middle of it. Profitable mines owned by these companies in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin likely still will operate under whatever slimmed-down companies emerge from bankruptcy or under new ownership. But underground mines, where it costs more to extract the coal, may be less lucky. Peabody’s Twenty-mile mine in northwestern Colorado reportedly already has experienced significant reductions in production.

Mines in the West are not immune from the other main factor vexing the coal industry: low natural gas prices. Coal’s share in electricity production dropped from 50 percent in 2005 to 39 percent in 2014 and natural gas overtook coal as the biggest electricity producer for two months this year. The Energy Information Agency expects an eight percent decrease in total coal consumption in 2015 compared to 2014, mainly driven by electric companies shifting to low-cost natural gas. Retirement of coal-fired power plants due to the Obama administration’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards contributed, but to a lesser degree, according to the Energy Information Agency. “The big story here is gas and how cheap it is,” says Robert Godby, associate economics professor at the University of Wyoming who focuses on coal.

The drop in demand for coal by the U.S. electric power sector combined with reduced exports has resulted in surpluses and has pushed prices down.

Overtime, this trend will push out less profitable operations. Bowie Resource Partners earlier this fall announced it was scaling back its workforce and evaluating the market for the coal from a mine near Paonia, Colorado. This will only get worse as the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan kicks in. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency projects its first-ever regulation of greenhouse gases for existing power plants will drive coal’s share of electricity production down to 27 percent by 2030.

But coal’s prospects will deteriorate much more if world leaders make the deeper cuts in greenhouse gases that scientists say will be needed in coming decades to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of climate change. “The elephant in the room is climate change,” says Godby. “The Clean Power Plan is just the beginning. It doesn’t get close to what you need.”

Exports won’t likely take the place of domestic demand, Godby cautions. China has committed to leveling off and then reducing its emissions and is considering moving its coal-fired electricity generation to the interior of its country to limit air pollution in its coastal cities. It could locate its new power plants near its own stores of coal. Transporting even Powder River Basin coal that far likely would be cost prohibitive. India also has sources of coal closer to home.

Communities like Gillette, Wyoming and Craig, Colorado, have grown up around coal mines and their decline could have dramatic impacts on local economies.

“The projections are quite grim,” says Adele Morris, who focuses on the economics of climate change at the Brookings Institution think tank. “Any kind of serious climate policy dramatically reduces coal.”

Morris is gathering experts to brainstorm policies that might alleviate the economic pain for coal miners and their communities. “It behooves us not to solve our environmental problems in a way that kicks people when they’re down,” Morris added.

Elizabeth Shogren|High Country News|November 9, 2015

Are We Winning the War Against Coal? ‏

In the wake of President Obama’s bold rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline last week, it’s clear the next big goal of the climate movement is to start keeping our fossil fuels in the ground.

Fortunately, we’re already leading the way.

As the latest edition of High Country News reports, WildEarth Guardians’ campaign to keep coal in the ground is gaining momentum, finding success, and inspiring a movement to get on board.

Check it out and read the dirty details about the federal coal program for yourself, like censored climate scientists, illegal coal mining approvals, inept bureaucrats, and our lanky, yet undaunted, Climate and Energy Program Director, Jeremy Nichols.

It’s a classic David vs. Goliath fight and Guardians’ dedication, tenacity, and effectiveness are winning the war against Big Coal. Jeremy’s well-deserved spotlight today is an example of how I see each and every one of the Guardians staff that are at work all over the west: bold, visionary and energetic advocates defending our rivers, wild places, wildlife, and our climate.

The High Country News feature story comes amid a crystallizing realization that we can’t keep mining more coal and expect to protect our climate. 

Even President Obama remarked last week, “we’re gonna have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky.”

We’ve still got work to do, but in the meantime, we’re winning.

Let’s celebrate the validation and acknowledgement that a story like this provides and take this opportunity to re-inspire ourselves, our friends and family, and the world. Each of us is powerful and we can all make and are making a difference.

John Horning|Executive Director|WildEarth Guardians|11/11/15

[It’s a little early to express a lot of enthusiasm because too many obstacles are sill in the path to clean energy. Number one, of course, is big coal, but I did see earlier this week that Arch Coal, the biggest producer, will possibly file for bankruptcy. Seems its stock dropped in value from $3600.00 per share to $1.50.]

L.A. Sued for Racially Discriminatory Oil-drilling Rules

The Center for Biological Diversity joined Youth for Environmental Justice and South Central Youth Leadership Coalition — representing many plaintiffs in their teens — to sue Los Angeles for letting oil companies drill hundreds of wells near neighborhoods without properly assessing their health and environmental risks.

The suit also charges L.A. with creating weaker oil-drilling protections in areas where most residents are people of color. For example, the city requires west-side sites to use relatively clean, quiet electric drilling rigs — but in the black and Latino neighborhoods of South L.A. and Wilmington, it allows loud, polluting diesel rigs that fill nearby homes with toxic fumes. The city has also required soundproofed-facade buildings surrounding drill sites near homes in West L.A., but not in South L.A. or Wilmington, where residents must endure diesel rigs’ deafening din.

Said the Center’s Maya Golden-Krasner, “It’s tragic that city officials are doing so little to protect communities of color from hazardous oil operations — which don’t belong in any neighborhood.”

Read more in the Los Angeles Times.

New York Times Op-ed: Obama Should Let Fossil Fuels Lie

In the wake of President Obama’s Keystone XL announcement, The New York Times on Wednesday ran an op-ed column by Center for Biological Diversity staff writer Lydia Millet asking the president to go further and use his authority to keep new fossil fuel leases off our federal public lands. Citing a report commissioned by the Center and Friends of the Earth, Lydia pointed out that even without action by Congress, the president has the authority to stop new leasing of public lands — mostly in the interior West and offshore — to oil, gas and coal interests.

It’s a move that would keep some 450 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions from entering the atmosphere, while also helping to preserve wild places and the animals and plants whose survival depends on them.

We’re taking that message to the street too. Dozens of protesters joined us this morning in Colorado calling for a halt to an oil and gas auction there. We’ve got similar rallies set for upcoming auctions in Salt Lake City, Reno and Washington, D.C.

Read the op-ed now and check out this gallery of photos from this morning’s protest in Colorado.

London Science Museum just announced plans to cancel its sponsorship deal with Shell Oil.

The news follows a concerted campaign by scientists and members of the public. Just last Spring, our museum teamed up with dozens of the world’s top scientists and Nobel laureates to release a letter calling on science museums to cut ties to fossil fuels. The news went viral, capturing more than 100 news headlines around the world and kicking off a sector-wide conversation about ethical funding and fossil fuel divestment.

One month later, the UK-based theater activism group BP or Not BP? filed FOIA requests that led to the release of dozens of emails exchanged between Shell Oil and the London Science Museum. The emails revealed Shell’s repeated attempts to leverage its sponsorship deal to influence climate change programming.

Today’s new is BIG–it marks the first time a science museum has dropped a fossil fuel sponsor in response to public pressure.

The Museum Code of Ethics states it’s incumbent upon museums to “preserve the rich and diverse world we have inherited for posterity”, and to act not only legally, but also ethically–taking very seriously any threats to our institutional integrity.

When science and natural history museums take funding from or invest in the world’s biggest polluters, they undermine the trust and faith the public place in them–trust they’ve earned through years of dedicated service. We are forced to question whose interests they serve.

These museums need to align with their missions by cutting ties to fossil fuels. Our natural history museum  makes every effort to champion bold action on climate change, and a sustainable and equitable future for all. And we applaud the London Science Museum, California Academy of Sciences, Australian Academy of Sciences and any other peer institutions that are dropping fossil fuel sponsors and divesting from fossil fuels.

Momentum is growing–and it wouldn’t be possible without the efforts of people like you!

The Natural History Museum

World’s Biggest Economies Still Backing Fossil Fuels

The governments of the world’s major industrialized countries, the G20 group, are providing more than US$450 billion a year to support the production of fossil fuels.

That is almost four times the entire world’s subsidies to the rapidly growing renewable energy sector, as the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates total global renewables subsidies in 2013 at $121bn.

The G20 group agreed in 2009 to phase out fossil fuel subsidies “in the medium term,” a pledge that was repeated at its 2014 meeting in Brisbane.


But the UK’s Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and campaign group Oil Change International (OCI) have now published a detailed analysis of G20 subsidies to oil, gas and coal production.

Empty Promises

Their “Empty Promises” report on G20 subsidies to oil, gas and coal production says researchers found that G20 support to fossil fuel production now totals $452bn.

The report singles out the UK for particular criticism, saying it “stands out as the only G7 nation significantly ramping up its support for the fossil fuel industry, with even more tax breaks and industry support handed out to companies operating in the North Sea in 2015.”

A similar report by the two groups a year ago said G20 subsidies for fossil fuel exploration alone amounted to an estimated $88bn annually.

The G20’s continued support for fuels—whose use increases greenhouse gas emissions and increases the risk of irreversible and catastrophic climate change—ignores the global imperatives to keep most current fossil fuel reserves in the ground.

It also disregards the faltering economic returns from coal and from oil and gas reserves, which are increasingly difficult to exploit.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says at least three-quarters of proven reserves of oil, gas and coal must stay in the ground in order for the planet to have a two-in-three chance of remaining below the internationally-agreed 2C climate change threshold.

There is continuing scientific debate over how much of the world’s fossil fuels should remain unexploited, with many estimates ranging from a fifth to a third. The UN climate change conference in Paris, starting on Nov. 30, is likely to see a keen debate on the issue.

The ODI/OCI report, published before the G20 summit in the Turkish city of Antalya, examines three types of G20 government support in 2013 and 2014—the most recent years with comparable data.

It looks at national subsidies extended through direct spending and tax breaks; investment by state-owned enterprises, both domestically and internationally; and public finance extended through, for example, loans from government-owned banks and financial institutions.

Tax Breaks

Japan provided more public finance for fossil fuel production in 2013 and 2014 than any other G20 country, averaging $19bn per year—$2.8bn of that for coal alone. The U.S. provided more than $20bn in national subsidies, despite calls from President Obama to scrap support to fossil fuels.

Russia provided almost $23bn in national subsidies—the highest of all the G20 countries—and China’s investment in fossil fuel production at home and abroad amounted to almost $77bn annually.

Turkey, this year’s G20 host, is giving tax breaks to support its program of building more coal plants than any other OECD country, potentially raising its own greenhouse gas emissions by 94 percent over the next 15 years.

At the end of September, the U.S. and China agreed to give priority to the establishment of a firm deadline for the phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies as a key task during China’s G20 presidency in 2016.

The report recommends G20 governments adopt strict timelines for the phase-out of fossil fuel production subsidies, increase transparency through improved reporting of the subsidies and transfer government support to wider public goods, including low-carbon development and universal energy access.

Alex Kirby|Climate News Network|November 12, 2015

Fossil Fuel Industry Files Motion to Intervene in Landmark Climate Lawsuit

They can’t even vote yet, but a significant climate change lawsuit filed against the Federal Government by young people from around the country just got the attention of the powerful fossil fuel industry.

Yesterday, nearly every oil and gas company in the world asked for permission to oppose the landmark climate lawsuit brought against President Obama and the federal government by America’s youth and Dr. James E. Hansen—as guardian for future generations. In an unusual step, the immense fossil fuel industry trade groups all filed pleadings in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon seeking to join the lawsuit side by side with President Obama to protect their companies’ interests.

Nine of the 21 youth who brought the case. Photo credit: Our

Nine of the 21 young people from across the U.S. that have filed a landmark constitutional climate change lawsuit against the federal government in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon. Photo credit: Our Children’s Trust

The proposed interveners constitute a veritable who’s who of major corporate polluters, including the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (representing members ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, Koch Industries, and virtually all other U.S. refiners and petrochemical manufacturers), American Petroleum Institute (representing 625 oil and natural gas companies) and National Association of Manufacturers.

“The largest, best funded fossil fuel heavyweights want the court to protect their wallets over ensuring a habitable country for these young plaintiffs and future generations,” commented Philip Gregory of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, counsel to the plaintiffs.  “As the recent disclosures by Exxon reveal, our government and the fossil fuel industry have known for decades that fossil fuel extraction, production and consumption would destroy our climate in the upcoming decades. That is why this case is significant: a court needs to order our government to protect our kids and future generations.”

The lawsuit asserts the federal government has violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty and property. It also claims the government failed to protect essential public trust resources by facilitating the exploitation of fossil fuels. The youth have asked the courts to order the federal government to prepare and implement a science-based national climate recovery plan.

The fossil fuel powerhouses call the youth’s case “extraordinary” and “a direct threat to [their] businesses.” They claim “significant reduction in [greenhouse gas] emissions would cause a significant negative effect on [their] members by constraining the sale of the product they have specialized in developing and selling.”

“The biggest fossil fuel polluters on the planet, including Exxon and Koch Industries, just asked the court for permission to argue that young people don’t have a constitutional right to life if it means reducing fossil fuel use,” said Julia Olson, executive director for Our Children’s Trust and lead counsel on the litigation. “With the president on his way to the UN Climate Talks in Paris later this month, a renewed alignment between our government and the fossil fuel industry could not be less welcome. This case asks the court to order what the industry fears most: a national plan using the best science we’ve got to try to leave clean air and a healthy climate to our kids.”

In seeking to join the case, the fossil fuel Industry argues that the court should focus on short-term economic benefits over a stable climate. The industry claims that “reducing greenhouse gas emissions in order to bring atmospheric carbon dioxide levels down to 350 parts per million would abate some of the future risks of climate change, those reductions would nevertheless not be ‘appropriate’ if the future potential benefits would be outweighed by, for instance, enormous losses in productivity and economic development.”

The groups claim the fossil fuel companies “possess legally protectable interests in their members’ economic interests and legal rights in current and future contracts and transactions.” The trade groups assert the youth’s constitutional rights to breathe clean air do not trump the industry’s “concrete interests in the production, refining, and use of conventional fuels in the United States, as well as in stable and competitive energy prices.”

These young plaintiffs are challenging the federal government’s national fossil fuel programs, as well as the 1992 Energy Policy Act and the export permit for the proposed Jordan Cove LNG export terminal in Coos Bay, Oregon. Plaintiffs seek to hold President Obama and various federal agencies responsible for continued fossil fuel exploitation. Plaintiffs seek a court order requiring the president to immediately implement a national plan to decrease atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide to a safe level: 350 ppm by the year 2100. This case places indisputable climate science squarely in front of the federal judiciary, requesting an order that our government cease jeopardizing the climate system to the detriment of present and future generations.

“Big Oil is starting to lose control of our political system,” declared Alex Loznak, a youth plaintiff in the case from Oregon. “Last week, President Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline, and New York State began to investigate Exxon’s cover-up of climate science. The intervention of fossil fuel companies in our lawsuit against the federal government makes it clear that the industry is scared. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, ‘First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.’ The fight has begun, and we will win.”

“Seeing giant fossil fuel corporations inject themselves into this case, which is about our future, really demonstrates the problem we are trying to fix,” stated Xiuhtezcatl Tonatiuh Martinez of Earth Guardians, a youth plaintiff in the case from Colorado. “The Federal government has been making decisions in the best interest of multinational corporations and their profits, but not in the best interest of my generation and those to come. Instead of changing their business model to meet the scientific reality of climate change, these companies are demanding we adapt to an uninhabitable world that supports their profits. When you compare the two, I think it’s clear that our right to clean air and a healthy atmosphere, is more important than their “need” to make money off destroying our future.”

Nonetheless, the fossil fuel groups do not address in their pleadings the plaintiffs’ constitutional claims, and though challenging the youth’s standing to raise their claims, ignores the youth’s detailed description in their complaint of how each youth plaintiff is and will be harmed by the government’s actions and inactions.

“The science is clear,” said Dr. James Hansen. “To preserve a climate system conducive to humanity and nature alike, the burning of fossil fuel must be phased out without further delay, and completed within decades. It is the fundamental duty of our government to ensure that this is done in time to avert catastrophic sea level rise and other intolerable climate damage. I am not surprised that fossil fuel corporations seek to derail this case, but the fundamental rights of my granddaughter and future generations to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness must prevail.”

Our Children’s Trust|November 13, 2015

TransCanada’s Next Move? Pipeline to Mexico Carrying U.S. Fracked Gas

TransCanada, the owner of the recently-nixed northern leg of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, has won a bid from Mexico’s government to build a 155-mile pipeline carrying gas from hydraulic fracturing in the U.S. to Mexico’s electricity grid.

The company has benefited from Mexico’s energy sector privatization promoted by the U.S. State Department, the same agency that denied a permit to the U.S.-Canada border-crossing Keystone XL. TransCanada said in a press release that construction on the $500 million line will begin in 2016 and it will be called the Tuxpan-Tula Pipeline.

This is not the first pipeline system TransCanada will oversee in Mexico. The company already owns four other systems, with two operational and two under construction. But it is the first pipeline the company will own during Mexico’s energy sector privatization era, a policy in place due to constitutional amendments passed in 2013.

“By 2018, with the Tuxpan-Tula Pipeline, TransCanada will have five major pipeline systems, with approximately US$3 billion invested in Mexico,” TransCanada stated in a press release. “We will continue to pursue additional opportunities for new energy infrastructure projects in Mexico going forward.”

Tuxpan-Tula connects to a series of pipelines originating in Nueces, Texas and eventually crossing the U.S.-Mexico border via the Sur de Texas–Tuxpan gas pipeline, a $3.1 billion project slated to cross underwater through the Gulf of Mexico. The set of pipelines will move gas obtained from fracking in Texas’ Eagle Ford Shale to Mexico’s electricity grid.

The lines are part of a broader package of 12 gas pipelines and infrastructure projects worth $10 billion planned by the Mexican government, which, if all built, will total more than 3,100 miles of pipelines.

Though the Mexican government publicly denied the U.S. had any involvement in helping to usher in privatization of Mexico’s energy sector, as first revealed by DeSmog, it appears the State Department has tracked gas pipeline developments in Mexico closely.

In the June 2015 edition of the State Department’s Overseas Business Insights newsletter, an article titled “Mexico: Pipeline and Electricity Tenders” read:

“The natural gas pipeline project tenders will enable Mexico to import more natural gas from the U.S. via onshore and offshore pipelines. Mexico’s current natural gas production is 6.6 billion cubic feet per day (bcf/d), while imports from the U.S. in 2015 average approximately 1.2 bcf/d.”

The State Department also published an article about the status of Mexico’s energy grid privatization efforts in the July 2015 edition of Overseas Business Insights.

Global Shale Gas Initiative

As Bloomberg explained in a Nov. 10 article, Mexico’s consumption of U.S. fracked gas will keep the U.S. shale gas industry and fracking afloat during a time of depressed prices on the market.

“That’s the sleeper story,” Richard Ennis, head of natural resources at ING Capital LLC, told Bloomberg. “In Mexico, if you look at how much natural gas they use, it’s tiny. All these new pipelines are going to triple their daily use. It’s pretty dramatic.”

The State Department’s push to privatize Mexico’s energy and electricity sector and the flooding of Mexico with U.S. shale gas fits under the broader umbrella of its Unconventional Gas Technical Engagement Program, formerly known as the Global Shale Gas Initiative.

Steve Horn|DeSmogBlog|November 12, 2015

[What can you say about an industry that puts corporate profit above safety and quality of life of their own children and grand-children?]

The Badger-Two Medicine Area; Too Sacred To Drill

For more than 10,000 years, the Badger-Two Medicine area near Glacier National Park in Montana has provided strength, subsistence and cultural identity for members of the Blackfeet Nation. The Blackfeet believe that their people were created among the mountains and springs that rise from where Badger Creek and the Two Medicine River trace their headwaters.

But the Blackfeet aren’t the only ones who value the region. The oil and gas industry also have their eyes on the area—and for more than 30 years, they’ve been fighting to drill the hell out of it.

Kendall Edmo, a Blackfeet tribal member, became involved in the fight to protect the Badger-Two Medicine area after learning about the region’s cultural significance to her people—and the threat of oil and gas drilling.

During her childhood, Edmo wasn’t immersed in the Blackfeet language or traditional ways. That changed after she graduated from college and returned to the reservation.

As a tribal liaison for the National Parks Conservation Association, Edmo met with tribal elders who took her under their wing and mentored her in Blackfeet history and spirituality. They explained the significance of the Badger-Two Medicine area. “Our cultural connection to this land is deeper than us just occupying it,” Edmo says. “It’s a vital connection to our identity.”

An Anschutz Exploration Corp. drilling site on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation near Browning, Montana, July 20, 2012. Certain parts of the reservation have been opened to drilling.

In the 1980s, the Reagan administration issued 47 oil and gas leases in the Badger-Two Medicine area to oilmen for $1 per acre. The leases were granted without tribal consultation, review of significant cultural values or proper evaluation of environmental impact—all required by federal law—and therefore violate both the National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act.

By 1997, a more conservation-minded Forest Service placed a moratorium on any new oil and gas leases along the Rocky Mountain Front, including the Badger-Two Medicine area. Since then, many companies and leaseholders have voluntarily relinquished their leases. A handful of leases remain, though, sitting in legal limbo over the past three decades due to a series of suspensions by the federal government.

One of those leaseholders is the Solenex company in Louisiana. In June 2013, Solenex sued the federal government, alleging that it had unreasonably delayed the company’s right to develop its lease. The fight to protect the Badger-Two Medicine area had just taken on a new urgency.

The Rocky Mountain Front, stretching from the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains to the plains, is home to many of North America’s large mammals. Every wildlife species present since the days of Lewis and Clark still exist and roam free—except for bison.
Slaughtered by the millions more than a century ago, bison (apart from a few small herds in Utah and South Dakota) are allowed to freely roam today only within Yellowstone National Park.

Watch a video (bonus: includes baby bison!) of Earthjustice’s work to defend wild bison and restore their freedom to roam.

Map of Blackfeet Indian Reservation, Glacier National Park, Badger-Two Medicine and the Solenex well site.

Sources: Trail Tribes; Samek, Hana. The Blackfoot Confederacy 1880-1920. University of New Mexico Press, 1987; Montana Wilderness Association; Loetus Creative.

Beginning in the mid-1800s, a series of treaties reduced the Blackfeet’s aboriginal homeland by millions of acres. Then in 1895 the Blackfeet lost even more land after a controversial agreement reduced the reservation by another 800,000 acres. This land is located in the “Backbone of the World,” also known as the Rocky Mountain Front, which the Blackfeet consider to be spiritually sacred lands. Part of this ceded strip of former reservation land is the Badger-Two Medicine area, one of the Blackfeet’s most sacred places.

Under the 1895 treaty, the tribe sold some mineral rights within the Badger-Two Medicine area to the federal government, but they retained the rights to cut wood, hunt and fish on the land. Some tribal members maintain that they never gave the federal government the right to oil and gas underlying the area. Even if they did, oil and gas drilling threatens the Blackfeet’s long-standing cultural and spiritual interest in this sacred landscape.

In a letter to President Obama, he asked that the administration cancel the remaining leases, explaining that “these ancient lands are among the most revered landscapes in North America and should not be sacrificed, for any price.”

Says Chief Old Person, “These lands, they’re not our lands. But we’re the keepers.”

“Our identity, every cell in our bodies from the time of contact, was composed of this landscape,” says Jack Gladstone, who has likened the drilling of the Badger-Two Medicine area to fracking the Sistine Chapel.

Gladstone is a tribal member who tours the country performing songs about American Indian history and heritage. He’s also the founder of the Blackfeet Headwaters Alliance, which works to protect the waters beneath the Blackfeet’s historic tribal lands.

Click play to hear the Blackfeet Troubadour:

For the Blackfeet, who have lost so much over the past few centuries, the Badger-Two Medicine area remains one of the last strongholds of the tribe’s values. The landscape is a critical part of the oral history, creation stories and ceremonies of the Blackfeet people. For centuries, they have used these mountains and forests to hunt elk and other game, gather plants, collect lodge poles and search for supernatural powers. Today, many tribal members travel to the Badger-Two Medicine area for prayer and vision quests.

When the Reagan administration first issued the Badger-Two Medicine area leases, wildlife biologists, hunters and other Montanans joined the tribes to protest the decision. Lou Bruno was one of them.

Originally from New York, Bruno moved to East Glacier, Montana, in 1975 after growing tired of seeing wild places taken over by industrial development. One cold night in 1984, he attended a public meeting about a proposed oil and gas lease in the Badger-Two Medicine area. After that meeting, it became clear to Bruno that the Forest Service was intent on drilling the land rather than managing it as a public resource that creates the greatest good for the most people.

“I felt like it was happening all over again—that I had come to a place only to see it destroyed—and this time I wasn’t going to let it happen,” he says.

Shortly after, Bruno and others created the grassroots, nonprofit organization Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance. The group has raised awareness about the Badger-Two Medicine area and successfully appealed the government leases for three decades.

Earthjustice’s Tim Preso has spent most of the past two decades using the courts to protect wildlife and wild lands in the northern Rocky Mountains region. As managing attorney of the Northern Rockies office in Bozeman, Montana, his team has successfully protected species including wolves, grizzly bears and bison.

“It is my privilege to speak for these wild places and wild creatures in the federal court system,” says Preso.

In 2015, the Blackfeet Headwaters Alliance and the Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance—both represented by Earthjustice—joined 10 conservation organizations in supporting the Blackfeet tribe’s request that the government cancel all oil and gas leases in the Badger-Two Medicine area. (See timeline of the legal case.)

The legal question at hand is whether the remaining oil and gas leases in the Badger-Two Medicine area were ever valid in the first place. According to Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso, they were not.

In the 1980s, at the same time that the Badger-Two Medicine area leases were issued, the government issued similarly flawed leases in Montana elsewhere along the Rocky Mountain Front. A federal court has since ruled that these leases were illegal and subsequently cancelled them. Earthjustice has requested that the government cancel the Badger-Two Medicine area leases on the same grounds.

“All of these leases are cut from the same cloth and should share the same fate,” explains Preso.

9While Earthjustice’s Preso builds his legal case, the Blackfeet are building a movement, drawn together by the collective outrage over the oil industry’s demands to drill such a treasured landscape.

The loss of cultural connections to primary religious lands is a concern for many American Indian tribes. The Blackfeet’s use of the Badger-Two Medicine area has been unbroken over time, and they feel they must protect it—not just for themselves, but for future generations. To that end, the entire Blackfoot Confederacy, the National Congress of American Indians and all tribal nations in Montana and Wyoming have vowed to protect it.

Montana Democratic Senator Jon Tester and the band Pearl Jam have also thrown in their support. In addition, thousands of people have signed a petition asking Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to cancel the leases.

Update, 11/2/15: The U.S. Forest Service has recommended to the Department of the Interior that it cancel all leases in the Badger-Two Medicine region after finding that industrial development would cause irreversible harm to the cultural and natural resources of the area. The announcement comes on the heels of a request by Blackfeet cultural leaders to reopen a 1993 lawsuit challenging the federal oil and gas leases in the Badger-Two Medicine region.

10In September 2015, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation recommended that the government cancel the Solenex lease along with the other remaining leases in the area after determining that oil and gas development would ruin the area’s cultural and traditional values for the Blackfeet.

Though not legally binding, government agencies must consider this recommendation and respond to the council’s findings prior to making a final decision on the lease. The Forest Service has committed to providing its recommendation to the Bureau of Land Management by October 31. From there, the Bureau has until November 23 to determine whether to allow development or cancel the leases permanently.

As the next generation steps in to defend the Badger-Two Medicine area, some are pushing to replace drilling rigs with solar panels and wind turbines. This will allow them to harness the earth’s energy sustainably, get the Blackfeet off fossil fuels and return to the decentralization of power as it was in the beginning.

Kendall Edmo hopes to inspire those of her generation and younger to learn more about traditional knowledge and sacred landscapes like the Badger-Two Medicine area. She plans to pass on what she’s learned to her son and daughter so that they, too, have a deep physical and spiritual connection to the land.

“Coming from a younger generation doesn’t change the fact that my culture, identity and spirituality is interconnected with our lands. Same goes for my children,” says Edmo. “The Badger-Two Medicine reminds us of who we are and who we were.”  

Did You Know?

Every species native to the Rocky Mountain Front still roams free, except … bison, wolverines and wolves.

The present day Blackfeet Nation inhabits a fraction of the millions of acres of their original tribal land. The final land cession of the 19th century occurred in 1895. The “ceded strip” is now part of Glacier National Park.

The fight over the Badger-Two Medicine area is just one in a long-running series of tribal lands grabs initiated by the U.S. government.

Every U.S. president has met with Chief Old Person since … Reagan, Eisenhower and Truman

Elected to the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council in 1954 and chief of the Blackfeet Nation since 1978, Chief Old Person has met with twelve consecutive U.S. presidents, beginning with the Truman administration.

Blackfeet Chief Earl Old Person has led the Blackfeet people in blocking the Badger-Two Medicine leases and drilling proposals from moving forward for more than 30 years.

Chris Jordan-Bloch and Jessica A. Knoblauch.

[When is enough enough? Haven’t we done enough injury to our first settlers? We have stolen practically everything from them to begin with and now we are trying to take back what we have so graciously given them. How could we have been so blind as to give them land that contains natural resources that we can extract?]

Trudeau orders moratorium on north coast oil tankers ‏

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has ordered his minister of transport to implement a moratorium on crude oil tanker traffic through B.C.’s northern coast.

“No Tankers” will soon become a reality in the waters between the northern tip of Vancouver Island and Alaska! Once Enbridge is prevented from taking massive oil tankers into Kitimat, its pipeline plans are through. Northern Gateway has hit a dead end.

Yesterday we took a big step closer to the legislated oil tanker ban British Columbians and First Nations have been calling for since Enbridge first proposed its pipeline in 2002. Trudeau’s ministers now have to decide how to “formalize the moratorium”.

We congratulate Prime Minister Trudeau on his leadership for protecting our coast and encourage him to finish the job and enact legislation that will end Enbridge once and for all.

The prime minister’s mandate resulted from years of hard work by First Nations, citizens, communities and organizations all across B.C. and Canada. For many of us, the No Tankers campaign has been a defining struggle. It has united people throughout the province and created an unstoppable political force.

Because British Columbia flexed its political muscle in October, today we’re closer than we’ve ever been to a legislated tanker ban.

We’re in the final lap now, but we still need your help reaching the finish line.

Will Horter|Dogwood Initiative

Land Conservation

California Farmer Returns 700 Acres of Land to Natives Who Were Forced Out

Finally, some good news!

This is an awesome story of collaboration amongst a number of groups to return coastal land to the Kashia Band of Pomo Indians; 150 years ago they were forced to leave their land and move inland. The small reservation that became their home is now 18-times bigger and will again reach to the Pacific coast of Northern California where their ancestors once lived. 

Not A Pretty History

Around 1817, hundreds of Pomos were forced to accept the Catholic faith at local Spanish missions. In 1822, California became part of the Mexican Republic; at this time, thousands of Pomos died of disease (mainly cholera and smallpox), while Mexican soldiers killed or sold into slavery thousands more. 

Things got worse. After 1849, Anglos invaded the Pomos’ territory, stealing their land and murdering hundreds of them. In 1856, the Pomo were “rounded up” and forced to live on the Mendocino Indian Reserve, a tiny 40-acre reservation far from the coast.

When this happened, the Pomo Native American tribe left behind their coastal lands: 668 acres of redwood forest, dramatic ocean views and the ability to hunt and fish freely, especially for their beloved abalone.

Jump forward 69 years: in 1925, the Richardson family purchased the 688-acre property. Now, Bill Richardson has agreed on a price that will return the land to the Pomos.

Finally Going Home

A hundred and fifty years later, it’s time for the Pomos to finally come home. As Good News Network reports, the tribe may now expand its reservation to 18-times its previous size. And, for the first time in over a hundred years, the people will once again be able to enjoy the Pacific coast where they and their ancestors once hunted and fished.

It took five years of fundraising by the Sonoma County government, the Trust for Public Land and private foundations for the vision to become a reality. Sonoma County contributed two million dollars for the project, while another six million was raised by the coalition of groups seeking to buy the property for the Kashia Pomos.

Protected Open Space

In a win-win for the Pomos and local nature-lovers, the tribe will manage the land as protected open space. There will also be a demonstration forest for educating the public about the history of native peoples in the area.

The Pomo Indians will get to start using the land immediately, and Bill Richardson will stay on the property, with the promise of being buried on a hillside when he dies.

It should be noted that, while this is an awesome piece of good news, the Richardson family is still doing pretty well from this sale. They accepted a discounted price nearly $1 million below the appraised value of the property but still made $6 million on the deal.

Nevertheless, the agreement is being hailed as a healing occasion, as it restores coastal access to the Kashia people while providing for environmental conservation and public use.

The Pomo Indians haven’t had access to the coast for generations. Now, they have their land back.

Judy Molland|November 7, 2015

More Than 1 Million Speak Out to Save Oak Flat, Sacred Apache Land

The Center for Biological Diversity and allies have submitted petitions with the signatures of more than a million people to Congressman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) in support of the bill he introduced to save Oak Flat, sacred Apache land in Arizona’s Tonto National Forest.

This hallowed place — public land that harbors a diverse ecosystem and unique array of species — was traded away last December in an underhanded deal by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to facilitate a massive copper mine. The mine, the largest copper-mining project in North America, would devastate the beautiful site.

The 1 million signatures were presented last week at the House Natural Resource Committee forum on protecting sacred American Indian sites, hosted by Ranking Member Grijalva.

“The fight to save Oak Flat will succeed,” said the Center’s Randi Spivak. “People nationwide are outraged and won’t let our public lands and American Indian sacred sites be destroyed for profits.”

Read more in our press release.

President Obama Sets New, Expanded Conservation Goals

In an announcement last week, President Obama called on the federal government to reduce its impact on our environment by aiming for all of its actions to lead to a net benefit, or at least no net loss, on our lands, waters, and wildlife.

The release of this Presidential Memorandum lays out a new vision for the management of public natural resources. It builds on a directive from the administration of George H.W. Bush, and expanded by President Clinton, which called for “no net loss” of wetlands. President Obama seeks to expand this goal to the broad array of the nation’s resources, from forests, to grasslands, and lakes, rivers, and more.

This policy also aims higher, by striving for a goal of a net environmental benefit from federal actions. As the President writes in the memo, “We all have a moral obligation to the next generation to leave America’s natural resources in better condition than when we inherited them.”

In managing natural resources, the President directs that the first preference is to avoid any impacts, especially for irreplaceable landscapes. If activities such as timber sales or mining do get approved, the next step is to minimize and then offset environmental harm, also known as mitigation. The new policy seeks to expand and standardize this practice across the agencies.

Private investment in conservation can be a key component to offsetting harm. The administration highlights a wetland restoration project in northern Minnesota that is restoring an Important Bird Area thanks to private investment. The White House hopes to encourage more projects like this one, which benefit the economy and nature together.

The President also calls on agencies to further consider landscape-scale planning and restoration. The Department of Interior, in a follow-up announcement, cited the recent successes with sage-grouse conservation as a model approach for achieving large-scale conservation.

From Audubon Advisory

Second environmental group sues state over Amendment 1

Local environmental group Florida Defenders of the Environment has sued the state for misusing hundreds of millions of dollars that last November’s Amendment 1 referendum set aside for the state’s conservation land acquisition trust fund.

In the case, filed Monday in circuit court in Leon County, the environmental group accuses state officials of violating the water and land conservation constitutional amendment, and therefore the state Constitution, by using some $237 million of the $740 million set aside by the voter-approved referendum on salaries and benefits, best management practices for agricultural businesses, capital projects, vehicles, insurance and other items unrelated to conserving land and water resources or increasing public access to them.

“The legislature may not make appropriations from a fund that has a specifically designated use prescribed in other portions of the statutes or constitution for purposes that do not serve that designated use,” Florida Defenders of the Environment board member Joe Little, a University of Florida law professor emeritus who wrote the complaint, said in a press release.

Florida Defenders’ argument is that Amendment 1 places funds in the Land Acquisition Trust Fund for explicit uses — buying and restoring conservation lands — and that the legislature can’t spend that money for other things.

The lawsuit is the latest development in the ongoing dispute environmental and conservation groups have with how the Legislature is spending money from the 2014 referendum, which voters approved with 75 percent support.

Only $15.1 million went to Florida Forever, the conservation land-purchasing program that the groups that pushed to get Amendment 1 on the ballot sought to restore to its pre-recession spending levels.

Upset by that, the Florida Wildlife Federation, St. Johns Riverkeeper, the Florida Sierra Club and other environmental groups have an active lawsuit against the Legislature and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater saying the state “wrongfully diverted at least $237 million in those funds to pay for general state expenses not allowable under the amendment.”

That lawsuit asks the court to order the state to transfer state general fund money to the land acquisition trust fund to “repay” it.

Court records show that in the Legislature’s motion to dismiss, their attorneys say the court has no legal authority to redistribute public funds because that would mean the judiciary is performing the legislative function of controlling public funds.

The Florida Defenders of the Environment lawsuit has the same goal but takes a different approach, said executive director Thomas Hawkins, a former Gainesville city commissioner.

Instead of the Legislature, the heads of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Department of State, Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are the named defendants.

Instead of asking the court to order state officials to re-appropriate the funds, Florida Defenders of the Environment wants an injunction to block the state agency heads from spending the money as approved in this year’s budget.

Hawkins said the group believes state officials improperly used an appropriations bill to change policy and law.

When lawmakers were approving the budget over the summer, a prominent Florida House leader responded to some of the criticism that has since become a focal point of both lawsuits.

“Government programs cannot function without the people and resources necessary to implement them,” House Agriculture & Natural Resources Subcommittee Chair Ben Albritton, R-Bartow, said in June. “We cannot manage our conservation lands without well-equipped land managers or improve water quality in our lakes and rivers without scientists and technicians who work in the field with the resources to get the job done. That’s one reason Land Acquisition Trust Fund dollars are used to pay the salaries and other expenses necessary to implement environmental programs authorized by the amendment.”

The late Marjorie Harris Carr formed Florida Defenders of the Environment in 1969. The group won a successful battle against the Cross Florida Barge Canal, which became the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway, and also focuses on protecting and restoring the Ocklawaha River.

“We’re not the biggest organization in the state,” Hawkins said. “We don’t have the broadest reach.”

But he said the current and former UF faculty members on the organization’s board gives Florida Defenders of the Environment a “level of expertise” other groups may not have.

Christopher Curry|Staff writer|Gainesville Sun|November 10, 2015

Ecosystem project marks decade, with 3 dams to go
Undertaking aims to restore wetlands

TRAVERSE CITY – Nate Winkler waded knee-deep into the clear, rippling Boardman River, thermometer and worn leather notebook in hand.

He dipped the thermometer into the cool water and logged his observation: 52 degrees. Just right for a midday in October.

“This stream is supposed to be a coldwater stream, which means the temperature rarely gets above 65 in the summertime,” Winkler, a biologist with the Conservation Resource Alliance, told the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

The stretch of the river in which Winkler stood wasn’t always so cold. A dam built in the 1920s trapped water in a nearly 200-acre pond just a few feet upstream for nearly a century. That pond absorbed sunlight, warmed the water and hurt insects, fish and other wildlife downstream.

It was “thermal pollution,” Winkler said.

But the mammoth, aged dam is gone, taken out following an engineering failure in 2012 that resulted in scores of flooded downriver properties.

Winkler is part of a team charged with the biggest dam removal undertaking ever seen in Michigan — The Boardman River Dams Ecosystem Restoration Project. It includes removing three dams and modifying a fourth on the waterway that stretches from a Kalkaska swamp to downtown Traverse City. The effort will restore more than 250 acres of wetlands and reconnect 160 miles of Grand Traverse Bay tributaries.

Dam removal and healthy streams don’t come without money, dialogue or time. Nearly $12 million of federal, local and grant money has been spent to date on the project that started a decade ago.

Traverse City Light & Power decommissioned the Sabin, Boardman and Brown Bridge dams in 2005. The future of those structures returned to their owners — the Sabin and Boardman dams to Grand Traverse County, Brown Bridge and Union Street dams to Traverse City. The governments launched a multi-agency effort to decide their fate.

The city, county, Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, TCL&P, nonprofits and state and federal environmental agencies worked with the public to come up with a strategy, write a plan and start fundraising.

Boots finally hit the ground in 2011 when crews waded into Brown Bridge Pond to find the Boardman River’s origin al channel, remove 250,000 cubic yards of sediment and build a structure to allow water to slowly leave the pond.

The water didn’t leave slowly. It rushed down the river in six to 12 hours instead of the planned 15 to 20 days. It gushed below the structure, washing out sandy soils that couldn’t hold steady. It flushed more than 10 miles downstream, devastating some riverside homes.

Parties involved in the dam removal contractors and planning agencies, f aced lawsuits from property owners. Frank Dituri, chairman of the project implementation team and wetland ecologist for the band, lives downstream of the dam; his house was flooded. Steve Largent, Grand Traverse Conservation District’s Boardman River Program Coordinator, watched it happen.

“It was like a geyser coming up from the center of the dewatering structure,” he said.

The breach mangled much of the public’s trust in the project, and made many wary of future phases. Largent said contractors will use a pump system on future dam removals to prevent flooding.

The 121-year-old Boardman Dam, located beneath the Cass Road bridge at the north end of Keystone Pond, is slated for removal beginning in 2017. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality considers it a deficient structure and mandated the county either fix or destroy it.

“It doesn’t have adequate spillway capacity,” said Jim Pawloski, a DEQ dam safety engineer. “When a flood and rainfall occur, Boardman does not have enough stability to pass the water around or through or over the dam.”

Its removal is scheduled to be paired with construction of a new Cass Road bridge. The bridge, slated for construction beginning next year, will be built across the river’s future path, said Grand Traverse County Road Commission manager Jim Cook.


Air Quality

26 National Parks Fail EPA’s New Ozone Standard

Air pollution is a major problem in many parts of the country, and not even our national parks are safe from choking smog.

Early last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tightened its ground-level ozone pollution standard from 75 to 70 parts per billion (ppb)—putting 241 counties across the country in non-compliance. That’s an additional 14 counties from the 227 that were trying to comply with the 75 ppb standard. The U.S. EPA argues that the annual cost ($1.4 billion) for states to comply is outweighed by the public health benefits, which are estimated at $2.9 to $5.9 billion annually in 2025.

Sequoia National Park in northern California had the second highest ozone pollution levels with 90 ppb. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Sequoia National Park in northern California had the second highest ozone pollution levels with 90 ppb. Photo credit: Shutterstock

The new standard also puts several of our national parks in non-compliance. According to U.S. News & World Reports, “the EPA’s newest ozone pollution threshold has placed 26 national parks at non-compliant levels.”

But who’s to blame? The National Park Service says power plants, while scientists and California officials point the finger at car emissions from the millions of tourists that visit our parks every year.

“Usually ozone pollution is caused by traffic rather than power plants,” Dr. Saewung Kim, an assistant professor of atmospheric chemistry at the University of California, Irvine, told U.S. News. “Power plants have done a great job cleaning up their emissions and ozone-causing pollutants.”

Meanwhile, the National Park Service says compliance is a state issue. “States are responsible for implementing the provisions of the Clean Air Act,” said Jeffrey Olson, chief of education and outreach at the National Park Service. “They will eventually have to put plans in place to show how they can come into compliance with violations of the ozone standard.”

Either way, it’s bad news for those who see our parks as a refuge from the pollution of cities. Stephanie Kodish, head of the National Parks Conservation Association’s Clean Air Program, said in a statement that while the rule is a “much-needed step,” it doesn’t go far enough to protect our parks.

Kodish said:

“The ozone standard … at 70 parts per billion will not have the health benefits it could and fails to establish a separate and necessary standard for ecosystems. The Clean Air Act requires EPA to protect not only public health from air pollution but also our forests, streams, lakes, parks and wildlife. In failing to adopt this additional standard, EPA is putting ecosystems at risk, blatantly disregarding decades of research, the advice of its own science advisors and the law.

We are disappointed that EPA failed to take steps to better protect national parks from ozone pollution, and we hope the agency will pursue other means to reduce air pollution that plagues our parks. For example, EPA is reviewing the Regional Haze Rule, the Clean Air Act provision designed to protect the air quality in our national parks, many of which experience poor air quality on a regular basis. The EPA can help protect our parks and their visitors by strengthening the Regional Haze Rule to put our parks on the path to clean air.”

U.S. News found “in all, 11 states have national parks that are in non-compliance with the new ozone standard: Arizona, 3; California, 9; Colorado, 2; Connecticut, 3; Illinois, 1; Maine, 1; Massachusetts, 1; Nevada, 1; New Jersey, 2; Pennsylvania, 1; and Utah, 2. Ozone levels are calculated over a three-year period.”

Cole Mellino|November 11, 2015



Plastic Garbage Has Found its Way to the Farthest Reaches of the Planet

Give yourselves a pat on the back, people — for the first time ever there are large pieces of garbage floating on the surface of the Arctic Ocean. With about 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in our ocean it was really just a matter of time before they reached the “farthest reaches of the planet.”

In a study published in the journal Polar Biology researchers from the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) and Belgium’s Laboratory for Polar Ecology discovered 31 pieces of plastic litter were spotted floating on the surface of the Barents Sea and Fram Strait from their place in the bridge of an icebreaker and a helicopter.

And while 31 may not seem like such a big deal, it does confirm that litter has found its way to remote waters of the Arctic.

“Since we conducted our surveys from the bridge, 18 meters above sea level, and from a helicopter, we were only able to spot the larger pieces of litter. Therefore, our numbers are probably an underestimate,” AWI biologist Melanie Bergmann said in a statement.

According to, computer models believe that the trash is coming from a sixth garbage patch that is forming in the Barents Sea. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that “garbage patches” are areas with high concentration of marine debris in the ocean. And there are currently five of them scattered around the world.

They’re pretty much the poster children for plastic pollution.

“Another cause for litter in the Arctic could be the retreat of the Arctic sea ice. As a result, more and more cruise liners and fish trawlers are operating further north, following the cod,” Bergmann said. “Most likely, litter from the ships intentionally or accidentally ends up in the waters of the Arctic. We expect this trend to continue.”

And considering that plastic breaks down into tiny little particles, there could be more plastic debris below the surface that we just can’t see. “On the deep Arctic seafloor, we found an average of 2.2 to 18.4 pieces of litter per kilometer of our [5,600 kilometers] route. This indicates that the deep seafloor may be the ultimate sink for marine litter,” Bergmann suggests.

What does this mean for marine life in the Arctic? reports that plastic floating on the surface of the Arctic is harmful to the seabirds that feed at the sea surface.

A study published earlier this year in Polar Biology found that seabirds and sharks on Greenland have swallowed plastic litters.

According to the study, eight percent of the sharks caught off of Greenland had plastic in their stomachs, while 88 percent of northern fulmars have swallowed plastic.

And it’s not going to get any better as long as we continue to use the ocean as our dumping ground. But hey, if you don’t mind eating fish with a side of plastic then you’re good to go.

This post originally appeared on RYOT

Anna Culaba|RYOT|November 9, 2015

Why We Must Ban Plastic Bags and Support a Circular Economy

“There’s your product. It’s all plastic bags,” I said to Phil Rozenski, director of sustainability and marketing for Novalex, a plastic bag manufacturer. We were on stage debating the efficacy of plastic bags at the Sustainable Packaging Coalition annual conference in Charlotte, North Carolina in early October.

The object I was referring to was a 45-pound mass of tangled plastic bags found in the stomach of a dead camel in the desert of Dubai. The intention was to point out that in a circular economy products and packaging that escape the best recovery systems on the planet and cost taxpayers unfairly to clean up the mess, must be replaced with a design that is a benefit rather than a cost once you include the inconvenient externalities.


The object I was referring to was a 45-pound mass of tangled plastic bags found in the stomach of a dead camel in the desert of Dubai. Photo credit: Marcus Eriksen / 5 Gyres Institute

For half an hour we went back and forth about statistics that we each use to defend our positions, pointing to the other’s faulty arguments, but I wanted to get to the bottom of it, so I said, “You know, we could go back and forth all day with our convenient statistics, knowing we’re just gonna dig in our heels on where we stand. Can we get beyond it all?”

My point was very simple. Plastic bags by design are really good at escaping our recovery systems and knowing now how dangerous plastics are to the environment, the logical next step is a design overhaul. Out with the old and in with the new. Rozenski nodded his head, then responded, “Would you be willing to support our How2Recycle program?” Two weeks later I was on a call with How2Recycle representatives.

How2Recycle was born out of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition and their work to create a circular economy around plastic products and packaging in order to keep materials out of the dump or incinerator and instead keep them moving in a circular system from production and manufacturing to consumption and recovery.

Specifically, How2Recycle is a more informed labeling system that alerts the consumer to the recyclability of a product in the region where the customer lives. It directs people where to go to recycle, whether it’s curbside collection or returning your materials to the store where it came from. It will be a vast improvement to clear the confusion around the chasing arrow triangle with number in the middle that makes everyone think that everything is recycled. That number is only a resin code and doesn’t direct consumers where to go.


As we spoke with How2Recycle, we got into a discussion about irrecoverable products. The 5 Gyres Institute, working with a wide coalition of partners across the country, promotes a legislative ban on plastic microbeads in consumer products. In 2015, nine states have passed bans. The microbead ban eliminates the use of salt grain-sized particles of plastic in cosmetics and toothpaste that are designed to wash down the drain after use. It’s a huge design flaw, completely irrecoverable from anywhere, therefore the only solution is to level the playing field through legislation and make room for companies to innovate a chemically benign alternative. In our throwaway society there are hundreds of applications of plastic that are irrecoverable, from gum wrappers to sachet packets, these are design failures that evade recovery and are not recycled in any practical, meaningful terms.

When I asked the How2Recycle representatives, “Where do you stand on products like this and others that you can’t stick a recycle label on and if you did they would likely never get recycled anyway because of their elusive design? Like candy wrappers, plastic stir sticks, catchup packets, the list goes on and on.” The answer was quite simple. They said, “We are material neutral.” That means the How2Recycle program and the Sustainable Packaging Coalition as a whole, do not weigh in on the material of choice a company uses. Instead, they aim to improve recyclability.

The contradiction here is that if you are not willing to stand against poorly conceived applications of plastic, then you’re not addressing irrecoverable design, which is one of the tenants of a circular economy. You must make design choices that fit a system of efficient recovery or go for environmentally benign materials. You can’t be for a circular economy and be materials neutral at the same time.

But what this contradiction unveils is a deeper set of philosophical assumptions that trump the recycling conversation. It is the ethos of doing business where any scent of regulation, as in microbead or plastic bag bans, is seen as heresy to the free market system. It’s an unwavering belief that the market regulates itself and any constraints undermine innovation. The consensus among nonprofits working on waste issues is that for the sake of public good, harmful materials need to be removed from society if evidence shows they cause harm. This is the divide between industry and conservation that fuels the contradiction.

So then what is the solution? We look for common values. We all believe in being responsible citizens. And we all believe that doing things that hurt other people and causes suffering is wrong. When we accept the latest science about plastic ocean pollution and the danger it poses to the environment and marine food webs, it is clear that plastic in the environment becomes dangerous as it shreds into microplastics, absorbs toxins and has ecosystem-wide impacts. Plastic in the environment is doing harm and responsibility must be shared across sectors, including the courage to eliminate poorly designed products and packaging. The industries that make plastic products and packaging have enjoyed the economic benefit of deferring the cost and responsibilities for these externalities to municipalities and taxpayers.

We ask the members of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition to reject being “materials neutral” and take a stronger position of poor design choices. Science has proven the increased risks plastic pose to to the world. That justifies greater responsibility.

Marcus Eriksen|November 11, 2015

EPA Recognizes the U.S. Postal Service Headquarters Facilities in Orlando, Florida for Outstanding Waste Reduction Efforts

ATLANTA — Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognizes the waste reduction accomplishments of the U.S. Postal Service Headquarters Facilities, Orlando, Fla. along with the other 28 participants in and endorsers of EPA’s Waste Wise program and EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge.

These collaborative initiatives apply sustainable materials management practices to decrease wasted food and municipal and industrial wastes in the United States, leading to economic and environmental improvements. EPA provides tools, resources and support to help participants establish baselines, set objectives, track progress and realize their waste reduction goals. EPA reviews the data submitted by participants by employing an extensive quality assurance process.

“Food Recovery Challenge participants diverted nearly 606,000 tons of wasted food from entering landfills or incinerators in 2014, nearly  88,600 tons of which were donated to people in need,” said Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. “These innovative efforts will help us achieve our ambitious national wasted food reduction goal – a 50 percent reduction by 2030. I encourage other organizations to follow their lead by joining the Food Recovery Challenge.” 

In 2014, nearly 800 governments, businesses and organizations participated in EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge, including grocers, educational institutions, sports and entertainment venues and restaurants. These entities diverted wasted food from entering landfills or incinerators through a variety of innovative actions, including creative re-use of trimmings by university dining staff; donating excess, wholesome food to food banks, shelters and soup kitchens; composting in urban settings; and using wasted food to produce electricity.

EPA recognizes Food Recovery Challenge participants and endorsers with awards in two categories:  data-driven and narrative. The data-driven award recipients achieved the highest percent of wasted food diversion and prevention in their sector in 2014. Narrative award winners excelled in the areas of source reduction, leadership, innovation, education and outreach, and endorsement.

Dawn Harris Young,|

Boyan Slat One Step Closer to Launching World’s Largest Ocean Plastic Cleanup

Boyan Slat’s plan to rid the world’s oceans of plastic with his revolutionary ocean-cleaning system is set for real-life trials next year after last week’s successful tests in the Netherlands of a scaled-down prototype at Maritime Research Institute Netherlands (MARIN), the Guardian reports.

The 21-year-old Dutch is the founder and CEO of The Ocean Cleanup, an ambitious operation involving a massive static platform that passively corrals plastics with wind and ocean currents. The array features a floating V-shaped boom so that fish and other marine life can swim underneath.

Further trials will take place off the coasts of Japan and the Netherlands, and if all goes to plan, the project will officially launch in 2020 and be the longest floating structure ever deployed in the ocean.

The Ocean Cleanup describes itself as the “world’s first feasible concept to clean the oceans of plastic,” but the journey hasn’t all been smooth sailing.

“Testing for this is no simple matter,” The Ocean Cleanup wrote in blog post from MARIN. “The oceans are an environment with unpredictable, powerful forces that defy perfect simulation. Waves come from a variety of directions at once, and currents below the surface complicate matters even more.”

Hydrodynamic engineer Mark Paalvast said in the blog post that the tests at MARIN will determine the feasibility of the project.

“The MARIN offshore basin is one of the best facilities in the world to do these tests,” he said. “It can send currents and waves from many different angles simultaneously, and at varying speeds. We will do lots of simulations and then use the data for additional computer modeling too.”

There have been other road blocks as well. Some critics have written off the idea, and Asma Mahdi, a spokeswoman for the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) told the Guardian there’s the potential for harming sea life caught in the project’s cleanup barrier.

“By skimming floating debris off the surface, we may be doing more harm than good for marine surface-dwellers,” she said. “This includes the microscopic plankton that are the base of the marine food web and responsible for nearly half of the oxygen production that occurs on our planet.”

Slat responded, “The current flows underneath the barriers, taking away everything with neutral buoyancy—like plankton and other fish—while the positively buoyant plastic, up to a certain threshold, remains in front of it.”

He has taken his other critics head-on with a 530-page feasibility report composed of 70 scientists and engineers. The report concluded that the concept “is indeed likely a feasible and viable ocean cleanup technique.” Their conclusion has also been peer-reviewed by external experts, Slat attested in a blog post.

Another problem is the economic sustainability of the project. While half of The Ocean Cleanup’s €30m ($32 million) budget was raised through crowdfunding and from wealthy donors, the company hopes to stay afloat financially through a ocean plastic retail line, the Guardian reports.

“We’ve analyzed the quality of the plastic which was surprisingly good,” Slat said. “We did some tests and the material is very recyclable. Tens of companies—large corporations—have shown an interest in buying up the plastic and that is our holy grail; funding the clean-up using revenues created by the plastic we extract.”

Slat, a former aerospace engineering student, proposed this ocean plastic-capturing concept when he was only 17, making headlines about his plan to clean half the Great Pacific Garbage Patch within a decade.

Over the years, Slat and his Ocean Cleanup team have taken several ocean research expeditions and discovered after a trip to the Pacific earlier this year that the plight of plastic pollution was much worse than they imagined.

“The previous studies estimated 10 kilos of plastic per square kilometer but we found it was in the hundreds of kilos per square kilometer,” Slat said.

Plastic pollution is a clear threat to aquatic life and marine ecosystems. About 8 million tons of plastic are dumped into the oceans annually.

A recent study found that 90 percent of seabirds have mistakenly eaten plastic and the numbers will rise if plastic pollution worsens.

Lorraine Chow|November 13, 2015

Study Finds There’s Probably Plastic in Your Sea Salt

Plastic pollution in the world’s oceans has become so bad that it’s starting to show up in supermarket sea salt, according to a new study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

Researchers from East China Normal University analyzed fifteen common brands of table salt sold in Chinese supermarkets, finding microscopic plastic particles in all of the samples. The highest levels of contamination were found in salt sourced from the ocean, with more than 250 particles of plastic present in each pound of salt. Salt from other sources, including briny lakes, wells and salt mines, also had plastic present in lower levels, from 3 to 165 particles per pound.

If you live outside of China, don’t breathe a sigh of relief just yet. Sherri Mason, a plastics pollution researcher at SUNY Fredonia, pointed out that ocean pollution is a global issue in a statement to Scientific American: “Plastics have become such a ubiquitous contaminant, I doubt it matters whether you look for plastic in sea salt on Chinese or American supermarket shelves.”

So just how is all this plastic ending up in our salt, anyway? The sad truth is that much of the plastic we use in our daily lives eventually finds its way into the ocean, where it ends up accumulating in massive garbage patches. This trash eventually breaks down into microscopic particles, which are simply scooped up along with water and salt by manufacturers. Plastic microbeads found in beauty products also travel through waterways and find their way into the sea. Most sea salt is minimally processed, extracted from the water by evaporation alone, which leaves behind impurities like microplastics in the final product.

How bad is ingesting these microscopic plastic particles? Well, the good news is that the plastic itself will probably simply pass through your digestive system. The bad news is that these plastic particles are produced with harmful, hormone-disrupting chemicals like BPA, and that they only absorb even more toxic chemicals and heavy metals as they make their way through the environment.

Does this mean you should stop using salt? Absolutely not. Sodium is essential to the basic functions of the human body, so you need to have some amount of it in your diet whether you like it or not. But it does mean you should be more mindful of where your salt comes from, and be more aware of the fact that just because your salt is more expensive, doesn’t mean it’s healthier.

Sadly enough, salt isn’t even the worst offender when it comes to plastic particles in your food: a person using the maximum salt dose recommended by the World Health Organization would ingest about 1,000 plastic micro-particles a year, while research from Europe suggests that shellfish consumption exposes the average consumer to a whopping 11,000 micro-particles annually. Unfortunately, it seems that if your food comes from the ocean, there’s no avoiding a dose of plastic in your diet.

Julie M. Rodriguez|November 13, 2015


Wild Turkey on the Rocks?

The reintroduction of America’s beloved holiday fowl has been one of conservation’s great triumphs–but now some populations are plummeting. What’s going on?

The scene is a staple of American holiday traditions, a verity founded during the birth pangs of the nation. The place: Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts. The year: 1621. In countless illustrations of what is considered that first Thanksgiving feast, tables groan with the harvest of field and forest while black-clad Pilgrims and leather-clad Wampanoag natives encircle the centerpiece dish—a perfectly browned wild turkey. While there’s no question that a harvest meal was held in Plymouth Colony, there’s no direct evidence that a turkey made the menu. The one surviving document that mentions the formative feast suggests that the big bird on the table—or birds, considering that the gathering drew 140 or more—was likely goose or duck. Just prior to the fete, wrote Plymouth leader Edward Winslow, the colony governor “sent foure men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoyce together after we had gathered the fruit of our labours.”

Kathleen Wall, a culinary expert at Plimoth Plantation, the Massachusetts living history museum, provides some insight. “When Englishmen referred to ‘fowling,’ they are generally talking about waterfowl. Winslow specifically mentions deer, so we know there was venison on the table. And earlier, the governor wrote that turkeys were plentiful that year.” After that oblique reference, however, the turkey track goes cold. “As far as that first harvest meal,” Wall allows, “we simply can’t say there was turkey.”

These days that’s not the only mystery surrounding Meleagris gallopavo. The reintroduction of the wild turkey to North America is frequently touted as the greatest wildlife conservation success story of the last century. Heavily hunted since the earliest days of European occupation, pushed out of huge swaths of its range by logging and land clearing, wild turkey populations reached a nadir in the early 1930s, with a continental population of about 30,000 birds. Today, after a massive trap-and-transfer effort that has spanned a quarter-century, about 7 million wild turkeys strut, gobble, and yelp from every state where they are native, and then some. “This was a monumental, continent-wide effort,” says Tom Hughes, assistant vice president of conservation programs for the National Wild Turkey Federation. “There aren’t many stories as inspiring in the history of wildlife conservation.”

Like the legend of that plump-breasted turkey at the Pilgrims’ feast, there’s a twist to this tale as well. Wild turkey numbers are stable and even increasing across parts of the bird’s range, but biologists in many southeastern states, considered a turkey stronghold, are concerned that populations in the region have tumbled during the past 10 years. In some places numbers may have shrunk by more than half. Even where outright population numbers haven’t dipped, biologists note a steep drop in the quantity of chicks, called poults, that accompany hens in the summer. “Without exception, all southeastern states are seeing declining production,” says Michael J. Chamberlain, a wildlife ecology and management professor at the University of Georgia.

Fifteen states have formed a cooperative effort to study the declines and, hopefully, put brakes on the slump. Headed up by Chamberlain and wildlife biologists from Texas A&M University, the Southeast Regional Wild Turkey Reproductive Decline Study is working with wildlife agencies and conservation groups such as the National Wild Turkey Federation to find out if there are common factors affecting turkeys throughout the Southeast. The effort is not just about gobblers. Healthy wild turkey numbers can be an indication that overall habitat quality is high, and biologists worry that a decline might mean that other, less stud- ied species could be suffering under the radar.

While only one turkey species is  known to North   America, there are five distinct subspecies found in  the United States. The most common by far is the eastern wild turkey, which ranges from Florida to Maine and as far west as the Dakotas. (Small stocked populations also exist outside the bird’s native range, in California, Oregon, and Washington.) This is the “remarkable” and “magnificent” bird that so impressed John James Audubon, and that appears in our collective vision of the Pilgrims’ plenty. (Despite popular opinion, Benjamin Franklin never proposed the wild turkey as a national symbol. He wrote about the turkey in a letter to his daughter, and groused about the bald eagle—a bird “of bad moral Character”—after it appeared on the seal adopted by a fraternal group of Revolutionary War officers. The wild turkey, he wrote, is “a much more respectable Bird . . . though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”)

Peninsular Florida is home to the smaller, darker Osceola turkey. The long-legged and gregarious Rio Grande turkey is native to the central plains states. The Merriam’s turkey is tied closely to ponderosa pine forests scattered throughout the mountains of the American West. In the extreme southern regions of Arizona and New Mexico, fewer than 1,000 Gould’s turkeys live at the northern fringe of their northwestern Mexico range.

When the first Europeans arrived in the New World, the bronze eastern turkeys seemed to be everywhere. As Hernando de Soto crossed into North Carolina in the spring of 1540, his soldiers were given great numbers of the birds—700, according to one account. “Turkeys there be great store,” wrote William Strachey of 1612 Virginia, “wild in the woods, like phesants in England, forty in a company . . . yt is the best of any kind of flesh which I have ever yet eaten there.” Thomas Morton, the chronicler of eastern Massachusetts in the early 17th century, pondered the huge quantities of the birds reported by Indians. “I have asked them what number they found in the woods,” he wrote, “who have answered Neent Metawna, which is a thousand that day.”

Centuries later, wild turkeys incite an especially passionate response from bird lovers. Hear a turkey gobble from afar and that otherworldly cry jolts your senses. A flock of turkeys feeding in a pasture corner suggests all the hidden, unseen life of a forest—if a creature so large can remain so secretive, right in our midst, what else might make a living just inside the wood’s edge? And any- one lucky enough to watch a mature tom turkey strutting his stuff won’t forget the sight. When displaying for a potential mate, males parade back and forth, feathers puffed out like hair on a mad dog’s back, dragging wing tips along the ground, spitting, and drumming. The ground seems to shake with the thunder of a gobble at 15 feet, and a hot bird might gobble once or twice or 40 times in a row. The head is afire, fleshy waddles and snood turning brilliant blue and red and the forehead gleaming white.

This extravagant display—and famously tasty breast—put the birds in the crosshairs early on. Audubon noted the decline of wild turkeys in the early 19th century. Already the birds were growing “less plentiful in Georgia and the Carolinas,” he wrote, and were “becoming less numerous in every portion of the United States.” The National Wild Turkey Federation reports that turkeys were extirpated in Connecticut by 1813 and Vermont by 1842, and that by 1920 they had vanished from 18 of their native 39 states.

The coordinated restoration by state wildlife agencies, supported financially by the Turkey Federation, involved the trapping of wild turkeys in locations with relict, holdover populations, and trucking the birds—often across state lines and frequently for a thousand miles or more—for release into forested habitats. Through the group’s Super Fund program—which has raised and spent more than $412 million for turkey conservation—state chapters were able to reimburse state wildlife agencies for the cost of trapping and transferring turkeys. The first interstate transfer happened in 1987, when Connecticut, where the species had been reestablished, shipped 17 wild turkeys to Maine, and Georgia and South Carolina teamed up to transfer 45 birds to Texas. Since then more than 200,000 gobblers have been captured and moved to areas where turkeys are few or nonexistent.

While some ongoing trap-and-transfer programs are still targeting areas such as east Texas, where there’s ample quality turkey habitat, the restoration phase is winding down. Now the National Wild Turkey Federation is refocusing its resources—a quarter-million members and three dozen staff biologists from coast to coast—toward larger-scale conservation efforts. The group is identifying eight to 10 “landscape focal areas” for intensive habitat improvements, which could take the form of more precise prescribed burning, reducing invasive plants, and reestablishing cottonwood groves along midwestern streams. Such projects would serve wild turkeys as well as golden-winged warblers, red-cockaded woodpeckers, and even sage-grouse, all species that benefit from early successional habitat (grassy landscapes that evolve into forests). Retaining and bolstering the number of turkey hunters is also a priority; the group hopes to attract 1.5 million new hunters over the next 10 years, hunters whose license fees and conservation donations will provide more funding for research and management. “Turkey hunters pour millions of dollars into their passion,” says Hughes. “Every dollar they contribute to wild turkey conservation benefits so many other wildlife species.

“We’ve restored the wild turkey to the American landscape. Now we need to turn our attention towards maintaining habitat for these birds. The sky is not falling, but these declines are a serious issue, and no one is resting on their laurels.”

The raw numbers of the mysterious declines underscore the urgency. In Mississippi, wild turkey numbers peaked at about 410,000 in the late 1980s, and have since declined to a current population of 270,000. In Georgia, 400,000 turkeys prowled pine flats and hardwood ridges in the mid-1990s; during the next decade that number fell by a quarter. Although numbers have since rebounded, the 2010 estimate, the latest available, pegs the Georgia population at 335,000. Arkansas turkey populations may have fallen as much as 65 percent since 2003. Missouri’s statewide turkey flock has shrunk by 30 percent in 10 years, with some regions of the state losing half their birds. Even in states where turkey populations and the annual number of birds taken by hunters continue to climb—such as North Carolina—wildlife managers are concerned. “When my colleagues in other states hear that we haven’t seen the population declines evident elsewhere,” says Evin Stanford, wild turkey project leader for the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, “they all say, ‘Be patient. It’s coming.’ ”

Researchers are taking a two-pronged approach to studying wild turkey populations. First, partners in the Southeast Wild Turkey Reproductive Decline Study are poring through mountains of data to tease out possible factors that might be dampening turkey tallies across the region. “It’s very clear that something is going on,” says Chamberlain, who is leading the study. So far the declines are occurring across habitat types, from heavily forested mountain regions to pine flats and coastal plain swamps. “Almost assuredly,” Chamberlain says, “it will be a combination of factors at work.”

A host of potential problems are under discussion. Some of the hardest-hit states, such as Arkansas, have endured a succession of cool, wet springs, which fuels concern about the “wet hen hypothesis.” Damp air and soggy feathers create ideal scenting conditions for predators, which might then find nesting hens more easily. Many biologists point to an increase in mid-sized predators such as raccoons in the wake of the collapse of the trapping industry. The relatively recent arrival of a new predator, the coyote, to parts of the South has raised a flag. So, too, has the expansion of fire ants and feral hogs. No one knows just how much of an impact, if any, these things might have on wild turkey populations.

Some theorize that the declines may not be as bad as feared; decreasing population numbers could be a natural response to the reintroductions. In other words, in many areas, wild turkey numbers may have reached an equilibrium after years of rapid growth. “With restoration,” Chamberlain explains, “so many birds exploited these vacant niches that populations simply took off.” Certain landscapes may be at their full carrying capacity—there’s only so much food, nesting cover, and brood habitat available. “Turkey restoration is a relatively new phenomenon,” explains Jason Isabelle, a wild turkey biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation. “Our population peaked early in the last decade, and we suspect that the numbers we’re looking at now are more sustainable.”

Biologists agree that both habitat quantity and quality has changed across the South, and not in a good way for wildlife. Between 2000 and 2010, the region’s human population grew faster than in any other part of the country. In the first part of that decade logging was rampant. Habitat loss will likely continue, and an erosion of habitat quality on large forest tracts could lead to bird declines. At the same time, forest ownership has changed dramatically. Between 2000 and 2005 alone, more than 18 million acres of southern industrial timberlands were sold, largely to timber investment management organizations that worry less about sustainability and more about financial returns. “This may be a big part of the problem,” says Hughes. “Timber companies that used to do good, active management—lots of fire, patchy thinnings—are going by the wayside. That activity created nesting and brooding cover.”

While the study team is crunching numbers from across the Southeast, turkey researchers are turning to emerging technology that promises a far higher-resolution picture of wild turkey populations than ever before available. In one recently completed Georgia study, researchers hiked through longleaf pine stands at night using handheld thermal imaging scopes to identify specific roosting trees used by wild turkeys, then returned in daylight to take exact measurements of what wild turkeys look for in an overnight roost. The work could lead to better management guidelines for landowners.

In Louisiana and Texas researchers are using small 4-inch-by-2-inch GPS units to study how wild turkeys respond to flooding and hunter pressure. Chamberlain is heading up a new project in Georgia to study how nesting wild turkeys respond to prescribed fire. His students hope to capture and outfit at least 30 birds with GPS units, and follow them throughout the breeding and nesting seasons. Data from the GPS units can be downloaded from as far away as a mile, giving researchers a detailed look at where the birds go when their nesting areas are burned, how far they travel, and how long it takes them to return. “In this part of the world, up to half of the landscape is burned in any given year,” Chamberlain says. “We’ve never been able to get at how birds respond to the timing and scale of fire, but now we can. It’s actually quite an exciting time to be thinking about turkeys. In the next one to five years we’ll see a massive increase in the amount of information we have about these birds.”

Studying the status of wild turkeys can suggest how other animals are faring in a variety of habitats. While they need wooded landscapes, wild turkeys can make a living in a wide variety of habitats, from open hardwoods to managed pine plantations to tangled bottomland swamps. In the spring, however, they are less flexible. Hens and young turkeys in particular shift from being a forest bird to an early successional habitat species: To survive, poults need insect-rich grasses and shrubs and relatively open cover in which to chase their dinner. It’s the same habitat that supports a host of other birds facing population declines, from bobwhite quail to dickcissels to bobolinks.

No one wants to see the turkey go the way of the northern bobwhite quail, another wide-ranging upland bird, particularly beloved in the South. Numbers for bobwhites, one of Audubon’s Common Birds in Decline, have fallen more than 80 percent since 1967. “We can only imagine that 40 years ago a bunch of quail biologists were sitting around in a room saying, ‘Wow, we’re not seeing the quail we used to,’ ” says Kevin Lowrey, turkey biologist for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. “Now here we are, spending money and scrambling to keep quail on the landscape. Whether the turkey problem is a habitat problem, a problem with regulations, a response to changing climate, we want to know. Even if we can only fix a part of it, we want to know.”

Meleagris gallopavo

Range: Wild populations are now found from coast to coast in the lower 48 states, as well as in parts of southern Canada and south to central Mexico. A related species, the ocellated turkey, occurs in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, northern Guatemala, and northern Belize.

Habitat: Across its broad range, found in a wide variety of habitats, from swamps to arid brush country to mountain pine forests and even the edges of suburbs. Generally found in places where heavy cover is interspersed with open areas, so it is less likely to be found in unbroken forest.

Status: Although populations were seriously reduced by the early 20th century, they have since rebounded in most of their former range north of the Mexican border and have been introduced into many new areas where they did not occur historically. The total population of wild turkeys in the United States and Canada is approximately 7 million. In some eastern states, turkeys are even showing up in residential areas.

Threats/Outlook: The species is doing well in most of its range, thriving and even expanding into new habitats in some regions. In certain southeastern states, declining populations are reason for concern. Researchers are trying to find the cause. Until then the outlook for turkeys is uncertain in the Southeast, and possibly elsewhere.—Kenn Kaufman

Construction Workers Find 200-Year-Old Bodies Buried Just a Few Feet Below Greenwich Village

Two crypts uncovered near Washington Square Park a reminder of New York City’s past

Workers digging near New York’s iconic Washington Square Park have uncovered two burial chambers. The crypts house coffins and human bones thought to be about 200 years old.

So far the team has identified more than a dozen coffins in the vaults, which could have been part of the burial grounds of one of two now-defunct Presbyterian churches, according to archaeologist Alyssa Loorya, owner of Chrysalis, the company tasked with investigating the site.

Loorya soon hopes to be able to make out nameplates positioned atop the coffins. One of the crypts, which she says had clearly been disturbed by human hands, includes a pile of skulls and other bones that seem to have been stacked in the corner after the bodies disintegrated.

“We knew that we could be encountering some human remains,” says associate commissioner Tom Foley of New York’s Department of Design and Construction. That’s part of why the group has been working with archaeologists since beginning its $9-million project to install a water main running from the east to west sides of town. “As you peel away the asphalt and concrete face of this city, you find its history.”

From 1797 through 1825, the location served as a “potter’s field,” a public burial ground. Experts estimate that tens of thousands of decomposed bodies lay beneath the stones that line the park and its pathways. After the land became a city park in 1827, a military parade that featured cannons reportedly overturned stones and revealed yellow shrouds covering the remains of people who died during yellow fever outbreaks.

Foley has firsthand experience unearthing Manhattan’s historical mysteries. Previous construction projects came upon artifacts including a commemorative plate from George Washington’s inauguration.

Skeleton remains also turned up in 2008 during a controversial park restoration project; soil testing by the city’s parks and recreation department found dozens of bones that the city left in the ground.

City policies prohibit entering the newly discovered chambers, which lie a mere three-and-a-half feet below a street that runs along the campus of New York University. But archaeologists hope to learn more by sticking a camera in through a hole and taking high-resolution photos that could reveal additional details about the coffins and the bones. They will try to match any names they spot to historical records from the churches that the crypts could belong to—though whether those records still exist is anyone’s guess.

When those churches still stood, this part of Greenwich Village was a very different place. Today, tourists flock to the area to gawk at the park’s massive stone arch and its street artists. But in the late 18th century, the then-rural area was inhabited by a different breed of pioneers, many of who had fled northward from what is today Wall Street in order to avoid rampant disease.

“One of the properties nearby may have belonged to a former slave,” says Loorya. “The remains could also potentially belong to the families of merchants who moved into the area.”    

As archaeologists piece together the story told by the remains, city officials are working on revising their construction plan. “We’ll be making every effort to redesign the project to avoid impacts to the burial vaults,” says Foley. That redesign will likely involve changing the course of the subterranean pipes to be installed to avoid the chambers.

But given the rich history of the area, there may be more surprises in store.

“We don’t know what we will find,” says Loorya. “We might find other burial chambers.”

Devin Powell ||November 6, 2015

New Winged Dinosaur May Have Used Its Feathers to Pin Down Prey

Meet “the Ferrari of raptors,” a lithe killing machine that could have taken down a young T. rex

A newly discovered winged raptor may have belonged to a lineage of dinosaurs that grew large after losing the ability to fly. But being grounded likely didn’t stop this sickle-clawed killer from making good use of its feathered frame—based on the fossilized bones, paleontologists think this raptor could have used the unusually long feathers on its arms as a shield or to help pin down squirming prey.

Dubbed Dakotaraptor steini, the Cretaceous-era creature was found in South Dakota in the famous Hell Creek Formation, which means it shared stomping grounds with Tyrannosaurus Rex and Triceratops around 66 million years ago. Measuring about 17 feet long, Dakotaraptor is one of the largest raptors ever found and fills a previously vacant niche for medium-sized predators in the region.

Paleontologists had suspected a creature might be found to fill this body-size gap, but “we never in our wildest dream imagined

it would be a raptor like this,” says study coauthor Robert DePalma, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Palm Beach Museum of Natural History. “This is the most lethal thing you can possibly throw into the Hell Creek ecosystem.”

Based on the Dakotaraptor skeleton, DePalma and his team surmise that the animal had a lean and lithe body that excelled at running and jumping. “Dakotaraptor was probably the fastest predator in the entire Hell Creek Formation,” DePalma says. “It was the Ferrari of raptors.”

Its speed, combined with a giant sickle-like killing claw on each foot, would have made Dakotaraptor a formidable adversary. “It could have given a juvenile T. rex a run for its money, and a pack of them could have taken on an adult T. rex,” DePalma says.

This deadly capability means the raptor, described online this week in the journal Paleontological Contributions, has scientists rethinking their notions about the ecology of the region. “It’s like getting all the facts we’ve ever had about the predator-prey relationships in Hell Creek and shaking them all up in a bag,” DePalma says.

Philip Manning, a paleontologist at the University of Manchester in the U.K. who was not involved in the study, agrees. “The presence of this major new predator would have undoubtedly had a huge impact on the dynamics of the Late Cretaceous ecosystem,” Manning says in an email. Its discovery “shows that we have much still to learn about this period of time that is the last gasp of the age of the dinosaurs.”

One of the most striking features of the Dakotaraptor fossil is a series of tiny bumps on its forearm, which DePalma’s team has identified as quill knobs. Found on many modern birds, these bony nubs serve as fortified attachment sites for long wing feathers. “Dakotaraptor is the first large raptor found that has physical evidence of quill knobs,” DePalma says. “When you see quill knobs, it tells you that the animal was serious about using those feathers.”

The bone structure of Dakotaraptor‘s arm also bears a striking resemblance to the wing structure of modern birds. “We can use the word ‘wing’ correctly here even though it was too big to fly,” DePalma says.

But if it wasn’t capable of flight, why did Dakotaraptor need wings and quill knobs? “These things don’t appear overnight, and evolutionarily you don’t evolve features like that without a reason,” DePalma adds.

One intriguing possibility is that Dakotaraptor was part of a lineage of dinosaurs that once had the ability to fly but then lost it. “When things become flightless, you generally see them become big,” DePalma says. “You saw it with moas and terror birds, and you see it with ostriches today. Dakotaraptor could have essentially been a lethal paleo-ostrich.”

However, Manning thinks a more likely possibility is that Dakotaraptor belonged to a group of theropod dinosaurs that was laying the groundwork for flight but had not yet taken that final leap into the skies.

In either scenario, the flightless Dakotaraptor could still have found uses for its wing feathers, DePalma says. For example, the animal could have used them to frighten or impress other dinosaurs or to pin down prey—both are strenuous activities that would require strong feather attachments. Alternatively, Dakotaraptor could have used its wings to shield its young.

“Some hawks will form a kind of tent over their chicks to shield them from the weather or the sun,” DePalma says. “If you imagine a dozen squirming baby raptors that have the energy and tenacity of kittens knocking into your wings, then that could warrant quill knobs as well.”

 Ker Than||November 5, 2015

Ancient River System Flowed Under Sahara Desert (It Would Rank 12th largest Drainage Basin on Earth Today)

Researchers have discovered the remains of a vast ancient river system that ran through what is known today as the Sahara Desert. The river system was so vast that if it were still flowing today, it would be ranked as the 12th largest drainage basin on Earth, say the researchers in their report published in Nature Communications on Tuesday.

Radar images reveal ancient rivers once flowed through the Sahara Desert. Photo credit: Philippe Paillou

Radar images reveal ancient rivers once flowed through the Sahara Desert. Photo credit: Philippe Paillou

Using radar images taken from a Japanese Earth observation satellite, researchers found ancient river beds running from the middle of the Sahara to the Mauritanian coast in West Africa, which appear to have originated in the Atlas Mountains to the north and Hoggar Mountains to the east.

This isn’t the first time someone has suggested the Sahara was once “wet and humid” and, in fact, teeming with life. In 1957, an expedition led by French ethnologist Henri Lhote turned up cave paintings of giraffes and elephants. Since then, scientists have postulated that the Sahara has alternated between wet and dry periods during the last 300,000 years. As late as 7,000 years ago, “cattle, sheep and goats roamed over green savanna,” says Livescience.

This map shows the present-day rivers of Northern Africa along with the ancient Tamanrasett River. Photo credit: Skonieczny et al.

This map shows the present-day river networks of northern and central Africa, along with the ancient Tamanrasett River. Photo credit: Skonieczny et al.

IFLScience explains how we now know that water once flowed through this extremely arid climate:

The possibility that a river system once existed in the region was first hinted at around a decade ago, following the discovery of fine river sediment and a deep underwater canyon carved into the continental shelf off the coast of Mauritania. However, direct evidence needed to confirm this was lacking. This time around, the scientists used orbital radar satellite imagery, which allowed them to take images of the geology of the Sahara meters below the sandy surface using microwaves. From this data, the scientists could see the ancient riverbeds of the waterway, which incredibly matched up with the canyon off the coast.

It’s estimated that the river has been periodically flowing during what are called the African humid periods (AHPs), the last of which ended around 5,000 years ago when the lush, wet and humid Sahara which teemed with animals and life, turned into the dry, dusty place we know today. These switches between the wet and dry periods are estimated to occur every 20,000 years or so, as the Earth wobbles on its axis. Whether or not the ancient river beneath the desert will flow again during the next AHP is difficult to determine, however, as climate change is currently disrupting weather patterns, and making things harder to predict.

Russell Wynn at the National Oceanography Center in the UK was among the researchers who found evidence of an ancient river system more than a decade ago. He was not involved in this study, but he told the Guardian, “It’s a great geological detective story and it confirms more directly what we had expected. This is more compelling evidence that in the past there was a very big river system feeding into this canyon,” said Wynn. “It tells us that as recently as 5,000 to 6,000 years ago, the Sahara desert was a very vibrant, active river system.”

Today, the Sahelian zone south of the Sahara Desert is under threat from desertification. Nearly 75 percent of Africa’s drylands are degraded “with fast-growing populations trying to eke out a living by farming or grazing herds on ever less productive land,” says Janet Larsen of the Earth Policy Institute. “Desertification is particularly acute in Burkina Faso, Chad and Niger, as well as in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, where an estimated 868,000 acres are lost to desert each year.”

Cole Mellino|November 12, 2015

Environmental Links

SFAS International Wildlife News Audubon Advocate Audubon Restore Eco-Voice South Florida Wildlife Care Center Sawgrass Nature Center & Wildlife Hospital The Turtle Hospital The Marathon Wild Bird Center Climate change info Audubon’s Coastal Strand Audubon of Florida News Blog Bioenergy News Climate Progress – climate science, politics and solutions Collins Center for Public Policy Comprehensive Everglades Restoration News EcoWatch – feeds from the WaterKeeper Alliance Everglades Foundation – press releases Everglades Hub Fort Myers News – Press Green Front Pages from Florida Newspapers Herald Tribune Newspapers –  Environmental News Naples Daily News  – Environmental News National Public Radio Eco-News Riverwatch News about the Caloosahatchee Sierra Club Sierra Club Florida South Florida Watershed  Journal South Florida Water Management District Union of Concerned Scientists – news Yahoo News Search: Everglades NASA Climate Information American Littorial Society log NASA Climate Information Sun Newspapers – Lake Okeechobee News Everglades City News  – Mullet Wrapper

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ConsRep 1511 B

Keep close to Nature’s heart … and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean. — John Muir

Of Interest to All

Legislature Votes on Fracking ‏

Last month, Physicians for Social Responsibility published a report summarizing hundreds of peer-reviewed studies of fracking. It concluded that “fracking poses significant threats to air, water, health, public safety, climate stability, seismic stability, community cohesion, and long-term economic vitality.” 

Research has found that two counties in Pennsylvania that were fracked experienced a 49% increase in cancer-related hospitalizations, the rate of birth defects increases significantly within 10 miles of a single fracked well, livestock in the vicinity of fracking die in large numbers, and fracking increases infant mortality.

Not to mention that one average fracked well uses enough water to last seven Floridians their entire lives.

We went into the 2015 legislative session with two resolutions and an ordinance. As of today, Floridian cities and counties have passed 53 resolutions and ordinances against fracking, representing 43% of the state’s population. By the time the session begins in January, we’re liable to have more.

Yet on Tuesday, the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources voted in favor of a bill that would throw the door to fracking in Florida wide open. HB 191 preempts home rule, leaving local governments powerless to restrict or prohibit fracking. It grants the oil and gas industry a trade secrets exemption, which would make it impossible to hold the industry accountable for the damage it does because it can’t be proven to be its source.

Nine of the 13 Representatives on the Committee voted in favor of the bill despite the fact that three of them represent counties that have passed anti-fracking resolutions.

Despite our accomplishments and the stunning data favoring a ban, we’re facing a very tough battle. The bulk of what we’ve achieved thus far has been the result of a small group of activists working overtime. We need to coalesce into a robust movement capable of standing up to those who are willing to sacrifice our health and well-being in order to satisfy the insane demands of the oil and gas industry. If we don’t, we’re gonna lose, and we’re going to get fracked.

If you’re serious about stopping fracking in Florida and aren’t already hearing from me on a regular basis, please email me at and I’ll add you to my list of people who are willing to respond to legislative developments in order to keep Florida frack-free.   

Michelle Gale

[It’s one thing to not care about your constituents wishes, but when you think about the negatives surrounding fracking, such as the secrecy of ingredients not being released to hospitals so doctors may have an indication as to what steps to take in the case of ingestion, it borders on criminal. I guess these people either don’t care or didn’t think about the fact that their kids are going to be drinking the water that fracking is bound to contaminate in Florida.]

President Obama rejects Keystone XL! ‏

BREAKING NEWS: President Obama has rejected the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

This is an incredible victory for our environment, for NRDC, and for dedicated activists like you, who have fought alongside us to prevail on the President and his State Department to slam the door on the Keystone XL for good.

President Obama had long promised to stop the Keystone XL if it would significantly worsen the dangerous carbon pollution that fuels climate change. Overwhelming evidence proved that it would.

Recently, TransCanada — the company behind the disastrous pipeline — asked the State Department to suspend its review of the project. But the State Department denied that request — and today, the President has taken the long-awaited step of rejecting the Keystone XL for good.

What an amazing victory for people power over Big Oil! For the past eight years, we moved the threat of tar sands from total obscurity to center stage in Washington. We turned what had been considered a slam-dunk, done deal into a flashpoint battle against the oil giants for our environmental future — and we won.

The decision to reject Keystone XL sets a powerful precedent for America’s clean energy future — which is especially critical as President Obama prepares for the international climate change talks in Paris in December. It’s more proof that we’ve reached the limit of feeding our fossil fuel addiction. That means keeping up the pressure to reject any fossil fuel project that endangers our communities and makes climate change worse.

It also means blocking Big Oil’s much larger plan for a full-blown Tar Sands Invasion from coast to coast, which would triple the production of filthy tar sands oil in Canada and send as much as 6 million barrels a day gushing into the U.S.

NRDC is fighting back to stop this industrial onslaught, reduce our reliance on climate-wrecking fossil fuels and help move America toward a clean energy future.

Rhea Suh|President|NRDC

Two Dams Collapse at Brazilian Mine, Village Engulfed in ‘Thick, Red Toxic Mud’

Two dams collapsed at the Germano iron ore mine in Brazil’s state of Minas Gerais yesterday, unleashing “a deluge of thick, red toxic mud that engulfed a village,” according to RTE News. Dozens are missing, but the exact number of injured and dead are unknown.

Reuters currently reports 30 injured and two dead, while RTE News reports 50 injured and 17 dead. The death toll is expected to rise as recovery efforts have been hampered by the mudslides, which knocked out roads and cell towers.

“In reality there are a lot more [dead], but we can’t confirm any more than that. We don’t even know that we’ll find everybody,” said firefighter Adão Severino Junior.

“The organization is mobilizing every effort to prioritize care for people and the mitigation of environmental damage,” Samarco, the company that runs the mine, told GloboNews.

An employee for Samarco told GloboNews that there were reports of seismic activity in the area leading up to the incident, however the company’s press representatives said, “We can not at this time confirm the causes and extent of the incident.”

“The collapse paralyzed operations at the mine, a joint venture between Vale and BHP Billiton, the world’s top iron ore miners and raised fears of an expensive cleanup,” said Reuters.

RTE reports:

Television footage showed a torrent of muck several hundred meters long that had swamped houses and ripped off their roofs.

The mud reached the intact roofs of some houses, atop of which stranded people waited to be rescued. Some homes appeared to have been swept hundreds of meters by the rushing wall of mud.

The village of Bento Rodrigues near the dam is practically buried, the fire chief said.

Dams are becoming increasingly dangerous as extreme weather events are on the rise. “Hundreds of thousands of dams across the planet pose risks in a climate changed world,” said Gary Wockner, an international river advocate based in Colorado, in an email to EcoWatch. “Whether it’s drought or flooding, most dams were engineered and built pre-climate change and may not be able to handle the extreme weather events that are likely to occur in the near future.”

A recent report, The Risk, Public Liability & Economics of Tailings Storage Facility Failure, bolsters Wockner’s argument. The report “demonstrates that catastrophic mine waste failures are increasing in frequency and severity because of—not in spite of—modern mining techniques, and will continue to do so until regulators and mining companies take active steps to prevent them,” according to the nonprofit Earthworks. The report found that half (33 of 67) of all serious tailings dam failures in the last 70 years occurred in the 20 years between 1990 and 2009.

“Our research shows that more mining waste disasters like Brazil’s Germano spill are inevitable,” said David Chambers, report co-author and director of the Center of Science in Public Participation. “If mining practices continue as usual, we are going to see more severe spills, more frequently. These spills each will cost the public hundreds of millions to billions of dollars to clean up—if cleanup is possible at all. And sometimes, like the Germano spill, they will cost people’s lives.”

The report, which came out in July, was conducted in response to the 2014 Mount Polley mine waste disaster in British Columbia (BC), another waste impoundment failure which released roughly 24.4 million cubic meters of mine tailings waste into the Fraser River watershed.

“An expert panel commissioned by the BC provincial government recommended the global mining industry make significant changes to how it handles mining waste,” said Earthworks. “To date those recommendations have been largely ignored.”

There are 839 mining waste tailing dams in the U.S. and 3,500 abroad, according the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the United Nations, respectively. According to Earthworks, these large dams have no oversight in the U.S. or on a global level.

Cole Mellino|November 6, 2015

See a video

Intracoastal dredging will ease navigation for super-yachts

Officials on Wednesday announced a new dredging project that will deepen a section of the IntraCoastal Waterway in a two-year project led by Cashman Dredging.

Officials on Wednesday said they’ve selected Cashman Dredging to deepen a section of the Intracoastal Waterway in a two-year project that will allow bigger boats to navigate the area.

The announcement came on the eve of the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, billed as the world’s largest in-water boat show and known for offering yachts 80 feet and longer.

The $17 million dredging project will make it easier for super-yachts to take part in future boat shows and reach marinas and repair yards, officials said.

Cashman Dredging, of Quincy, Mass., already is known in Broward County for its recent dredging at the Dania Cut Off Canal. That $7 million project brought a $23 million economic benefit to Broward in the first full year after its completion, including nearly $11 million in extra revenues for boatyards plus spinoff business for hotels, restaurants and others, according to consultants Thomas J. Murray & Associates.

“That is but a small reflection of what is going to happen with [the Intracoastal] dredging,” County Mayor Tim Ryan told a news conference Wednesday at Lauderdale Marina on the Intracoastal.

The new venture will dredge a stretch of the Intracoastal from 17th Street Causeway to Sunrise Boulevard from 10 feet to 17 feet deep. The project is the largest yet for the Florida Inland Navigation District, a special state taxing district charged with managing and maintaining the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway.

“Vessels are getting larger, and they can go anywhere in the world,” said Mark Crosley, executive director of the district. The dredging will help greater Fort Lauderdale retain and expand a marine industry that had an economic impact estimated at nearly $9 billion in 2014 alone, recent studies have shown.

Plans for the Intracoastal dredging have been more than a decade in the making. Permits took years to obtain, partly because of requirements to minimize the effect on coral reefs, sea grasses and other aspects of the marine environment. Materials dredged will be towed away by barge, officials said.

The 56th annual Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show runs Thursday through Monday and is expected to draw more than 100,000 people. Some $4 billion worth of boats, accessories and marine art will be displayed in seven venues including Bahia Mar Yachting Center, Hall of Fame Marina, Las Olas Marina, the Broward County Convention Center, Sails Marina, Fort Lauderdale Hilton and Pier 66 Marina.

For more information about the show, go to

Doreen Hemlock|Sun Sentinel


Nuclear waste site near St Louis threatened by landfill fire

Imagine you are a parent, and that out of the blue, you get a letter from your child’s school telling you not to worry — that they’re ready to evacuate or shelter in place if an underground fire at a nearby landfill reaches radioactive waste on the same property.

That’s pretty much what happened recently in suburban St. Louis.

Landfill fires are pretty common. But this one is different: It’s only about a thousand feet away from nearly 9,000 tons of nuclear waste — and there’s no barrier in between.

Hundreds of people packed a recent community meeting about the landfills, located in Bridgeton, Mo.

“I feel like so many people in St. Louis are not even aware this is going on,” says one attendee, Cole Kelley.

Mother-of-three Cole Kelley expresses her concerns about the landfills at a community meeting in October. Kelley lives in the St. Louis suburb of Ladue, about nine miles away from Bridgeton, where the landfills are located. She was one of about 500 area residents to attend the meeting.

Many of the people at the meeting didn’t know of the landfills’ existence, even though the fire started five years ago, and the radioactive waste was dumped back in the early 1970s.

Residents like Carmen Burrus and Shannon Walker came to the meeting with many questions: How can people get their children home safe from school? Why isn’t there discussion about mass evacuations?

Flares at the Bridgeton Landfill outside St. Louis burn off noxious fumes, including those generated by an underground fire that’s been burning since 2010. The “fire” is really a high-temperature chemical reaction that consumes the waste below the landfill’s surface.

Véronique LaCapra|St. Louis Public Radio|NPR|November 3, 2015

This bill could keep half of US fossil fuels in the ground. ‏

Today, a game-changing climate bill was introduced in the U.S. Congress by Sens. Jeff Merkley and Bernie Sanders, along with five of their colleagues.

It’s game-changing because it’s the first bill to cut to the heart of the issue and keep fossil fuels underground, by cutting off all sales of coal, oil and gas from publicly owned lands. That’s 450 gigatons of carbon that would be kept underground — half of the fossil fuels in the entire United States, representing enough carbon to take us past major climate tipping points.

Because the climate movement has fought tirelessly for years to stop projects like Keystone XL, fracking, and Arctic drilling, Senators are lining up to demand that we keep fossil fuels in the ground. This is the new measure of climate leadership.

It’s crucial that we show that movement energy is turning the tide in Washington.

In short, this bill says that if it is wrong to wreck the planet, it is wrong for our government to be in the business of digging up coal, oil and gas from publicly-owned land. It also lays down a marker for both President Obama and whomever ends up being the next President: if you want to be a climate champion, keep fossil fuels in the ground.

Most climate legislation nibbles at the edge of the fossil fuel industry’s power — making them pay a little more here, financing some clean energy there. This one clearly states the scientific reality that we must keep 80% of fossil fuel reserves underground to avoid climate disaster. If we are going to avoid the worst effects of climate change, we need to keep publicly-owned fossil fuel reserves off-limits.

As this bill starts to make its way through Congress today, it’s important to note that President Obama has the power to make this happen too. An executive order would accomplish the same goal — banning fossil fuel extraction on public lands, and keeping all that carbon in the ground. The President could show his climate leadership and support for this bill by taking executive action now. 

Keeping fossil fuels in the ground wasn’t even acceptable to talk about just a few short years ago; now it’s a bill in Congress with a long list of co-sponsors. A lot more is suddenly possible, and politicians everywhere should be taking note.

Keeping publicly owned fossil fuels off-limits would be an enormous victory, and the fact that it’s even on the table is an enormous testament to our movement’s growing power.

Jason Kowalski||11/04/15

Trading Away our Food System with TTIP:
Food Regulations & Democracy at the Hands of Corporate Interests

  1. Share it: Share this report to help spread the world about the impacts of the TTIP.
  2. Take Action: Tell Congress to REJECT the TTIP.
  3. Download it: Save or print this report for easy reading.

The rights of nations, states, and local governments to regulate threats to their citizens, ecosystems, and economies should be stronger than international trade ties that benefit large corporations. Yet, corporate interests are currently threatening these rights as the Unites States (US) works to develop two major international trade agreements: the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).
The lesser-known of the two trade agreements is TTIP, which is a proposed agreement between the US and the European Union (EU) aiming to harmonize trade between these major global economies in many sectors, including agriculture. TPP is a trade agreement being negotiated between 11 Pacific Rim nations and the US. Since this agreement is further along in the process, it has received much more attention.
Historically, harmonized trade standards for worker and environmental protections often default to the lowest common denominator. Ultimately, these low standards remove local and country-wide regulations that are in the best interest of people and the environment. Under such harmonized standards, local and national governments can no longer enact their own environmental or social justice laws, because they will be challenged under the trade agreement as “illegal barriers to trade.” Compounding the problem, many companies will only adhere to the often-weak legal minimum under such trade agreements to save money.
At the local level, these agreements favor corporate influence and economic gains over the people’s right to a participatory democracy.1

I. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)

TTIP is a proposed bilateral agreement that aims to remove “barriers to trade” and investment, increase market access, and liberalize trade between the US and EU.2 Both regions have struggled economically since the 2008 recession and look to TTIP to provide a much-needed jumpstart through a robust, yet exclusive international trade regime.3 One of the US’s main goals in the agreement is to increase US exports to the European Union and strengthen the US’s valuable agricultural markets.4 Since tariffs between the US and EU are already relatively low, this agreement focuses on other issues that impede trade, especially non-tariff and technical barriers to trade (NTBs).5 In this instance, NTBs are the varying food-safety rules and regulations that have been enacted by each nation.6 US Trade Representatives aim to use TTIP to remove NTBs— including (but hardly limited to) EU import regulations on emerging food and crop varieties (including GMOs), as well as restrictions on pesticides, antibiotics, and chemical washes of animals.7
Trade negotiators representing the US and EU plan to harmonize these varying standards and develop mutual recognition agreements between the two parties.8 It is important to note that these negotiations are taking place behind closed doors, preventing any sort of public participation or media coverage. Negotiators aim to reach the least trade-restrictive agreement possible.9

The most controversial aspect is likely to be the harmonization of food and agricultural regulations—especially those pertaining to genetically engineered (GE) crops (often called genetically modified organisms or GMOs).

Unfortunately, the least trade-restrictive standard will likely have little consideration for human and environmental health, and completely ignore cultural differences and the will of the people in each participating nation. Civil-society groups are concerned that harmonization will negatively affect public health, consumer rights, labor standards, and environmental standards on both sides of the Atlantic.10 While this agreement has the potential to affect intellectual property rights, labor rights, and environmental and chemical regulations, the most controversial aspect is likely to be the harmonization of food and agricultural regulations—especially those pertaining to genetically engineered (GE) crops (often called genetically modified organisms or GMOs).11

Environmental Impacts of TTIP12

Discrepancies between US and EU regulations expand beyond food safety and chemical standards. Climate issues, are another major area of divergence. The agreement is expected to increase the export of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to European countries as the EU is pushing “for national treatment for trade in gas.” Increased exports of LNG would increase the United States’ use of hydraulic fracturing, a method of extraction that is extremely harmful to the environment and the health of neighboring communities. LNG only continues our dependence of fossil fuels and fails to move us toward reliance on renewable energy sources, which will be key to lessening our strain on the climate. This is just one example of how TTIP will place a greater strain on our environment and natural resources. As the climate crisis becomes an even more pressing threat, countries must be allowed to regulate industry in the best interest of their people and the environment. Stipulations in TTIP, such as the increased corporate power through (ISDS), could challenge climate and environmental regulations, such as carbon or energy efficiency standards, as “barriers to trade”, prohibiting much needed protection of our environment.

II. Agriculture and GMOs in TTIP

TTIP lacks a provision dedicated specifically to food and agricultural trade. Instead, food and safety regulation is discussed in the section entitled “Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS).13 ” Due to the secrecy of the TTIP negotiations,it is difficult for the public to gain a full understanding of planned changes to our food systems. As of now, the only available information is draft text released by the EU.14 Though the draft text does provide some information (much of which sends up red flags, including the lack of regulation of new novel food products), according to those participating in the negotiating process the majority of the important details are in the unpublished annexes of the agreement. This lack of transparency makes it especially hard to monitor how the food and agricultural sectors will be impacted by the agreement in both the US and EU, though the impacts will undoubtedly be significant.15 And, while the regions generally have a great deal in common with respect to trade, they diverge when it comes to GMOs and food-safety regulations.16 In 2012, the EU exported $16.6 billion of food and agricultural products to the US, compared to the $9.9 billion of similar goods exported from the US to EU:17 This trade imbalance, attributable in part to the EU’s strict restrictions on GMOs and protection of specialty food items, is used by the US to justify the desire for regulatory coherence in this sector.

In the past, differing food standards have contributed to trade challenges, such as when the US brought the EU to trial at the World Trade Organization (WTO) for banning US hormone-laden beef.18 Since the US and EU have very different positions on food safety and regulation, especially regarding GMOs, the US is likely to challenge current EU legal restrictions on the sale and import of GMOs during TTIP negotiations.19 The US federal government and agricultural industry are largely pro-GMO because most large global producers of GE seeds and associated chemical inputs are based in the US and have close relationships with the Obama administration (and prior administrations) and members of Congress.20 There continues to be a revolving door between employees of agricultural companies and of government regulatory agencies, further influencing policy-making.21 Conversely, the EU has taken a more cautious approach to the relatively new GE technology at both the farm and national level, with both farmers and states rejecting GMOs. In order for TTIP to pass, both parties must reach a consensus on GMOs and agricultural regulations. To do this, negotiators must overcome a few major obstacles including: labeling requirements, laws restricting cultivation, and risk assessments for commercialization of GMOs must all be harmonized.22 TTIP will threaten local-level democratic processes currently in place to regulate health and environmental standards, such regulations will undoubtedly be considered “barriers to trade”.23

III. GMO Risk Assessment and Regulation in the EU and US

Applied to GMOs, Precautionary Principle protects against the still-unknown long-term consequences of biotechnology on human and environmental health.

The EU and the US have very different approaches to risk assessment and regulation of GMOs, the main reason for their divergent stances on their cultivation and labeling. The EU adheres to the Precautionary Principle for its approval of pesticides, GMOs, and other new novel technologies (including GMOs, cloned animals, and nano materials) and chemicals.24 This principle is strongly rooted in the EU’s founding Treaty of Lisbon and based on the belief that products and technologies should be regulated or prohibited until proven safe by conclusive and sound scientific evidence.25 Applied to GMOs, the Precautionary Principle protects against the still-unknown long-term consequences of biotechnology on human and environmental health.26

What is Substantial Equivalence?31

The Coordinated Framework for Regulation of Biotechnology of 1986 exists as the only basis for the regulation of biotechnology and new novel crop varieties in The US. This regulation was established before the creation of GE crops and the performance of proper safety testing. The US government determined that GE crops varieties were inherently “substantially equivalent” to their traditional counterparts and provide no risk, and therefore require no extra review or testing. All new crop varieties go to market without government testing, and only a voluntary review process exists through which the very companies that created the crops submit their own findings and science to back their products. Despite the fact that that legally GE crops are deemed substantially equivalent to traditional crops, corporations have the right to patent these new novel varieties. This double standard shows that the crops are not equivalent but distinct from other crops.

Conversely, the US bases its GMO regulatory framework on cost-benefit analysis and assumes products containing GMOs are safe until proven otherwise. This position relies on outdated biotechnology regulations from 1986, which were drafted long before any GE varieties were ready for commercialization.27 US policies have always considered GMOs to be “substantially equivalent” to non-engineered crops and do not require safety inspections prior to public use and consumption.28

The US system does not take into account long-term costs to society due to environmental and public health problems related to GMO and corresponding pesticide use. Costs such as health care and the financial impacts of environmental externalities go unaccounted for in the current system.

After this invention entered US food supply in the mid-1990s, GMOs were rapidly adopted by the industry with support from the US government.29 Regulators, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and US Department of Agriculture (USDA), continue to base their decisions on outdated policies and questionable science conducted by the very biotechnology corporations being regulated. The US system does not take into account long-term costs to society due to environmental and public health problems related to GMOs and their corresponding pesticide use. Costs such as health care and the financial impacts of environmental externalities go unaccounted for in the current system.30

IV. Growing & Labeling GMOs

Regulations on growing GMOs in the EU are complex. In 2006, the US brought the EU to court before the WTO over the region’s GMO regulations. The WTO ruled that the EU cultivation bans on GMOs were illegal barriers to international trade. In 2011, after a few heated years of debate and international confrontation the EU removed the bans and has since determined that member states reserve the right to accept or refuse the EU’s approval of new GE crops.32 Many member states acted in violation of WTO regulations and voted to keep the bans in place, representing their citizens’ strong support for GE regulation.33 Due to the strong support of GMO regulation from consumers, farmers, and producers, only two GE crops have been approved for cultivation in the EU to date—a pest-resistant form of corn, and a potato used in the paper industry. In the EU, at least ten countries have either banned or placed a moratorium on the cultivation of GMOs. Other than the “generally recognized as safe” standard (commonly referred to as GRAS), there is no federal law in the US that regulates or restricts GMOs. In 2012, approximately 90% of all corn and soy grown in the United States was genetically modified, across an area of more than 170 billion acres.34

labeling map

Many US farmers are pro-GMO as they are financially entrenched in the industry because of accumulated debt acquired in purchasing necessary inputs and technology for this system of agriculture.35 At the national level there is a political unwillingness to address this issue because of the biotechnology industry’s financial and political influence.36 Such political influence was only expanded after the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Committee removed limits on campaign contributions, providing for unfettered financial influence on members of Congress from biotech firms.37

The labeling of GMOs in the two regions differs greatly. The EU has a strict policy that requires a disclosure on everything with more than trace amounts (.9%) of GE ingredients.38 Whereas in the US, no mandatory labeling exists. States are fighting hard battles to establish mandatory labeling, i.e. CA, OR, and VT, taking on the largest food, beverage, and biotechnology corporations as well as lobbying groups such as the Grocery Manufacturers Association.39 The battle to establish GMO labeling laws has now reached Congress with two different bills in circuit, one that directly represents the will of the people to label GMOs, and the other, which represents industry interests.40 Corporate interests are using the TTIP trade agreement to not only put a damper on US citizens’ efforts to establish labeling, but also force lower standards and new GE products on the EU;41 a wasted effort considering surveys show that opposition to GMOs in the EU is still quite strong and continues to go grow in the US.42

V. Impact on the People’s Democratic Voice

In many ways, TTIP ignores the concerns of the European and American people in favor of corporations and Western economic growth. The negotiations, which started in July 2013 and are expected to conclude in 2015, take place in secret.43 In the US, there will be no publicly available text of the agreement until the document is completed, submitted for Congressional approval, and signed into effect by the President.44 Additionally, in July of 2015 Congress granted President Obama Trade Promotion Authority, more commonly known as “fast track” authority, which prohibits Congress from making any changes to the agreement. This means Congress can only approve a given trade agreement under fast track with an up or down vote. Similarly, the completed TTIP document will not be released to the European public until it is considered by the European Council, signed by the EU President, and ratified by the European Parliament.45

FastTrack 46

Fast Track or Trade Promotion Authority is a Congressional action that entrusts the President with sole authority over amending a proposed trade agreement. Traditionally, Congress has the job of reviewing, amending, and approving a trade agreement prior to final approval. Fast Track removes this key step. In place, Congress is left with the ability to only approve or deny the agreement as it is presented. This authority impedes democratic decision-making and gives unparalleled authority to one person, the President. Congress has granted Presidential Trade Promotion Authority for any trade deals signed before July 1, 2018, with potential extension to July 1, 2021.

In the US, only the US Trade Representatives and the Trade Advisory Commission—largely made up of industry representatives—will have access to the draft TTIP text and dialogue with negotiators.47 Much of the suggested text and talking points coming from both the EU and US match suggestions made by biotech lobbying organizations and other major food lobbying organizations. 48 While there are many active non-governmental organizations and individuals working on the issues discussed in the agreement, they have been purposely excluded from negotiations. This highlights the corporate control of the food system and of much of the political process in the US. Whereas, the EU does have some participating industry representatives on the negotiating team, but it is more balanced with government officials and third parties than the US’s negotiating team.49 The EU has taken steps toward transparency by releasing draft versions of their negotiating text; yet, this does not include annexes containing key details or the US negotiating text.50

Polls show that the American public is largely in favor of labeling GMOs and yet the US government has failed to address the issue. With so many corporations represented in the US negotiations, it is improbable TTIP will accomplish this type of labeling regulation.51 For example, the defeat of the GMO labeling referendums in California and Washington in 2012, and in Oregon and Colorado in 2014, is largely attributed to the over $100 million pro-GMO anti-labeling campaign funded by the biotechnology industry.52 National or international agreements—like TTIP—override local and state efforts to effect change, which thwarts democratic decision-making process.53 Considering the polls and local efforts to regulate GMOs in both the US and EU, the omission of public participation in an agreement that has the potential to preclude these possibilities is a grave infringement of democratic rights. Despite the fact that GMO labeling regulation has been brought to a vote in almost half of US states, there has been no federal action on the issue.

Despite the fact that GMO labeling regulation has been brought to a vote in almost half of US states, there has been no federal action on the issue.

The current negotiations lack transparency, causing civil society groups to call on officials to release draft TTIP texts so that public debate can take place.54 At the same time, members of Congress are calling on the United States Trade Representatives and the President to release the text so that they themselves can view the proposed trade agreement prior to the approval process.55 It is essential that the public be involved in a decision-making process that will so drastically affect the health and well-being of the people and planet, and citizens’ ability to make democratic decisions at different levels of government. Both citizens in the EU and US are likely to lose democratic rights through this agreement.

Impacts on Workers’ Rights 56

Beyond concerns over the impact that TTIP will have on agricultural regulations and the environment as a whole, there are major implications for workers both in the EU, US, and around the world. In contradiction to claims from the White House and the European Commission, TTIP will not increase jobs, but is actually expected to outsource more positions, as past trade agreements have done. TTIP will also likely impact worker safety and health. Chemical regulations are oftentimes put in place to protect the work -force, especially agricultural and factory workers. However such regulations could be seen as “barriers to trade” and could be challenged through Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), potentially increasing worker exposure to toxins. Overall, the agreement is expected to lead to weaker labor standards. It is important that any trade agreement allows states to independently decide how to best promote the general welfare of its workforce, without the threat of corporate retaliation. Ultimately, this is another area where it is necessary that nations negotiate in the interest of the public rather than the private sector.

VI. Expected Outcomes

The long-term goal of the US and EU is for TTIP to shape future multilateral trade agreements and set the baseline for rules and standards.57 TTIP may accomplish this, but only through lowering of standards in the EU and preclusion of local and state efforts in the US to regulate agriculture, label GMOs, and support local farmers.
The major goal of TTIP is harmonization, resulting in countries importing products that fail to meet existing in-country standards.58 This ultimately undermines progress toward a more sustainable food system. This agreement also proposes a Regulatory Cooperation Council to serve as the decision-making body on regulations. This body would essentially supersede democratic decision-making, putting regulation in the hands of trade officials and not food safety officials.59 Ultimately, this process constrains county, state, and national governments from setting future safety standards higher than trade agreement rules.60
TTIP will lower standards for environmental health and long-term sustainability as the US challenges EU regulations on pesticides. Many of the approved US pesticides are known endocrine disruptors, and the World Health Organization deemed the most common agricultural pesticide, glyphosate (Roundup), a probable carcinogen.61 TTIP will likely include the weakening of standards and as part of regulatory coherence, will allow GE related products into European countries.62

 graph showing U.S. polls on GMOs

While the majority of threats are to the EU system, the US is facing challenges to its “Buy America” government procurement program, which supports domestic purchasing.64 Local and state efforts to establish GE labeling, including laws established in Vermont, Maine, and various counties, would also be challenged.
Unlike most United Nations agreements, trade deals like TTIP are binding and enforceable. The hope of many corporations and business people is that TTIP, especially regarding food, will be fully enforceable through mechanisms of Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS).65 ISDS grants corporations the power to bypass domestic court systems and directly sue a nation in an international tribunal, creating a corporate court system acting in the best interest of private entities rather than the people.Ultimately, this will allow corporations to fight national policies that might infringe on economic gain, regardless of whether or not the regulations represent the best interest for and/or the will of the people. Nations are expected to reimburse corporations for all losses due to such “exclusionary” policies.66

This agreement will represent a united bloc of Global North influence on present and future WTO trade negotiations.67 TTIP is likely to go beyond the current WTO rules leading to even looser restrictions, especially related to food and agriculture.68 These reduced regulations will not just affect the negotiating parties, but will set a new international standard likely to influence and force developing countries to bend to the regulatory standards of the First World powers. If trade agreement infringement lawsuits through ISDS were to become the norm, it would present major issues as smaller and developing nations oftentimes cannot afford to pay such fees. It would also discourage these nations from implementing strong health and safety standards for fear of corporate retaliation.

Threats to EU Standards 63

When it comes to food and agriculture standards, the EU tends to have much more stringent and precautionary procedures protecting humans, animals, and the environment. Corporate entities are attacking EU’s high standards for convenience and economic gains. The expected threats to EU standards are:

  • Increased approval of GE crops.
  • Termination of labeling standards.
  • Increase of antibiotics and hormones used in livestock production.
  • Increase in livestock treated with chlorine washes, ractopamine, and arsenic.
  • Reduction in animal welfare standards.
  • Removal of pesticide regulations.
  • Weakening of organic standards.
  • Removal of geographic indicators/ regionally specific products.

VII. Conclusion

Ultimately, the TTIP trade agreement will have negative global impacts on the people’s democratic voice and the growing movement for food sovereignty. Corporations and lobbyists are spending a lot of time and money to influence the final TTIP agreement to benefit their financial interests at the expense of environmental and public health. Unimpeded trade between the US and EU will also increase capital accumulation in these already wealthy economies at the risk of widespread social and environmental degradation; further exacerbating social disparity and inequity. Many of the proposed changes in TTIP thwart local decision-making and personal choice in favor of providing greater access to large corporations, including seed, chemical, and packaged food producers. Draft text shows that this agreement promotes American industrialized agriculture with the goal of pushing this intensified system abroad. TTIP blatantly ignores the will and concerns of both EU and US concerns over food safety, environmental health, and future sustainability. To put it simply, TTIP is likely to “undermine local decision making and innovative efforts to rebuild local economies in ways that are sustainable and fair.”69 Business as usual is not an option and that is why we must take action to put an end to the corporate control of our food system. Together we can stop TTIP.

Take Action
  • It is essential that our members of Congress vote against any trade deal that impacts our democratic rights and endangers the environment, food safety, and labor standards. Take action and sign a petition to let members of Congress know that you and many other citizens oppose TTIP and TPP. Visit the office of or call your local Congressional representatives and tell them about your concerns regarding not only the TTIP and TPP trade agreements. Visit to take action.
  • Take action to overturn Citizens United. This landmark legal decision by the Supreme Court—which abolished all campaign finance limits—will have lasting impacts on people and planet and puts the control of our government in the hands of wealthy corporations. Take one of the many actions from our allies, like Public Citizen and League of Conservation Voters, to call on the President and Congress to overturn this decision, taking a step to restore democracy.
  • Get active on social media. Along with concerned civil society groups, many politicians at home and abroad are standing up against big business and bad trade deals. Join the movement by sharing the stories and spreading awareness in your community.

Victory! Washington Passes Wildlife Trafficking Initiative

This week an overwhelming majority of voters in Washington stepped up to pass a measure that will help stop the slaughter of nearly a dozen imperiled species threatened by the illegal wildlife trade.

Thanks to a ballot initiative kickstarted by Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Paul G. Allen over the summer, residents in the state got the chance to weigh in on the issue. Despite opposition, the Seattle Times reports the measure passed in every single county and led statewide 71 to 29 percent.

“Today’s victory is a step forward in the race against extinction. Thanks to the wisdom, compassion and determination of Washington voters, state authorities now have stronger tools to crack down on the illegal trade in endangered animal parts, which will help us save some of Earth’s most iconic creatures,” said Allen in a statement.

The measure, I-1401 , which is now being applauded as the toughest state law passed yet, will increase penalties for buying and selling products made from 10 species on the brink including elephants, rhinos , tigers, lions, leopards, cheetahs, marine turtles, sharks, rays and pangolins.

Passage of I-1401 also makes Washington the first state to have a voter approved law like this go into effect.

Similar laws have been passed in New York, New Jersey and California and now another ballot initiative is underway in Oregon, which will bring the issue to voters next year. If Oregon’s measure passes, the entire west coast will be a closed market for the wildlife trade.

As more states continue to move to protect wildlife, this week even more progress was made on the federal level. The House of Representatives voted to pass the Global Anti-Poaching Act, which addresses several areas intended to crack down on poaching and the illegal wildlife trade.

This legislation will put wildlife trafficking in the same category as drug and weapon trafficking, requiring the U.S. to identify the countries with the highest level of transit and consumption and expand international partnerships and enforcement efforts where they’re needed most.

“Time isn’t on our side. Each day of inaction means more animals poached and more cash for terrorists.  This vital legislation holds foreign governments accountable by ‘naming and shaming’ the worst violators and adds greater consequences for traffickers in this illicit trade. And it presses the Administration to continue to provide important security assistance to African park rangers,” said Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who authored the bill.

Alicia Graef|November 5, 2015

Calls to Action

  1. The Birds need you; sign the One Voice, One World petition today – here
  2. Protect Historic Jamestown from Transmission Towers – here
  3. Tell Congress to enact bird-safe building legislation – here

Birds and Butterflies

4 UK bird species join the IUCN list facing global extinction


The much-loved puffin could be one of those facing extinction

Four of the UK’s bird species, including the puffin and turtle dove, have t been added to the list of birds considered to be facing the risk of global extinction.

The latest annual revision of birds on the IUCN Red List, which has been announced by BirdLife International on behalf of the IUCN, doubles the number of UK bird species considered to be facing the risk of extinction to eight.

Shockingly, a further 14 UK species are considered to be Near Threatened, meaning that any further deterioration in their status could see them added to the red list too.

“This means that the global wave of extinction is now lapping at our shores,” said Martin Harper, the RSPB’s Conservation Director. “The number of species facing extinction has always been highest in the tropics, particularly on small islands. But now the crisis is beginning to exact an increasingly heavy toll on temperate regions too, such as Europe.

“The erosion of the UK’s wildlife is staggering and this is reinforced when you talk about puffin and turtle dove now facing the same level of extinction threat as African elephant and lion, and being more endangered than the humpback whale.”

The global revision also captures the crisis facing other birds around the world, including vultures where several African species have been listed as Critically Endangered – one step away from facing global extinction. In Africa, vultures are facing persecution and they are regularly poisoned or trapped.

Examining the list of changes among the UK’s birds to this year’s red list, several themes emerge, including: deterioration in the fortunes of some seabirds, such as puffin and razorbill; an ongoing and increasingly intense threat to wading birds, such as godwits, curlew, oystercatcher, knot and lapwing; and an increasing deterioration in the status of marine ducks, such as common eider, joining velvet scoter and long-tailed duck as species of concern.

Gwyn Williams, is the RSPB’s Head of Reserves and Protected Areas. He said the assessment “is a warning that nature is in trouble, but with funding and the right conservation measures threatened species can recover”.

From Wildlife Extra

You Could See Thousands of Hawks in One Day

One of North America’s greatest natural spectacles is happening right now, all around you: the annual fall raptor migration.

Major hawk migration routes have become popular birding destinations. But chances are, there’s a migrating raptor near you, too. And your observations can help citizen science.

So, gather around the kettle. No, not a kettle on the stove: a kettle of raptors in the sky.

“Broad-winged Hawks can form kettles (birds that are circling on a warm air thermal that it looks like steam spiraling up from a kettle) of hundreds of birds to tens of thousands of birds on the mega days,” says Jason Bojczyk, Lead Hawk Counter for the Schoodic Institute’s Hawk Watch. “It truly is one of nature’s greatest spectacles.”

What is a Hawk Watch?

Every year people across North America gather to watch the fall hawk migration and record information about the raptors that they see.

Related Articles

One great example is at the Schoodic Institute’s Cadillac Mountain site in Maine’s Acadia National Park, where citizen scientists can see 5 species of raptor year-round and an additional 9 species of migratory raptors.

“The Sharp-shinned Hawk, is one of the most abundant species at most hawk counts throughout the country,” Bojczyk remarks. “You can see hundreds to thousands of these birds on a good day.”

The event is held on a mountain so that people have a better view of high-flying hawks and, with the aid of binoculars, identify them by their unique markings.

Data are collected and submitted Raptor Population Index, a collaboration between the Hawk Migration Association of North America (HMANA) and Bird Studies Canada to graph trends in North American raptor populations over time.

The RPI serves as an important baseline for raptor populations.

“By monitoring raptors over the long-term, trends can be attained as to whether a species is declining, stable, or increasing,” Bojczyk explains. “These trends become more powerful when other hawk counting sites in the region/state have these same trends established. For species that are declining we can focus on why this is happening and what is there that can be done about it.”

Why Is It Important?

Hawks, raptors and other predators play an important role in ecosystem health.

“Hawks help keep small mammal populations under control and vultures clean up the leftovers,” Bojczyk notes.

Raptors are also important indicators of ecosystem health because many species require large areas to forage and are sensitive to changes in the environment including human disturbance and environmental toxins.

“Raptors are fascinating for so many reasons, from the spectacle of migration itself, to raptors chasing each other, to Cooper’s Hawks displaying,” Bojczyk says. “There really are unlimited, amazing things about this facet of nature.”

From Around the Web

And raptors face many threats. The American Kestrel is in decline for reasons that are still poorly understood, the Peregrine Falcon is now recovering from DDT poisoning that harmed many birds, and climate change could play a role in future population dynamics.

“For example, Red-tailed Hawks used to migrate in much larger numbers in the east than they currently do, but are now staying further north through the winter, as they can find enough food,” Bojczyk explains.

Wind turbines also have an impact on raptors. And, though shooting raptors has become less common in the US in recent years, it remains a risk factor.

How Can You Get Involved?

Find a Hawk Watch site in your area. The season is nearing an end, so start looking today or make plans to attend next year.

For the Schoodic Institute’s Hawk Watch, you can show up at Cadillac Mountain any day from August 18 to October 31 between 9 AM and 2 PM.

If you want to get a head start, hone your identification skills by checking out HMANA’s hawk ID materials.

But there’s no need to prepare in advance, the experienced hawk watchers are there to help.

“Hawk watches are often in areas where “non-hawk-watchers” visit,” Bojczyk says. “If there’s a day with a steady migration, these “non-hawk-watchers” quickly fall for the activity and return for years to come, along with the desire to protect these birds.”

Lisa Feldkamp|October 20, 2015

Florida Panthers

Help Save the Florida Panther

Panther 640x400

Florida panther © Mark Conlin courtesy of Tallahassee Natural History Museum


Connecting Land for the Florida Panther

Watch a video about how we’re helping to protect Florida panthers.


Florida panthers are among the most endangered animals on the planet. Get the facts on the plight of panthers and how you can help. See the infographic.

Giving Panthers a Safe Place to Roam

The Nature Conservancy Florida continues to support panther conservation and acquisition of lands containing critical habitat. Earlier this year, the Conservancy, working with state and federal agencies, acquired a conservation easement to protect more than 1,528 acres at Black Boar Ranch. This key piece of land was facing development pressures. Securing this easement was a big win in our efforts to protect lands along the Caloosahatchee River that form a connected corridor of prime panther habitat through Central Florida.

The Florida Panther is one of the most endangered mammals on the planet. About 180 cats remain in the wild. Most live around Okaloacoochee Slough, including the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, near Naples. Panther do roam north of this area (one was seen in Georgia) but they haven’t bred or established home ranges north of the Caloosahatchee River. This is a critical obstacle to the panthers’ survival.

Panther must extend their range beyond the confines of their current territory to prevent extinction. Otherwise, as Doria Gordon, the Conservancy’s director of conservation, says, “The Florida panther will will remain endangered and at critical risk.”

The Conservancy is working to protect Florida panther and you can help. Click here to donate online, or text the word PANTHER to 97779 to make a quick and easy PayPal or credit card donation.

Why is panther habitat expansion so critical?

Their current habitat is simply too small and fragmented for the population to grow to a healthy and sustainable level. Panthers have reached maximum capacity within their home range, and, because they are solitary and territorial, panthers require large areas to hunt, breed and den successfully. Males defend territories of 200 square miles and a single female will establish her home range of 75 square miles within a male’s territory.

Envision an area the size of Hillsborough County sustaining only 5 panthers. Miami–Dade County, one of the largest in the state, would provide home to 10 panthers. This may seem daunting at first but the good news is that large, undeveloped stretches of land still remain within the state’s interior and protecting these lands may mean the difference between extinction and survival for the Florida Panther.

What is being done to help Florida Panther survival?

The Nature Conservancy is leading an effort to protect panther habitat by establishing links to connect existing green spaces. We’ve protected thousands of acres of prime panther habitat already within the Greater Everglades and land protected on the Caloosahatchee River has made the outlook brighter. Protected only hours before foreclosure, this land purchase secures a highly used passage for panther crossing the Caloosahatchee River and looking for new habitat. Without this property, extinction was a near certainty but with this link permanently intact, the Conservancy is determined to build on this foundation, by protecting and restoring key links north of the river up into central Florida.

How can you help Florida Panthers?

Our goal is to ensure permanent protection for 7,300 acres of prime panther habitat, which will link existing green spaces and panther habitat. To do this, we will need to raise $8 million dollars. We plan to leverage that with $21 million dollars of public conservation funding. This will allow us to permanently protect lands that link existing green spaces and create a larger protected home range for panthers to expand and grow. You can help by supporting opportunities for land protection and attending Conservancy events. 

From Saturday, October 24 through Friday, November 20, 2015, a special art exhibition is being held in Miami featuring commissioned works focused on real and imagined endangered and extinct species and the relationship between wildlife people. All proceeds from the event will support the Conservancy’s efforts to protect panther habitat.

Get more details about the Leave No Trace exhibition.

What Other Threats Do Florida Panthers Face?

Beyond limited habitat, panther are threatened by disease, continued habitat loss, collisions with vehicles and aggression between panthers that fight over limited territory. Any combination of these factors can result in extinction of Florida Panthers.

Fun Facts about Florida Panthers

Did you know…?

  • And you thought your mother loved you.
    Panther mothers remain with their young for about one and a half to two years.
  • A Florida panther would beat your high school track star any day…
    Panthers can leap more than 15 feet and can run 35 miles per hour for short distances.
  • …but not compete in a heavyweight boxing match.
    Males weigh around 120 pounds and are 7 ft long from nose to end of tail. (Panther’s tails are 2/3 of their body length.) At birth, the cubs weigh just four to eight ounces! That’s less than a one-month-old house cat.
  • Who says venison and bacon aren’t a delicacy?
    Panthers’ diet includes deer and wild pigs.
  • Learn more facts about Florida panthers.

The Nature Conservancy

In Response to FWF Study, FDOT to Fence Stretch of Alligator Alley Deadly to Panthers

In response to a study commissioned by Florida Wildlife Federation, Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) recently announced it will be installing wildlife exclusionary fencing along the nine mile stretch of Alligator Alley from the Faka Union Canal Bridge to the Naples toll booth.

Since 2004, there have been an alarming 14 Florida panthers killed by collisions with vehicles. This nine mile segment is the deadliest highway for Florida panthers and the only section of Alligator Alley without wildlife exclusionary fencing.

In April 2015 Florida Wildlife Federation, alarmed by the increasing panther death count, commissioned a study by transportation ecologist Dr. Daniel Smith. He recommended fencing the nine miles and improving wildlife movement under the Miller and Faka Union Canals. Dr. Smith suggested new wildlife underpasses between the Miller Canal Bridge and Naples toll booth.

“Florida Wildlife Federation is very pleased with FDOT’s swift and optimal action to address panther deaths on Alligator Alley,” said Manley Fuller, President of Florida Wildlife Federation.

FDOT Secretary Jim Boxold expressed appreciation to Florida Wildlife Federation “for bringing this concern to our attention” and stated “FDOT supports Florida Panther recovery efforts.”

In addition to the exclusionary fencing, FDOT will reset the existing rubble riprap under the west side of the Faka Union Canal Bridge and both sides under the Miller Canal Bridge to create a 2ft wide pathway for wildlife use.

“It is important to maintain habitat connectivity for panthers and other wildlife because Picayune Strand State Forest is on the south side and Collier County’s North Belle Meade Natural Resource Protection Area is on the north side of this currently exposed stretch of Alligator Alley I-75,” said Nancy Payton, Southwest Florida Field Representative who spearheaded Florida Wildlife Federation’s successful campaign.

The Florida panther has been on the U.S. Endangered Species List since 1967. They once roamed across the entire southeastern United States. The only breeding population, estimated at 180 animals, is in South Florida. 

Collisions with vehicles are the major cause of panther mortality. Twenty-three Florida panthers have been killed this year on Florida’s highways. Where fencing and underpasses are installed, the deaths drop to almost zero.

Florida Wildlife Federation

Invasive species

Millions of Dog-Coyote-Wolf Hybrids Now Roam Eastern U.S.

A new species combining wolves, coyotes and dogs is evolving before scientists’ eyes in the eastern U.S.

Wolves faced with a diminishing number of potential mates are lowering their standards and mating with other, similar species, reported The Economist. The interbreeding began up to 200 years ago, as European settlers pushed into southern Ontario, clearing the wolf’s habitat for farming and killing a large number of the wolf families who lived there. This also allowed coyotes to spread from the prairies, and the farmers brought dogs into the region.

Over time, wolves began mating with their new, genetically similar neighbors. The resulting offspring—which has been called the eastern coyote, or to some, the coywolf—now number in the millions, according to researchers at North Carolina State University.

Interspecies-bred animals are typically less vigorous than their parents, the Economist reported, if the offspring survive at all. That’s not the case with the wolf-coyote-dog hybrid, which has developed into a sum greater than the whole of its parts. At about 55 pounds, the hybrid animal is about twice as heavy as a standard coyote, and its larger jaws, faster legs and muscular body allows it to take down small deer and even hunt moose in packs in both open terrain and dense woodland.

An analysis of 437 hybrid animals found that coyote DNA dominates its genetic makeup, with about one-tenth of its DNA from dogs, usually larger dogs such as Doberman pinschers and German shepherds, and a quarter from wolves.

The animal’s cry starts out as a deep-pitched wolf howl that morphs into higher-pitched yipping, like a coyote.

The coywolf’s dog DNA may carry an additional advantage. Some scientists think the hybrid animal is able to adapt to city life—which neither coyotes or wolves have managed to do—because its dog ancestry allows it to tolerate people and noise. Coywolves have spread into some of the nation’s largest cities, including New York, Boston and Washington, DC.

The interbreeding allows the animal to diversify its diet and eat discarded food, along with rodents and smaller mammals, including cats, and they have evolved to become nocturnal to avoid humans.

Some of the animals are also smart enough to learn to look both ways before crossing roads.

Not all researchers agree the coywolf is a distinct species, arguing that one species does not interbreed with another, although the hybrid’s existence raises the question of whether wolves and coyotes are distinct species in the first place.

But scientists who have studied the animal say the mixing of genes has been much faster, extensive and transformational than anyone had noticed until fairly recently.

“[This] amazing contemporary evolution story [is] happening right underneath our nose,” said Roland Kays, a researcher at North Carolina State.

Travis Gettys|Raw Story|November 2, 2015

Endangered Species

One-Third of World’s Orangutans at Risk From Fires in Sumatra and Borneo

Despite some rainfall in the last few days, thousands of fires continue to burn on the main islands of Sumatra and Borneo. Unlike previous years, when fires mainly impacted agricultural land, these fires, fueled by a particularly dry season due to El Nino, have swept into national parks and primary forests, the last refuges for so many iconic endangered species, such as orangutans, rhinoceros and tigers.


Local people fighting fires in Indonesia’s national park Tanjung Puting. Photo credit: Faqih Zabach

All these animals hover on the brink of extinction and now the odds have been tipped even further against them. It is estimated that a third of the world’s orangutan population is under threat with many already dying and orphans flooding into rescue centers.

Data released last week by Guido van der Werf on the Global Fires Emissions Database estimate emissions generated every day from the fires exceeds that of the average daily emissions for the entire U.S. economy. The U.S economy is 20 times the size of Indonesia’s. Van der Werf estimates that over just 3 weeks of burning, the fires in Indonesia exceeded the entire annual CO2 emissions of Germany.

These are staggering statistics and illustrate just how critical it is that the world pays attention, supports the Indonesian government to enforce a fire moratorium, provides sophisticated fire fighting equipment, and holds palm oil corporations and companies using palm oil in their products to account over plantation practices.

These figures are even more disturbing because the fires are in peatlands. Not only are tropical peatlands significant carbon storage areas but when they burn they emit up to 10 times more methane than fires in non-peat lands. Nancy Harris and others, including the World Resources Institute, suggest that when the emissions from both the draining of peatlands for plantations and the fires are taken into account the methane released is 200 times more than that emitted from fires in any other land areas.

Orangutan running from the fire.

Orangutan running from the fire.

This is not only an environmental disaster of massive proportions but also a humanitarian one which will have long-term economic repercussions for Indonesia. Estimates put the number of people affected by respiratory illness at 500 million across Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia.

So why is there so little press coverage or interest from the rest of the world in this catastrophe? Is it because it is man-made, driven by the palm oil and pulp and paper corporations as well as poachers and small farmers? Do we some how think this is not as news worthy as a hurricane or earthquake?


A mother and baby orangutan in the jungles of Indonesia. Photo credit: Shutterstock

While it may seem like this is a problem on the other side of the world we are all, as consumers, complicit in this crime. The supply chain is not always obvious and lack of product labelling often means we have no idea that our shampoo or crackers or toilet paper have such a devastating effect. If there is going to be any chance to save the rapidly disappearing mega fauna on our planet and to limit the damage from global warming then we have to start thinking that a problem over there is also a problem over here.

Marie Gale|Save Indonesian Endangered Species Fund|November 1, 2015

County Receives Grant for Informational Sea Turtle Signage

BROWARD COUNTY, FL – The Sea Turtle Conservancy has awarded Broward County a grant to design, produce, and install permanent informational sea turtle signs at public beach access points throughout the County. Installing educational signs at known nesting sites will help local sea turtle nesting populations by delivering information directly to beach goers informing those who may unknowingly be impacting nests. The signs will also serve as a tool to help reduce human manipulation and interference with sea turtle nesting sites by promoting safe practices. Municipalities will help identify priority locations based on the amount of pedestrian traffic and nesting activity within the vicinity of the access point.
Helpful points on the signs include:

  • Turn off or cover any lights visible from the beach
  • Remove all trash and beach furniture when you leave
  • Fill in any holes in the sand
  • Do not touch or disturb turtles, nests or hatchlings
  • Observe nesting females from a distance and don’t block her return to the ocean
  • Call 1-888-404-3922 or 954-328-0580 for more information or to report injured or dead turtles

These signs were funded in part by a grant from the Sea Turtle Grants Program. The Sea Turtle Grants Program is funded from proceeds from the sale of the Florida Sea Turtle License Plate.

Learn more at, and for more information on how to help create a more sustainable environment for sea turtles, please contact the Broward County Sea Turtle Conservation Program at 954-519-1255.DATE: October 8, 2015

MEDIA CONTACT: Courtney Kiel|Environmental Planning and Community Resilience
PHONE: 954-519-1255

Don’t Delist Yellowstone National Park’s Last 757 Grizzly Bears

Don’t Delist Yellowstone National Park’s Last 757 Grizzly Bears

Grizzly bears are iconic animals on the Yellowstone National Park’s landscape, so how can the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) consider delisting them from the Endangered Species Act? For its part, the FWS insists that the bears have recovered enough — today there are 757 bears compared to the 136 bears when the bears were first protected in 1975. But for American Indian tribes with deep cultural and spiritual connections to the grizzlies, the bears have not recovered enough. Some tribes insist that delisting the bear and opening them up to be trophy hunted is on par with with cultural genocide.

Hunting Tradition or Killing Tradition?

As reported in TakePart, a coalition of almost 50 tribes called Guardians of Our Ancestors’ Legacy (GOAL) has formed to oppose delisting the grizzly. A cofounder of the coalition, R. Bear Stands Last, describes the bear’s significance: “The grizzly was the first two-legged to walk upon this land…The grizzly is a teacher and was, in essence, the first medicine person who taught the curing and healing practices adopted by many peoples.”

The coalition also doesn’t believe that the bears have recuperated enough to lose their listing and expose them to trophy hunting. For instance, the lack of food sources, including whitebark pine and cutthroat trout, got the grizzlies relisted in 2009 after they were delisted in 2007. However, bear advocates notice that current berry subsets that the bears rely on are also in decline thanks to climate change. Less food is forcing the bears to venture out of the park and closer to humans. While the FWS might consider trophy hunting a viable solution, it doesn’t align with deep-seated tribal values. Bear Stands Last explains the tribal stance on trophy hunting:

For most associated with GOAL, eating a grizzly bear would be tantamount to cannibalism. These trophy hunters do not come from a hunting tradition, they come from a killing tradition.

Yet the FWS is advocating for this senseless killing tradition by fighting to get the grizzly bear delisted, in spite of tribal sovereignty, for over a year now. And the government agency has largely ignored the opposition from tribes. The FWS did send 2 rounds of letters to tribes, but that’s not enough under the obligatory tribal consultations under the Endangered Species Act. The FWS is planning more meetings and a tribal webinar asking for tribal input and concerns.

Too Many Bears or Too Many Cows?

According to Yellowstone Insider, 2015 has been a really bad year for the bears. More grizzlies are dying this year — 46 grizzly bear deaths so far compared to 20 to 30 deaths each year between 2013 and 2014, and around 50 deaths each year between 2010 and 2012. From September to October, on average, “one bear died every other day.” A stable bear population and decline in food sources, particularly whitebark pine, are also linked to the increase in bear deaths.

Unfortunately, 2015 is unique. Most of these bear deaths were at the hands of humans: “[H]umans were involved in over 80 percent of grizzly bear deaths this year. ‘Human-caused’ killings include both grizzly bears struck by cars as well as bears removed by management for trespasses, property damage, public safety concerns and old age.” Like other struggling wildlife, bears are forced to compete with livestock for limited space, and the bears will never win that competition: “Livestock grazing was the leading contributor to grizzly bear removals this year, with 14 bears killed after they were linked to sheep or cattle depredation.” Because in this country, animals that we can exploit for food or clothing take priority over necessary keystone species like grizzlies who are ecosystem engineers. It makes me wonder: are there really too many grizzlies (current estimates say 757 bears) or are there just too many cows (89.9 million cattle in the United States)? Reports also show that two cubs were relocated to the Toledo Zoo, even though captivity is no place for bears.

Take Action!

Please sign and share this petition demanding that grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park not be delisted. We may be their biggest threat, but we’re also their only hope.

Jessica Ramos|November 2, 2015

Lion populations half in key regions of Africa

The lion populations in much of Africa are in rapid decline, a new study suggests. Published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), the study estimates that lion numbers in West and Central Africa are declining sharply and are projected to decline a further 50% in the next two decades without a major conservation effort. Lion numbers are also declining, albeit less dramatically, in East Africa, long considered the main stronghold of the species. The study also shows that almost all lion populations that historically numbered at least 500 individuals are in decline.

A team of scientists from global wild cat conservation organization Panthera, Oxford University’s WildCRU, Grimsö Wildlife Research Station, IUCN Species Survival Commission Cat Specialist Group, and the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior at the University of Minnesota estimated the trajectory of lion populations by compiling and analyzing regional population trend data for 47 different lion populations across Africa. The analysis showed that whereas most lion populations in West, Central, and East Africa are declining, increases in lion populations occurred in four southern countries: Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Lead author Dr. Hans Bauer of WildCRU noted: “These findings clearly indicate that the decline of lions can be halted, and indeed reversed, as in southern Africa. Unfortunately, lion conservation is not happening at larger scales, leading to a vulnerable status of lions globally. In fact, the declines in many countries are quite severe and have enormous implications.” He continued, “If resources for wild lands cannot keep pace with mounting levels of threat, the flagship species of the African continent may cease to exist in many countries.”

Globally, lions are listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, though the species is considered to be Critically Endangered in West Africa. The results of this study reaffirm the lion’s conservation status in West Africa and further suggest that regional assessments yield a more accurate picture of lion populations than do global assessments. Based on the data, the authors recommend that the lion be regionally up-listed to Endangered in Central and East Africa while populations in southern Africa meet the criteria for Least Concern.

Dr. Luke Hunter, President and Chief Conservation Officer of Panthera and a co-author, urged, “We cannot let progress in southern Africa lead us into complacency. Many lion populations are either gone or expected to disappear within the next few decades. The lion plays a pivotal role as the continent’s top carnivore,” he continued, “and the free-fall of Africa’s lion populations we are seeing today could inexorably change the landscape of Africa’s ecosystems.” 

The authors note that conservation efforts in southern Africa are successful for a number of reasons, including low human density, significant resources, and perhaps most importantly, the reintroduction of lions in small, fenced and intensively managed and funded reserves. Dr. Paul Funston, Senior Director of Panthera’s Lion Program, said, “If we don’t address these declines urgently, and at a massive scale, the intensively managed populations in southern Africa will be a poor substitute for the freely roaming lion populations in the iconic savannahs of East Africa. In our view, that’s not an option.”

The study drew on the most comprehensive dataset so far compiled on the lion, which also informed the most recent Red List assessment of the species. Senior author Prof. Craig Packer of the University of Minnesota, who also serves on Panthera’s Scientific Council, said: “Estimating future population trends requires sophisticated forecasting techniques, and we performed one of the most comprehensive statistical analyses of conservation status over such a large scale. The results clearly indicate the need for immediate action across most of Africa.”

From Wildlife Extra

10,000 Mile Journey for Rare Rhino Brings Hope for His Species

In August, the Cincinnati Zoo announced plans to send its last Sumatran rhino home to Indonesia in the hope that he would find a mate and add to his species’ critically endangered population. Now his supporters are celebrating his safe arrival following a 10,000 mile journey.

In September, on World Rhino Day, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) warned that with fewer than 100 Sumatran rhinos left in the wild they’re likely to go extinct if drastic action isn’t taken.

According to the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) Asian Rhino Specialist Group, the Sumatran rhino is now only found in a few sites in Sumatra, and only a handful of individuals are believed to exist in Kalimantan, Borneo.

Over the past few decades poaching and habitat loss have caused their disappearance from Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, India, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, and they were most recently declared extinct in Malaysia.

Now hope lies on the shoulders of Harapan, aka Harry, whose travels to the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Indonesia’s Way Kambas National Park ends the zoo’s breeding program, but also brings more potential for increasing their numbers.

Harry, who was born at the Cincinnati Zoo in 2007, is one of three born in captivity through the zoo’s breeding program, along with his brother Andalas, who is also now in Sumatra, and his sister Suci, who died last year.

“The departure of Harapan, the last Sumatran rhino outside of South Asia, is a pivotal moment in wildlife conservation history. He was born at the Cincinnati Zoo eight years ago and is now on his way to the far side of the world to pursue his only chance to breed and contribute to the survival of his species,” said Thane Maynard, Executive Director of the Cincinnati Zoo.

According to the zoo, Harry arrived safe and sound and will spend his first two weeks there in quarantine, but then he’ll have access to the sanctuary and it’s hoped he will soon find one of the three females at the sanctuary to mate with.

The ongoing losses of large species like elephants and rhinos isn’t just a tragic loss for these animals, both as individuals and as a species, but also impacts biodiversity and brings environmental problems that will in turn impact us all.

“It is hoped Harapan’s relocation will further accelerate conservation breeding of the species in captivity,” said Bibhab Kumar Talukdar, Chair of the IUCN SSC Asian Rhino Specialist Group. “But the long-term future of the species will ultimately be decided by the actions of the Indonesian Government and civil society. We need effective collaboration between government agencies and conservation institutions, allocation of significant funds by the Indonesian Government and international donors, as well as strengthened support from the public.”

You can help by signing and sharing the petition urging Indonesia’s government to do whatever it takes to protect the last Sumatran rhinos and ensure they don’t go extinct.

Alicia Graef|November 3, 2015

November Is Manatee Awareness Month: Learn The Dangers They Encounter And How You Can Help (VIDEO)

Moving at just an average of three miles an hour, adult manatees are on the endangered list with problems of entanglements and also collisions with watercraft. November is the prime time for these problems when the sea cows move to warmer waters.


(Photo : Flickr Commons)

Slow-moving manatees, often referred to as sea cows, are an endangered species. November is an especially tough time for them as they move to warmer areas and are subject to collisions with watercraft.

November has been proclaimed as Manatee Awareness Month, but how much do you know about this odd sea creature? Chances are that if you don’t live in Florida, then not much. So let’s examine the manatee, often referred to as a sea cow, and get acquainted with the wonderfully slow, sweet creature.

For starters, they get pretty big! When grown, the manatee is about 10 to 12 feet in length, weighs about 1,500 to 1,800 pounds and has a good life span in the wild of 50 to 60 years, according to Defenders of Wildlife. No wonder they are referred to as sea cows; they are cow-sized, which is no surprise when you learn they are relatives of the elephant.

The Florida manatee is endangered as they face several threats. Manatees start searching for warm water shelters as the temperatures start to dip around November, and this is where a lot of their troubles begin.

They are subject to getting tangled in nets and anything else in the water. Marine Mammal Biologist Dr. Ann Spellman and Manatee Specialist Wayne Hartley discuss how this happens and the effects on these sweet creatures in a wonderful video by Adopt A Manatee. Information is available at Save the Manatee Club.

The slow-moving sea creatures are subject to collisions with watercraft, which is their leading cause of death.

Florida residents and visitors are asked to go slow in manatee-prone areas and be aware at all times. Notice the signs along the waterways so you can avoid a collision with these sweet sea cows. They are simply too slow-moving to get out of the way.

“Manatees can’t tolerate cold water,” Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokeswoman Carli Segelson said, according to WFSU. “So, they start to seek warmer water, and therefore, they’re more active at this time. So, the Manatee Awareness Month brings that to people’s attention.”

“So, one of those things is to wear polarized sunglasses, so you can see below the surface of the water, and certainly, observe any speed zones,” she added.

Segelson said that they do wish for people to be able to enjoy the manatees, but the public is asked to be respectful of the endangered species and enjoy them from a distance.

Bee researcher silenced ‏

A top USDA researcher has been suspended after publishing research linking pesticides to the deaths of bees and monarch butterflies.

The researcher was even threatened with termination for trivial violations, like failing to get a routine form signed by his supervisor.

Bees and butterflies are pollinators that are critical to our food supply, and they are experiencing a steep decline due to systemic pesticides. We can’t let this important research be silenced.

We’re demanding a full investigation into the pesticide industry’s influence over government research.

Jonathan Lundgren has been at the U.S. Department of Agriculture for 11 years, earning stellar performance reviews along the way.

He was so respected that the USDA actually named an award for outstanding research scientists after him.

But once his research started documenting the damage that pesticides were doing to bees and butterflies, he suddenly started facing severe reprimands and repeated suspensions.

The pesticide industry is freaking out, because the EPA recently imposed a moratorium on approving new bee-killing pesticides—and some of those pesticides have been banned in Europe and Quebec.

That’s why they want this research shut down.

But with bees dying by the millions, we can’t let scientists get silenced. That’s why we’re demanding a full investigation.

Margie Alt|Executive Director|Environment America|11/04/15

Illegal Logging is Destroying Protected Panda Habitat

Conservationists are calling for some big changes after discovering that illegal logging has destroyed thousands of acres of precious habitat for the Giant Panda in China.

A two-year investigation conducted by Greenpeace East Asia found that nearly 3,200 acres of forest in the Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries have been illegally cleared.

The Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries consists of seven nature reserves and eleven scenic parks located in southwest Sichuan province. They are home to more than 30 percent of the world’s pandas. Fewer than 2,000 individuals are believed to live in the wild now, who are also under pressure from climate change and development.

The loss of more habitat, and particularly the destruction of  an important migration corridor in the Qionglai Mountains in Ya’an, could have a devastating impact on the pandas and their ability to survive

The forests being cleared are also part of a UNESCO World Heritage site and are home to a diverse array of plants and animals, including endangered species like the red panda, snow leopard and clouded leopard.

Regulations were enacted in 1998, but business interests have been using a loophole in the law that allows for “low-yield” forests to be clearcut and turned into plantations. Unfortunately, the definition of what constitutes that type of forest is ambiguous, allowing for the continued destruction of old-growth forests for profit.

“In terms of forest conservation, the most pressing and most serious problem facing China right now is deforestation of natural forest in the name of improving low-yield timber forest,” said Zhou Lijiang, deputy chief engineer at the Sichuan Province Forestry Investigation and Planning Institute and key forestry regulations advisor.

According to Greenpeace, authorities tried to address the issue in 2012 with a further ban. But an investigation shows it’s clearly been ineffective. If the loophole isn’t closed, a third of China’s natural forests will face the risk of deforestation, even after the Natural Forest Protection Program is expanded nationwide in 2017.

The loophole is what has allowed these thousands of acres of forest surrounding the Fengtongzhai National Nature Reserve in Ya’an, inside the Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries, to be destroyed.

“The extent of illegal logging in this precious area is shocking. These findings seriously undermine the Chinese government’s efforts to preserve its and the world’s natural heritage,” said Pan Wenjing, Deputy Head of Forest & Ocean Unit, Greenpeace East Asia. “Greenpeace calls on national and local governments to put a stop to the destruction.”

Specifically, Greenpeace is calling on the State Forestry Administration and the Sichuan provincial government to take actions that include closing the loophole in current regulations, strengthening protection for panda habitat and increasing oversight to ensure no more of this valuable ecosystem is destroyed.

Hopefully, authorities in China will take swift action on behalf of Giant Pandas and other threatened species who will benefit from increased protection.

Alicia Graef|November 4, 2015

Understanding the Mysterious Pallas’ Cat

The Snow Leopard Trust has been surveying Mongolia’s Tost mountains with remote-sensor research cameras for many years in order to monitor the area’s snow leopard population. These cameras have also taken hundreds of photos of other species that share the same habitat, such as the Pallas’ cat – a small feline that is as elusive as the snow leopard, but even less well understood. We are excited to now share and analyze this valuable data in collaboration with the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, and Sweden’s Nordens Ark Zoo.

In 2008, the Snow Leopard Trust launched the first-ever long-term study on snow leopard ecology in the Tost Mountains in southern Mongolia to address critical knowledge gaps for this elusive cat that is often referred to as the ghost of the mountain. Remote-sensor camera surveys have been an integral part of this study from the very beginning.

Nordens Ark has been an important partner of the study in the Tost Mountains since 2011. Starting this year, we have expanded this collaboration to include research on the smaller and equally elusive Pallas’ cat – a species whose ecology is virtually unknown, which has led our researchers to affectionately call it the ‘small ghost of the mountain’.

The expansion to include research on Pallas’ cats also includes a collaboration with the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland and their connection with the Pallas Cat Working Group. By using the network and logistical support of Snow Leopard Trust and the expertise on Pallas’ cats at Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, we will maximize the conservations efforts and use the resources in a way that that will benefit both species.

“Pallas’ cats are one of the least studied cats in the world and there is a large need for information on which to build conservation plans for this rare and elusive cat”, says Gustaf Samelius, the Snow Leopard Trust’s Assistant Director of Conservation. “The need for such information is illustrated by the fact that the distribution of Pallas’ cats is still largely unknown and that Tost mountains, where we have photographed this feline isn’t even included in current distribution maps”, he adds.

In 2014, Snow Leopard Trust researchers also found the Pallas’ cat on several research camera photos from Sarychat Ertash nature reserve Kyrgyzstan – the first ever photographic proof of its presence in that area.

The 'Small Ghost of the Mountain' also dwells in Kyrgyzstan's Sarychat Ertash nature reserve

The ‘Small Ghost of the Mountain’ also dwells in Kyrgyzstan’s Sarychat Ertash nature reserve

“That’s yet another sign that there’s a lot of work to do for us to understand this cat”, Gustaf says.

The objectives of the new collaborative study on Pallas’ cats are to help improve our understanding of the distribution and basic ecology of the species (e.g. association with other species) and to improve survey techniques by testing attractants to increase the likelihood of observing this rare and elusive animal.

The work will be based on camera studies and interviews. The first step is to work with the existing camera data from the Tost Mountains to screen for Pallas’ cats and to test animal recognition software as a means to screen the large number of photographs generated from camera studies (many of which may be blank of or “non-target” species such as goats and sheep).

Building on the experience from previous (snow leopard) camera studies, we also hope to do a camera study focused on Pallas’ cat in the Tost Mountains in the future.

The Snow Leopard Trust

America’s Only Jaguar Gets a Name: Tucson School Kids Announce ‘El Jefe’

A nationwide contest sponsored by the Center ended Monday with the announcement of “El Jefe” as the winning name for the only known wild jaguar in the United States, which lives just 30 miles from downtown Tucson.

El Jefe has been photographed more than 100 times by trail cameras in the nearby Santa Rita Mountains over the past three years — the first documented jaguar roaming wild in the United States since the 2009 death of famous jaguar Macho B.

The jaguar’s new name, Spanish for “The Boss,” is a nod to his place at the top of the food chain. Students at Tucson’s Felizardo Valencia Middle School, which has a jaguar for its mascot, cast votes for their favorite names last month and received instruction in jaguar biology and natural history.

“Like most people, the more these kids learned about the awesome power and majesty of the jaguar, the more pride and enthusiasm they showed,” said Randy Serraglio, a conservation advocate at the Center who worked with the students. “It’s just really inspiring to feel that energy and know that they care so much about this beautiful animal.”

Read more in the Arizona Daily Star and watch this video from Cronkite News.

Whistleblower Program to Stop Global Wildlife Devastation

An elephant is slaughtered every fifteen minutes for its ivory. By 2025, elephants will no longer exist in the wild.

Elephants are only one of the many species that wildlife trafficking will take from our planet. The illegal wildlife trade is valued at $19 billion per year. This global epidemic is on the rise, with the death of countless endangered species as the only end in sight. Case in point: Rhino poaching in South Africa increased 7,700 percent between 2007 and 2013, and a kilogram of rhino horn is sold for up to $65,000. Traffickers benefit from this high premium, operating covertly and in contravention of national and international laws that are rarely enforced.

Current estimates predict that at current rates lions will be extinct by 2025, tigers by 2035, and rhinos by 2036. Poachers and trafficking in ivory and other animal parts are driving these animals to extinction. This is part of an even larger global crisis which has caused the death of more than half of the world’s wildlife since 1970, according to the World Wildlife Fund’s figures.

The National Whistleblower Center is now leading a campaign to use whistleblowers to expose wildlife trafficking networks. As far back as 1981, Congress attempted to strengthen wildlife protection efforts by introducing whistleblower protections. They amended seven laws, including the Endangered Species and Lacey Acts telling several departments of the federal government to work with whistleblowers to stop wildlife crimes.

Yet, for over thirty years, the U.S. government has failed to implement these laws and create an incentive program for wildlife whistleblowers. The National Whistleblower Center is not waiting for the government to act.

Monetary reward laws work to encourage insiders to come forward with high quality information exposing essential details of corrupt enterprises. Since 1986, the DOJ, IRS and SEC programs have collectively recovered over $50 billion dollars. Whistleblower rewards provisions work. If the whistleblower provisions in the U.S. wildlife protection laws had been implemented, immeasurable devastation could have been prevented.

The National Whistleblower Center is determined to ensure the wildlife whistleblower laws are implemented.

National Whistleblower Center|Care2 Causes Editors|November 6, 2015

Wild & Weird

Sheep Flatulence Forces Airplane to Land

Last week a Singapore Airline Boeing 747 freighter carrying 2,186 sheep from Australia to Malaysia was forced to make an emergency landing in Bali when its fire-detection devices went off.

Once the plane was on the ground, investigators discovered that the fire alarm had been triggered by exhaust gases from the sheep, more commonly known as farts.

Sadly, according to Purdue University sheep specialist Mike Neary, sheep under excess stress — for example, during an international flight — experience intense gas bloating and other medical complications.

Read more at UPI.


Corps awards contract for C-111 South Dade project

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District has awarded one of the three remaining construction contracts for the C-111 South Dade project, an Everglades restoration project in Miami-Dade County, Fla.

The $13.9 million construction contract was awarded to the Polote Corporation from Savannah, Ga., Oct. 29. The contract, known as Contract 8, involves constructing a detention area that will connect the C-111 South Dade project to the Modified Water Deliveries to Everglades National Park (Mod Waters) project.

“The northern detention area is an important piece of infrastructure that is needed to restore conditions in Everglades National Park,” said Lt. Col. Jennifer Reynolds, Jacksonville District Deputy Commander for South Florida. “It will allow additional water to flow into this vital ecosystem and will also enable us to have more operational flexibility in the southern portion of the system.”

The C-111 South Dade project will restore natural hydrologic conditions in Taylor Slough and the eastern panhandle of Everglades National Park while also preserving the current level of flood protection for agricultural lands in South Dade County. Once completed, the project will work in concert with the infrastructure constructed as part of the Mod Waters project and will create a hydraulic ridge that will help prevent ground water from seeping out of Everglades National Park. As a result, this will enable additional water flow into Everglades National Park and Florida Bay.

“We are pleased to see that the Army Corps has made their award to begin construction of the C-111 North Detention Area (or Contract 8). This is the last remaining component of the seepage management features that will allow us to begin restoring water flows to Northeast Shark River Slough, while mitigating for adverse flooding concerns,” said Pedro Ramos, Everglades National Park Superintendent. “This marks a new era in water management in the southern Everglades, which is critical to both ecosystem restoration and water sustainability.”

The project is currently 75 percent complete. Two construction contracts remain for the project and are scheduled to be awarded within the next two years. Construction and operation of the C-111 South Dade Contract 8 components are necessary to maximize restoration objectives of the Mod Waters project.

“This is the vital connection needed to enable portions of the Mod Waters Project and the C-111 South Dade project to operate more efficiently,” said Tom Teets, South Florida Water Management District Director of Everglades Policy and Coordination. “It also represents continued momentum in a year that has seen significant Everglades restoration progress.”

Construction and operation of these components are also necessary to raise the maximum operating limit of the L-29 Canal under Increment 2 of the G-3273 and S-356 Pump Station Field Test. The data collected during this water operations field test will assess how newly-operational project infrastructure integrates with the current water management system, and how to maximize ecological restoration objectives.

The information obtained from the first two increments will be used in the development of the Combined Operating Plan, a comprehensive integrated water management plan for the southern portion of the Everglades ecosystem. Increment 1 of the field test began Oct. 15 and is planned for approximately two years, with a minimum duration of one year.

Restoring historic water flows to Everglades National Park is a complex endeavor that requires many projects to work in concert. Two of these projects are the Mod Waters and C-111 South Dade projects. They are part of the Foundation Projects, which the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) builds upon to deliver essential restoration benefits to America’s Everglades.

Additional information on the C-111 South Dade project available at:

Water Quality Issues

Rising tide of interstate battles could swamp Supreme Court

 Kiamichi River

A Texas bid to divert water from where the Kiamichi River flows into the larger Red River in Oklahoma was stymied by the Supreme Court two years ago. It was one example of interstate water disputes that are becoming increasingly common at the high court. Photo by Jeremy P. Jacobs.

Major decisions about how U.S. water is allocated among states are increasingly being made by nine lawyers who — according to one of them — “couldn’t know less about it.”

That was Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer’s take last year during oral arguments in litigation between Kansas and Nebraska over water from the Republican River.

The case was emblematic of what some see an alarming trend: the funneling of interstate water fights to the Supreme Court.

Lawsuits between states by rule head to the high court, which has “original jurisdiction” over such fights. And with a changing climate, growing populations and drought conditions ravaging the West, what was a trickle of water cases has become a steady stream.

There are four ongoing water fights at the Supreme Court — between Texas and Mexico, Florida and Georgia, Montana and Wyoming, and Mississippi and Tennessee. The court has also ruled on two others involving Texas and Oklahoma, as well as the Nebraska-Kansas dispute, in the past two years. In each case, one state is either claiming its upstream neighbor is drawing down a shared river or outright stealing water from beyond its borders.

These cases typically take years to resolve once they reach the high court, raising concerns about whether it’s best to leave crucial water-allocation decisions to the justices. But in large swaths of the country suffering shortages, water frequently becomes a hot-button political issue that makes compromise between states impossible. Litigation is the only option.

“It’s a matter of time before parties get disgruntled,” said Jen Pelz, the director of WildEarth Guardians’ rivers program. “It’s going to become a battle between the states.”

There are typically two types of interstate water disputes at the Supreme Court. The first involves a state claiming another is unfairly depleting river flows that should cross the border.

Consider Florida v. Georgia. Florida is claiming its northern neighbor is pulling too much water out of the Apalachicola River Basin to serve the booming Atlanta metropolitan area, depriving the Sunshine State of water that typically flows to the estuary that was once home to a robust oyster industry (Greenwire, Nov. 3, 2014).

Similarly, in Mississippi v. Tennessee, Mississippi claims a Memphis utility is sucking groundwater under the state border (Greenwire, June 29).

The second — and more common — type of lawsuit is challenges to interstate water compacts. There are more than 20 such agreements across the country, divvying up water from 20 watersheds — from the Colorado River to the Delaware River.

Water compacts have become fraught because many were negotiated by the states and ratified by Congress decades ago. In the current Texas v. New Mexico and Colorado case, for instance, Texas claims New Mexico is diverting too much water for irrigation out of the Rio Grande before it crosses the state line in violation of the 1939 compact (Greenwire, March 12, 2014).

Texas’ other recent water case at the Supreme Court, Tarrant Regional Water District v. Herrmann, similarly involved a dispute over a 1980 compact allocating water from the Red River, which separates the two states (Greenwire, April 22, 2013).

The Montana-Wyoming case likewise deals with an interstate water agreement, addressing Montana’s claims that Wyoming breached the Yellowstone River Compact.

Marathon legal battles

There is a long history of interstate water clashes at the Supreme Court.

In 1935, Arizona Gov. B.B. Moeur (D) deployed the National Guard to block construction of the Parker Dam on the Colorado River just below the Hoover Dam because the project would benefit Colorado and California.

As chronicled by author Marc Reisner in his 1986 history of water management in the West, “Cadillac Desert,” Maj. F.I. Pomeroy of the Arizona National Guard stayed at the proposed dam site for seven months. The project became an embarrassment for Interior Secretary Harold Ickes, who put it on hold while the state’s legal challenge played out.

Arizona, which had previously lost multiple attempts to block the Hoover Dam at the Supreme Court, prevailed. The high court sided with the state on the grounds that the project was not authorized by Congress. (After some concessions, however, the dam was built.)

About 20 years later, in 1952, Arizona again went to the Supreme Court to challenge California’s bid to install new pumps to expand its share of Colorado River water over the amount allocated by its compact.

Arizona v. California became one of the longest-running cases in Supreme Court history, with rulings continuing through 2006.

Arizona won again. The justices held that California couldn’t pull more water than it was allotted under the compact.

The latter Arizona case illustrates some of the concerns about water disputes ending up at the Supreme Court.

For one, they are seemingly interminable. Unlike most Supreme Court cases, where the high court issues a ruling within a calendar year of when it agreed to review the case, a different process applies to original jurisdiction lawsuits.

The court assigns a “special master” — typically a federal judge or well-regarded attorney — to conduct what amounts to a virtual trial.

Then the special master submits recommendations to the justices. But the states involved can object to those findings, filing “exceptions.” The justices can then hold oral arguments before accepting the special master’s report or agreeing to one side’s exception to it.

The whole process can lead to decades of hard-fought legal wrangling. The current Montana-Wyoming case was filed more than eight years ago and has yet to be resolved.

And, as Reisner wrote in “Cadillac Desert,” the Arizona-California lawsuit became so contentious that the special master in that case, New York attorney Simon Rifkind, had a heart attack in the middle of the proceedings despite only being in his 50s.

Attorneys who specialize in interstate water cases are confident — and worried — that this sort of litigation will become routine at the high court.

“They have been coming with more frequency, and it’s likely to increase in the future,” said John Draper, who has been representing states in water disputes for 25 years.

Is the system working?

Many interstate water agreements are outdated.

The 1922 Colorado River Compact, for example, allocates 16.4 million acre-feet per year to seven states. In the last 15 years, about 12 million to 14 million acre-feet has been actually coming down the river. (An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons — enough to cover an acre with water a foot deep, roughly a year’s supply for a family household.)

Jennifer Cornejo, a Houston-based attorney with the firm Vinson & Elkins who follows interstate water cases, said Supreme Court cases can drag on while states need an answer for their water needs.

“It’s completely drawn-out,” she said. “They are trying to get these issues addressed, but it takes so long and the problem is now.”

Others voiced concerns about whether it’s wise to leave such complicated water accounting to the justices.

L. William Staudenmaier, a Phoenix-based attorney with the firm Snell & Wilmer, was involved in the Texas-Oklahoma dispute. He left oral arguments wondering how much the justices were comfortable with pertinent details.

“My sense was that the justices were really struggling to understand the water issues in context,” he said. “I honestly think they are a little reluctant.”

Draper disagreed, arguing that states are often in intractable positions and an arbiter like the Supreme Court is necessary.

“The system is functioning appropriately,” he said. “Where you get changed circumstances and you have to figure out how an earlier compact should be applied to new developments, that’s where the court is needed. I’m pleased the court is not shy about taking on that responsibility. That really is its responsibility.”

He added that the Kansas-Nebraska dispute over whether Nebraska was taking too much water out of the Republican River for groundwater pumping showed that the justices can take a nuanced and shrewd approach to the cases.

The justices, he said, sought to enforce the 1943 compact as a contract — trying to determine its intent and how it applied to Nebraska’s groundwater irrigation scheme.

“That shows a quite robust approach to these interstate cases from the court,” he said.

Lengthy — and expensive — legal battles could incentivize states to work out their water issues on their own and avoid litigation.

Colorado River states, for example, drafted guidelines in 2007 for reduced allocations should a drastic shortage occur.

At the time, no one thought such a shortage would take place for decades, said Gary Wockner of the nonprofit Save the Colorado. It almost would have this year, though, if it hadn’t been for “miracle rains” in May.

If those guidelines need to be implemented, Wockner said, states may suddenly feel more litigious.

“Everyone sees an impending crisis,” he said. “But we haven’t hit the legal point of no return yet.”

Further, Draper noted that there was one troubling sign for state negotiations in the Kansas-Nebraska decision. The high court agreed with the special master and changed a water accounting procedure from what was originally agreed to by the states in the compact.

That holding, Draper said, could have a “chilling effect” on states’ willingness to renegotiate the terms of water compacts out of fear that the new terms could be eventually overruled or reversed by the Supreme Court.

Still, renegotiation seems to be what at least one Supreme Court justice would prefer.

Justice Breyer, again during the Kansas-Nebraska arguments, asked, “Is there any chance you all could work this out?”

The restoration of protections to the waters we love just survived a vote in the U.S. Senate — but just barely

Yesterday, polluters and their allies in the Senate fell just short of enough votes to overturn the Clean Water Rule, the historic protections we won together that will protect the drinking water sources for 1 in 3 Americans.

This was no accident. Thanks to your action and support, we helped send a clear message: Siding with polluters over the drinking water for our families and the waters we love is political suicide.

But they’re already on to their next attempt to gut clean water protections. Polluters and their allies in Congress are going to try to use a Gingrich-era legislative maneuver called the Congressional Review Act to block the Clean Water Rule. And it could happen as soon as today.

Doing so would fast track the vote, so they’d only need 50 votes to pass the clean water rollback in the Senate. And it would mean the EPA couldn’t take up a “substantially similar” rule in the future.

Thankfully, President Obama can, and has threatened to, veto any such bill from the Senate. [3] But getting enough votes in favor of clean water now is critical to sending a strong message and defeating future attempts to destroy the Clean Water Rule.

One thing is clear: Polluters are willing to try anything and everything to reverse the progress we’ve made.

Are we going to let them weaken our resolve? No way.

Right now, our team of organizers and advocates are:

  • Focusing our grassroots firepower on bolstering senators who sided with clean water — as well as calling out those who voted to the wrong way.
  • Mobilizing local elected officials in favor of clean water. No one knows better how important clean drinking water sources are than the state and municipal leaders responsible for making sure we have safe water to drink. We need to make sure they’re speaking out and being heard by the mainstream media and our leaders in Congress.
  • Keeping the debate focused on what this issue is really about: Clean drinking water for our families. Protecting the rivers, lakes and streams we love. The public overwhelmingly supports strong clean water protections, and we’re organizing media events to stop our opposition from muddying the debate with false claims.

At the same time, we’re still organizing to get the attorneys general who are holding up the Clean Water Rule in the courts to do the right thing and drop the cases.

Together, we can defend clean water.

Margie Alt|Executive Director|Environment America

[Do they not realize that their parents, grandparents, kids and grandkids and all future generations will be drinking the water they are allowing polluters to pollute?]

House and Senate Tee Up Identical Water Bills

The House State Affairs Committee passed HB 7005 and the Senate Environment Preservation Committee passed SB 552. Both bills seem headed for quick passage into law.

Thanks to your advocacy last session, the sections of these bills dealing with the Everglades, Lake Okeechobee, and Estuary Water Quality were significantly improved. Springs protection falls short of our hopes and some improvements are being discussed.

Audubon’s Eric Draper told legislators that the bills improve existing laws dealing with cleaning up water pollution in Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries. 

While introducing the bills, both the chair of the House and Senate committees talked about how the legislation reflects efforts to improve on last year’s work.

Last year, Audubon led vocal opposition to HB 7003 because it struck the 2015 deadline for meeting Lake Okeechobee water quality standards and replaced permits with a system of pollution reduction activities called Best Management Practices (BMPs). Non-regulator BMP programs have not proven to be successful in meeting water quality standards and are rarely enforced.

However, improvements made to the bills make it much more likely that agricultural producers and urban governments will step up pollution controls.

Notable improvements include:

Enforcement. The bills clearly say that pollution cleanup plans and required clean up practices are enforceable under the Florida law. The bills require that both the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation and the Florida Department of Agriculture write rules to show how the cleanup practices will be verified and enforced.

Goals and Milestones. The bills change the goal of the water quality plans from reducing pollution to achieving standards. Monitoring is required to make sure that progress is being

Accountability. If water is not getting cleaner as a result of the water quality plan, a reevaluation can force new rules, modifying the practices for better performance. If agencies miss goals for meeting water quality targets or for restoring freshwater flows to springs, rivers, and estuaries, they have to explain why and offer new solutions.

These bills, which have 38 sections of changes and newly proposed laws, are not perfect:

The state’s major polluter lobbying group (Associated Industries) is cheering about the bills. 

Water utilities seem to like the bills because the state’s five water management districts will be forced to fund water development projects from anticipated state appropriations.

Springs advocates are disappointed in the bill because if falls short of the original version of last year’s SB 918. 

The Florida Springs and Aquifer Protection Act is the name given to the section of SB 552 and HB 7005 dealing with springs.

A new section of law requires recovery and prevention strategies for Outstanding Florida Springs that are below or will fall below minimum flows. Springs advocates have pointed out that the bill creates some confusion by making it harder to adopt a protective regulation. 

The new law also aligns protection of springs water quality with state cleanup programs and sets deadlines for putting programs in place.

The bills prohibit a short list of polluting activities within priority focus areas of Outstanding Florida Springs. This list does not include animal feedlots and effluent.

In all, the bills have much to like, some confusing changes, and too many efforts to avoid impacting those causing water pollution. Barring another legislative meltdown, these big bills are likely to be passed into law very early in the 2016 session.

Audubon Florida|November 2015

Great Lakes & Inland Waters

Shipwrecks posing threat to US waters, hold many unknowns

TOLEDO, Ohio – Dozens of shipwrecks scattered along America’s coasts are thought to be holding oil and certainly will start leaking someday as corrosion eats away at their tanks.

Preventing that just isn’t possible, experts say, because funding for such a huge effort doesn’t exist and there are too many unknowns about the locations of those wrecks and the cargo left inside. Some are simply too deep to reach.

A sunken tanker barge recently discovered in Lake Erie that appears to be occasionally seeping an oil-based substance near the Canadian border is believed to be one of 87 shipwrecks on a federal registry that identifies the most serious pollution threats to U.S. waters.

Most of those wrecks are along the Atlantic seaboard, torpedoed by German submarines during World War II.

Three out of every four wrecks on the list have been underwater at least seven decades, leaving them slowly rusting away. How fast isn’t known because research on corrosion rates is limited and each wreck is affected by varying depths, storms, currents and marine bacteria.

Past leaks have shown that the oil usually comes out in drips and drabs rather than gushes, lessening the worry of a full-scale catastrophe and the need for urgent action in most cases.

“Our coastlines are not littered with ‘ticking time bombs’ of oil,” said the risk assessment report released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2013. “Although there are definitely vessels of concern in our waters that should be assessed and monitored.”

While some of the wrecked vessels are monitored by the U.S. Coast Guard and visited by recreational divers, many remain a mystery.

Only about half the wrecks have been located and identified. And little is known about their current condition or how much oil they may still be holding.

“That’s always one of the big challenges when we look at these wrecks,” said Lisa Symons of NOAA, who wrote the study. “Some of these are wicked deep, and not in an area where you could do survey work.”

The biggest obstacle, though, is money.

The cost of removing oil and other fuels from wrecks found over the past two decades has ranged from a couple of million dollars to tens of millions.

The money comes from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, which is overseen by the Coast Guard. It allows for $50 million to be spent annually on emergency spills and damage assessments, with any unspent amounts carried over. Last year, $62.4 million was spent from the emergency fund.

The money available isn’t nearly enough to remove all of the oil from wrecked vessels in U.S. waters, said Jacqueline Michel, a geochemist who has done extensive research on sunken oils and assisted with spill responses. “It would be gone in a minute.”

It’s not just a problem along America’s shores. The threat that shipwrecks pose in European waters, including the Mediterranean, Baltic and North seas, was the focus of a conference in early October in Gothenburg, Sweden.

“They have the same problem,” Michel said. “There’s no money until she starts leaking.”


Offshore & Ocean

Marine sanctuary celebrates 25th anniversary

Twenty-five years after the formation of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, managers still face some of the same challenges, despite many successes.

The sanctuary turns 25 on Nov. 16.

The Florida Keys’ fragile coral reef faced many threats in the mid- to late 1980s, including threats of proposed oil drilling off Florida, deteriorating water quality, increasing occurrences of coral bleaching and seagrass die-offs and declines in reef fish populations.

Three major ship groundings on the Keys reef in an 18-day period in the fall of 1989 was the final blow that brought the national marine sanctuary designation to the Florida Keys coral reef tract.

The cumulative impacts of these threats and groundings prompted then federal House Rep. Dante Fascell and Senator Bob Graham to introduce bills in November 1989, calling for more protection of the Key’s reef. Congress passed the bi-partisan bill and on Nov. 16, 1990, President George Bush signed the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and Protection Act into law.

The act designated approximately 2,800 square nautical miles of state and federal waters in the Keys as the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

The formation of the sanctuary was not met with a warm reception by all in the Keys, and lost in a non-binding vote in Monroe County in 1996.

Twenty-five years later, sanctuary managers still struggle with water quality issues and coral and seagrass die-offs and the occasional push back from fishermen about over regulation.

However, they have been able to push large cargo ships further out from the reef line, halt the exploration for oil and natural gas off the Keys, protect some major fish spawning sites, encourage coral research and restoration efforts and set up a mooring buoy program to protect corals from anchoring. 

Rough start

While designated a national marine sanctuary in 1990, the management plan took seven years to craft and finalize.

The plan was being drafted by the first sanctuary advisory council, which began meeting in 1992,  the sanctuary’s first Superintendent Billy Causey said. Despite the council being comprised of fishermen and other local stakeholders, there was vocal opposition from a group that called itself the Conch Coalition, comprised of commercial fishermen and treasure salvers.

“I have to give it to the Conch Coalition, they were clever,” Causey said.

The Conch Coalition started an aggressive anti-sanctuary campaign. The group lobbied local, state and federal elected officials to abandon the sanctuary plan. At sanctuary advisory council meetings, they dropped off painted coconuts with slogans such as “Say No to NOAA (National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration).”

At one meeting in July 1992, they hung Causey and then sanctuary advisory council chair George Barley in effigy.

“It was a bad day,” Causey said. “Outside of my parents dying, that was one of the worst days of my life. These were guys that I knew and had fished with in the 1970s. It got my attention, but it was personal …. It was particularly hard on my family. My son attended Marathon High School and they would have these debates at school. It was my son against 33 others.”

Former Conch Coalition member and Key West attorney David Paul Horan said the group was fighting the formation because it gave the sanctuary superintendent too much power.

“The sanctuary superintendent would have been the new king,” Horan said.

The Conch Coalition successfully lobbied state fishery managers to keep control of state waters, which extend three miles into the Atlantic Ocean and 12 miles of the Gulf of Mexico, and it limited the power of the sanctuary superintendent, Horan said.

The final showdown was a November 1996 non-binding countywide election that called for the dissolution of the sanctuary. The sanctuary lost 55 percent to 45 percent. However, state and federal officials still supported the sanctuary and the creation of its first management plan, which went into effect July 1, 1997, according to Causey.

Horan was on the first Sanctuary Advisory Council, but quit after two years out of frustration.

“I figured if I couldn’t beat them, I would join them and try to effect change,” Horan said. “But I realized the council would never get out from under the control of the federal government …. I always did think the sanctuary played a role in protecting the health of the coral.”

Calm after the storm

Fears of massive closures were quelled as the initial sanctuary advisory council only set aside six percent of the sanctuary as fully protected zones known as ecological reserves, sanctuary preservation areas and special use areas. Also, the advisory council’s make up gave the recreational and commercial fishermen and dive boat operators a voice in sanctuary policy.

“I think there has since been a general acceptance of the sanctuary,” said Dive Key West dive shop owner Bob Holstein, who served on the sanctuary advisory council from its inception to 2011.

Holstein commended the sanctuary for establishing the Blue Star program, which rewards dive operators for encouraging and educating their clients on environmentally sound diving practices. Also, he praised the sanctuary for establishing a Keys-wide mooring buoy system that protects the coral from people improperly anchoring.

Sanctuary managers staved off a major revolt in 2000 when it looked to implement a closure of one the most popular commercial fishing spots and ecologically important spawning grounds in the southern Gulf of Mexico, Riley’s Hump in the Dry Tortugas.

Causey and state and federal fishery managers enlisted the support one of the Keys most revered commercial fishermen Peter Gladding to help build coalition for the closure. The process, known as Tortugas 2000, led to the formation of the 151-square nautical mile Tortugas Ecological Reserve.

The reserve has been hailed as a success by ecologists and fishermen. A long-term socioeconomic and scientific report found that overfished species such as black and red grouper, yellowtail and mutton snapper increased in presence, abundance and size inside the reserve and throughout the region, and annual gatherings of spawning mutton snapper, once thought to be wiped out from overfishing, began to reform inside the reserve. Also, the report stated commercial catches of reef fish in the region increased, and continue to do so.

The reserve is a production source for both the East and West Coast of Florida, as well as the rest of the United States, said Jerry Ault, a University of Miami professor who has done extensive research in the Tortugas.

Longtime commercial spear-fisherman Don DeMaria contended that the sanctuary has implemented many successes, but argued that the sanctuary has not gone far enough to protect the resource.

“The Tortugas reserves, especially Riley’s Hump, is without a doubt the sanctuary’s biggest success,” DeMaria said. “However, there have been a number of missed opportunities. The most glaring example is the multi-species spawning aggregation site near Western Dry rocks. Despite 25 years of debating this issue the sanctuary has done nothing to adequately protect this unique site.”

The sanctuary needs to do more to limit personal watercraft use and tours and cruise ships, DeMaria said.

Old wounds resurface

In 2011, the sanctuary embarked on its first review of its management plan since its inception. The sanctuary advisory council put together three working groups to come up with recommendations for possible changes to sanctuary rules.

Concerns about sanctuary managers formulating fishing regulations surfaced in 2013 when members of a sanctuary working group proffered a series of maps detailing closed fishing areas encompassing more than 100 miles. The move created a lot of distrust among Keys fishermen that sanctuary managers have yet to recover from, despite holding dozens of public meetings since to hear the concerns of fishermen.

Charter boat Capt. Brice Barr, who is the president of the Key West Charter Boat Association, said he supports the idea of the sanctuary but is concerned that sanctuary managers are delving too deep into fishery management. Those regulations fall under the jurisdiction of the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico fishery management councils and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

“It’s definitely a good idea and we need to protect what is here,” Barr said. “The sanctuary is good in a lot of ways, but they are spending too much time on fishery management when they should be focusing their efforts on the coral reef and water quality issues.”

The sanctuary is scheduled to release an extensive environmental impact statement of all of the possible management changes, which include closed areas, in 2016. The sanctuary will then hold another series of public hearings on possible changes. It is not known when the sanctuary will finalize and implement the changes.

The changes will set the regulations for the next 10 to 20 years, sanctuary Superintendent Sean Morton said.

“This is the product of over 70 meetings by the sanctuary advisory council and the working groups,” Morton said. “These alternatives were established in a very public forum. This process has been directed by the sanctuary advisory council in conjunction with the science and what we have learned from the current management plan.” 

TIMOTHY O’HARA|Citizen Staff|

Southern Ocean ecosystems acidifying

As a result of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, the chemistry of the Southern Ocean is expected to change so fast over the next few decades that tiny creatures at the base of the food web may soon struggle to form their shells. New research by scientists from UH Mānoa and the University of Alaska, Fairbanks (UAF) finds that, for some organisms, the onset of such critical conditions will be so abrupt, and the duration of events so long, that adaption may become impossible.

The study, published this week in the journal Nature Climate Change, uses a number of Earth System Models to explore how the uptake of anthropogenic carbon dioxide and the resulting ocean acidification will affect the Southern Ocean over the next century. (Animation:

“The ocean acts as a gigantic sponge to absorb excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This process consumes carbonate ions, which are required by key organisms to build and maintain their calcium carbonate shells. If the carbonate ion concentration drops below a threshold – we call it under-saturation – these organisms must spend more energy to fight dissolution in these adverse chemical conditions,” explains Claudine Hauri, lead author of the study and a chemical oceanographer at both the International Pacific Research Center (IPRC) at UH Mānoa and the International Artic Research Center (IARC) at UAF.

One of the most threatened marine organisms is the pteropod, a tiny sea snail that serves as a staple for plankton, fish, whales and seabirds.

Not only is the concentration of carbonate ions projected to fall to dangerously low levels due to ocean acidification, but these conditions will become the new norm across large areas of the Southern Ocean.

“Our analysis shows that in large parts of the Southern Ocean, the duration of such under-saturation events will increase abruptly from one month to more than six months, in less than 20 years upon their onset, and could reach nearly year-long durations by the end of the century,” notes co-lead author Tobias Friedrich, climate scientist at IPRC.

“This is a clear warning sign. Given the projected rapid expansion and prolongation of these harmful conditions, it remains very uncertain whether pteropods and other vulnerable marine organisms will be able to adapt,” adds Hauri.

Concludes Axel Timmermann, co-author of the study and oceanography professor at IPRC, “The only way to mitigate the risks of ocean acidification to marine life and our food supply is to curb our carbon dioxide emissions.”

Graphs show duration of events today, in 2055, and 2095. Inset: Dissolving pteropod shell from acidified waters.

Read more at University of Hawaii.

University of |November 2, 2015

We’re Closer Than Ever to Creating a Vital Marine Sanctuary of the ‘Last Ocean’

Last month international leaders came very close to a vital agreement that would create one of the world’s largest protected ocean sanctuaries.

The icy Ross Sea, which lies some 4,000 km south of New Zealand and extends out from the Antarctic continent’s ice shelf, is often called the “Last Ocean” by conservationists as it is thought to be the biggest among the very last marine ecosystems on Earth that are considered “intact,” that is to say it is mostly untouched by pollution, fishing, and, so far, hasn’t been thrown off-balance by invasive species.

The Ross Sea region is thought to contain around 95 different unique species of fish, while a large proportion of different species of penguin also call the region home. According to the group Whale and Dolphin Conservation the area also contains a genetically distinct variety of orcas called “ecotype-C” which, it appears, are specially adapted to feed on Antarctic toothfish, a fish that is the top predator of its kind in the Ross Sea. It is also a crucial breeding ground for the endangered blue whale. 

In addition, because it is the last largely untouched ocean of its size, scientists say the Ross Sea is doubly valuable because it provides them the now rare glimpse at how biodiversity should be working free of our involvement. If we want our oceans returned to a state much closer to that, as is believed to be desirable in order to cut climate change’s effects and ensure diversity of marine species, we will need to continue to study that habitat in detail.

As such, the United States together with New Zealand put forward the proposal to give the region what’s known as an MPA or Marine Protected Area classification. The classification would protect nearly 1.5 million square kilometers and would prevent world governments from sanctioning large-scale fishing operations (with some caveats), as well as ban them from polluting or otherwise degrading that habitat. The protection would not be total, and some exceptions could be carved out for specific and carefully controlled operations. However, it could put an end to things like Japan’s continued “scientific” whaling operations in the region which have killed hundreds of cetaceans, as well as curtail over-fishing in the area.

In order to designate the Ross Sea region as an MPA, all 24 member countries of the agreement and the European Union must all reach a consensus that the plans are both necessary and fair to all concerned. The plan has now been voted on five times since 2011, most recently on October  30, but has so far failed to find that all important consensus. However, one crucial thing did happen this year, with China saying it would agree to the plans. This marks the first time that China has been open to giving the region protected status and so this has been seen as a significant step forward.

“Up until now China has not been in favor of establishing this Marine Protected Area and through negotiation and discussion with them they have agreed to support the Ross Sea Marine Protected Area,” Evan Bloom of the US delegation told news organization AFP. “And that’s important because now only one country remains that isn’t supportive and so we’re closer. This is an important country to have gotten on board. So, for us, this is a pretty good result.” 

Securing China’s support required that the no-fishing zone be reduced to 1.1 million square kilometers, which government officials seemed satisfied was a reasonable compromise that would still protect the specially adapted fish of the region and, crucially, the whales and other animals that feed on them. China had previously indicated it would increase its krill fishing operations in the region, so the fact that it has committed to this agreement and come to a compromise is no small thing. The move reportedly stems from President Obama committing the US to working with China on the proposals for the Ross Sea, again demonstrating the Obama administration’s desire to work with China to negotiate environmental policy.

The only hold-out on these plans now is Russia. Russia has said that it favors giving the region protected status but it wants an expansion of fishing rights in the area, though it has indicated that these latest changes are heading in the right direction. This is encouraging for a number of reasons, but not least of which is the fact that Russia also now seems open to potentially establishing a similar protected region in the East Antarctic, further serving to protect the 10,000 or so native species of the region.

Talks will continue into next year when another vote will be held. Feasibly, if a consensus can be reached by 2016 roll-out could begin shortly after.

Steve Williams|November 2, 2015

Why the Gulf of Maine’s Atlantic Cod is in Hot Water

The Gulf of Maine might be world-renowned for its seafood and iconic Atlantic cod, but climate change could change all of that. And a new study published in the American Association for the Advancement in Science shows that the Gulf of Maine’s cod fishery is, quite literally, in hot water.

Not Even 73% Quota Cuts Have Stopped the Cod’s Decline

More specifically, the region’s Atlantic cod fishery could collapse thanks to climate change’s unusually warmer waters. The Center for Biological Diversity reports the “fish have declined 90 percent since 1982, when monitoring began, and 77 percent in the past five years alone. Currently Gulf of Maine cod are at 3 percent to 4 percent of what a well-managed stock should be.” The Gulf of Maine is in a unique predicament the rest of the world can learn from. Temperatures in the region have increased faster than 99 percent of the global oceans. Unfortunately, the fishing industry hasn’t been able to effectively keep up with the impact of warmer waters. Management has called for quotas, but they aren’t enough to combat the effects of climate change.

The Gulf of Maine’s Atlantic cod was overfished, because fisheries didn’t factor in temperature changes. When fisheries started feeling the gradual heat of less cod, they tried to salvage the cod with a quota-based system that quickly proved ineffective: “[I]ncluding a 73% cut in quotas in 2013, spawning stock biomass (SSB) continued to decline.”

The problem is more than a warmer temperature. Temperature can affect the mortality in younger fish. The authors also suspect that depleted cod could also be linked higher predation during warmer times. More predators will migrate to the Gulf of Maine during warmer temperatures and expose the fish.

Fisheries really missed the mark with the Atlantic cod by not factoring in temperature changes: “The failure to consider temperature impacts on Gulf of Maine cod recruitment created unrealistic expectations for how large this stock can be and how quickly it can rebuild.” And now cod populations and economies are paying the price. In the end, the authors of the study warn that:

As climate change pushes species poleward and reduces the productivity of some stocks, resource managers will be increasingly faced with trade-offs between the persistence of a species or population and the economic value of a fishery.

More Than Economics

Maybe the emphasis needs to stop being on the economic importance of the cod. There’s no doubt that fishermen’s livelihoods are at stake. A 2013 story from The New York Times chronicles the industry’s downward spiral: when the cod industry was thriving in 2001, the industry made about $100 million, but projected harvest cuts in 2013 would yield only $55 million. Not much has improved since 2013.

However, Atlantic cod don’t merely exist to make our wallets and stomachs fuller. They actually serve an important function in our environment. Animal Diversity Web describes the cod’s function along the food chain: “Atlantic cod feed upon a variety of organisms such as invertebrates, crustaceans, and zooplankton. Larger marine organisms (i.e. sharks, seals) prey upon and consume Atlantic cod.”

Sadly, if climate change doesn’t finish off the fish, then we will. According to the IUCN Red List, the Atlantic cod has three major threats. While we’ve already discussed climate change, it’s not the biggest threat. Unsurprisingly, “the greatest threat to G. morhua is over-exploitation.” Finally, the species also “lost spawning grounds in parts of its range (Baltic Sea) due to oxygen deficiency.” The Atlantic cod is also vulnerable to being unintended bycatch victims in the fishing industry.

Jessica Ramos|November 3, 2015

Coral Disease Outbreak and Extensive Bleaching Imperil Florida’s Coral Reef Tract

Brain Coral 640x350

Bleached coral (Meandrina meandrites) © Meaghan Johnson/TNC

The Florida Reef Tract, from the Dry Tortugas to Martin County, is experiencing a widespread outbreak of disease and bleaching that is threatening the reef’s long-term survival. The Florida Reef Resilience Program (FRRP), Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and National Park Service report that southeast Florida’s coral reefs are succumbing to stressors such as unprecedented levels of coral disease and higher than normal water temperatures that have resulted in extensive impacts and mortalities. 

Disturbance Response Monitoring (DRM) teams have reported rapidly moving disease and high incidence of coral bleaching throughout the reefs. The frequency and severity of these events appears to be increasing. Among the many species of coral that are succumbing to disease and bleaching are pillar coral (Dendrogyra cylindrus) and boulder star coral (Orbicella annularis), both federally listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. 

Reports confirm rapidly occurring incidence of multiple types of coral disease, including black band, dark spots, white plague, and white plague-like disease throughout the reef tract. Widespread disease was first reported in Miami-Dade County and has now been documented from Biscayne National Park through northern Broward County. The disease event has a high infection rate – some sites in Broward County were reported as having as high as 80% of corals infected. Disease has moved so quickly that some diseased corals have died in as little as two weeks. This is particularly alarming since most corals only grow an average of 1-2 inches per year and it will take decades for the reef to recover from this loss. 

“We’re seeing the resilience of the corals challenged by stressors including high temperatures and disease, resulting in a severe episode of damage and mortality throughout the reef tract. Florida’s beautiful coral reefs are critical to our tourism and fisheries industries – they provide essential habitat to support a range of biodiversity including many species of fish and invertebrates,” said Meaghan Johnson, The Nature Conservancy, FRRP. 

Large scale mass coral bleaching occurs as a result of extreme sea temperatures, and are intensified by sunlight stress associated with calm, clear conditions. These factors cause coral to expel zooxanthellae, the symbiotic photosynthetic algae responsible for nutrient cycling within the coral as well as their color. Though corals may bleach, they are still alive and able to survive if stressful conditions subside quickly and they are able to regain their zooxanthellae. Temperatures of 86°F and greater, the threshold for coral bleaching, have been documented in the Keys and elsewhere over the past several months. The bleaching confirms predictions by NOAA models for August to October of this year, forecasting the worst coral bleaching event since a global mass bleaching event in 1998, which caused the death of 15-20 percent of the world’s coral reefs. Observations of coral bleaching have been reported throughout the Florida Reef Tract, from Dry Tortugas through Martin County. Based on climate predictions, current conditions and field observations, the threat for mass coral bleaching within Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and in southeast Florida between Miami-Dade and Martin counties has recently decreased from high to moderate. During October, a reduction in thermal stress is expected and a small decrease in water temperature has already occurred due to excessive amounts of wind and rainfall. Although conditions seem to be improving, initial recovery of bleached corals is expected to take weeks to months. Full recovery may take up to a year or more. 

Bleaching, disease, and the current stressors to south Florida’s coral reefs are of great concern to the scientific and resource management community and require action. As part of a response plan, federal, state, nonprofit, and university scientists are working collaboratively, and have increased monitoring through October 2015. Coral tissue samples are being collected and research continues in the effort to define a conclusive viral or bacterial cause of white plague disease, determine contributory environmental factors and determine how the disease is transmitted. They are also working to identify areas of actively spreading disease and determine overall health of coral communities. Based on forecasts, observations, and the severity and scale of both the coral bleaching episode and disease outbreak, reducing local stressors is the only way to help Florida’s corals withstand these events. People can take action to support the recovery of the corals by eliminating any contact with the corals that could result from recreational boating and diving, diminishing the possibility of disease transmission by not following a dive at a site that has signs of disease with a visit to another site, and reducing further stressors to the corals such those that result from land-based sources of pollution, coastal construction projects, and harmful fishing practices.|Big Pine Key, FL | October 09, 2015

Wildlife and Habitat

FWRI Monthly Highlights ‏

Greetings from the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute!

We hope you enjoy the new photo albums on Flickr, new videos on our YouTube channel, and Web updates to We also invite you to keep up with us on Facebook and Instagram @FWCresearch

Earlier this year, we shared a story of a rehabilitated Florida panther released at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park. Researchers fit this panther with a GPS tracking collar and have been collecting data on its movements. From January to mid-June he traveled more than 800 miles across central Florida.

This type of panther research by the FWC is funded almost entirely by the “Protect the Panther” license plate. We thank the public for their continued support. Buy a panther plate today.

Flickr Photo Albums

YouTube Videos

Updates to

Our mission: Through effective research and technical knowledge, we provide timely information and guidance to protect, conserve, and manage Florida’s fish and wildlife resources.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission|11/02/15 Kevin Mathews|November 2, 2015

Planting in clumps boosts wetland restoration success

When restoring coastal wetlands, it’s long been common practice to leave space between new plants to prevent overcrowding and reduce competition for nutrients and sunlight

It turns out, that’s likely all wrong.

A new Duke University-led study, conducted to restore degraded salt marshes in Florida and the Netherlands, has found that clumping newly planted marsh grasses next to each other, with little or no space in between, can spur positive interactions between the plants and boost growth and survival by 107 percent, on average, by the end of one growing season.

In some test plots, plant density and vegetative cover increased by as much as 300 percent by season’s end.

“This is a really small design change that can yield greatly improved results, without adding to restoration costs or time,” said Brian R. Silliman, Rachel Carson Associate Professor of Marine Conservation Biology at Duke. “It’s essentially free success—higher yields at no added expense.”

Silliman and his colleagues published the new peer-reviewed research today (Nov. 2) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Their finding, which is applicable to a wide array of coastal restoration efforts worldwide, upends a 40-year-old theory borrowed from forestry that new plants—called outplants by restoration ecologists—need to be spaced well apart from each other to reduce competition and generate the highest growth rates.

“In a low-stress field or forest, that makes sense. But in the tough, volatile environment of re-developing coastal wetlands, it’s a different story,” Silliman said.

Like an overprotected child, a plant that is spaced too far from other plants and species in a restored wetland will experience not only fewer negative interactions but also fewer positive ones, which often outweigh the negatives, Silliman said. Left to fend on their own, small outplants will have more trouble resisting erosion, overcoming low oxygen levels in the soil, or surviving infestations and overgrazing by marsh herbivores, among other common threats.

“The bottom-line message is: A coastal wetland plant that is planted close to its neighbors will grow better than a plant that isn’t,” Silliman said. “Our findings clearly demonstrate that planting closely does not spur negative competition; on the contrary, it allows positive interactions to flourish, so plants can work together to survive.”

Convincing others to adopt this new approach may be a challenge. A survey conducted by Silliman and his team as part of their new study found that 95 percent of restoration organizations in the United States still adhere to the old forestry-based practice of dispersed planting. The old practice remains common in other countries, as well.

“In China, where coastal marshes have experienced massive die-offs recently from drought and overgrazing, people have tried unsuccessfully to restore them using the old paradigm that spaces out plants,” said Qiang He, a postdoctoral associated in Silliman’s lab. “It’s possible that changing planting designs could greatly improve the success of salt marsh restoration there, as clumping could protect plants from salt stress and overgrazing.”

“In the very near future, conservation will entail immense restoration projects on the scale of whole ecosystems, islands or cities. We won’t just be restoring them – we’ll be augmenting existing ecosystems and creating new ones to provide the services we need,” Silliman said. “Increasing our yields and decreasing our costs to achieve these goals must be a high scientific priority. This study takes a big step in the right direction by showing how harnessing positive interactions can increase restoration success.”|November 2, 2015

How to create a bat-friendly garden


Your garden can play a crucial role in bat conservation, says Shirley Thompson from the Bat Conservation Trust.

Here are her tips for how to ensure it does.

All of our UK bats eat insects, but different species have different preferences, and also different methods of catching their prey. To optimize the value of your garden to these flying mammals you need to attract a range of insects throughout the year.

Summer is the most energy-sapping time, especially for pregnant and lactating females, but spring and autumn are also crucial. Bats need to fatten up in autumn and refuel when coming out of hibernation in spring, so aim to have plants in flower from early spring to late autumn and beyond.

Colour and perfume are flowers’ advertising labels, with sweet nectar and protein-rich pollen serving as bait for insects. By offering a diversity of flowers, a greater diversity of insects will be attracted to drop in.

Tiny pipistrelle bats can only cope with the small insects that feed on flowers with shallow tubular florets, such as daisies and daisy-like flowers. In contrast, long-eared bats are able to take much larger prey, so may be seen hovering close to deeper flowers such as honeysuckle.

Bats feed at dusk and dawn, so try to include flowers that are obvious and advertise themselves to insects at this time. Pale and tall flowers are more easily seen in poor light, while some plants produce more scent in the evening to attract insects.

Many insect larvae feed on grasses, so leave a corner of your lawn uncut and natural where insects can feed and overwinter. A small native tree or shrub widens the menu.

Many insects spend the first part of their life in water as larvae, so a pond of any size, a marshy area or even a half-barrel ‘pond’ provides an additional attraction.

By following these straightforward steps you can make your patch an attractive dining place for bats, and have the immense pleasure of watching them enjoying your garden as much as you enjoy the spectacle of their aerial acrobatics.

From Wildlife Extra

Rat poisons endanger California wildlife

Researchers at the University of California released a study today indicating that rat poisons increasingly pose a significant risk for California’s imperiled Pacific fishers, small, forest-dwelling mammals that are protected under the California Endangered Species Act. The study shows that increasing numbers of fishers are being exposed to, and dying from, greater varieties of rat poisons, or rodenticides, found at illegal marijuana farms. It also affirms reports and data from across the state that rodenticides continue to poison and kill numerous California wildlife species. 

“These poisons are silently killing our country’s most majestic wildlife by indiscriminately causing animals to literally bleed to death from the inside out,” said Jonathan Evans, environmental health legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s time to ban these poisons from the market to protect fishers, bald eagles, great horned owls and kit foxes from a painful, gruesome fate.”

Anticoagulant rodenticides interfere with blood clotting, resulting in uncontrollable bleeding that leads to death. These slow-acting poisons are often eaten for several days by rats and mice, causing the toxins to accumulate in their tissues and poisoning predators that eat the weakened rodents. Other types of rodenticides threatening wildlife include neurotoxins and poisons that calcify soft tissue.

Studies by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife have documented rodenticides in more than 75 percent of wildlife tested, including eagles, owls, bobcats, mountain lions, endangered San Joaquin kit foxes and 30 other wildlife species. Even after California took steps in July 2014 to reduce exposure from certain types of rodenticides, exposure and poisoning by rodenticides remains prolific.  

The study released today was led by Mourad Gabriel, formerly at the University of California Davis and now at the Integral Ecology Research Center in California. Exposure rates in fishers to rodenticides increased from 79 percent in 2012 to 85 percent in the most recent study. Necropsies of fishers confirmed as many as six different rodenticides in one animal. Some of the chemicals found were considered safer alternatives to other commercially available rodenticides, but they nonetheless killed fishers.

“Fishers are the flagship species,” said Gabriel. “We have to think of so many species, like Sierra Nevada red foxes, spotted owls, martens — they all are potentially at risk. This is essentially going to get worse unless we do something to rectify this threat.”

Safe alternatives to rat poison can be used to address rodent outbreaks in homes and rural areas. Effective measures include rodent-proofing by sealing cracks and crevices and eliminating food sources in homes; providing owl boxes to encourage natural predation on farms; and utilizing traps that don’t involve these highly toxic chemicals. For more information visit

Rat poison trap image via Shutterstock.

More information on the study, including photos and video, can be found here.

Center for Biological Diversity|November 5, 2015

Changing Climate Could Further Threaten the Endangered Snow Leopard

Cat lovers across the globe are celebrating World Snow Leopard Day on October 23rd to raise awareness for this endangered cat’s plight. Threats to the elusive feline range from poaching to the loss of habitat due to mining – and climate change may be emerging as yet another big challenge for the snow leopard.

The endangered snow leopard inhabits fragile high-mountain ecosystems across Central Asia – a part of the world that is particularly vulnerable to a changing climate. Scientists fear that large parts of these habitats could be impacted within the next few decades if the planet continues to warm at the current pace.

The snow leopard's mountain ecosystem is particularly vulnerable to a changing climate.

The snow leopard’s mountain ecosystem is particularly vulnerable to a changing climate.

According to a projection by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), average annual mean warming will be about 3 °C by the 2050s and about 5 °C in the 2080’s over the Asian land mass, with temperatures on the Tibetan Plateau rising substantially more.

Consequences for the peoples and ecosystems of Central Asia could be serious.

For example, a recent study estimates that about 30% of snow leopard habitat in the Himalaya may be lost and heavily fragmented. The frequency of extreme climatic events is expected to increase, exacerbating floods and landslides, affecting local livelihoods, and snow leopard habitats.

This trend is certainly worrying, but no reason to despair quite yet: “The snow leopard still has a future”, says Dr. Charu Mishra, the Snow Leopard Trust’s Science and Conservation Director, “but given that the cat’s habitat is likely to come under even more pressure in the coming decades, we need to make sure to protect as many snow leopard landscapes as we possibly can today. The more intact habitats there are, the better the snow leopard’s chances to survive the changing climate.”

Keeping snow leopard landscapes safe for the cats is a challenging task that requires multiple approaches.

“Obviously, protecting core habitats from immediate threats such as mining, poaching, or unsustainable trophy hunting of wild snow leopard prey species like ibex and argali is critical”, Charu Mishra says. “But it won’t be enough. The snow leopard is a landscape species; it needs very large habitats, so we also need to ensure that the cat can coexist with local communities in less protected areas. This will require a joint effort by authorities and civil society.”

The Snow Leopard Trust is partnering with communities in snow leopard habitat in the five main snow leopard countries, helping them secure and improve their livelihoods through livestock insurance and vaccination programs, the sale of handicrafts and other initiatives; winning their support for conservation.

On the political stage, SLT and other partners have been facilitating all the 12 range countries in implementing the Bishkek Declaration on the conservation of the Snow Leopard in 2013. These countries have since identified 23 landscapes to secure for snow leopards across the cat’s range under the Global Snow Leopard & Ecosystem Protection Plan.

In 2015, they’ve made further progress, forming a high-level steering committee and a permanent secretariat to manage this process, and have began work on management plans for these landscapes.

Looking for Strong Signals From Paris

While these efforts continue, the snow leopard conservation community will be looking to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris for a strong signal this December. It is of critical importance for the people and wildlife of Central Asia’s mountains that a strong agreement to combat climate change can be reached.

The Snow Leopard Trust


Wilt disease spreading, killing native Florida trees


Golden Gate resident, Franklin Adams checks one of his redbay trees that is dying from Laurel Wilt.

The disease is caused by a fungus that is transmitted by the exotic redbay ambrosia beetle.

It is killing redbay trees throughout the everglades and Florida. Photo: Andrew West/The News-Press

A microscopic beetle is beginning to devastate native Southwest Florida trees, and the bug could eventually turn its sights on the avocado industry.

The redbay ambrosia beetle is not quite 2 millimeters in length, but the tiny insect can take down 40-foot bay trees in a matter of weeks.

The Asian beetle and laurel wilt disease were first documented in 2004 in Duval County in northeast Florida. Some experts think the beetle was brought to America on a shipment of tainted wood.

They basically drill holes into bay and avocado trees and feed on an invasive fungus, which, in turn, spreads a disease known as laurel wilt. Some chemicals can kill the bugs on farm fields, but there is no known large-scale method of removing the region’s latest crippling invasive.

The remains of a redbay tree are left behind from an exotic Ambrosia beetle. Laurel Wilt, a disease that infects red bay trees and avocado trees is killing trees in the Southeast including the Everglades and Southwest Florida. This tree is Golden Gate resident Franklin Adams’ yard. (Photo: Andrew West/The News-Press)

Laurel wilt was found in Lee and Collier counties last year and is established in all but a handful of counties in the panhandle region.

“We’ve had a suspicion for about a year, that it was happening, they were dying, but apparently it can happen a lot sooner than that,” said Franklin Adams, a Golden Gate resident who has also seen the impacts of the disease in Big Cypress National Preserve. “They get into the white sap wood that’s under the bark. I haven’t seen one, but you see this sawdust and then you know they’re there. It disrupts the tree’s ability to function.”

Bay trees provide habitat for wildlife and produce a berry that’s eaten by a variety of birds and animals. Species found in Florida are similar to the bay leaf used to flavor soups and sauces.

The trees also have cultural and medicinal uses among indigenous cultures like the Seminole and Miccosukee.

The beetles spread at a rate of 20 to 30 miles a year, according to the University of Florida research, which also says the disease can be transmitted by hauling infected firewood into uninfected areas.


Global Warming and Climate Change

Global warming continuing

Earth has just had the hottest January-September on record, the United Nations World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said today, adding that the average air and sea temperatures in September logged the greatest rise above monthly average in the 136-year historical record.

According to a press release from WMO, the Global Climate Report from the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the globally averaged air temperature over land and sea surface temperature for September was 0.90°C (1.62°F) above the 20th century average temperature. Record warmth was observed across much of South America and parts of Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and Asia.

The year-to-date globally averaged combined temperature of the air over land and ocean surface temperature was 0.85°C (1.53°F) above the 20th century average, said in the report. This was the highest for January–September in the 1880? record, surpassing the previous record set in 2014 by 0.12°C (0.19°F), according to NOAA.

With strong El Niño conditions in place, the September globally averaged sea surface temperature was 0.81°C (1.46°F) above the 20th century average of 16.2°C (61.1°F). The highest departure for September on record, which beat the record in 2014 by 0.07°C (0.13°F), was 0.25°C (0.45°F) higher than the global ocean temperature for September 1997, preceding the peaking up of the last strong El Niño of 1998.

Earlier this year, WMO reported that the globally averaged temperature for the first half of 2015 was 0.85°C (1.53°F) above the 20th century average of 15.5°C, the hottest for such period on record. 

An annual Statement on the Status of Global Climate will be released by WMO in November 2015, the UN climate change conference in Paris, COP-21, analyzing the combination of data. A summary of the global climate in 2011-2015 will be released at the same time, said in the WMO’s statement.

UN News Centre|November 1, 2015

Alaskan Farmer Turns Icy Patch of Tundra Into Booming Organic Farm

The negative impacts of climate change in Alaska are abundantly clear. At a Senate hearing earlier this year, Bernie Sanders called the Last Frontier a “canary in the coal mine” when it comes to climate change.

A field at Meyers Farm. Photo credit: Meyers Farm

A field at Meyers Farm. Photo credit: Meyers Farm

It’s warming twice as fast as the rest of the U.S., and, as President Obama said during his visit to the state in September, the effects of that warming can be seen everywhere. Glaciers are rapidly melting, driving sea level rise. And if the permafrost continues to thaw, trapped carbon could escape to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide or methane, and communities would face land subsidence.

But at least one Alaskan farmer has found a silver lining in this rapidly warming environment. Tim Meyers, who runs a 15-acre organic farm in Bethel, Alaska, admits, “I hate to say [it] but I guess I’m taking advantage of the fact that it is getting warmer.”

At the farm, which has been operating for more than a decade, “Meyers is growing crops like strawberries in greenhouses,” reports NPR. “But he says as temperatures warm due to climate change, it’s easier to grow things like potatoes, cabbages and kale right in the ground, outside.”

“Years ago, it was hard freeze and below zero up to the third week in May,” he says. “We haven’t had any of that this winter.”

Cole Mellino|November 3, 2015

Glacier National Park Could Be Glacier Free in Just 15 Years

I love our national parks. Writer and historian Wallace Stegner called them “the best idea we ever had.” And yet, like the rest of the planet, our parks are under siege from climate change. From bigger and bigger fires threatening Yosemite to rising seas disrupting the Everglades’ fragile ecosystem, the evidence is everywhere.

One of the most publicized indications of the problem, though, is the changing landscape of Glacier National Park. The park in northern Montana is rapidly losing its iconic glaciers. “In the mid-1800s, this Montana landscape was covered by 150 glaciers—today only 25 remain,” says National Geographic in the video below.

Dan Fagre, a U.S. Geological Survey research ecologist, tells National Geographic that the park will “be nearly glacier free by 2030, based on present warming trends.” That’s only 15 years away.

Watch National Geographic’s video of this majestic park melting away:

Cole Mellino|November 5, 2015

New report: Outlook grimmer on South Florida sea levels

NASA satellite photo of arctice ice around the North Pole.

NASA satellite photo of arctic ice around the North Pole.

New estimates paint a much bleaker picture for sea level rise in the last half of the century.

The outlook for South Florida’s rising sea levels has turned potentially catastrophic, as new long-term projections estimate the ocean will be six and a half feet deeper by 2100 under a worst case scenario.

The Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact, consisting of Broward, Palm Beach, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, calculated that seas could rise 31 inches by 2060, about two inches more than was estimated five years ago. It predicted seas up to 46 inches higher by 2075, enough to submerge a large chunk of coastline.

Even if seas rise three to five inches, which is expected within the next 15 years, South Florida would face a range of hardships, from endangered drinking water supplies to a degradation of public services.

“What we’ll see is systematically more flooding, deeper flooding and more pervasive flooding – and with lesser events,” said Jennifer Jurado, Broward County’s director of natural resource planning and management. “It will take less in the way of rainfall before you flood.”

Long-range predictions, which previously hadn’t extended to the turn of the next century, call for the sea to rise 78 inches at an accelerated rate. If the projections hold, much of this region would be underwater within the next 85 years unless greenhouse emissions are sharply reduced, the steady rise of the Earth’s temperature is stopped and arctic ice stops melting.

Jurado said evidence of the increased flooding can already be seen with heavy rains and King tides, particularly in the coastal areas of West Palm Beach, Delray Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood and Miami Beach.

Other major impacts, some of which already are being seen:

• Increased sand and soil erosion, leading to more coastal flooding;

• Increased inland flooding, including areas west of Interstate 95, as a higher ocean would disable the stormwater drainage system;

• Saltwater intrusion in the Biscayne aquifer – South Florida’s primary freshwater supply – and local water supply wells;

• Increased pollution on land and in sea, the result of debris and hazardous materials released by flooding;

• Higher flood insurance premiums.

The updated projections are to be presented to each of the counties’ commissions before the end of the year. If they approve the Compact’s report, plans for buildings, bridges, transportation networks and other critical infrastructure projects could be amended, limited or denied based on the new sea level rise numbers. Projects expected to last more than 50 years could come under particular scrutiny.

Natalie Schneider, Palm Beach County’s climate change and sustainability coordinator, said for now county planners are mainly concerned with the impact on projects that might be built over the next few decades. Beyond that, she said, there’s too much uncertainty.

“All of this underscores the complexity that surrounds this whole issue,” she said.

The projections paint a much bleaker picture than was depicted in an earlier report compiled by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations sanctioned body, Jurado said.

“They had absolutely failed to integrate ice melt in the projections,” she said. “So everybody knew it was really conservative.”

Because of the uncertainty of how fast the seas will rise – and how much greenhouse gases will be curbed – the Compact predicted a wide-range of possibilities.

Specifically, it calls for sea levels to rise 3 to 5 inches by 2030, 8 to 31 inches by 2060 and 19 to 78 inches by 2100.

Although much of the globe will be subject to the same sea level increases, the fear is that South Florida will be particularly vulnerable to flooding because of its low level and because of strong ocean currents that run nearby, such as the Gulf Stream.

The Florida Department of Environmental Projection is currently is evaluating risk for vulnerable communities, said spokeswoman Lori Elliott.

“The department partners and coordinates with a number of local and state agencies to address the challenges of sea level rise statewide,” she said.

To slow down the rise, the environmental community calls for greenhouse gas emissions to be cut by about 80 percent by 2050.

There is strong evidence those emissions are causing an alarming increase in global temperatures: 14 of the 15 hottest years on record have occurred since 2000. This year likely will be the warmest year on record, “with 2016 a good bet to exceed even 2015’s warmth,” said Jeff Masters, director of meteorology for Weather Underground, the online weather site.

Further, greenhouse gas emissions nurtured several extreme climate events in the past year, including a highly active hurricane season in the Eastern Pacific, drought in East Africa and stifling heat waves in Australia, Asia and South America, the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration said.

Jurado said action needs to be taken now to prevent the seas from rising to disastrous levels.

“We have to think about what we want the landscape to look like for the generation behind us,” she said.

Ken Kaye|Sun Sentinel

Extreme Weather

West Antarctica snow accumulation increased in the 20th century

Annual snow accumulation on West Antarctica’s coastal ice sheet increased dramatically during the 20th century, according to a new study published today (Wednesday 4 November) in the American Geophysical Union journal Geophysical Research Letters. The last three decades saw more snow build up on the ice sheet than at any other time in the last 300 years.

The research gives scientists new insight into Antarctica’s ice sheet. Understanding how the ice sheet grows and shrinks over time enhances scientists’ understanding of the processes that impact global sea levels.

The new study used ice cores to estimate annual snow accumulation from 1712 to 2010 along the coastal West Antarctic. Until 1899, annual snow accumulation remained steady, averaging 33 and 40 centimeters (13 and 16 inches) water, or melted snow, each year at two locations.

Annual snow accumulation increased in the early 20th century, rising 30 percent between 1900 and 2010 and the researchers found that in the last 30 years of the study, the ice sheet gained nearly 5 meters (16 feet) more water than it did during the first 30 years of the studied time period.

Read more at British Antarctic Survey.

Dr Liz Thomas|lead author|British Antarctic Survey|November 4, 2015

Officials say storm brought twisters that touched down

Jeff Friedland, director of St. Clair County Emergency Management, said in an email that the National Weather Service has confirmed that tornadoes touched down Friday morning in the Thumb.

“Along the line of showers, a few surges of stronger winds developed, which allowed three brief tornadoes to spin up,” Friedland wrote in an email. “Two of the tornadoes that occurred near Bad Axe and Yale were rated EF-0 with peak winds of 85 mph, and one near Applegate was rated EF-1 with peak winds of 90 mph.

“These three tornadoes doubled the previous number of November tornadoes in Southeast Michigan from 3 to 6 (since 1950). Two of the tornadoes occurred between 7 and 8 a.m., making these the first tornadoes to occur during this hour on record.”

One of the EF-0 tornadoes laid down a path of destruction a mile long and 75 yards wide, Friedland said.

Widespread tree damage, downed power lines and obliterated structures were reported in Sanilac, St. Clair and Huron counties early Friday.

National Weather Service Meteorologist Steven Freitag had said officials would be examining damage from Bad Axe to Sanilac County and into St. Clair County to determine if a tornado had gone through the area.

“Right now, it looks like a pretty powerful cold front that moved through and had some pretty powerful winds that transported to the ground,” he said.

While rain accompanied the high winds, there was no lightning or thunder.

Freitag said 73 mph winds were measured in Bad Axe. And, judging by the damage in St. Clair and Sanilac counties, winds reached 60 to 70 mph in the eastern parts of the Thumb.

Freitag said Saturday should be breezy, but nowhere near Friday’s high winds.

Darlene Etter of Sandusky raced to the corner of Marlette and Ruth roads in Washington Township early Friday after a family friend called to say his mobile home was destroyed in the storm.

“He called me and said something like, ‘I’m in the hallway looking out at the sky,’” Etter said.

She said he was sleeping when the storm hit, bringing a tree down and through the mobile home. He was not injured and was working with the Red Cross to find a place to stay.

Etter’s sister, Bonnie Erbe, said she was relieved no one was injured.

“It’s crazy how your life can change in a split second,” Erbe said.

Todd Hillman, director of Sanilac County Emergency Management, said five or six structures were damaged in the morning storm, with damage ranging from minor to leveled.

He said while it appeared to have been caused by straight-line winds, it is still under investigation by the National Weather Service. No injuries were reported in Sanilac County.

Kenockee Township Fire Chief Keith Berg said crews were called to Jeddo Road, between Kilgore and Duce roads, about 8:20 a.m. Friday for reports of a downed power pole.

Berg said it appeared a portion of a barn blew into the pole, taking it down.

Kirk Weston, St. Clair County Road Commission managing director, said Jeddo Road will likely be closed through Saturday evening as DTE repairs the power lines and debris is removed.

Berg said firefighters found two barns heavily damaged and a home with roof damage, with debris scattered as far as half a mile.

There have been no injuries reported.

DTE Energy Spokeswoman Erica Donerson said about 700 people in St. Clair County and about 300 in Sanilac County were without power as of Friday afternoon.

The number was down from earlier estimates of 4,000 people in St. Clair County and 1,000 in Sanilac County.

Donerson said, at the peak of the outages, about 38,000 people in southeast Michigan and the Thumb were without power. As of late Friday afternoon, about 10,000 people remained without power, many located in the Thumb.


14 Extreme Weather Events Linked to Climate Change

Even though skeptics would disagree, weather and climate are clearly two different things. We know that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities such as burning fossil fuels and land use cause global temperatures to rise over long stretches of time, but what effect does that have on the weather today?

Well, according to a new study, we can now pin at least 14 extreme weather events in 2014—including heatwaves, drought, wildfires and floods—on climate change.


The report, Explaining Extreme Events of 2014 from a Climate Perspective, published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, uses research from 32 groups of scientists from around the world. Scientists from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) served as four of the five lead editors on the report.

The study says, for instance, that the drought in East Africa, extreme rainfall in France, and heat waves felt on nearly every continent can be linked to climate change. However, though California’s wildfires have definitely increased over the years due to climate change, the study notes that there was no specific link to the wildfires last year.

As for the unusually frigid winter felt in many parts of the U.S. (remember the polar vortex?), the scientists suggest it was influenced not by climate change but by temperature variability.

“It is by no means a prevailing one-story-fits-all-events type of approach to this,” said Martin Hoerling, an editor of the report and a NOAA meteorologist, at a news conference. “It does require a specific analysis of each case on its own merit.”

For example, Brazil’s horrific drought, is not necessarily due to rising global temperatures but perhaps instead to an increasing population and water consumption.

“For each of the past four years, this report has demonstrated that individual events, like temperature extremes, have often been shown to be linked to additional atmospheric greenhouse gases caused by human activities, while other extremes, such as those that are precipitation related, are less likely to be convincingly linked to human activities,” said Thomas R. Karl, director of NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information.

“As the science of event attribution continues to advance, so too will our ability to detect and distinguish the effects of long-term climate change and natural variability on individual extreme events. Until this is fully realized, communities would be well-served to look beyond the range of past extreme events to guide future resiliency efforts,” he continued.

The scientists have urged for more research in this area. “Understanding our influence on specific extreme weather events is groundbreaking science that will help us adapt to climate change,” said Stephanie C. Herring, lead editor for the report. “As the field of climate attribution science grows, resource managers, the insurance industry and many others can use the information more effectively for improved decision making and to help communities better prepare for future extreme events.”

Here are the study’s key findings across the world’s continents, with events that can be attributed to climate change in bold:

North America

  • Overall probability of California wildfires has increased due to human-induced climate change, however, no specific link could be made for the 2014 fire event
  • Though cold winters still occur in the upper Midwest, they are less likely due to climate change
  • Cold temperatures along the eastern U.S. were not influenced by climate change and eastern U.S. winter temperatures are becoming less variable
  • Tropical cyclones that hit Hawaii were substantially more likely because of human-induced climate change
  • Extreme 2013-14 winter storm season over much of North America was driven mainly by natural variability and not human caused climate change
  • Human-induced climate change and land-use both played a role in the flooding that occurred in the southeastern Canadian Prairies

South America

  • The Argentinean heat wave of December 2013 was made five times more likely because of human-induced climate change
  • Water shortages in Southeast Brazil were not found to be largely influenced by climate change, but increasing population and water consumption raised vulnerability


  • All-time record number of storms over the British Isles in winter 2013-14 cannot be linked directly to human-induced warming of the tropical west Pacific
  • Extreme rainfall in the United Kingdom during the winter of 2013-2014 was not linked to human-caused climate change
  • Hurricane Gonzolo was within historical range of strength for hurricanes transitioning to extratropical storms over Europe
  • Extreme rainfall in the Cévennes Mountains in southern France was three times more likely than in 1950 due to climate change
  • Human influence increased the probability of record annual mean warmth over Europe, NE Pacific, and NW Atlantic

Middle East and Africa

  • Two studies showed that the drought in East Africa was made more severe because of climate change
  • The role of climate change in the Middle East drought of 2014 remains unclear. One study showed a role in the southern Levant region of Syria, while another study, which looked more broadly at the Middle East, did not find a climate change influence


  • Extreme heat events in Korea and China were linked to human-caused climate change
  • Drought in northeastern Asia, China and Singapore could not conclusively be linked to climate change
  • The high west Pacific tropical cyclone activity in 2014 was largely driven by natural variability
  • Devastating 2014 floods in Jakarta are becoming more likely due to climate change and other human influences
  • Meteorological drivers that led to the extreme Himalayan snowstorm of 2014 have increased in likelihood due to climate change
  • Human influence increased the probability of regional high sea surface temperature extremes over the western tropical and northeast Pacific Ocean during 2014


  • Four independent studies all pointed toward human influence causing a substantial increase in the likelihood and severity of heat waves across Australia in 2014
  • It is likely that human influences on climate increased the odds of the extreme high pressure anomalies south of Australia in August 2014 that were associated with frosts, lowland snowfalls and reduced rainfall
  • The risk of an extreme five-day July rainfall event over Northland, New Zealand, such as was observed in early July 2014, has likely increased due to human influences on climate


  • All-time maximum of Antarctic sea ice in 2014 resulted chiefly from anomalous winds that transported cold air masses away from the Antarctic continent, enhancing thermodynamic sea ice production far offshore. This type of event is becoming less likely because of climate change

Lorraine Chow|November 7, 2015

Genetically Modified Organisms

Monsanto’s ‘Cancer-Causing’ Glyphosate Endangers California’s Hispanic and Latino Communities

A new report finds that more than half of the glyphosate sprayed in California is applied in the state’s eight most impoverished counties. Monsanto’s glyphosate, commonly known as Roundup, is classified as a probable carcinogen by the World Health Organization and may get a similar designation from the state of California in the coming weeks.

The analysis also finds that the populations in these counties are predominantly Hispanic or Latino, indicating that glyphosate use in California is distributed unequally along both socioeconomic and racial lines.

The report was released yesterday by the Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Environmental Health, El Quinto Sol de America, Californians for Pesticide Reform, Center for Food Safety and Pesticide Action Network.

“We’ve uncovered a disturbing trend where poor and minority communities disproportionately live in regions where glyphosate is sprayed,” said Dr. Nathan Donley, a staff scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “In high doses glyphosate is dangerous to people, and California can’t, in good conscience, keep allowing these communities to pay the price for our over-reliance on pesticides.”

The report, Lost in the Mist: How Glyphosate Use Disproportionately Threatens California’s Most Impoverished Counties, finds that 54 percent of glyphosate is applied in just eight counties, many of which are located in the southern part of the Central Valley. They are Tulare, Fresno, Merced, Del Norte, Madera, Lake, Imperial and Kern counties.

“The disproportionate concentration of glyphosate in our region is alarming and worrisome,” said Isabel Arrollo, executive director of El Quinto Sol de America, based in Tulare county. “It is imperative to protect the health of our communities, and any action to better protect health should not be dismissed as being premature. Health matters.”

Right now, California’s Environmental Protection Agency is deciding whether to formally add glyphosate to its list of known carcinogens under Proposition 65. Earlier this year the World Health Organization designated glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen.

“No one should be needlessly exposed to chemicals like glyphosate, that may cause cancer and other health problems,” said Caroline Cox, research director at the Center for Environmental Health. “It’s especially troubling that communities of color who are already at serious risk from chemicals in their environment are the most likely to suffer from exposures to this dangerous pesticide. The state must take the lead in protecting all Californians from glyphosate.”

This new report aligns with a recent study by the California EPA that found Hispanics and people in poverty disproportionately live in areas of high pesticide use. A 2014 California Department of Public Health study showed that Hispanic children were 46 percent more likely than white children to attend schools near hazardous pesticide use.

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation has an obligation to ensure that pesticide programs and policies do not result in a racially disparate impact. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and California Government Code § 11135 prohibit such racial discrimination.

“Rural communities and communities of color bear an unfair burden from use of Monsanto’s glyphosate,” said PAN Staff Scientist Emily Marquez, PhD. “Scientists around the globe have signaled that this is yet another concerning chemical in the toxic soup of pesticides that end up in the air, water and soil of communities on the frontlines of industrial agriculture. And it’s time for policymakers to respond.”

Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the U.S. and in the world. In 2012, more than 280 million pounds of glyphosate were used in the U.S. agricultural sector. Its use increased more than 20-fold on just corn and soy, from 10 million pounds in 1990, largely due to the widespread adoption of crops genetically engineered to withstand what would otherwise be fatal doses of glyphosate. Accordingly, glyphosate or its metabolites are now found on 90 percent of soybean crops and in air, water and soil samples around agricultural regions.

“Industrial agriculture has found a way to modify our crops so that they can survive large doses of a probable carcinogen, but whether humans can adapt in the same way is doubtful,” said Sarah Aird, Californians for Pesticide Reform’s acting executive director.

Full or partial bans on glyphosate have been adopted by France, the Netherlands, Sri Lanka and Colombia.

“The overuse of glyphosate in California and across the country is of increasing concern, especially in light of the World Health Organization’s recent conclusion that it is probably carcinogenic,” said Rebecca Spector, west coast director at Center for Food Safety. “In the short term, it is imperative that the state of California better protect vulnerable communities from exposure to this harmful chemical. In the long term, we need to shift our agricultural system away from chemically intense practices all together in order to safeguard human health and the environment.”

Center for Food Safety|November 3, 2015

8 Myths About Pesticides That Monsanto Wants You to Believe

Myths about pesticides are a testimony to the power of advertising, marketing and lobbying. Pesticide corporations, like Big Tobacco and the oil industry, have systematically manufactured doubt about the science behind pesticides and fostered the myth that their products are essential to life as we know it—and harmless if “used as directed.”

The book Merchants of Doubt calls it the “Tobacco Strategy”—orchestrated PR and legal campaigns to deny the evidence, often using rogue scientists to invent controversy around so-called “junk science,” for everything from second-hand smoke causing cancer to global warming to the hazards of DDT.

Here are eight of the seemingly plausible myths we hear from the “Big 6” pesticide corporations, including Monsanto, every day:

Myth #1: “Pesticides Are Necessary to Feed the World”

Reality: The most comprehensive analysis of world agriculture to date tells us that what can feed the world—and what feeds most of the world now, in fact—is small-scale agriculture that does not rely on pesticides.

Dow, Monsanto, Syngenta and other pesticide producers have marketed their products as necessary to feed the world. Yet as insecticide use increased in the U.S. by a factor of 10 in the 50 years following World War II, crop losses almost doubled. Corn is illustrative: in place of crop rotations, most acreage was planted year after year only with corn. Despite more than a 1,000-fold increase in use of organophosphate insecticides, crop losses to insects has risen from three-and-a-half percent to 12 percent (D. Pimental and M. Pimental, 2008).

More to the point, hunger in an age of plenty isn’t a problem of production (or yields, as the pesticide industry claims), efficiency or even distribution. It is a matter of priorities. If we were serious about feeding people, we wouldn’t grow enough extra grain to feed one-third of the world’s hungry—and then pour it into gas tanks.

Myth #2: “Pesticides Aren’t That Dangerous”

Reality: Pesticides are dangerous by design. They are engineered to cause death. And harms to human health are very well documented, with children especially at risk. Here are a few recent examples from the news:

An entire class of pesticides (organophosphates) has been linked to higher rates of ADHD in children

  • The herbicide atrazine, found in 94 percent of our water supply, has been linked to birth defects, infertility and cancer
  • Women exposed to the pesticide endosulfan during pregnancy are more likely to have autistic children
  • Girls exposed to DDT before puberty are five times more likely to develop breast cancer
  • The World Health Organization recently designated the key ingredient in the widely used herbicide Roundup a “probable human carcinogen”

A large and growing body of peer-reviewed, scientific studies document that pesticides are harmful to human health. The environmental damage caused by pesticides is also clear—from male frogs becoming females after exposure, to collapsing populations of bats and honeybees.

Myth #3: “The Dose Makes the Poison”

Reality: If someone is exposed to an extremely small amount of one ingredient from a single pesticide at a time, and it was a chemical of relatively low toxicity and exposure occurred outside any window of biological vulnerability, it might pose little danger. Unfortunately, that’s an unlikely scenario.

First, pesticide products typically contain several potentially dangerous ingredients (including so-called “inerts” not listed on the label). Second, we’re all exposed to a cocktail of pesticides in our air, water, food and on the surfaces we touch. The combination of these chemicals can be more toxic than any one of them acting alone. Third, many pesticides are endocrine disruptors—and even extremely low doses can interfere with the delicate human hormone system and cause life-changing damage.

Finally, the timing of exposure can be just as—if not more—important than the dose. Even extremely low levels of pesticides can cause irreversible, life-changing harm if they occur at a moment when organs or other systems are developing. One stark example from a recent study using MRI technology illustrates the point: children exposed in utero to the neurotoxic insecticide chlorpyrifos experienced lasting changes in their brain architecture.

It’s also important to understand that research used to determine the safety of a pesticide is funded and conducted by the corporations marketing the product, often leading to distortion of findings.

Myth #4: “The Government is Protecting Us”

Reality: Our regulatory system is not doing its job. More than one billion pounds of pesticides are applied every year on U.S. farms, forests, golf courses and lawns. Farmworkers and rural communities suffer illness throughout the spray season and beyond, and infants around the world are born with a mixture of pesticides and other chemicals in their bodies.

As as the President’s cancer panel concluded in 2010:

The prevailing regulatory approach in the U.S. is reactionary rather than precautionary. Instead of requiring industry to prove their safety, the public bears the burden of proving that a given environmental exposure is harmful.

The cornerstone of pesticide regulation is a fundamentally flawed process of “risk assessment” that cannot begin to capture the realities of pesticide exposure and the health hazards they pose. Environmental Protection Agency officials remain reliant on research data submitted by pesticide manufacturers, who do everything they can to drag out reviews of their products, often for decades. Lawsuits are pending to force the Environmental Protection Agency to abide by the law and speed up their reviews.

A better, common sense precautionary approach to protecting us would assess alternatives to highly hazardous pesticides rather than accepting public exposure to pesticides as a necessary evil. Such a shift will require fundamental federal policy reform. Meanwhile, state and local authorities are pressing for rules that better protect their communities.

Myth #5: “GMOs Reduce Reliance on Pesticides”

Reality: Genetically modified organisms are driving up pesticide use, and no surprise: the biggest GMO seed sellers are the pesticide corporations themselves. The goal of introducing GMO seed is simple: increase corporate control of global agriculture. More than 80 percent of the GMO crops grown worldwide

Monsanto, the world leader in patented engineered seed, would have us believe that its GMOs will increase yields, reduce environmental impact and mitigate climate change—and that farmers use fewer pesticides when they plant the corporation’s seeds. None of this is true.

On average, Monsanto’s biotech seeds reduce yield. In 2009, Monsanto admitted that its Bollguard GMO cotton attracted pink bollworm—the very pest it was designed to control — in areas of Gujarat, India’s primary cotton-growing state. Introduced in 1996, Monsanto’s Bollguard seeds, which include toxic traits from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), now account for half the cotton grown worldwide. In India, the productivity of Bt cotton has fallen while pesticide costs have risen by almost 25 percent, contributing to the tragic suicide epidemic among India’s debt-ridden farmers.

In 2009, 93 percent of U.S. GMO soybeans and 80 percent of GMO corn was grown from Monsanto’s patented seeds. “Roundup Ready” corn and soybeans, designed for use with Monsanto’s weed killer, mostly feed animals and cars rather than people. Now that weeds have developed resistant to Roundup, Dow and Monsanto are introducing GMO corn that includes tolerance of dicamba and 2,4-D, antiquated and dangerous herbicides prone to drift from where they’re applied on neighboring non-GMO fields and into neighboring communities.

Myth #6: “We’re Weaning Ourselves Off of Pesticides”

Reality: After 20 years of market stagnation, the pesticide industry entered a period of vigorous growth in 2004. The global pesticide market was worth approximately $46 billion in 2012 and continues to grow. It is expected to reach $65 billion by 2017, with the U.S. accounting for 53 percent of global use.

About 80 percent of the market is for agricultural use, but non-agricultural sales and profit margins are growing faster, driven by the rise of a global middle class adopting chemically reliant lawns and landscapes. In addition, the industry strategy of promoting GMO seeds, most of which are engineered to tolerate higher applications of herbicides, has driven increased sales of weed killers.

Myth #7: “Pesticides Are the Answer to Global Climate Change”

Reality: Multinational corporations are working hard to increase their market share by exploiting climate change as a sales opportunity. As of 2008, Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, DuPont, BASF and others had filed 532 patents for “climate-related genes,” touting the imminent arrival of a new generation of seeds engineered to withstand heat and drought. Their approach will further restrict the age-old practice of farmers saving seeds with desirable traits—a practice that may prove even more important as the climate changes in unpredictable ways and demands more, not less, farm-scale diversity.

In fact, evidence is showing that sustainable farming provides important solutions to climate change, with resilient systems that create far fewer greenhouse gases, promote on-farm biodiversity and create carbon sinks to offset warming.

Despite this latest gene-grab, none of these companies have yet been able to engineer any kind of yield-increasing or “climate-ready” seeds. Their promises to end world hunger through drought-, heat- and salt-tolerant seeds and crops with enhanced nutrition have proven empty.

Myth #8: “We Need DDT to End Malaria, Combat Bedbugs, etc.”

Reality: The resurgence of bedbugs in recent years has nothing to do with the 1972 ban of DDT. Bedbugs, like many mosquitos, are resistant to DDT—and they were decades ago, when DDT was still in use. In some cases DDT even makes bedbug infestations worse, since instead of killing them, it just irritates them, making them more active.

Resistance is also an issue for malaria-carrying mosquitoes. DDT had been abandoned as a solution to malaria in the U.S. long before it was banned for agriculture use.

Around the world, practitioners battling the deadly disease on the ground report that DDT is less effective in controlling malaria than many other tools. A small cadre of chemical advocates continue to aggressively promote widespread use of DDT to combat malaria, bedbugs—even West Nile Virus—despite its lack of effectiveness and growing evidence of damage to human health, even at low levels of exposure.

Pesticide Action Network|November 4, 2015

Is GMO Pork the Future of Our Food?

U.S. consumers are already widely skeptical about genetically modified (GMO) crops, but could genetically modified meat ever make it onto our plates? CBC News reports that, in addition to GMO salmon, there are two different varieties of GMO pork that are currently in development, raising questions about the future of our food.

Genetically engineered animals are not approved for consumption anywhere in the world, not only because the public is wary, but also because the industry is a regulatory minefield. However, before turning to GMO pork, let’s first consider GMO salmon.

If the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves AquaBounty’s salmon, it will be the first GMO animal to enter the market. This salmon—engineered to grow twice the rate of its farmed counterpart—is heavily opposed by anti-GMO camps who have nicknamed the product “frankenfish,” because it’s made from genetic material of other fish, such as the ocean pout.

In case you’re wondering if GMO salmon will ever become a meal option, the company has been knocking on the FDA’s doors for nearly 20 years for approval. Still, GMO salmon and all GMOs products alike have been championed by proponents and many scientific minds as a way to feed our planet’s growing population, to ensure food security and to promote species’ survival.

On to pork. There are two genetically modified pigs that have been designed to improve pork production, CBC reports.

First, researchers at the University of Edinburgh are developing a pig that is “edited” with a warthog gene to resist African swine fever, a horrific disease that has no vaccine and that has caused the widespread slaughter of pigs across eastern Europe. Researchers estimated that this GMO pig could be commercially viable within five to 10 years if approved by the FDA.

Second, at Seoul National University, researchers have developed a “double-muscled” pig. By editing a single gene, these pigs have leaner meat and have a higher yield of meat per animal.  As Nature reported, these pigs are being aimed at the Chinese market, where demand for pork is increasing.

As CBC observed, in contrast to GMO salmon, “the pigs aren’t ‘transgenic’—that is, they don’t contain genes from other organisms. That makes them unlike some genetically modified crops already on the market, which may contain genes from organisms such as bacteria.”

The health and safety issues surrounding GMO pork were recently discussed on the Canadian radio program The Current.

Jayson Lusk, an agricultural economist at Oklahoma State University, said on the show that these researchers are making pigs “aimed at addressing what we’d all probably agree are important problems.”

“There are risks with these technologies—there are risks with every technology,” he said. “There are also risks with not approving these technologies.”

However, he noted that the general public is wary of GMO products.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily a fear of genetic engineering—it’s a fear of uncertainty,” he said.

As genetic tinkering with crops and animals advances, we’ll be seeing many more stories like these. Besides GMO pigs, New Zealand researchers have genetically engineered a cow that produces B-lactoglobulin-free milk, which causes allergies and digestive and respiratory reactions in infants. In Minnesota, scientists have also genetically modified cows without horns to reduce the risk of injury to farmers and other animals.

U.S. Lawsuits Build Against Monsanto Over Alleged Roundup Cancer Link

Personal injury law firms around the United States are lining up plaintiffs for what they say could be “mass tort” actions against agrichemical giant Monsanto Co that claim the company’s Roundup herbicide has caused cancer in farm workers and others exposed to the chemical.

The latest lawsuit was filed Wednesday in Delaware Superior Court by three law firms representing three plaintiffs.

The lawsuit is similar to others filed last month in New York and California accusing Monsanto of long knowing that the main ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate, was hazardous to human health. Monsanto “led a prolonged campaign of misinformation to convince government agencies, farmers and the general population that Roundup was safe,” the lawsuit states.

The litigation follows the World Health Organization’s declaration in March that there was sufficient evidence to classify glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

“We can prove that Monsanto knew about the dangers of glyphosate,” said Michael McDivitt, whose Colorado-based law firm is putting together cases for 50 individuals. “There are a lot of studies showing glyphosate causes these cancers.”

The firm held town hall gatherings in August in Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and Nebraska seeking clients.

Monsanto said the WHO classification is wrong and that glyphosate is among the safest pesticides on the planet.

“Glyphosate is not a carcinogen,” company spokeswoman Charla Lord said in an emailed statement. “The most extensive worldwide human health databases ever compiled on an agricultural product contradict the claims in the suits.”

Roundup is used by farmers, homeowners and others around the globe and brought Monsanto $4.8 billion in revenue in its fiscal 2015. But questions about Roundup’s safety have dogged the company for years.

Attorneys who have filed or are eying litigation cited strong evidence that links glyphosate to non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). They said claims will likely be pursued collaboratively as mass tort actions.

To find plaintiffs, the Baltimore firm of Saiontz & Kirk advertises a “free Roundup lawsuit evaluation” on its website. The Washington, D.C. firm Schmidt & Clark is doing the same, as are other firms in Texas, Colorado and California.

One plaintiff in the Delaware lawsuit, Joselin Barrera, 24, a child of migrant farm workers, claims her non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) is related to glyphosate exposure. Elias de la Garza, a former migrant farm worker and landscaper diagnosed with NHL, has a similar claim. Both live in Texas.

The third plaintiff is Judi Fitzgerald, a horticultural worker diagnosed with leukemia in 2012. The Virginia resident joined the Delaware case after asking for dismissal of a similar lawsuit initially filed in federal court in New York.

Monsanto is also fending off claims over its past manufacturing of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which the WHO classifies as known carcinogens.

At least 700 lawsuits against Monsanto or Monsanto-related entities are pending, brought by law firms on behalf of people who claim their non-Hodgkin lymphoma was caused by exposure to PCBs that the company had manufactured until the late 1970s.

Reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City, Missouri; Editing by Richard Chang


TransCanada Asks State Department to ‘Pause’ Review on Keystone XL Pipeline

In a letter to Sec. John Kerry yesterday, Canadian oil company TransCanada asked the State Department to “pause” its review of the Presidential Permit application for the Keystone XL pipeline.

“We are asking State to pause its review of Keystone XL based on the fact that we have applied to the Nebraska Public Service Commission for approval of its preferred route in the state,” Russ Girling, TransCanada’s president and CEO, said in a statement. “I note that when the status of the Nebraska pipeline route was challenged last year, the State Department found it appropriate to suspend its review until that dispute was resolved. We feel under the current circumstances a similar suspension would be appropriate.”

In the letter, TransCanada writes:

In order to allow time for certainty regarding the Nebraska route, TransCanada requests that the State Department pause in its review of the Presidential Permit application for Keystone XL. This will allow a decision on the permit to be made later based on certainty with respect to the route of the pipeline.

For nearly seven years, tens of thousands of people have been demanding that President Obama reject the Keystone XL, a proposed tar sands pipeline connecting Alberta, Canada with Gulf Coast refineries that would carry 800,000 barrels per day across the breadbasket of America to be refined, exported and burned.

In response to TransCanada’s announcement, Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club said, “TransCanada sees the writing on the wall, and is trying to run out the clock in hopes that the next president will not weigh climate science in his or her decision about the dirty Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.”

“Today, tomorrow or next year, the answer will be the same: Keystone XL is a bad deal for America, our climate and our economy,” said NextGen Climate President Tom Steyer. “Secretary Kerry should reject TransCanada’s request for delay, and President Obama should immediately reject the Keystone XL pipeline once and for all.”

The fight against Keystone XL has seen an unprecedented wave of grassroots actions in every state in the U.S. This map from shows more than 750 #NoKXL actions, big and small, that have taken place to stop the pipeline since 2011. They range from impromptu events when President Obama was in town, to days of action with hundreds of participants, to tens of thousands of people gathering in Washington, DC.


“The Keystone XL pipeline has been defeated by the movement with an assist from the markets,” said Stephen Kretzmann, executive director of Oil Change International.

Lindsey Allen, executive director of Rainforest Action Network agrees. “Sustained grassroots opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline has put TransCanada on the run. It is urgently important that President Obama reject Keystone XL without further delay. KXL isn’t about TransCanada. It’s about the president’s climate legacy.”

As TckTckTck puts it:

Construction of the controversial pipeline became less and less likely this year following the Obama administration’s veto of a bill that demanded the president approve the project.

Meanwhile with evidence showing the pipeline would produce just 35 permanent jobs in the U.S. while putting a large swath of the country at risk of a catastrophic oil spill and that over reliance on the volatile tar sands market fueled an economic recession in Canada, any dubious economic claims for pushing the project through have proven to be false.

In Canada, projects connected to the tar sands lost political momentum first when Alberta voted out their provincial conservative government after 44 years of rule, and again when Canada elected Justin Trudeau as Prime Minister to replace climate laggard Stephen Harper.

Bill McKibben says this latest tactic by TransCanada is “one of the great victories for this movement in decades.”

Stefanie Spear|November 3, 2015

We Must Hold Exxon Accountable for Deceiving the Public on Climate Climate

I’m still trying to process recent revelations in the LA Times and the Pulitzer-winning Inside Climate News about the extent to which ExxonMobil has worked to deny climate change. It knew about the threat of a planet warmed by burning fossil fuels as far back as the 70’s, and while publicly denying these risks, built them into its business plans. Wait, what?!

To make matters worse, ExxonMobil‘s climate denialism isn’t just a thing of the past–it’s ongoing.

While deeply shocking, it’s sadly not surprising: Greenpeace has been exposing ExxonMobil’s climate denialism for more than a decade. Yes, it’s outrageous, but now we need to turn that outrage into action to get governments and citizens to hold ExxonMobil and other fossil fuel companies legally accountable for the damage their activities have caused.

How do we know ExxonMobil is still blocking climate action?

For one, ExxonMobil remains a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). This corporate “bill mill” pushes climate-denying legislation on lawmakers through closed-door meetings. Greenpeace USA research revealed that ExxonMobil donated at least $1.6 million to ALEC between 1998 and 2012. A quarter of that money went to efforts to fight policy on climate change. ExxonMobil donated again to ALEC in 2014 and although ALEC’s secrecy prevents us from knowing exactly what the money went toward, we can bet it didn’t help action on climate change.

Then there’s Willie Soon, the scientist who had insisted for years in published papers and in front of Congress that rising temperatures were merely the result of solar activity, not man-made climate change. Soon’s credibility was all but destroyed this year, when an investigation by Greenpeace and the Climate Investigations Center revealed that Soon had failed to mention the more than $1 million in fossil fuel donations he’d received for his research, including money from ExxonMobil. (The kicker? ExxonMobil had claimed in 2007 that it was no longer funding climate deniers like Soon.)

If a fossil fuel company like ExxonMobil continues to fight action on climate change even after years of its hypocrisy being exposed, what will it take to stop it?

The answer is legal action. Just like the tobacco companies that denied the harmful effects of smoking, ExxonMobil won’t stop unless it’s forced to. If that leaves you feeling even more frustrated, read on for how Greenpeace is working to make it happen!

Last month, Greenpeace Southeast Asia, Filipino typhoon survivors and local community organizations filed a complaint with the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines. The complaint demands the launch of an immediate investigation into the responsibility of major fossil fuel companies, including ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP and Shell, for their human rights impacts resulting from climate change.

It’s an impact Filipinos know all too well. In 2013, the country was rocked by super typhoon Haiyan, a national disaster in which more than 6,000 Filipinos lost their lives and almost two million were left homeless. Intense and destructive storms like Haiyan are likely to become more common as the climate crisis intensifies. Scientists have already linked the high impact of Hurricane Sandy in New York to climate change. And while the complaint to the Commission on Human Rights is not a legal action, an investigation by the Commission could uncover evidence needed for future lawsuits.

Closer to home, Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Senator Bernie Sanders and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, as well as Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Representatives Ted Lieu, Mark DeSaulnier, Peter Welch and Matthew Cartwright have all called for federal investigations into what Exxon (as the company was known back in the 80’s) knew and how it denied climate change. To make sure ExxonMobil is now held accountable, we’ve teamed up with just about everybody in the environmental movement to tell the Department of Justice to investigate. You can add your voice to the outcry right here.

This kind of case has been won before, and we can do it again.

In 2006, a federal court determined that the tobacco industry had knowingly conspired to undermine the science that proved its products were harmful to health. Sharon Eubanks, the lead Department of Justice attorney on that case, has come out saying she thinks a similar argument against the fossil fuel industry could win in court today.

The Department of Justice hasn’t yet responded to calls for an investigation. And state attorney generals, who’ve also won major cases against Big Tobacco, have been similarly silent. But the evidence against Big Fossil Fuel is building. With enough pressure, government officials, tasked with protecting the public and fighting corporate fraud, will have to act. So let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.

Annie Leonard|November 3, 2015

Fracking Companies Warned to Scale Back Operations Linked to Earthquakes or Get Sued

Weitz & Luxenberg, in partnership with Public Justice, served a Notice of Intent to Sue today on behalf of the Sierra Club, demanding four energy companies operating in Oklahoma scale back operations that have been linked to increasing seismic activity in the area.

The notice formally requests that Sandridge Exploration and Production, New Dominion, Chesapeake Operating and Devon Energy Production Company substantially reduce the amount of production waste they are injecting into ground wells in Oklahoma or face further legal action.

Despite clear and compelling evidence linking the fracking and oil industries to the increasing number of earthquakes in Oklahoma, these companies continue to operate in a way that threatens the health, environmental, aesthetic and economic interests of the people of this state.

It is time these companies take responsibility for the impact they are having on their surroundings and change their operations to protect the future of Oklahoma.

Seismic activity has been steadily increasing in frequency and intensity in Oklahoma, and has recently been linked to the growing volume of production waste that is injected into the ground by oil and fracking companies. Prior to 2009, Oklahoma recorded a maximum of 195 earthquakes in any given year. By 2014, seismologists recorded more than 5,000 earthquakes and, in 2015, experts predict there will be more than 6,000. Since late 2009, the rate of magnitude 3.5 or larger earthquakes in north central Oklahoma has been almost 300 times higher than in previous decades.


At the same time, the total volume of production waste injected into ground wells has grown from two billion barrels in 2009 to more than 12 billion barrels in 2014. The four companies listed in the Notice of Intent to Sue contributed more than 60 percent of the total volume of production waste injected into ground wells in Oklahoma in 2014.

The Oklahoma Geological Survey determined in the spring of 2015 that “the majority of recent earthquakes in central and north-central Oklahoma are very likely triggered by the injection of produced water in disposal wells” and that “seismologists have documented the relationship between wastewater disposal and triggered seismic activity.” The U.S. Geological Survey also fully supports this conclusion.

Weitz & Luxenberg, Public Justice and the Oklahoma Sierra Club are formally requesting that the four companies take immediate steps to reduce the amount of production waste injected into ground wells to levels deemed safe by experts. They are also asking that the companies reinforce structures that current forecasts show could be damaged or destroyed by large earthquakes and establish an independent earthquake monitoring and prediction center to analyze and predict the relationship between the injection of production waste and increased seismic activity.

If these companies are not willing to modify their operations and protect the safety of the community in this area, the citizens of Oklahoma will sue in federal court. The companies have 90 days from service of the Notice to remedy their violations. If they do not, suit will be filed in federal district court after those 90 days. 

Robin Greenwald|Weitz & Luxenberg|November 2, 2015

Industry-Backed Fracking Bill Clears Florida House Panel

Fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, involves injecting water, sand and chemicals underground to create fractures in rock formations, allowing natural gas and oil to be released.

A bill that would create a new regulatory structure in Florida for oil and gas drilling, including the controversial practice known as “fracking,” easily passed a House panel Tuesday despite roughly 50 environmentalists on hand to oppose the measure.

The House Agriculture & Natural Resources Subcommittee approved the bill (HB 191), filed by Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, and Rep. Cary Pigman, R-Avon Park, on a straight party-line vote of 9-4.

Fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, involves injecting water, sand and chemicals underground to create fractures in rock formations, allowing natural gas and oil to be released.

The bill would set up a state permitting process for fracking and require oil and gas companies to register the chemicals they use on a national website. It would also require the companies to inform the state Department of Environmental Protection of chemicals they inject into the ground — after the fact, not before. And it would set aside $1 million for a study on the impact of fracking.

“I believe that it improves our environment here in Florida,” Rodrigues said.

Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, is sponsoring a similar bill (SB 318) in the Senate.

The proposal is backed by the Florida Petroleum Council, Associated Industries of Florida and the Florida Chamber of Commerce, which contend that fracking would be a boost to jobs and energy independence.

“It’s transformed America,” Dave Mica of the Florida Petroleum Council told the House panel. “It’s made us an energy-producing nation. It’s showing up in the prices your constituents pay at the pump.”

“Will this create jobs in Florida? Of course it will,” said Brewster Bevis of Associated Industries of Florida.

But opponents said the bill is deceptive and that fracking would dirty the state’s groundwater and damage the health of people who live near drilling operations.

“At its core, it’s legislation designed to facilitate fracking in Florida,” AFL-CIO spokesman Rich Templin said.

Tallahassee immunologist Ron Saff said people living near fracking wells are getting sick.

“Sure, I think fracking will create more jobs … for grave-diggers, morticians and funeral directors,” Saf said.

But Rep. Jimmie Smith, R-Inverness, disagreed about risks associated with fracking.

“It’s been proven already that fracking is a safe process,” he said. “Now, are some of the chemicals dangerous? Absolutely. But so are so many of the things we use on a daily basis.”

The bill would also ban local governments from imposing fracking regulations, and critics warned against that as well, saying the provision would deprive local governments of self-determination.

“I really thought that was a cornerstone of conservative principle — the idea of smaller government and local control,” Templin said. “This legislation takes that away.”

But Rodrigues said he is working with the Florida Association of Counties and the Florida League of Cities to address their concerns with the bill. Florida has long had oil drilling in parts of Southwest Florida and the Panhandle.

Opponents of the bill expressed little confidence that the state Department of Environmental Protection would hold violators accountable.

But after public comment ended, Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, scolded the environmentalists for basing their stand on “emotion and opinion” rather than trying to make constructive changes to the bill.

“You can’t always stand against things,” Smith agreed. “Progress is going to happen.”

Margie Menzel|News Service of Florida|Nov 4, 2015

[The following is an excerpt from a “Sierra Club News” article by David Cullen.]

Why the bill is so bad:

The breadth of opposition to the bill reflects how bad it is. Not only does it preempt local communities from adopting or enforcing regulations – including zoning – that interfere with anything to do with oil and gas (not just fracking), it also uses a definition that excludes acid fracking techniques which are most likely to be used in Florida because of our limestone and dolomite geology. Therefore, the bill exempts acid treatments from any new regulation – there’s none in the bill and none will be allowed by local governments.

Also, citizens will not be able to find out what toxic chemicals are being injected into the ground because they can be hidden from them by way of the Trade Secrets Act (Chapter 688 of the Florida Statutes.) First responders and medical personnel will not have the information either. (At the federal level, first responders and medical personnel can get trade secret information when dealing with employees injured on the job but there is no provision for that in HB 191 or in Chapter 688.)

Sponsor Rodrigues claims fracking won’t be permitted until a study called for in the bill is complete and any impacts on aquifers are addressed in rulemaking. But the bill does not link permitting to the study. Also, the study is limited to the same very narrow definition of “high-pressure well stimulation” that excludes acid treatments.

World’s Largest Floating Wind Farm Gets Green Light

Offshore wind has come a long way in recent years, in large part because of how heavily the UK has invested in the technology. But most of this development has been with conventional wind technology, which requires that the turbines be mounted to the seafloor or lakebed in relatively shallow water.

Floating turbines have been deployed, but so far only in small-scale projects, such as the one built and operated by the Fukushima Wind Offshore Consortium. But that could all change soon, now that Norway’s Statoil has been approved to build the first floating wind farm off the Scottish coast. It will be the UK’s first floating wind farm and the world’s largest to date, with five floating turbines producing 6 megawatts each in waters more than 328 feet deep.

The project, known as Hywind Scotland, will be located near Buchan Deep, approximately 15-18 miles off the coast of Peterhead in Aberdeen. The farm “could eventually generate 135 gigawatt-hours of electricity a year, enough to power nearly 20,000 homes,” reports

Statoil is touting its experience in installing and operating floating offshore oil and gas platforms as part of its credentials for the project. “Hywind has been designed as a slender cylinder structure, chosen as the most feasible and economical concept for a floating wind turbine,” says Statoil. The company developed and installed the world’s first floating full-scale wind turbine in 2009.

The turbines will be “attached to the seabed by a three-point mooring spread and anchoring system” and “are interconnected by cables, one of which exports electricity from the pilot farm to the shore at Peterhead,” explains The Guardian.

Floating turbines have many attractive benefits, according to Renewable Energy World:

A key advantage of using floating wind platforms is that they allow developers access to previously inaccessible waters where there is stronger yet less turbulent winds—helping to reduce the overall cost of wind energy.

Another benefit is that floating platforms can generally be commissioned and assembled at the quayside, without the need for heavy-lift jack up or dynamic positioning (DP) vessels, further reducing the cost and risk of deployment activities.

“Eliminating offshore lifting operations also provides for decreased weather window restrictions on installation,” says Craig Andrus, Senior VP—Europe at Principle Power.

The fact that foundations are not necessary with floating technology also means that piling activities and sea life disturbance can be minimized—greatly reducing negative environmental impacts. Moreover, reduced geotechnical requirements mean that core sampling is only needed to test the seabed ahead of appropriate anchor selection, as opposed to the necessity of core sampling at every pile site.

According to research from the Carbon Trust, floating wind turbines could reduce the price of offshore wind to less than $150 megawatt-hours (MWh), and larger projects such as Hywind may drop the price even lower to $130-145 MWh. The current average price is $172 MWh.

“Floating wind represents a new, significant and increasingly competitive renewable energy source,” Statoil’s executive vice president for new energy solutions, Irene Rummelhoff, told The Guardian. “Statoil’s objective with developing this pilot park is to demonstrate a commercial, utility-scale floating wind solution, to further increase the global market potential.”

“We are proud to develop this unique project in Scotland, in a region that has optimal wind conditions, a strong supply chain within oil and gas and supportive public policies,” she added.

You may have heard of Aberdeen in the news, as it is the proposed location of another wind farm: Aberdeen Bay Wind Farm. The project has been stalled for years because Donald Trump, who has a golf resort in Aberdeen, sued the Scottish government over its approval of the wind farm. Trump lost the appeal in June, but he has vowed to appeal before both the UK Supreme Court and the European Courts.

Here’s Statoil’s explanation of the Hywind Scotland concept:

Cole Mellino|November 3, 2015

This is how to stop oil drilling in the Amazon ‏

There is growing scientific consensus that, to avert climate chaos, we must leave at least 80% of all fossil fuels in the ground. Thus, Amazon Watch’s goal for the upcoming UN climate talks in Paris is to stop all new oil drilling in the Amazon!

Indigenous leaders from the Amazon have the solution – they are already protecting many of the most biodiverse places on Earth from oil drilling – and they are calling on all of us to stand with them as they risk their lives to make ending fossil fuel extraction in the Amazon a global priority.

The first step is to put the solution on to the global stage by accompanying indigenous leaders to deliver their call the most important climate conference ever in Paris.

Amazon Watch is working closely with indigenous leaders to defend their rights and ensure they make a profound impact in Paris. Unfortunately, it’s not just as simple as buying a ticket. These front line environmental and human rights defenders find their very lives and livelihoods threatened as governments and companies criminalize their actions to defend their forests and sacred lands.

We will make sure indigenous leaders are heard in Paris – both inside and outside the negotiations.

Together we will #KeepItInTheGround in the Amazon!

Leila Salazar-López |Executive Director||11/03/15

Florida Power and Light wants expensive boondoggle

Hold onto your wallets, because Florida Power and Light is about to rack up another giant bill that customers will end up paying for.

You may remember that FPL already got state approval to charge customers for up to $500 million that the company is investing in “fracking” (gas drilling) projects in Oklahoma and other states.

FPL also got state approval to charge customers for more than $241 million in “advanced recovery costs” for two more nuclear reactors at the company’s aging Turkey Point plant in Miami. The reactors have not been approved by regulators, and they might not ever get built. But thanks to a special guarantee, FPL customers will pay regardless.

Now comes news that FPL is trying to get customers to foot the bill for another expensive, dubious project – a new power plant near Lake Okeechobee that’s projected to cost a whopping $1.2-billion.

A billion here, a billion there, and we end up paying the costs every month for the rest of our lives. The price tags are so high, our children and our grandchildren will still be paying.

The kicker is that the power plant that FPL wants to build near Lake Okeechobee is not even necessary.  This project is an expensive boondoggle that should be voted down.

Before FPL builds the Okeechobee boondoggle, the company has to first get approval from the state’s Public Service Commission. The PSC is notoriously lenient and accommodating to the state’s utilities, so chances are good that it will rubber-stamp FPL’s massive new power plant project,  just as it rubber-stamped both the “advanced cost recovery” for the Miami nuclear power plant and the hundreds of millions of dollars for FPL to speculate on out-of-state fracking.

This is why we citizens need to make noise to stop this. We need to tell the PSC that enough is enough. The national association of utility experts – called the North American Electric Reliability Council  – has set a specific standard for how much overbuilding any utility should be allowed to do. Under that national standard, FPL would never get away with this project.

FPL is trying to lock in corporate profits by manipulating Florida’s arcane regulatory process, and we consumers end up as the losers. FPL continues to choose expensive options rather than more common sense, economical solutions, like serious energy efficiency efforts. Under state regulations, FPL makes a guaranteed 10 percent profit by building power plants, whether we need the plants or not. The company makes less money when people cut their electricity use by using more insulation, more energy efficient appliances and installing rooftop solar arrays to get power from the sun.

To shield its corporate profits, FPL has been sidelining energy efficiency efforts for years. Right now, FPL is among the corporate giants bankrolling a Constitutional amendment for the 2016 ballot that would crush independent companies who want to put affordable rooftop solar on Florida homes.

Instead, FPL wants to make sure that its corporate monopoly owns gas pipelines and gas power plants so they can sell us FPL power.

FPL’s corporate public relations professionals are trying to portray the Okeechobee plant as part of a greener, innovative energy future. It is true that the plant would burn natural gas, which burns cleaner than coal. But FPL’s public-relations spinners miss the real point: Florida’s greener, innovate future isn’t going to happen by building more big, expensive power plants.

David Guest|Managing Attorney|Florida office of Earthjustice

An unprecedented victory ‏


Today marks the biggest victory against the oil industry that we’ve ever been a part of.

Today the President heeded your calls and finally put an end to the Keystone XL pipeline.

And what’s more, he set a new precedent that all energy projects should follow for years to come.

The President said today that the Keystone XL pipeline should not be built because it would exacerbate our climate crisis. That may be the very first time such a decision has been made on this scale, by anyone…but it won’t be the last.

We all know the President has not always lived up to the standards we have set. But now when it comes to the Keystone XL pipeline, with no reservations, we can say he has. He’s stood with us against Big Oil and against a pipeline that many thought was inevitable just a couple years ago.

There will be time for picking at the details, for pushing the President to make the next important decision, to continue to protect our climate and communities.

Let’s celebrate a movement that has grown into a powerful force for change. Let’s celebrate the landowners along the pipeline route that stood up, came together, and fought back. Let’s celebrate the wonks who wrote countless reports to show anyone that would listen why rejecting this pipeline was a no brainer. Let’s celebrate the farmers and ranchers and Native American tribes and bird doggers and public commenters and petition signers and protesters and blockaders and everyone else who has come together and wouldn’t quit.

We’ve turned a new page today. Our vision of a safe climate future has become just a little bit more hopeful.

There is still so much more to do. But for now, we raise our glasses to you, valiant pipeline fighters. We won this round.

Steve, Elizabeth, David, Lorne, Matt, Hannah, Greg, Farhiya, and Alex|Oil Change International

Exxon’s Climate ‘Scandal’ Escalates As NY Attorney General Issues Subpoena

Seeking to find out exactly what Exxon knew and when the oil giant knew it, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has issued the corporation an 18-page subpoena seeking four decades of documents, research findings and communications related to climate change, according to news reports on Thursday.

InsideClimate News, one of two outlets whose investigative reporting spurred the inquiry, said the subpoena delivered late Wednesday “seeks documents from Exxon … related to its research into the causes and effects of climate change, to the integration of climate change findings into business decisions, to communications with the board of directors, and to marketing and advertising materials on climate change.”

According to the New York Times, which broke the news of Schneiderman’s probe on Thursday: “The focus includes the company’s activities dating to the late 1970s, including a period of at least a decade when Exxon Mobil funded groups that sought to undermine climate science. A major focus of the investigation is whether the company adequately warned investors about potential financial risks stemming from society’s need to limit fossil-fuel use.”

Following the reporting by InsideClimate News and the LA Times, presidential candidates, elected officials, climate leaders and advocacy groups have all called for investigations into Exxon’s corporate behavior.

“‘Exxon Knew’ just joined the category of truly serious scandals,” said co-founder Bill McKibben on Thursday. “Just as New York’s Teddy Roosevelt took on the Standard Oil Trust a century ago, New York’s attorney general has shown great courage in holding to account arguably the richest and most powerful company on Earth. We hope that other state attorney generals and the federal Department of Justice and the Securities Exchange Commission will show similar fortitude.”

Describing the subpoena development as “groundbreaking news,” Greenpeace executive director Annie Leonard echoed McKibbens’ call for other entities to follow suit. “The door is now open for the Department of Justice to initiate a federal investigation,” she said, “as people have repeatedly called for on different fronts.”

Now, at least, there’s little chance of this issue going away. “I went to jail a few weeks ago because I was worried this great reporting from InsideClimate News and the LA Times might disappear,” McKibben added, referring to his Oct. 15 act of civil disobedience at a Vermont gas station. “I’m not worried about that anymore.”

Deirdre Fulton|Common Dreams|November 6, 2015

Land Conservation

Miami-Dade Planning Advisory Board Denies Application to Build ‘Green City’ Beyond UDB

The Miami-Dade Planning Advisory Board unanimously rejected the Green City development’s application Monday to build beyond the urban development boundary.

Green City is a proposed development of over 11,000 residences and 3.5 million square feet of retail and public service space in West Kendall. In order to build, the developers would have first needed approval to extend past the urban development boundary, and to change the land’s zoning from agricultural to residential.

The urban development boundary is designed to keep urban sprawl from overtaking natural areas. Although outside the UDB, the Green City plans are within the urban expansion area, which is the land prioritized for development if the UDB must be expanded.

Celeste de Palma, Everglades policy associate with Audubon Florida, argued that building outside of the urban development line encroaches on the Everglades, and could be potentially harmful to the environment.

“We’re paying billions of dollars to do Everglades restoration because it would make this county, and actually this region, more resilient to sea level rise,” explained de Palma.

Denying the application “would ensure that our main economic asset, which is our environment, stays protected for longer,” she added.

Tropical Audubon Society submitted a letter signed by 30 community and environmental groups to the Planning Advisory Board in opposition to the UDB expansion.

Supporters of Green City argued that population growth necessitates building beyond the UDB.

Ann Pope, a consultant for Green City, asserted that the development could be done sustainably, and would encourage people to walk rather than drive. Pope said the West Kendall area is severely lacking employment opportunities and entertainment options for residents.

“We have no downtown, no real job centers, no sense of place, and no real identity,” Pope said.

About 30 West Kendall residents attended the meeting — some advocating for the development, some in opposition.

Julie Dick, Everglades Law Center attorney representing Tropical Audubon Society, said there is already enough land within the UDB to meet residential and commercial needs, and that “increasing urban sprawl is a real risk.”

Dick cited threats to water supply and endangered species living in the area, as well as concerns about worsening traffic congestion.

The Green City application would also change how frequently the UDB is expanded.

Garett Rowe, board member and planning supervisor at the Department of Regulatory and Economic Resources, said this change would “create a perpetual need for UDB expansions.”

Rowe spoke in accordance with the staff recommendation to deny the application, stating that there is currently enough land within the UDB to accommodate growth, and the Green City application does not provide enough information on how to meet residents’ transportation and public service needs.

The Planning Advisory Board voted unanimously to deny the Green City application, and to not pass it on to the Board of County Commissioners

Audrey Armitage|Nov 2, 2015

Air Quality

EPA announces plans to halt agricultural use of  chlorpyrifos.

We have some very good news to share. Last Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced plans to halt agricultural uses of the neurotoxic insecticide chlorpyrifos.

This is a huge win for children’s health.Tens of thousands of Pesticide Action Network (PAN) supporters spoke up about the harms of chlorpyrifos over the course of our campaign — and together, we made an important difference.

Between mounting public pressure, ever-stronger science, and legal action from PAN and our partners, EPA could simply no longer avoid taking action.

This ban will make a tremendous on-the-ground difference for public health.

Once the rule becomes final — and we’ll make sure it becomes final — children across the country will no longer have their intelligence undermined by this brain-harming chemical that today shows up in the air they breath, the water they drink and the food they eat.

Farmworkers and families in rural, agricultural communities will also be protected once this insecticide is out of the fields.

We know the pesticide industry (especially Dow, which manufactures chlorpyrifos) will be pushing back as EPA finalizes this rule. And we’ll be working to ensure the farmers who currently rely on chlorpyrifos get the support they need to put safer alternatives in place.

We’ll keep the pressure on to ensure our food and farming system is healthy for all.

Pesticide Action Network

EPA Study Finds Elevated Particulate Levels in Air on Train Platforms at Chicago Union Station

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today released an air quality study that documents elevated concentrations of particulate matter (PM2.5) in ambient air on train platforms at Union Station in Chicago. The concentration of PM2.5 in air on the train platforms was 23 – 96 percent higher than concentrations recorded on nearby streets on the days that monitoring was conducted last summer.  The study also found that the highest concentrations of PM2.5 occur during rush hours.  Higher particulate concentrations were found at the south platforms than at the north platforms, and particulate levels are highest near locomotives.

PM2.5 is a mixture of small particles (2.5 micrometers in diameter and smaller) and liquid droplets.   When inhaled, fine particles can reach deep into the lungs and may enter the bloodstream.   Inhaling PM2.5 can cause serious health effects – especially for young people, the elderly and those with respiratory diseases such as asthma. Diesel exhaust from locomotives also contains carbon monoxide, benzene, formaldehyde, nitrogen oxides and other harmful pollutants.

EPA studied air quality at Union Station over a three week period during June and July 2015.  Scientists used portable air monitors on publicly accessible platforms to measure concentrations of PM2.5 in the air at various times between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. EPA took similar measurements at street level near the station. EPA conducted 64 platform tests and 35 background tests.

EPA is discussing the results of the study with Metra, Amtrak and representatives of several buildings with ventilation systems that impact air quality at Union Station. Short-term options to improve air quality on the train platforms include optimizing the existing ventilation systems above Union Station and changing operational procedures. Long-term options include installation of additional ventilation systems and measures to reduce particulate emissions. 

More information on the Union Station air study can be found at:

Joshua Singer|,|November 5, 2015

 The new imperative in buildings, cleaner air!

A study just published by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has linked a building’s indoor air quality directly to its occupants’ cognitive function. Cognitive function is defined as the cerebral activities that lead to knowledge including acquiring information, reasoning, attention, memory and language.

The revolutionary finding of this study is that lowering indoor air levels of carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) improves human cognitive function. In other words: Cleaner air makes us smarter!

This amplifies the issue of CO2 as a pollutant to a new level. It brings the issue inside our homes, offices and schools. It creates a significant motivation to reduce indoor air pollution by reducing CO2 and VOC levels.

Impacts on competitive advantage, building owners, lawyers and smartphones

To this economist focused on 21st-century mega trends this study shouts out business and societal questions around “competitive advantage.” It suggest that a business with superior indoor air quality will have higher performing work associates. It suggests that a business with superior indoor air quality will be more effective in messaging, and winning, customers.

The study presents a radically new real estate value proposition. It suggests that buildings with superior indoor air quality will sell for more money and win higher leasing levels.

Modern high-rise office buildings image via Shutterstock.

Read more at ENN Affiliate TriplePundit.

Bill Roth|Triple Pundit|November 6, 2015


EPA: VW cheated on Audi, Porsche

Volkswagen Group not only cheated emissions regulations on diesel cars, but also installed a “defeat device”in some SUVs as well, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency alleged Monday.

The revelation raises questions about the breadth of the automaker’s response to the scandal since the EPA first accused the company of cheating on emissions regulations on diesel cars on Sept. 18. After the initial accusations, Volkswagen Group quickly admitted t hat it had flouted regulations on up to 11 million cars worldwide, such as certain versions of the Jetta, Passat, Golf and Beetle. The new allegation broadens the scandal to more than 10,000 new vehicles in the U.S.: the 3cylinder diesel engine versions of the 2014 Volkswagen Touareg, the 2015 Porsche Cayenne, and the 2016 Audi A6 Quattro, A7 Quattro, A8, A8L, and Q5.

The German automaker is a small player in the U.S. auto market, so the worldwide figure could be much higher. The additional vehicles could expose the automaker to more than $375 million in Clean Air Act penalties — on top of the $18 billion in penalties the company could incur from diesel car violations.

“We have clear evidence of these additional violations and we thought it was important to put Volkswagen on notice and to inform the public,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.

EPA officials said they discovered the additional cheating while testing Volkswagen’s vehicles. They have found nothing similar while conducting tests of other companies.

Volkswagen engineers took a sneaky approach when fitting these vehicles with the “defeat device” software, the EPA alleged.

When the vehicles are undergoing federal emissions tests, software activates a “temperature conditioning mode” to fool regulators, Giles said.

“At exactly one second after the completion” of those tests, Giles said, the vehicles flip back into “normal mode” and continue emitting nitrogen oxides at high levels.

The company is already embroiled in a crisis that has spawned a U.S. Justice Department criminal probe, a cascade of consumer lawsuits, the EPA’s ongoing investigation and various probes in Germany.


Enter the age of electric buses

Electric Bus

There’s plenty of movement on electric buses in Florida. In October, the mayor of Miami-Dade County, which operates of the state’s largest bus fleet, vowed to convert most if not all of it to electric while Sierra Club leaders looked on.

Two weeks later, 35 Sierra Club members and supporters with stickers demanded electric buses at Pinellas County’s transit board meeting and won a commitment to evaluate them in the next six months.

You’ve seen electric cars, Now get ready for the age of all-electric buses. No smelly diesel fuel. No noise. No emissions. It’s not a vision. It’s here.

 Read more…


Shocking Photos of Green Sea Turtle Killed by Ingesting Plastics and Other Marine Litter

A green sea turtle was found dead on a beach in Sai Kung, Hong Kong, with its stomach and intestines filled with plastic and other marine debris, underscoring the growing crisis of ocean pollution.

The greatest threat to green sea turtles, which are endangered, is the commercial harvesting of their eggs, poaching and bycatch (unintentional capture from fishing).

However, this recent incident in Hong Kong highlights the disturbing fact that human-caused trash is a growing threat to aquatic life. As the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) told the Hong Kong Free Press, this is the first time that a green sea turtle in Hong Kong has been found dead from ingesting marine litter.

According to Hong Kong newspaper Stand News, the turtle was found by a local woman named Mandy Wong, who immediately notified the Agricultural, Fisheries and Conservation Department upon discovery. When she returned to the site the next day, she was surprised to find that the turtle’s body had been torn apart (perhaps by a dog) with the turtle’s stomach and intestines filled with trash.

Dee Hwa Chong, senior fish researcher at the Ichthyological Society of Hong Kong, told Chinese newspaper Ming Pao that the turtle had died from ingesting plastic litter that can tear apart its digestive tract and block its intestines, preventing the turtle from taking in food.

The WWF’s Coastal Watch conducted a comprehensive survey on marine litter on coastal habitats in Hong Kong from July 2014 and May 2015, and concluded that plastic trash is a severe threat to all marine ecosystems.

“During all of the surveys, we observed various organisms entangled in debris which caused injury or death, like ‘ghost nets’ (fishing nets which have been cast adrift). We also found fish bite marks on pieces of plastic litter,” said Patrick Yeung, Coastal Watch project manager. “The pollutants absorbed by marine animals will potentially bioaccumulate along the food chain, which will eventually damage the marine ecosystem, affect fishery resources and human health. It is imperative that we tackle the marine litter problem at its source immediately.”

Green turtles are a protected species in Hong Kong and listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. According to, the current population of nesting females is estimated to be between 85,000 and 90,000.

It’s clear that we must reduce our plastic footprint as this pollution chokes the entire marine food chain, from plankton to much larger creatures.

Roughly 8 million tons of plastic is dumped into the world’s oceans every year, and according to a recent study, 60 percent of this waste comes from just five countries: China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. As these economies continue to grow and demand more plastic goods, it’s projected that plastic consumption in Asia will increase by an astonishing 80 percent to surpass 200 million tons by 2025.

Last week, EcoWatch reported that a dead sperm whale was found off the coast of Taiwan with vast quantities of plastic bags and fishing nets filling its stomach.

Lorraine Chow|November 2, 2015

[Please, let’s recycle responsibly.]

Scuba Divers’ Haunting Photos Show Devastating Impact of Ocean Trash on Marine Life

Many of us know about the staggering levels of ocean pollution, but not all of us have seen a giant sponge sliced through by fishing line or have tugged back armfuls of trash lurking deep underwater.

Now, through a striking photo campaign, Beneath The Waves, from the Project AWARE Foundation—a global community of scuba divers who are working toward trash-free oceans—we get to see how our oceans are treated like trash dumps up close and personal, and why action must be taken immediately.

For the past month, divers from around the world have been uploading photos of marine debris onto Twitter,  Instagram and Project AWARE’s website to bring attention and urge for solutions to this transnational issue.

Why scuba divers? Well, few people know the scourge of ocean pollution better than they do.

“We’re citizen scientists, educators, philanthropists and advocates. We’re united together under a common passion, respect and desire to protect our ocean,” Project AWARE said in a statement from the campaign.

“Divers see firsthand the devastating impact rubbish can cause on ocean wildlife,” the foundation continued. “With more than 1 in 10 species affected by marine debris threatened with extinction, our actions to protect are more urgently needed than ever before.”

In the photos below, divers share their unique and haunting view of underwater life affected by pollution. Some of the most devastating photos are of marine life such as whales, rays and crabs trapped in discarded fishing line, bottles and other debris.

Removing “mooring lines” tied to coral by inconsiderate boats at Soyak Island. Photo credit: Project AWARE Foundation

Grey Whale … almost got free. Photo credit: Project AWARE Foundation

Juvenile Green turtle found in a ghost net on a beach, Alphonse Island, Seychelles. Photo credit: Project AWARE Foundation

Divers are taking action through #DiveAgainstDebris. Photo credit: Project AWARE Foundation

Dead Green turtle, caught in the netting of a Fish Aggregating Device (FAD), Alphonse Island, Seychelles. Photo credit: Project AWARE Foundation

The beach at Chirebon, Indonesia. Photo credit: Project Aware

Dive Downbelow, Richard Swann. Photo credit: Project AWARE Foundation

This octopus had claimed this bottle of beer and PVC pipe as refuge. I just couldn’t convince him to move out and find a more natural environment. Photo credit: Project AWARE Foundation

Entangled spider crab. Photo credit: Project AWARE Foundation

Look Close. The Fishing line is still hanging there and sliced the giant sponge. Photo credit: Project AWARE Foundation


The efforts from this 30-day campaign led to the second Our Ocean 2015 conference, which was held in Chile Oct. 5-6, in which topics such as illegal fishing, marine plastic pollution, ocean acidification and climate change were discussed. The first conference was held last June in Washington, DC, as an initiative of Secretary of State John Kerry.

You can see more photos of marine debris as well as upload your own at this link here. You can also participate on social media using the hashtag #BeneathTheWaves.

Lorraine Chow|October 15, 2015

Phosphate giant Mosaic agrees to pay nearly $2 billion over mishandling of hazardous waste

Mosaic Fertilizer, the world’s largest phosphate mining company, has agreed to pay nearly $2 billion to settle a federal lawsuit over hazardous waste and to clean up operations at six Florida sites and two in Louisiana, the Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday.

“The 60 billion pounds of hazardous waste addressed in this case is the largest amount ever covered by a federal or state . . . settlement and will ensure that wastewater at Mosaic’s facilities is properly managed and does not pose a threat to groundwater resources,” the EPA said.

The EPA had accused Mosaic of improper storage and disposal of waste from the production of phosphoric and sulfuric acids, key components of fertilizers, at Mosaic’s facilities in Bartow, New Wales, Mulberry, Riverview, South Pierce and Green Bay in Florida, as well as two sites in Louisiana.

The EPA said it had discovered Mosaic employees were mixing highly corrosive substances from its fertilizer operations with the solid waste and wastewater from mineral processing, in violation of federal and state hazardous waste laws.

“This case is a major victory for clean water, public health and communities across Florida and Louisiana,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.

Mosaic CEO Joc O’Rourke said the company is “pleased to be bringing this matter to a close” and pledged to be a good environmental steward. The Minnesota-based company was formed in 2004 by a merger of IMC Global with the crop nutrition division of Cargill.

Mosaic officials in Florida said the EPA investigation and negotiations for a settlement have been going on for eight years over practices that everyone in the phosphate industry was doing as well.

The settlement with the EPA, the Justice Department, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality will have no impact on Mosaic’s continued employment or on its future mining expansion plans in DeSoto, Hardee and Manatee counties, they said.

Thursday’s settlement will become final upon approval by the court. The first step in this process is a 30-day public comment period, which is now open, said Julia Valentine, an EPA spokeswoman.

First discovered by an Army Corps of Engineers captain in 1881, Florida’s phosphate deposits today are the basis of an $85 billion industry that supplies three-fourths of the phosphate used in the United States. Although phosphate mining provides a major financial boon to the small communities in which the mines are located, it also leaves behind a major environmental mess.

The miners use a dragline with a bucket the size of a truck to scoop up the top 30 feet of earth and dump it to the side of the mine. Then the dragline scoops out the underlying section of earth, which contains phosphate rocks mixed with clay and sand.

The bucket dumps this in a pit where high-pressure water guns create a slurry that can be pumped to a plant up to 10 miles away.

At the plant, the phosphate is separated from the sand and clay. The clay slurry is pumped to a settling pond, and the phosphate is sent to a chemical processing plant where it is converted for use in fertilizer and other products. The sand is sent back to the mine site to fill in the hole after all the phosphate is removed.

A byproduct, called phosphogypsum, is slightly radioactive so it cannot be easily disposed. The only thing the miners can do with it is stack it into mountainous piles next to the plant. Florida is such a flat state that the 150-foot-tall “gyp stacks” are usually the highest point in the landscape for miles around. They contain large pools of highly acidic wastewater on top.

“Mining and mineral processing facilities generate more toxic and hazardous waste than any other industrial sector,” Giles said. “Reducing environmental impacts from large fertilizer manufacturers operations is a national priority for EPA.”

Mosaic’s production of pollution is so great that in 2012, the Southwest Florida Water Management District granted the company a permit to pump up to 70 million gallons of water a day out of the ground for the next 20 years. Mosaic is using some of that water to dilute the pollution it dumps into area creeks and streams so it won’t violate state regulations.

The EPA investigation was prompted by a 2003 incident in which the Piney Point phosphate plant, near the southern end of the Sunshine Skyway bridge, leaked some of waste from atop its gyp stack into the edge of Tampa Bay after its owners walked away.

That prompted EPA to launch a national review of phosphate mining facilities, Valentine said. That’s how inspectors found workers were mixing the corrosive substances from the fertilizer operations with the phosphogypsum and wastewater from the mineral processing, she said.

That mixing was something everyone in the industry did, according to Richard Ghent of Mosaic’s Florida operations. The EPA said that violated both state and federal law and put groundwater at risk. It has previously gotten settlements from two other companies, one of which, CF Industries, has since been taken over by Mosaic.

Despite the mishandling of the waste, Debra Waters, Mosaic’s director of environmental regulatory affairs in Florida, said the company has seen no change in the area’s groundwater, which EPA officials said was correct.

The fact that the negotiations have been going on for so many years, Waters said, “should indicate that there’s no imminent threat.”

The company will invest at least $170 million at its fertilizer manufacturing facilities to keep those substances separate from now on. Mosaic will also put money aside for the safe future closure of the gypsum stacks using a $630 million trust fund it is creating under the settlement. That money will be invested until it reaches $1.8 billion, which will pay for the closures.

The South Pierce and Green Bay plants, both in Polk County, will soon shut down, with the closure of the gyp stacks already underway, Waters said.

Mosaic will also pay a $5 million civil penalty to the federal government, a $1.55 million penalty to the state of Louisiana and $1.45 million to Florida, and it will be required to spend $2.2 million on local environmental projects to make up for what it has done.

Mosaic, which runs television ads touting its importance in growing crops to feed the world, has donated to both the Florida Republican and Democratic parties, and to state lawmakers such as Rep. Dana Young, Rep. Jake Raburn and Rep. Ben Albritton.

The company has previously run afoul of the EPA on its air pollution standards. Meanwhile, though, it was rated one of the top 50 employers in America based on salary and job satisfaction. Mosaic employs about 1,200 people in Hillsborough County alone.

CRAIG PITTMAN|Staff Writer|Tampa Bay Times|October 1, 2015|Times staff writer Katie Mettler contributed to this report.


Is It Time to Publicly Shame Water Wasters?

A lot of people become environmentalists out of the goodness of their hearts, but not everyone has a natural inclination to go green. For those who don’t feel a personal responsibility to the planet, perhaps some public shaming is in order?

Amidst a drought crisis that shows no signs of stopping, that’s precisely what Los Angeles is considering. In addition to instituting loftier fines for water-wasters, local officials are giving serious consideration to starting to publish a list of the city’s worst conservationists in order to embarrass them into reducing their water use.

LA wouldn’t be the first to try this scheme. Bronson Mack, a water manager in Nevada told the Guardian that this approach has shown success in his state. He referred to the resulting list as a “who’s who of influential people” in the region, people who tend to assume that the rules – even if just unwritten social rules – don’t apply to them.

It only makes sense that the rich and powerful are wasting the most water. They are the people who can afford to pay the highest water bills, have the largest lawns to water, etc. This problem is even more prominent in Los Angeles where celebrity culture dominates. Actors, musicians and CEOs like to flaunt their wealth and don’t give much thought to how much water their compounds are running through, until that detail starts getting scrutinized by the press.

For what it’s worth, Felicia Marcus, the chairperson of California’s water board has said she has no objections to local municipalities adopting shame tactics. A couple of counties in northern California have already tried releasing the names of residents who exceed recommended water use, leaving the more recognizable names on that list to answer to the public.

What about privacy rights, though? Not being a conservationist isn’t a crime, so what business does the government have in singling out individuals? Last month, the media jumped on a man now referred to as the “Wet Prince of Bel Air,” a guy who used nearly 12 million gallons of water in a year, an amount that should have covered nearly 100 homes. Though this particular offender remained anonymous, given the internet’s angry response, it’s more than likely that he would have received backlash if his name or address were published.

Officials in Nevada said they gave offenders a one-month warning that they were about to be outed for their lack of conservation. Whether to avoid public ridicule or out of genuine guilt, a lot of the people soon-to-be on the list then contacted authorities to cooperate in developing a more efficient water use plan for their homes. If drought shaming is to move forward, it seems appropriate to first give people a chance to mend their ways.

One big problem with the proposed shaming is that it appears to focus on private residents rather than businesses. Even some of the most water reckless mansions don’t come close to the water use by major companies. With agriculture alone accounting for 80 percent of the water used in the state, we’re kidding ourselves if we say individuals are causing the bulk of the drought problem. Targeting people seems pointlessly vindictive if California is going to give commercial properties a pass on the same sort of infractions.

Kevin Mathews|November 2, 2015

Big crack opens in Wyo. thanks to wet spring

A rainy spring in central Wyoming has left a gaping hole in the Earth, courtesy of Mother Nature and gravity.

“The Crack,” as it’s being called, opened up at the end of September. Hunting guides scouting for antelope discovered the massive tear in the ground, which is hundreds of yards long and at least 100 feet deep in some places.

Employees of SNS Outfitter & Guides service took photos of their discovery and then got busy with hunting season. When they came up for air last week, they posted the photos on the company’s Facebook page.

Experts say water running through the hillside loosened the dirt, and gravity did the rest. It poses no danger to people or structures — it’s on state-owned land in the middle of a private cattle ranch.

The wet spring in Wyoming meant more water than usual saturated the ground. There’s no oil drilling, fracking or other development occurring for more than 20 miles in any direction, and experts say it appears simple physics is responsible: The dirt got wet and slid.


Martin County commissioners to consider $31M septic-to-sewer switch

Martin County commissioners Tuesday will consider a $30.7 million project to help stop septic system sewage from polluting the St. Lucie River, the Indian River Lagoon and reefs off the St. Lucie Inlet.

The project would switch 2,145 residences in three areas — Old Palm City, the Golden Gate neighborhood and North River Shores — from septic systems to nonpolluting sewer systems.

Two of the areas — Old Palm City and Golden Gate — also were the focus of a septic study by researchers from Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Fort Pierce.

Brian Lapointe, a Harbor Branch research professor, said researchers collected algae from ditches, the river and offshore reefs and used chemical properties known as “tracers” to determine it was fed by nitrates and phosphates in sewage from septic systems.

Sewage from septic tanks is “a significant contributor, in fact a primary contributor, to nutrients damaging the estuary and the reefs offshore,” Lapointe said.

Septic tanks are not necessarily “the largest single source” of pollution, he later said. “There can be multiple ‘primary sources’ of pollution: agriculture, fertilizers, sewage, industrial discharges, atmospheric deposition, etc.”


Like some other Treasure Coast environmentalists, Gary Goforth, a Stuart environmental engineer, contends periodic Lake Okeechobee discharges account for the lion’s share of contaminants in the St. Lucie.

Between 2002 and 2013, lake discharges contributed an average of 542,915 pounds of nitrogen and 58,233 pounds of phosphorus a year to the estuary, Goforth said.

The 33.7 billion gallons of water discharged from Lake O between Jan. 16 and May 27 this year dumped 404,400 pounds of nitrogen, 42,900 pounds of phosphorus and 4.5 million tons of sediment in the St. Lucie, he said.

The lake contributes large amounts of nutrients some years, Lapointe agreed. In fact, a study he led during massive discharges in 2004 and 2005 called water from Lake O “the 800-pound gorilla in the room” as far as causing pollution in the estuaries.


The county’s proposed septic-to-sewer project would include 1,078 residences in Old Palm City and 775 in Golden Gate, neighborhoods deemed “hot spots” of septic pollution, as well as 292 in North River Shores, which was chosen because about 450 homes there already have been switched. The county also expects to get a $1.5 million grant from the state Department of Environmental Protection to help with the switch in North River Shores.

Homeowners will be able to switch from septic tanks to a vacuum collection sewer system.

How it works: Wastewater from a group of homes flows by gravity to a collection tank; the waste is sucked by vacuum from the tank to a sewage treatment plant. A generator at the plant would make sure the flow didn’t stop during power outages.

Costs for the vacuum system range from around $12,300 to about $14,300 per home; costs for a traditional gravity-fed sewer system would range from about $19,300 to more than $21,000.

Under the project being considered by commissioners, homeowners would pay 70 percent of the cost and the county would pay 30 percent, said John Polley, the county’s utilities and solid waste director.

Making the switch would be mandatory, Polley said, because part of the county’s share of the cost would come from fees generated by the new customers, “and without new customers there would be no revenue.”

Tyler Treadway|TCPalm|Oct. 30, 2015

[I am happy that Broward County saw fit to switch from septic to sewer systems in my area. Over the next 30 years, the cost will be recouped in septic tank cleaning alone, without considering drainfield maintenance, or replacement. By far, the largest factor is there is no more environmental damage from seepage, plus I was able to retain two 750 gallon tanks to capture rainwater for irrigation.]

Coming Clean: Maine Points the Way to a Stronger Democracy ‏

Maine Points the Way to a Stronger Democracy

Between the fractious debates and the perpetual polling, you might think all eyes are glued on November 2016 — and an election that’s still a year away. But there was an election this year, and an important outcome in one state points to how we can improve elections in 2016 and beyond.

Mainers set an example for the rest of the country by passing an accountable elections referendum. The new law does just what it sounds like — holds politicians accountable to voters instead of wealthy special interests. It strengthens the state’s Clean Elections Fund, increases fines and penalties for those who break election laws, and requires that political ads list the top funders who paid for them.

Why are reforms like this so important to the Sierra Club? Because a healthy democracy is essential to a healthy environment. Otherwise, wealthy individuals and corporations rooted in polluting industries will continue to flood our political system with big money — spending unprecedented amounts on campaign contributions to politicians with dismal records on votes for clean energy and climate action.

The Sierra Club’s Maine Chapter has been at the forefront of this fight for democracy since at least 1996, when Maine voters passed the nation’s first clean elections law. Since then, Mainers who previously could not have afforded to run for office and win have succeeded against the handpicked candidates of deep-pocketed special interests. And with the playing field leveled between big polluters and everyone else, Maine passed important environmental legislation such as the Maine Climate Change Act in 2003 and the Kid-Safe Products Law in 2008 — proof that good elections can lead to better policy.

To help get the referendum passed, the Sierra Club engaged our members and supporters (we have over 15,000 of them in Maine), worked hard to educate voters on the connection between clean elections and a clean environment, leveraged our voice through letters to the editors in local newspapers, and most important, turned out voters on Election Day.

For all that, though, we absolutely could not have succeeded without our partners in the Democracy Initiative. Together we formed an unbeatable coalition of workers, teachers, community leaders, environmentalists, and other democracy-loving Mainers to show what’s possible when we join forces.

And you can bet we aren’t going to stop with the Pine Tree State. The Sierra Club will continue working with our allies in the Democracy Initiative to take the fight for better elections to cities and other states around the country. Learn more and find out how to get involved at

Michael Brune, Sierra Club|11/04/15

9 Women Who Are Saving the Planet

What happens when a group of intelligent, educated, optimistic and driven women put their talents to work? They save the planet, that’s what.

Meet the women who are at the forefront of the animal rights and environmental movements, changing the world for the better every single day like a girl a boss.

1. Jane Goodall

In the early 60s when the idea of a woman’s career was to have a secretary job, Jane Goodall packed her things and moved to a tent in Africa to observe chimpanzees in the wild. She had no college degree or credentials but she was committed and in just a few months she was able to make new findings that changed anthropology. She also bonded deeply with the primates to which she would dedicate most of her life.

Today, at 81-years-old, Goodall travels 300 days out of the year doing talks and speeches to spread her message about the importance of conservation and emphasizing personal responsibility to get others to care and do their part. Meanwhile, her nonprofit, the Jane Goodall Institute, which she founded in the 70s, has 19 offices worldwide and works nonstop to conserve and protect natural habitats all over the world.

2. The Black Mambas

A group of 26 young local women called The Black Mambas patrol Greater Kruger national park in Africa to protect the wildlife living there from poachers.

In a place where there was a clear divide between the rich trophy hunters in the park and the poverty outside its boundaries, the women got the community surrounding the park involved in conservation instead of having to contribute to poaching to earn enough to put food on the table.

It may sound like a dangerous job but the women are up to it.

“I am a lady, I am going to have a baby. I want my baby to see a rhino, that’s why I am protecting it,” said Leitah Michabela who’s been a Black Mamba the last two years. “Lots of people said, how can you work in the bush when you are a lady? But I can do anything I want.”

3. Dr. Sylvia Earle

Oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle is also known as ‘Her Deepness’ for her accomplishment holding the deepest-dive record for her 1250-foot free dive. The Library of Congress calls her ‘A Living Legend’ but her actual current job title is National Geographic Explorer in Residence.

Earle has spent over 60,000 hours underwater, spoken before Congress about defending our oceans and even though she was named chief scientist for NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) in 1990, she abdicated the title after one meeting so she could get more accomplished as a private citizen.

The documentary ‘Mission Blue’ on Netflix chronicles her story and her desire to make everyone understand that “the ocean is dying. No ocean, no life. No ocean, no us.”

4. Gabriella Cowperwaith

Gabriela Cowperwaith doesn’t consider herself an animal activist but through her work directing ‘Blackfish’ she has unintentionally led one of the biggest animal rights campaigns of the last five years.

The documentary filmmaker has directed, produced and written a number of movies in her 12 year career and started her work with ‘Blackfish’ “as a mother who had just taken her kids to SeaWorld” and was curious on why the whales were showing violent behavior towards their trainers.

Her film exposed the cruelty inflicted upon the whales by the theme park and since its release in 2013, SeaWorld’s attendance has plummeted, along with its stock, revenue and public image. Still, Cowperwaith says her goal is never to change people’s minds.

“I trust that once audiences are armed with the truth, they will make the best decisions by themselves and their families,” she told CNN.

5. Cindy Lowry

Cindy Lowry has dedicated more than 25 years as an environmental activist to protecting and saving marine wildlife and the marine environment. She is most known for being the driving force in saving the lives of three whales that got caught in the Alaskan ice in 1988.

The ordeal, which recently was retold in the feature film ‘Big Miracle’ with Drew Barrymore playing Lowry, changed the then executive director of Greenpeace in Alaska’s life and put her in the national spotlight.

“There were these two holes [in the ice] and even the larger of the two was only just large enough for two [of the three] whales to breathe,” Lowry recalled to Discovery News. “[We] walked over there and my immediate thought was, ‘God, this is when you wish you were Superman and could just go in and scoop them out of there.’”

In a time before smart phones when a picture of the whales could have gone viral, Lowry had to call everyone from the Governor’s office to the U.S. Coast Guard and National Guard to get someone to cut the ice so the whales could swim back into the ocean.

After the whales were set free, one of them came up to her and blew on her face as a form of thank you. She still thinks of those whales but today Lowry, a self proclaimed eternal optimist, works to protect marine ecosystems from the installation of offshore developments for renewable energy, as well as oil and gas.”

6. Stella McCartney

When you grow up as the child of Paul McCartney and Linda Eastman McCartney, it’s no surprise you’ll be a vegetarian and an animal lover.

The now super successful fashion designer grew up in an organic farm in Sussex with sheep, horses and a vegetable garden. She was raised “to respect animals and to be aware of nature, to understand that we share this planet with other creatures” as she told in a 2009 interview with The Guardian, and she kept those values in adulthood.

Leather and fur are completely verboten at the Stella McCartney brand, making it a favorite of eco-conscious celebrities like Anne Hath[a]way. The brand’s boutiques are eco-friendly, with wood flooring taken from sustainably managed forests, repurposed vintage furniture, and powered by renewable energy sources.

McCartney also worked with her family to launch the Meatless Monday initiative that encourages meat eaters and specially schools to ditch the meat once a week for the environment.

7. Kinessa Johnson

Poachers may try to illegally hunt wildlife, specially rhinos, but Kinessa Johnson is making their plans a lot harder. The Afghanistan veteran from Yelm, Wash., hunts poachers before they can strike and kill animals.

Her hunting is not violent, though. Even though she is very much armed, as her Instagram account shows, her work with Veterans Empowered to Protect African Wildlife (VEPAW) consists or spotting and detaining poachers, not hurting them. She is also part of a group that trains other park rangers to catch and detain the wildlife killers.

8. Carol Buckley

Carol Buckley has been working with elephants in captivity for more than 30 years.

As the co-founder of The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, the first natural habitat refuge for sick, old and needy elephants, she has saved 24 elephants. As the president and CEO of Elephant Aid International, she works with governmental agencies and private organizations to develop stronger regulations protecting the welfare of elephants in captivity.

Since 2013 Buckley has been traveling to Asia installing chain free fences that allow elephants to roam instead of living their lives in captivity.

“There’s an incredible shift in their posture and in their eyes when they go chain-free,” Buckley told Care2 earlier this year. “Most of them are present during construction so they know what’s going on. One of the ways they survive in chains is that they check out. They’re not there mentally but when they’re freed they lighten up and their heads lift up higher. They play!”

9. Suzy Amis Cameron

Suzy Amis Cameron is all about decreasing our carbon footprint to save the environment.

“For 25 years, I’ve dedicated myself to learning all I can about the environment and its health. The more I discover, the more I realize that my health and actions are intimately, intricately, intertwined with the biosphere,” she explains in her website. “This has led me to want to do everything in my power to understand and champion sustainable values, from what we wear, to how we teach our children, to the food we eat.”

The environmental advocate is vegan and got her very famous husband, James Cameron, to make the diet switch as well. Nine years ago, she cofounded MUSE School in California, the first school in the country to have a 100 percent plant-based lunch program and that puts great emphasis on environmental consciousness.

In New Zealand, she’s founded Food Forest Organics, a vegan marketplace and cafe. In the U.S. she started the Red Carpet Green Dress challenge that urges designers to create eco-friendly fashion.

Natalia Lima|November 5, 2015


Environmental Links

SFAS International Wildlife News Audubon Advocate Audubon Restore Eco-Voice South Florida Wildlife Care Center Sawgrass Nature Center & Wildlife Hospital The Turtle Hospital The Marathon Wild Bird Center Climate change info Audubon’s Coastal Strand Audubon of Florida News Blog Bioenergy News Climate Progress – climate science, politics and solutions Collins Center for Public Policy Comprehensive Everglades Restoration News EcoWatch – feeds from the WaterKeeper Alliance Everglades Foundation – press releases Everglades Hub Fort Myers News – Press Green Front Pages from Florida Newspapers Herald Tribune Newspapers –  Environmental News Naples Daily News  – Environmental News National Public Radio Eco-News Riverwatch News about the Caloosahatchee Sierra Club Sierra Club Florida South Florida Watershed  Journal South Florida Water Management District Union of Concerned Scientists – news Yahoo News Search: Everglades NASA Climate Information American Littorial Society log NASA Climate Information Sun Newspapers – Lake Okeechobee News Everglades City News  – Mullet Wrapper

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ConsRep 1511 A

Journey with me to a true commitment to our environment. Journey with me to the serenity of leaving to our children a planet in equilibrium. Paul Tsongas


Slow down for manatees migrating to warmer waters

With winter’s chill approaching, Florida manatees are on the move. Manatees cannot tolerate cold water and may begin to seek warmer water when temperatures start to drop below 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Some travel hundreds of miles to reach a warmer destination. Because of the annual migration, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is reminding boat and personal watercraft operators that it is important to slow down to avoid manatees, particularly in shallow areas.

Manatees can be difficult to see as they often swim and rest just below the water’s surface. Boaters wearing polarized sunglasses are more likely to spot manatees underwater.

November is Manatee Awareness Month. There is no better time to plan a visit to observe Florida’s beloved manatees. Find these places by going to and clicking the link under the “Where can I See Manatees?” box.

“Watching these large plant-eating mammals swim slowly through Florida waters, often accompanied by their calves, is a special experience for residents and visitors to the state,” said Carol Knox, the FWC’s Imperiled Species Management section leader. “Boaters following posted speed zones for manatees migrating to warmer waters help conserve this iconic Florida species for future generations.”

Boaters should be aware that many seasonal manatee protection zones go into effect on Nov. 15 throughout the state. For information about manatee protection zones by county, including the seasonal changes, go to, and click on “Data and Maps.” At the bottom of that same page, there also is information on FWC Manatee COLD-weather changes to speed zones. FWC law enforcement officers will be on the water enforcing these seasonal rules to protect manatees in busy boating areas.

People can report sightings of injured, sick or dead manatees to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922, #FWC and *FWC on a cell phone, or with a text to

The purchase of a Florida manatee license plate at or a manatee decal from tax collectors’ offices in Florida is another way to help manatees. The license plate and decal support the FWC manatee program, including research, rescue, rehabilitation, conservation, management and education efforts.

Learn more about Florida manatees at Click on “Manatee Habitat” to discover what plants they eat when inhabiting Florida’s rivers, bays, canals, estuaries and coastal areas. While on that page, click on “Boat, PWC & Paddle-sport Operators.” Also check out “A Boater’s guide to living with Florida Manatees” and “Guidelines for successful manatee watching in Florida.”

Of Interest to All

The Hunter Conservationist Paradox

This past week was Theodore Roosevelt’s 157th birthday, and never has a former president looked so good. The occasion serves as a great reminder of what he stood for and what we still can do to honor his conservation legacy today. A naturalist with a deep love for America’s natural beauty and resources, TR embraced conservation ideals throughout his administration. He protected 230 million acres of land and created 150 national forests, the first 51 federal bird reservations, five national parks and the first four national game preserves. The very first National Wildlife Refuge he established, Pelican Island, is in Vero Beach.

Theodore Roosevelt was also a hunter, and it is his legacy as a sportsman-naturalist that serves as the best example of one of the great (and often misunderstood) paradoxes of wildlife conservation: Those with a passion for the hunt also have a passion to protect.

Though many Floridians may be unfamiliar with hunting, it is a critical component of wildlife conservation in the Sunshine State. In Florida, nearly a quarter of a million people hunt each year, and their numbers are growing. Even more consider themselves hunters but do not hunt every year. From 2006 to 2012, the number of hunters increased 2.5 percent in Florida, as more women, men, young people and those interested in eating locally-sourced organic meat swelled their ranks.

And it is these hunter conservationists who are underwriting and supporting politically a large part of wildlife conservation in Florida and the nation. Enjoying wildlife and its habitat is free to all, but the programs providing habitat conservation are not. Florida hunters specifically pay for managing wildlife through the licenses and permits they buy. For instance, all adult waterfowl hunters purchase a federal duck stamp. It’s a program the hunters helped create in the 1930s. Considered one of the best conservation tools ever, 98 percent of the duck stamp’s purchase price goes to acquire and protect wetland habitat not just in Florida, but throughout North America for migratory birds and other wildlife. Hikers, paddlers, campers and all who love wildlife benefit from the millions in conservation dollars generated by hunters.

So too, hunters were some of America’s first conservation activists. Not only Theodore Roosevelt, but Aldo Leopold, Ding Darling and George Bird Grinnell — all hunters — went on respectively to form the Boone and Crockett Club, The Wilderness Society, the National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. Today, in the tradition of TR, many sportsmen and women contribute their time, money and effort to conservation organizations such as Ducks Unlimited, National Wild Turkey Federation, Quail Forever and others. These organizations are dedicated to on-the-ground projects and advocacy that benefits wildlife, including purchasing lands for a wide array of species beyond animals that are hunted. As TR said, “in a civilized and cultivated country, wild animals only continue to exist at all when preserved by sportsmen.”

Hunters are also our wildlife thermometers in the woods and fields. As essential partners in wildlife management, they spend a great deal of time outdoors, providing the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission important information on what is happening in the most remote parts of the state. Hunters report on the conditions of wildlife and habitat, game law violations and other threats to wildlife conservation, helping the agency protect and conserve the state’s natural resources.

Finally, hunting is the first and original organic and natural grocery store, offering locally-grown and harvested protein from the land. Think of it as nature’s Whole Foods. Health-conscious families value living off the land and the meat from game birds and deer, which carries no preservatives, antibiotics or growth hormones. As society becomes more removed from the source of our food, hunting connects us directly to what we eat and to the life and death cycles of animals.

In the spring of 1903, President Roosevelt made a cross country trip to Yosemite to sit around a campfire with John Muir, famous naturalist and founder of the Sierra Club. Many historians believe this meeting inspired the President’s aggressive approach to protecting American landscapes and wildlife treasures for future generations. John Muir was a critic of hunting. It is said that he and TR had spirited debates on the subject, but their common love for the natural world moved them beyond these differences to become the original architects of America’s conservation legacy.

We are so fortunate that John Muir recognized and accepted the hunter conservationist paradox so profoundly personified by Theodore Roosevelt. Today’s conservation community, both hunters and environmentalists alike, can learn a lot from the great example set by these two great men. We all need to be more willing to share a campfire with those who think differently about wildlife conservation, focusing on our common ground so future generations can enjoy a rich wildlife legacy. 

Brian Yablonski|Chairman|Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

USDA suppressing bee science?

Bee science


Earlier this week, a top researcher for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) filed a complaint alleging that the agency retaliated against him for his research on bee-harming neonicotinoid pesticides — and for blowing the whistle on USDA interference with his research.

Dr. Jonathan Lundgren has worked at USDA’s Agricultural Research Service lab in Brookings, South Dakota for 11 years. His peer-reviewed research on neonicotinoids (neonics), and their impact on pollinators, has been widely published and has received accolades from his contemporaries.

USDA, however, appears to be less pleased. The claim that Lundgren filed against USDA highlights examples of unusual agency behavior that slowed down his research and made it difficult for Lundgren and others in his lab to do their jobs.

When it comes to pollinators and pesticides, the stakes are high. Bees pollinate roughly one in three bites of food we eat, and they’ve been dying off at alarming rates for almost a decade — with independent studies pointing to neonics and other pesticides as a key factor in this trend. Still, corporations like Bayer and Syngenta routinely claim their lucrative neonic products are pollinator-safe. And these corporations have been known to heavily lobby decision makers.

This is a sticky situation for USDA. The agency is at the helm of the federal task force (along with EPA) charged with protecting honey bees and other pollinators. In this and all situations, USDA’s scientific integrity is critical.

The back story

In 2004, Dr. Lundgren was hired as a research scientist by USDA. As an entomologist, his research often looked at neonicotinoids and their impacts on beneficial insects, including pollinators like honey bees as well as important predatory insects that help keep pests in check.

His findings have provided important information on the benefits of biodiversity in farm ecosystems, and he’s looked closely at whether or not neonicotionid seed coatings provide real benefits in yield or profit for farmers. Lundgren’s research is independent and peer-reviewed — and in some cases, his conclusions haven’t matched up with the interests of the pesticide industry.

In March 2014, Lundgren served as a reviewer for a Center for Food Safety report on the lack of yield benefits associated with neonicotinoid seed coatings. In the same month, he gave an interview about his research on emerging RNAi biotechnology, and the Minneapolis Star Tribune published an article featuring his research on neonicotinoids.

Soon after, Lundgren’s employer strongly discouraged future contact with the media, even though his interviews had not broken any agency protocol. In his complaint against USDA, Lundgren also reported that he and other researchers in his lab began facing disproportionate hurdles from USDA higher-ups in routine processes like travel approval and grant submissions.

Dr. Lundgren filed a scientific integrity complaint in September 2014, describing these interferences with his research and the day-to-day operations of his laboratory and travel.  

In August 2015, less than a year after his scientific integrity complaint against the Agency, Lundgren was disciplined with a 14-day suspension. The justification for the suspension? Two distinct events, neither out of the ordinary according to norms at USDA — minor issues with travel paperwork and with an article submission to a journal.

This week’s whistleblower complaint, filed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility on Lundgren’s behalf, provides evidence that disciplinary action taken against him was in retaliation of his scientific integrity complaint.  

Not the first time

The news on Lundgren’s case just broke yesterday, and those of us outside the agency can’t know exactly what happened behind closed doors. But unfortunately, recent USDA history gives us reason to be concerned.

In July 2014, Dr. Jeffrey Pettis — formerly the lead scientist at the USDA’s bee research lab in Beltsville, Maryland — was demoted from his position. Leading U.S. beekeeping organizations were vocal in their concern over Pettis’s removal, as he had established himself as a strong advocate for beekeepers and “advanced research on honey bees like few others in the world can claim.” Pettis himself expressed that he had “strong reservations” about the change in leadership, but chose not to publicly challenge the changing of the guard.

And Pettis and Lundgren aren’t alone. This spring, ten USDA scientists spoke up, filing a petition calling on USDA to clean up its track record of ordering researchers to “retract studies, water down findings, remove their name from authorship and endure long indefinite delays in approving publication of papers that may be controversial.”

We need public eyes on USDA — and on all public agencies responsible for making critical regulatory decisions about pesticides, genetically engineered crops, and our food and farming system. Rigorous, independent science is the bedrock beneath sound regulatory decisions. Red flags about intimidation and harassment of USDA scientists should cause concern for all of us. It’s time for the agency to clean up its act.

Lex Horan|Midwest Organizer|Pesticide Action Network

Paradox underlies new South Florida water chief’s strategy

Peter Antonacci says his main goal is to “get projects done” — to chip away at billions of dollars worth of long-delayed Everglades restoration work.

At the same time, he is bent on cutting spending at the South Florida Water Management District, where he was hired last month as executive director (without a search by the agency’s board members, who are appointed by the governor).

“Our district, I think, had a problem,” Antonacci, former general counsel to Gov. Rick Scott, said Wednesday during a meeting with Treasure Coast Newspapers’ Editorial Board.

In his view, the 1,400 employee agency — which is tasked with flood control across a 16-county swath of Florida, including Martin and St. Lucie — was collecting more property tax revenue than it needed. He believes it lacked a clear plan for spending the money.

“So the reserves kept piling up and piling up,” Antonacci said.

“Just one man’s opinion here, but I think that’s improper,” he continued.

We can expect him to put more downward pressure on the district’s budget, even after five years of consecutive tax rate cuts. Most recently, the governing board agreed in September to lower its tax rate by 8 percent, to 36 cents per $1,000 of taxable property value.

For most homeowners, this year’s savings will be enough to buy a beer or two at the local bar. But for the large property owners that exert the most control over Scott and other Tallahassee politicians, the cuts are large sums worth lobbying for.

Therein lies the rub.

Antonacci is calling for completion of more projects within the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan — almost six dozen projects that have a combined price tag of at least $10 billion — even as he wants to tighten the vise on the district’s coffers.

How do you do both?

“You ask the Legislature to step up,” Antonacci told our Editorial Board.

The same Legislature that cut conservation spending even after voters approved Amendment 1 for conservation-land purchases?

Forgive us if we’re skeptical.

And Congress, which is a federal partner for the Everglades restoration work, is no more reliable in delivering restoration money.

Antonacci, an attorney who worked for years as a lobbyist, has thrived in Florida’s political circles by executing his clients’ wishes.

We can expect him to rule the South Florida Water Management District in accordance with the prevailing winds in Tallahassee. Under Scott, “managing” government has generally meant slashing government — and the state’s water management districts have faced his carving knife since early in his first term.

“You’ll never find a public agency anywhere that says, ‘We have enough money,’ ” Antonacci said.

He happened to meet with our Editorial Board the same day Scott announced a plan for more cuts. The governor wants to ax another $673 million from the upcoming state budget and cut sales taxes on manufacturing equipment — even as he calls for sending millions more to Enterprise Florida for job-creation incentives for private businesses. Enterprise Florida has asked for $80 million from the state, even though it had $118 million in a low-interest escrow account last month.

Stockpiling cash apparently is OK for private business incentives — but not for southern Florida’s lead agency on Everglades restoration and flood control.

And remember: None of the six dozen projects Antonacci is pushing to complete will stop the polluted freshwater discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie River estuary, a tributary of the Indian River Lagoon.

Antonacci didn’t even pretend that’s one of his goals.

He said the estuaries will never be “held harmless” from lake discharges, though he believes the district should protect them as much as possible through projects such as the C-44 Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area in western Martin County.

Asked if he would ever support buying more land south of Lake Okeechobee to increase the southward flow of water toward the Everglades, Antonacci responded:

“I don’t think any public official should close the book on anything.”

Then he reiterated that his focus is on getting on-the-books Everglades projects done.

Time will tell if he can accelerate that glacial process while cutting spending at the South Florida Water Management District.

Eve Samples|opinion and audience engagement editor|Treasure Coast Newspapers.

EPA bans neurotoxic pesticide chlorpyrifos ‏

EPA announced it will ban chlorpyrifos, a neurotoxic pesticide that poisons farmworkers and communities at alarming rates and causes serious brain and neurodevelopmental impairments in children.

Chlorpyrifos is currently used on crops from cotton and corn to almonds and fruit trees, including oranges and apples. But now, after multiple Earthjustice lawsuits and letters from more than 150,000 individuals including you, this ban will effectively end all uses of this dangerous neurotoxin.

But our fight against toxic pesticides is far from over; my colleagues and I are fighting relentlessly in court to regulate and ban these and many other pesticides:

  • Thiamethoxamshown to be highly toxic to honeybees and other pollinators, threatening our food supply
  • 2,4-D—a component of Agent Orange that has been linked to Parkinson’s disease, reproductive problems and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Glyphosate—an ingredient in Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup, linked to environmental hazards and infertility
  • Enlist Duo—Dow AgroSciences’ toxic cocktail that mixes glyphosate and 2,4-D for use on a new generation of GMO corn and soybeans genetically engineered to be immune to these powerful chemicals

We’ll also be working tirelessly to ensure swift implementation and strong enforcement of recently announced protections from toxic agricultural pesticides for farmworkers and their families!

Patti Goldman|Earthjustice|11/01/15

Nestlé has been stealing California’s water and selling it to us

All around the world, Nestlé has been a leader in the effort to privatize our public water, and sell it back to us in little plastic bottles. Of all the ridiculous Stuff in the world, we think this is one of the worst. That’s why The Story of Stuff Project released a film about Nestlé last month, and why we need your help to take on Nestlé and other water bottling companies, one community at a time, to defend our public right to water.

The more people who join our campaign, the more powerful our movement becomes, and the better able we will be able to take on polluting global forces like Nestlé. We want to spread news of our fight against Nestle far and wide. We’re working with our partners at Center for Biological Diversity and the Courage Campaign to take Nestlé’s permit to court in California, and we’ve already made news in global publications like The Guardian and Time Magazine. With your help, we can educate even more people about the need to protect the public’s water.

Although global corporations have immense resources, the power of collective action, backed by collective knowledge, is even greater. Right now, around the world there are communities fighting back – in India, in Germany, in Canada, and now in California as well, people are standing up against the bottling of our shared resource. This Story belongs to everyone, and you can help write the ending.

When enough people act together, we can change the way corporations to business – for the better. To challenge global giant Nestlé, we need your help growing this movement, from coast to coast and country to country.

Will you help spread the word by sharing the Story of our campaign on Facebook?

Watch the video

Emma Cape, on behalf of The Story of Stuff team

Calls to Action

  1. We Must Hold ExxonMobil Accountable! – here
  2. Tell European Leaders: Our Southern Forests Aren’t Fuel – here
  3. Tell the European Commission to ban all bee-killing insecticides, including Dow’s deadly Sulfoxaflor – here
  4. Hold BLM Accountable For Illegally Selling Wild Horses for Slaughter – here
  5. Tell the EPA to plug the fracking leaks – here
  6. Demand limits to dangerous methane pollution – here

Birds and Butterflies

Monarch Butterflies Are Streaming Into California And Mexico

Monarch Butterflies Are Streaming Into California And Mexico

The annual monarch butterfly migration might just be the most colorful migration in the natural world.

California is the overwintering home for most of the western monarch butterfly population, and thousands of them have already been spotted in Pacific Grove. Hundreds of thousands more will flock to the California coast in the next few weeks to cluster together on trees such as Monterey cypress, Monterey pine and eucalyptus for the winter. 

They may be getting help from a surprising source: the state’s drought.

In the face of water restrictions, Californians have been taking out their lawns and replacing them with native plants, including milkweed species, which can thrive in arid conditions. That’s important for monarchs, since the female will lay her eggs on only milkweed. 

As Capital Public Radio reports, “San Diego nursery owner Tom Merriman didn’t even sell milkweed five years ago. This season, he’s sold more than 14,000 milkweed plants, including varieties that can grow in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts.”

At the same time, monarch butterflies are filling the skies of Texas, on their way into northern Mexico.

Patti Berkstresser described the scene she witnessed on October 13 to Monarch Butterfly Journey North :

“Thousands migrating over Leakey, Texas, starting at about 7:30 this morning. Counted over 100 per minute for at least 1 1/2 hours. They were flying about 300 feet elevation until about 9:00, and then were observed closer to ground. Hundreds were along Leakey Springs, dipping in and out of water.”

The Monarch Butterfly Journal notes that butterflies were flying at an estimated rate of 6,000 to 10,000 per hour.

The Decline Of Monarch Butterflies

This is good news, because monarch butterflies have been in serious jeopardy recently.

According to the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), monarchs have declined by more than 90 percent in the past two decades. Referring to this dramatic decline, the FWS announced earlier this year that it was going to team up with the National Wildlife Federation, as well as the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to launch a new campaign to protect monarchs and restore habitat across the country.

Monarch butterflies could also soon be included on the Endangered Species List. A total of 52 members of Congress have signed a petition to President Obama asking that the butterfly be noted as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

An Amazing Migration

Like other creatures, monarch butterflies migrate to get away from the cold. However, they are the only insect that migrates an average of 2,500 miles to find a warmer climate. Each fall they travel south and west across the United States once the weather turns cold, usually in mid-October.

Where they head depends on where they are coming from. In general, those that live east of the Rocky Mountains migrate to the western central forests of Mexico and hibernate in oyamel fir trees. Monarchs that spend their summers west of the Rockies travel to the area around Pacific Grove, Calif., where they hang out in eucalyptus trees. 

I was privileged to witness this migration a few years ago on a visit to Pismo Beach, Calif. As I rounded a corner on Highway 1, just south of Pismo Beach, I could see the amazing spectacle of thousands of butterflies festooned all over the eucalyptus trees. It was breathtaking. I learned that there were around 25,000 butterflies gathered in the grove of trees.

Even more amazing, these butterflies use the same trees every year, even though they aren’t the same butterflies that were there last year. 

Let’s hope all the conservation efforts are working, and there really are more monarch butterflies migrating in 2015 than there were in 2014. And if you feel strongly about helping monarch butterflies, please sign and share this petition urging the US Fish and Wildlife Service to list the monarch butterfly as an endangered species deserving of life-saving protections under federal law.

Judy Molland|October 26, 2015

Project FeederWatch eNews

The first day to count is November 14

The first day to count birds for the 2015-16 FeederWatch season is November 14. Data entry will open for the new season on November 1. This year the season runs through April 8. If you haven’t already, sign up right away to be sure your kit arrives in time for the start of the season. We look forward to hearing about the birds coming to your feeders!

Winter Bird Highlights 2015 now online

The 2015 issue of Winter Bird Highlights, our summary of the 2014-15 season, is now available online as a PDF. Participants who opted out of receiving a kit already received an email notification. All other project participants who signed up for the 2015-16 season will receive a copy of Winter Bird Highlights in their kits. In the U.S., if you received a kit last season but have not yet renewed for this season, we will include Winter Bird Highlights with your fall issue of either Living Bird magazine (for Lab members) or the Cornell Lab’s All About Birds newsletter.

New Tricky ID page: female Rose-breasted Grosbeak vs. Purple Finch

In the 2015 issue of Winter Bird Highlights, we showed how to distinguish a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak from a female Purple Finch. We added the information to the Tricky ID section of our website, with additional photos we couldn’t fit in the publication. Learn how to tell these two very similar-looking birds apart.

FeederWatcher shares what she learned

Check out the FeederWatch blog to read about lessons learned by  FeederWatcher and freelance writer Susan Wider. In this guest blog post, Susan shares how she and her husband sharpened their observation skills and transformed their bird watching through Project FeederWatch.

Updated slideshow

Our Project FeederWatch slideshow is now updated and available to download from our website. View both of our slideshows as well as “buttons” you can add to your website to help spread the word.

Florida Panthers

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

(Having trouble viewing this email? View it as a Web page.)

The FWC has updated the “Panther Pulse” page with depredation information through Oct. 30, 2015 as of 4:30 p.m. Panthers are a top predator and prey on a variety of wildlife such as deer, hogs, raccoons, armadillos and rabbits. Unfortunately, they sometimes prey on domesticated animals such as goats, sheep, calves and even pets. When a panther or other wild animal preys upon or injures a pet or domestic livestock it is called a depredation. Depredation information can be viewed at:

People can protect pets and other backyard animals from panthers and other predators by following the advice available at:”

Invasive species

Environmental group challenges 2016 Python Challenge


This Burmese python was used to train volunteers, employees and interns of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida to capture large snakes. (Photo: Andrew West/ Photo

A national environmental group has challenged the 2016 Python Challenge.

From Jan. 16 through Feb. 14, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will hold its second competition to remove pythons from public lands in South Florida; this year, hunting grounds have been expanded to include parts of Everglades National Park.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, based in Washington, D.C., oppose the park’s involvement because, among other things, hunting in U.S. National Parks is illegal, PEER executive director Jeff Ruch said.

At fault, Ruch said, is Pedro Ramos, who became superintendent of Everglades National Park in January after five years as superintendent of Big Cypress National Preserve.

“This is about the unprofessionalism of park management, particularly the superintendent,” Ruch said. “He doesn’t have the statutory authority to allow a hunt in Everglades National Park. He just came from Big Cypress, where hunting is allowed: Perhaps he didn’t realize there’s no hunting in national parks.”

Ramos could not be reached for comment, but he is quoted in a recent press release about the 2016 Python Challenge as saying, “We look forward to expanding access into the park and to providing more opportunities for members of the public to become approved authorized python agents.”

In response to a letter from PEER to the National Park Service concerning the Python Challenge, park service officials are reviewing its authorized agent program, through which members of the public are trained to capture pythons in and remove them from Florida’s national parks, spokesman Bill Reynolds said.

According a Project Synopsis for the program: “Within the Parks, existing regulations prevent ‘hunting’ and removal of wildlife from the Parks. Through the authorized agent program, members of the public are authorized to participate in python removal as ‘agents of the NPS.'”

Reynolds also said the service would “not respond to name-calling” or to specific concerns raised by Ruch to The News-Press.

“The review will be complete next week and will address all of PEER’s questions,” Reynolds said. “I can’t speculate on what the results of the review are going to be.”

Burmese pythons are non-natives and a major ecological concern in South Florida because they are apex predators that feed on many native mammal, bird and reptile species.

Pythons were first documented in Everglades National Park in 1979, and more than 2,000 have been removed from the park since 2000.

FWC held the first Python Challenge in 2013 in four Wildlife Management Areas, which are managed by FWC; Everglades National Park was not part of the 2013 event.

About 1,600 people from 38 states, the District of Columbia and Canada registered for the 2013 challenge; FWC officials don’t know how many people actually participated, but those who did removed 68 Burmese pythons.

In the 2013 Python Challenge, cash awards were given for most and longest pythons captured; categories for the 2016 challenge haven’t been determined, but awards will be given for the longest snakes captured, according to FWC spokeswoman Carli Segelson.

“This is not an Everglades National Park activity,” Ruch said. “It’s an FWC activity, billed as a competition with awards. If you let this kind of thing in National Parks, it would set a precedent, and you’d have competitions in National Parks to see who can shoot the biggest bison. It would change the character of National Parks.”

FWC officials didn’t want to weigh in on PEER’s concerns, Segelson said.

Another PEER complaint is that Ramos didn’t take steps to make sure capturing pythons in Everglades National Park complies with the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires national agencies to assess environmental effects of proposals before making decisions.

“The last time they did this, they had 1,600 people, and this one is supposed to be bigger,” Ruch said. “So, say you have 2,000 people tromping through the Everglades, capturing things they think are snakes. We don’t know what collateral damage it will have. A NEPA analysis would lay that out.

“This is like the Mickey Rooney Andy Hardy movies, where he says, ‘Hey, kids, my uncle has a barn: Let’s put on a show,’ except it’s the superintendent saying, ‘I got a National Park: Let’s put on a high-profile python hunt.'”


[Yes, hunting in a National park is illegal, but in this case an exception is warranted. Everyday in a National park somewhere, invasive species are removed and this is no different. Invasive species will be removes.]

The northern snakehead fish

Northern snakehead fish image credit Fairfax County, VA.

The invasive northern snakehead fish found in the mid-Atlantic area is now cause for more concern, potentially bringing diseases into the region that may spread to native fish and wildlife, according to a team of U.S. Geological Survey scientists.

The team found that a group of adult northern snakehead collected from Virginia waters of the Potomac River south of Washington D.C. were infected with a species of Mycobacterium, a type of bacteria known to cause chronic disease among a wide range of animals.

“Mycobacterial infections are not unusual among fish, but they are nonetheless noteworthy because they can have an impact at the population level and potentially even affect other fish and wildlife,” said lead author Christine Densmore, a veterinarian with the USGS.

There are many known species of Mycobacteria that have been identified in fish, including fish from the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay area.  Several years ago, mycobacterial infections were associated with severe disease typified by ulcerative skin lesions and wasting among wild striped bass from the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.  Some species of Mycobacterium are also known to cause diseases among other animals, including mammals. For instance, Mycobacterium tuberculosis is the cause of human tuberculosis and Mycobacterium paratuberculosis, causes Johne’s disease of cattle. 

The effect of this particular species of Mycobacterium on humans is not known.

Mycobacterial disease in fish is often called piscine mycobacteriosis, and it is associated with many different species of mycobacteria. In this instance, no external signs of disease were noted on the infected snakehead fish, and the disease was discovered microscopically as lesions associated with the bacteria that were visible within internal organs.

“Another interesting feature of this particular mycobacterial organism is that we have not been able to identify it in the available gene sequence data base, so this may be a unique, undescribed species of Mycobacterium. However, more research is needed to further characterize the bacteria and its potential effects on the northern snakehead population and other native species,” said Densmore.

The researchers plan to continue to work closely with other federal and state agencies to investigate the pathogens and diseases carried by the northern snakehead fish in mid-Atlantic waters such as the Potomac River.  This study of Mycobacterial infection in Northern snakehead from the Potomac River catchment, conducted in collaboration with fisheries biologists from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, is available online through the Journal of Fish Diseases.

USGS Newsroom|October 30, 2015

Endangered Species

New species of giant tortoise discovered in the Galapagos Archipelago

Scientists have discovered there are two species of giant tortoises, not just one, living on the island of Santa Cruz in the center of the Galapagos Archipelago. 

There are two populations of giant tortoises on the island: a large population on the west side in an area known as the “Reserve” and another on the lower eastern slopes around a hill named “Cerro Fatal. It was previously believed that group of 250 or so giant tortoises living on the east of the island were the same species as those living on the west, but genetic testing have now proved they are two different species.

“This is a small and isolated group of tortoises that never attracted much attention from biologists previously,” said Dr. James Gibbs,from  the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, New York.. “But we now know that they are as distinct as any species of tortoise in the archipelago. Their discovery and formal description will help these tortoises receive the scientific and management attention they need to fully recover.”

The new species has been named Eastern Santa Cruz Tortoise (Chelonoidis donfaustoi) in honour of a longtime Galapagos National Park ranger who spent decades developing methods still used today for breeding endangered tortoises. His name is Fausto Llerena Sánchez, known to his friends and colleagues as Don Fausto.

Don Fausto dedicated 43 years (1971-2014) to giant tortoise conservation as a park ranger for the Galapagos National Park Directorate. He was the primary caretaker at the Tortoise Breeding and Rearing Center on Santa Cruz, which now bears his name. The restoration of several tortoise populations is due in part to Don Fausto’s dedication and efforts.

“It’s to honour Don Fausto for all his dedication and hard work,” Gibbs said. “He devoted his life to saving many critically endangered tortoises through captive breeding. It isn’t easy to breed tortoises in captivity. He didn’t have many resources or much guidance. He figured it out through patient observation, great creativity and intelligence, and tremendous resourcefulness.”

Giant tortoises have been among the most devastated of all Galapagos creatures because of human exploitation, introduced species and habitat degradation. The Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative is a collaborative project of the Galapagos National Park Directorate, Galapagos Conservancy, Caccone’s group at Yale University and others that works toward the long-term restoration of all Galapagos tortoise populations.

From Wildlife Extra

BREAKING: wolf killing surges in Wyoming ‏

Once again, Wyoming’s wolves are in the crosshairs; 55 wolves have been killed in Wyoming this year.

These killings happened despite the fact that Wyoming wolves are supposedly protected under the Endangered Species Act. Absolutely shocking.

The 55 that were killed were done so by taxpayer funded federal wildlife managers. That’s the most wolves killed in Wyoming by wildlife managers in eight years.

It was only a year ago that we won back protections for Wyoming’s wolves after two long years in court.

But now, wolf-hating politicians are jamming a measure through the Federal appropriations process that would strip Wyoming’s gray wolves of protection under the Endangered Species Act. This would inevitably open the way for a fresh round of killing.

As you know, the federal government turned wolf management over to Wyoming in 2012. In less than two years, more than 200 wolves were slaughtered across the state.

Under Wyoming’s brand of “wolf management,” most of the state was designated a “predator zone,” literally a free-fire zone where anyone could kill any wolf at any time and for any reason.

Among the early victims of Wyoming’s killing spree was a magnificent collared Yellowstone wolf known only as “06.” The matriarch of the Lamar Canyon pack, 06 drew wolf-watchers from around the world. Her death just a few miles outside the Yellowstone National Park boundary was a tragic loss for science, for wolf tourism, and for her pack.

If anti-wolf members of Congress win, this is the sort of horror we could be going back to.

Thanks to a lawsuit brought by Defenders and our allies, a federal court ordered Wyoming’s wolves back on the endangered species list in 2014. Now some in Congress are looking to undo that decision.

Anti-wildlife extremists are pouring millions into this kind of bold Congressional attack on the wildlife we love. And if they win, wolves will die.

Thanks to people like you, Defenders has been at forefront of wolf recovery in the Lower 48 since day one.

  • We were there 20 years ago when the first gray wolves in a generation took their first steps into Idaho and Wyoming wilderness.

  • Since then, we’ve been to court to protect wolf recovery every time its been threatened – and won.

  • We’re mobilizing our pro-wildlife action community in America to fight on Capitol Hill and elsewhere for compassionate, science-based conservation.

  • And we’re on the ground in the Northern Rockies, working with ranchers, landowners and others to promote coexistence and build local support for wolf recovery.

Today, wolves cling to survival in the vast forests and valleys of Wyoming. If these anti-wolf members of Congress have their way, the killing could start as soon as December.

Jamie Rappaport Clark|President|Defenders of Wildlife

Meet Kianga, the newest member of our San Diego Zoo Global Family!

Her name means sunshine in Swahili, and this little bundle of joy is sure to brighten your day!

Kianga was born two weeks ago at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park! At 120 pounds, she has a long way to go before growing into her ginormous feet! Her rambunctious personality livens up the savanna as she spends the day romping alongside her Auntie Utamu.

Kianga will nurse for the first year, gaining a hefty 100 pounds each and every month through her first birthday! Although very curious and even a bit mischievous, Kianga will stay close to her family for comfort and protection.

Tragically, not all rhinos are as lucky as Kianga. Rhinos are being killed at an alarming rate—3 rhinos are killed every day. Last year alone, more than 1,200 southern white rhinos were shot and killed.

The northern white rhino has suffered worst of all. There are only 4 left in the world, making them the most critically endangered animals on Earth. Our beloved Nola at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park is one of them. Violent poaching and the illegal trade in rhino horn have brought her species to the brink of extinction. As heartbreaking as this may seem, there is hope.

We’re building a Rhino Rescue Center dedicated to the protection of white rhinos at the Safari Park. At this one-of-a-kind refuge, scientists, veterinarians, and keepers will use cutting-edge technology to work collaboratively in new ways, including assisted reproduction, to bring white rhinos back from the brink of extinction.

Saving rhinos from extinction is our biggest challenge yet, but our scientists and animal care teams are uniquely qualified to create sustainable herds of rhinos—and with your help it is possible!

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park has the most successful breeding program for southern white rhinos in the world. Kianga’s the 94th white rhino calf to be born at the Safari Park and we’re working tirelessly to save the northern white rhino from vanishing forever.

Randy Rieches|Henshaw Curator of Mammals|San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

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Photos available on FWC’s Flickr site: Go to

Suggested Tweet: Slow down for Florida #manatees migrating to warmer waters! #Florida

Slow down for manatees migrating to warmer waters

With winter’s chill approaching, Florida manatees are on the move. Manatees cannot tolerate cold water and may begin to seek warmer water when temperatures start to drop below 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Some travel hundreds of miles to reach a warmer destination. Because of the annual migration, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is reminding boat and personal watercraft operators that it is important to slow down to avoid manatees, particularly in shallow areas.

Manatees can be difficult to see as they often swim and rest just below the water’s surface. Boaters wearing polarized sunglasses are more likely to spot manatees underwater.

November is Manatee Awareness Month. There is no better time to plan a visit to observe Florida’s beloved manatees. Find these places by going to and clicking the link under the “Where can I See Manatees?” box.

“Watching these large plant-eating mammals swim slowly through Florida waters, often accompanied by their calves, is a special experience for residents and visitors to the state,” said Carol Knox, the FWC’s Imperiled Species Management section leader. “Boaters following posted speed zones for manatees migrating to warmer waters help conserve this iconic Florida species for future generations.”

Boaters should be aware that many seasonal manatee protection zones go into effect on Nov. 15 throughout the state. For information about manatee protection zones by county, including the seasonal changes, go to, and click on “Data and Maps.” At the bottom of that same page, there also is information on FWC Manatee COLD-weather changes to speed zones. FWC law enforcement officers will be on the water enforcing these seasonal rules to protect manatees in busy boating areas.

People can report sightings of injured, sick or dead manatees to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922, #FWC and *FWC on a cell phone, or with a text to

The purchase of a Florida manatee license plate at or a manatee decal from tax collectors’ offices in Florida is another way to help manatees. The license plate and decal support the FWC manatee program, including research, rescue, rehabilitation, conservation, management and education efforts.

Learn more about Florida manatees at Click on “Manatee Habitat” to discover what plants they eat when inhabiting Florida’s rivers, bays, canals, estuaries and coastal areas. While on that page, click on “Boat, PWC & Paddle-sport Operators.” Also check out “A Boater’s guide to living with Florida Manatees” and “Guidelines for successful manatee watching in Florida.”


Eye to Eye with Aye-ayes

Madagascar is the land of lemurs, and one of the most unusual of all is the aye-aye. These highly endangered primates are nocturnal, sleeping during the day and leaping through the treetops in the darkness. San Diego Zoo Global has several conservation projects in Madagascar that focus on the behavior of these fascinating animals. Camera traps have been set up in the Maromizaha Protected Area, located near Andasibe National Park in eastern Madagascar. We’re also collaborating with local schools in the region to teach children about the vanishing wildlife that lives in the forest nearby and why it’s important to protect these vulnerable animals and their habitats. Support from generous donors like you makes these projects possible—and we can’t thank you enough!

Aye-ayes are rare in zoos—and there’s breaking aye-aye news at the San Diego Zoo! Our pair, Styx and Narina, are parents to the first aye-aye ever born here! Check out this adorable addition to our Zoo family!

Watch the video

San Diego Zoo

Zimbabwe Elephants May Have Been Poisoned by Park Rangers, Not Poachers

During the month of October, more than 60 elephants were poisoned with cyanide in Zimbabwe. In the most recent killings, rangers found 22 dead elephants in Hwange Park the morning of Oct. 26.

Just two weeks earlier, the carcasses of 26 poisoned elephants were found in two locations.

These killings aren’t some terrible new trend. During 2013, 300 elephants died from cyanide poisoning in Hwange.

The cyanide is hidden in oranges and salt licks. Unlike loud, attention-getting gun shots, the poison kills elephants silently. Local authorities believe the cyanide has been obtained from illegal gold miners in the area.

Not only are elephants dying, but the cyanide also has a deadly impact on the ecosystem, poisoning animals that share their watering holes and salt licks, and feed on their carcasses.

“The rate at which we are losing animals to cyanide is alarming,” national parks spokeswoman Caroline Washaya-Moyo told the Associated Press after the latest slaughter. “Many other species are also dying from the cyanide used by poachers to target elephants.”

But if it was poachers who killed these 22 elephants, it seems kind of strange they took only three ivory tusks. Only seven tusks were taken from the 22 elephants killed earlier in October – although some of those victims were too young to have grown them yet.

Conservation sources told the Telegraph it’s not poachers who are poisoning many of the elephants. It’s disgruntled park rangers.

The rangers believe they should be paid more since they regularly risk their lives to protect elephants from heavily armed poachers.

“They are angry because of lack of allowances,” Headman Sibanda, a well-known hunter in the area, told the Telegraph. “Some of them believe they should be getting allowances and they are not, but some senior management are getting allowances unfairly.”

One ranger who was arrested in October on suspicion of poisoning elephants earns about $425 a month, the Telegraph reports. The tusks from one elephant have a market value of around $29,000.

The rangers may be resorting to poaching as a way to boost their income, or they may just be killing the elephants out of spite, a source close to Zimbabwe’s National Parks and Wildlife Authority (Zimparks) told the Telegraph.

The funding for Zimparks comes from tourists and hunters, not the government. Those funds have dwindled since last year, when the United States banned the import of elephant trophies from hunts in Zimbabwe.

“All this poaching is because of American policies,” Oppah Muchinguri, the environment, water and climate minister, told the Guardian Oct. 14. “They are banning sport hunting. An elephant would cost $120,000 in sport hunting but a tourist pays only $10 to view the same elephant.”

It’s a tragic lose-lose-lose situation for the estimated 500,000 remaining African elephants. Not only are their lives threatened by hunters (Hwange also happens to be where Walter Palmer slaughtered Cecil the lion in August) and poachers, but apparently by angry rangers as well.

Even if park rangers weren’t directly involved in the poisonings, they didn’t do much to stop them, according to Colin Gilles, a local elephant counter.

“The first poisoning in the park was discovered just 8 kilometers (5 miles) from the main camp (where Hwange rangers are headquartered),” Giles told the Telegraph. “This is not a remote part of the camp.”

To help increase the monitoring of this large park, Washaya-Moyo told the AP drones and trained dogs from South Africa will be deployed.

“This is a very emotionally draining and tragic time for all of us in parks,” she told the Telegraph. “There is zero tolerance for this crime and we are totally committed to preserving our wildlife.”

Along with better monitoring, the ban of commercial ivory sales in the U.S. and China, announced in September by President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, could help end the slaughter of tens of thousands of elephants every year. Unfortunately, there currently is no set date for the ban to go into effect in China. It is supposed to be enacted within a year or so.

The sooner the better, or these magnificent creatures could become extinct in our lifetimes.

Laura Goldman|October 30, 2015

Wild & Weird

The Wrong-Way Bat That Migrates NORTH For The Winter!

It’s a mistake to think that all of our fall migrants travel south. A few species move in other directions. The Gray Bat is one such contrarian. Rather than seek out warmth, the Gray Bat prefers a nice chill for the winter and will leave its comfortable summer cave for one with a temperature closer to freezing.

Sometimes that means saying good-bye to balmy Florida and flying to cooler Alabama or Tennessee.

The reason for the strange migration is that the Gray Bat hibernates during the winter, and it can do so effectively only in a chilly cave. Its heart rate plummets from several hundred beats per minute to twenty or thirty, and its body temperature takes a similar nosedive. Stored fat sustains the bat until spring, and when it’s thirsty, it simply licks some of moisture off the cave walls or some of the condensation off its fur.

eNature|October 21, 2015


Army Corps: Work on C-44 reservoir to begin in November

STUART — Construction of the final phase of the long-awaited C-44 Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area will begin in late November.

Lt. Col. Jennifer A. Reynolds, the Army Corps of Engineers’ deputy commander for South Florida, said Thursday work will begin on the facility’s 16.5 billion-gallon reservoir after a groundbreaking Nov. 20.

At her first Rivers Coalition meeting since taking her post June 1, Reynolds said Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary for the Army’s Civil Works division and head of the Army Corps, and “maybe a few other national leaders” will attend the ceremony.

The project east of Indiantown is designed to help keep water laden with harmful nutrients and silt out of the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon. The reservoir will store water drawn from the farmland on both sides of the C-44, which connects Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie River, and gradually release it into a stormwater treatment area, a man-made wetland to remove nitrogen and phosphorus.

The project will not stop discharges of Lake O water into the river and lagoon.

The C-44 project began in 2007 when the South Florida Water Management District spent $173 million and Martin County kicked in $27 million through a special 1-cent sales tax to buy and clear 12,000 acres for the facility.

In August 2014, the Corps finished building canals to move water onto and off the site.

The Corps was supposed to build the 6,300-acre stormwater treatment area after completing the reservoir. To speed up construction, the water district agreed to build the treatment area while the Corps built the reservoir.

Still, the entire project isn’t scheduled to be fully constructed and tested until 2020. The total cost will be about $600 million.

Barnard Construction Co. Inc. of Bozeman, Montana, was awarded a $197 million contract to build the 3,400-acre reservoir in September.

Tyler Treadway|TCPalm|Oct. 29, 2015

Water Quality Issues

Controversial water bill is back, but with some improvements

The state would penalize farmers for not reducing Lake Okeechobee pollution under a controversial bill that lawmakers will consider for a second time in January.

The bill, which also applies to the St. Lucie River but not the Indian River Lagoon, relaxes state water policies by switching the way the state regulates pollution in the lake.

Instead of a permitting program that controls farms’ phosphorous runoff, the bill uses a less strict cleanup plan that relies heavily on allowing the agricultural industry to implement “best management practices,” such as using less fertilizer and irrigation water. There’s little enforcement today on whether farmers are following the practices and how much they are reducing pollution.

Under the bill, the state would check whether farmers are complying and penalize violators, said Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida. The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which oversees best management practices, asked the Legislature for money to hire eight employees in its office of agricultural water policy. Audubon will lobby legislators to approve the request, Draper said.

“We are not ready to endorse the bill,” Draper said. “But we are telling people about these improvements.”


The bill eliminates the state’s deadline to reduce phosphorus going into Lake Okeechobee. The state would have 20 years to reach pollution reduction targets. If the 20-year mark isn’t feasible, the Department of Environmental Protection must provide an explanation and estimate how long it would take to reach the target. The bill also asks for 5-, 10- and 15-year milestones in pollution reduction.

The bill could pit the South Florida Water Management District against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in a jurisdictional battle, Draper said. The bill directs the state agency to recommend how water in the federal agency’s projects should be distributed amongst agricultural and municipal property owners.

“This puts a stick in the eye of the federal government,” Draper said.

Comprehensive policy

The Nature Conservancy supports the bill and “appreciates (lawmakers) working with us over the last two years to make changes that are significant and positive in this bill,” Lewis Beth, director of water resources, said via a House news release.

Business groups such as the Associated Industries of Florida and the Florida Chamber of Commerce also applauded the legislation, which has been a priority of Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island.

The bill died during this year’s session when the House and Senate adjourned session early because of an impasse over Medicaid expansion and hospital funding.

 Isadora Rangel|TCPalm|Oct. 26, 2015

Great Lakes & Inland Waters

Historic Nitrate Levels Still Plague U.S. Rivers

During 1945 to 1980, nitrate levels in large U.S. rivers increased up to fivefold in intensively managed agricultural areas of the Midwest, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey study. In recent decades, nitrate changes have been smaller and levels have remained high in most of the rivers studied. 

The greatest increases in river nitrate levels coincided with increased nitrogen inputs from livestock and agricultural fertilizer, which grew rapidly from 1945 to 1980.  In some urbanized areas along the East and West coasts during the same period, river nitrate levels doubled. Since 1980, nitrate changes have been smaller as the increase in fertilizer use has slowed in the Midwest and large amounts of farmland have been converted to forest or urban land along the East coast. 

“Long-term monitoring of 22 large U.S. rivers provides a rare glimpse into how water quality conditions have changed over the last 65 years,” said Edward Stets, lead author of the study. “Although the greatest increases in nitrate concentrations occurred prior to 1980, levels have since remained high in most rivers. Unfortunately, there is no widespread evidence of improving conditions.” 

High nitrate levels can lead to the formation of zones of low oxygen in coastal waters, which harms fisheries, recreational use, and ecological habitat, causing major economic impacts. High nitrate levels also pose a threat to drinking-water supplies, sometimes resulting in high water treatment costs, and can harm aquatic life. 

The USGS study, reported in the Journal of the American Water Resources Association, includes rivers flowing into the Great Lakes and coastal waters such as Long Island Sound, Delaware River estuary, Chesapeake Bay, San Francisco Bay, and the Gulf of Mexico. 

Long-term monitoring of water quality is essential to track how changes in land use, climate, and water-quality management actions are impacting both local streams and rivers and valuable commercial and recreational fisheries in estuaries across the Nation. The USGS National Water-Quality Program is working on more detailed analysis of water quality trends within the past 10 to 50 years in small and large rivers across the Nation. 

Information on USGS long-term water-quality monitoring can be accessed online.

Continue reading at USGS Newsroom.

USGS Newsroom|October 29, 2015

Experts urge caution on Great Lakes fish farming

Monitoring needed to gauge the environment

TRAVERSE CITY – If Michigan allows commercial fish farming in the Great Lakes, the industry should begin on a small and experimental scale to enable careful monitoring of the effect on the environment and wild fish populations, scientists said in a report to state officials.

The recommendation was among many in five reports submitted by a pane l of scientists, economists and other experts appointed to advise regulators considering whether a process known as “net-pen aquaculture” would be suitable for Great Lakes waters within Michigan’s boundaries

The state departments of Environmental Quality, Natural Resources and Agriculture and Rural Development requested the study and recently posted the reports online.

State officials say they’ve heard from two operators interested in raising rainbow trout in floating enclosures in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. The fish would remain inside the large nets until big enough for the consumer food market. But no permit applications have been submitted.

“There are a lot of concerns that would have to be addressed for any type of net-pen facility to move forward,” said Tammy Newcombe, senior water policy adviser for the DNR. A public comment period will be scheduled for November, she said.

Supporters say properly managed net-pen farms can operate without damaging the environment. A 2014 report by Michigan Sea Grant said they could be a key segment of an eventual $1 billion aquaculture industry in the state.

The Michigan Environmental Council said Friday that the newly released reports show the risks aren’t worth the potential benefits.

“If one thing goes wrong, it could sacrifice the quality of the Great Lakes for years to come,” said Sean Hammond, deputy policy director of the council.

The group supports a bill introduced last month by state Sen. Rick Jones, a Republican from Grand Ledge, that would ban commercial fish farming in the Great Lakes.

The reports don’t take positions for or against the practice but discuss environmental, economic and regulatory issues that could arise. They are intended to provide background information for regulators who may have to rule on future permit applications, Newcombe said.

The scientific panel, led by biologist Roy Stein of Ohio State University, said any net-pen farms should begin with “pilot projects” that would be closely monitored, with strict requirements for net location, waste control and other factors.

Another report, produced by Michigan State University’s Center for Economic Analysis, said two hypothetical caged-trout operations could be expected to produce a combined 2 million pounds of trout annually, with a value of $6.6 million. Raising and processing the fish could be expected to create about 17 jobs, the report said, while spinoff economic activity could generate an additional $3.6 million and perhaps 27 jobs.


Offshore & Ocean

WWF: World’s richest reef system could soon succumb to climate change

Scientists are predicting the demise of most of the world’s coral reefs by as early as 2050. The Coral Triangle is the richest of them all and could be the first to go.

The publication last week of the Worldwide Fund for Nature’s (WWF) Living Blue Planet report painted a bleak picture of the state of the world’s oceans: marine populations, including reef ecosystems, have halved in size since 1970 and some species are teetering on the brink of extinction. Coral reef cover has declined by 50% in the last 30 years and reefs could disappear by as early as 2050, the report says, if current rates of ocean warming and acidification continue. WWF estimates that 850 million people depend directly on coral reefs for their food security – a mass die-off could trigger conflict and human migration on a massive scale.

100 million of these reef-reliant peoples live in the Coral Triangle – singled out in the report as “richer in marine natural capital” than anywhere else on earth. Currently, fisheries exports from the Coral Triangle – which encompasses the waters of Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Timor Leste – amount to around $5bn (£3.3bn), including 30% of the global tuna catch, and a lucrative trade in live reef fish for food markets, which is worth nearly $1bn (£655m). But there are serious questions about the sustainability of these fisheries.

A report by Greenpeace published on Monday called out 13 Indonesian and eight Philippines tuna canneries, which it says are failing in three key areas – supply chain traceability, sustainability and employee equity. All but one of the businesses surveyed were graded ‘poor’ and none were classified as ‘good.’ Most of these canneries supply brands in the EU, America, Japan and the Middle East.

The live reef fish for food trade – which has a huge market in Hong Kong and mainland China as well as other southeast Asian cities – has sent stocks of key reef predators such as grouper plummeting in many parts of the Coral Triangle. As with tuna, the industry is poorly regulated and destructive fishing methods like cyanide capture – where a milky solution of potassium cyanide is squirted into reefs to stun fish – remain popular across Indonesia and the Philippines.


But the severest threat is to the reef ecosystems themselves. 85% of reefs in the Coral Triangle are classified as threatened, significantly higher than the global average of 60%. The bioregion’s vulnerability to climate change was further underscored in a report on biodiversity redistribution caused by warming seas that was published in Nature Climate Change on 31 August. It is thought that some marine ecosystems will be able to balance themselves out as temperature changes cause species to migrate from one area to another. But the report authors singled out the Coral Triangle as being especially vulnerable to ‘high rates of extirpation’ (i.e. complete species eradication) based on a key climate model produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

In the face of these threats, The Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries & Food Security (CTI-CFF), a multilateral partnership between Coral Triangle countries, NGOs and the Asian Development Bank, is developing collaborative action plans to try and sustainably manage the bioregion’s natural capital. Nature based tourism – thought to be worth $12bn – has become a key priority, since it dovetails with the urgent need to protect key seascapes in the Coral Triangle.

Raja Ampat off the coast of West Papua, thought to be the global epicenter of biodiversity, is one example of a successful collaborative strategy, bringing together local government, communities, tourism operators and non-profits to manage its ecosystems sustainably. In Malaysia, WWF has been working with government agencies to gazette a 1m-square hectare marine reserve off the north coast of Borneo. The Tun Mustapha marine park aims to balance the needs of various stakeholders from industrial fishers to local communities to tourism businesses within a sustainable framework, rather than strictly controlling a very small zone, which was the prevailing model for marine reserves in the past.


But in the face of the slow-moving juggernaut of global warming, it’s difficult not to regard these measures, worthy as they are, as akin to putting a plaster on a gunshot wound. Only around 4% of the world’s ocean is ‘designated for protection’, compared to between 10-15% of its land surface; many marine reserves are poorly managed and enforcement can be non-existent. There is an urgent need to establish more and to shore up existing ones across the Coral Triangle to maximize the benefits of coral reef ecosystems in the short to medium term.

The UN Sustainable Development Summit is taking place in New York this weekend and oceans are on the agenda for the first time. Hot topics include over fishing, food security for island states and pollution. Action in these areas is needed at the very least so as not to exacerbate the impact of the elephant in the room – climate change. Should warming hit the 2C threshold – a target that’s come to be seen somewhat arbitrarily as an upper limit, but that many scientists now regard as unachievable – most reefs will likely be devastated by coral bleaching, according to the IPCC.

The big decisions will be made of course in Paris at COP 21 at the end of November. On Tuesday, Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) stated that existing pledges by the international community would only be enough to cap global temperature increases at 3C by the end of the century.

“3C is much better than 4-5C, but it is still unacceptable,” she said. A cap of 3C may represent progress, but for the Coral Triangle and for reefs around the world, it could be catastrophic.

Johnny Langenheim


A new study published today in the journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology has found that a chemical widely used in personal care products such as sunscreen, poses an ecological threat to corals and coral reefs and threatens their existence.

Oxybenzone (also known as BP-3; Benzophenone-3) is found in over 3,500 sunscreen products worldwide, and pollutes coral reefs from swimmers wearing sunscreens and through wastewater discharges from municipal sewage outfalls and from coastal septic systems. 

The study comes less than two weeks after NOAA declared the third ever global coral bleaching event and warned that locally produced threats to coral, such as pollution, stress the health of corals and decrease the likelihood that they will resist bleaching, or recover from it.

Toxicopathological effects of the sunscreen UV filter, oxybenzone on coral planulaedemonstrates that exposure of coral planulae (baby coral) to oxybenzone, produces gross morphological deformities, damages their DNA, and, most alarmingly, acts as an endocrine disruptor. The latter causes the coral to encase itself in its own skeleton leading to death.

These effects were observed as low as 62 parts per trillion, the equivalent to a drop of water in six and a half Olympic-sized swimming pools

Measurements of oxybenzone in seawater within coral reefs in Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands found concentrations ranging from 800 parts per trillion to 1.4 parts per million.  This is over 12 times higher than the concentrations necessary to impact on coral.

A team of marine scientists from Virginia, Florida, Israel, the National Aquarium (US) and the US National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, undertook the study.  Lead author Dr. Craig Downs of Haereticus Environmental Laboratory Virginia, said, “The use of oxybenzone-containing products needs to be seriously deliberated in islands and areas where coral reef conservation is a critical issue.  We have lost at least 80% of the coral reefs in the Caribbean. Any small effort to reduce oxybenzone pollution could mean that a coral reef survives a long, hot summer, or that a degraded area recovers. Everyone wants to build coral nurseries for reef restoration, but this will achieve little if the factors that originally killed off the reef remain or intensify in the environment.”

The study found that oxybenzone is a photo-toxicant with adverse impacts exacerbated in light but even in darkness, planulae were transformed from a motile (mobile) state to a deformed, sessile (immobile) condition and exhibited an increasing rate of coral bleaching in response to increasing concentrations of oxybenzone.  This is particularly relevant for areas facing mass bleaching events including Hawaii.

Between 6,000 and 14,000 tons of sunscreen lotion are emitted into coral reef areas each year, much of which contains between one and 10% oxybenzone. The authors estimate that this puts at least 10% of global reefs at risk of high exposure, based on reef distribution in coastal tourist areas.
This study is one of less than two-dozen scientific studies that closely examine the impact of personal care product ingredients on marine organisms and habitats. According to MarineSafe, a campaign concerned with the impact of these products on ocean health, there may be as many as 82,000 chemicals polluting our marine environments, just from personal care use.

Professor Alex Rogers of the International Program on the State of the Ocean at Oxford University, which established MarineSafe said, “Far too little attention is paid to the chemicals entering the ocean and their destructive impact.  We need better understanding, testing and management to ensure that we are not eroding vital ocean resilience through the careless use of marine-toxic ingredients.” IPSO’s 2012 State of the Ocean report called for action to “prevent, reduce and strictly control inputs of substances that are harmful or toxic to marine organisms into the marine environment” recognizing its critical role in eroding the resilience of the ocean to the impacts of climate change.

Since the 1970s, coral reefs have been devastated on a global scale. Regional weather and climate events are often the cause of wide-scale mortality but the long-term causative processes of sustained demise are often locality specific and increasingly thought to be linked to pollution.
Oxybenzone is found in a range of products from lipstick and mascara to sunscreen and shampoo, it acts as a barrier to UV light, a task for which other ingredients are available. It has already been identified as a threat to human health. The European Union’s International Chemical Secretariat has listed oxybenzone on its “Substitute It Now” list of substances that should be replaced and meets the criteria for “Substances of Very High Concern.”

Executive Director Pat Lindquist of the Napili Bay and Beach Foundation of Maui, Hawaii said, “This study raises our awareness of a seldom realized threat to the health of our reef life at Napili Bay: chemicals in the sunscreen products visitors and residents wear are toxic to young corals.  As our mission is to protect and improve the health of our popular bay and beach, we appreciate scientific input regarding threats to that health.  This knowledge is critical to us as we consider actions to mitigate threats or improve on current practices.  We hope to promote more use of sun-protective swimwear which will benefit our reefs and bay, and have plans to investigate best options in the coming year.”

Haereticus Environmental Laboratory|October 20, 2015

An Island the Size of NYC is Protecting 193,000 Square Miles of Ocean

An Island the Size of NYC is Protecting 193,000 Square Miles of Ocean

The island of Palau, which is as small as New York City, gave the world some BIG news last week: they will create a marine reserve larger than California. In one of the largest reserve projects ever announced, Palau is committed to protecting a jaw-dropping 80 percent of its territorial waters.

Palau “Will Not Tolerate Any More Unsustainable Acts”

The island’s reserve will protect 193,000 square miles and be off limits to “extractive activities” (e.g. fishing and mining), as reported in National Geographic. The other 20 percent will be for local fishing and small-scaled commercial activities.

The small island in the Pacific Ocean has a lot to lose if it doesn’t protect its ocean. Palau is home to 1,300 fish species and 700 coral species. For thousands of years, Palauans have worked with — not against — their rich marine biodiversity, and the ocean reserve is a reflection of that. Unlike most of the modern world that’s depleting our oceans without thinking of the consequences, Palauans have the longstanding tradition of bul where they designate areas for the fish’s populations to recuperate from extractive fishing practices.

Despite having no military and only one law enforcement ship, Palau is committed to protecting its ocean. When Vietnamese ships were caught illegally fishing in Palau’s territory, the ships were immediately burned. Spoken like a true leader, Palau’s President Tommy Remengesau Jr. said: “We will not tolerate any more unsustainable acts…Palau guarantees, [poachers] will return with nothing.” As one study from earlier this year put it: “Whatever we decide to do in the next 10 to 15 years will decide the future of biodiversity on Earth.” Needless to say, Palau’s on the right track.

3 Species That Will Benefit From the Ocean Reserve

Here are three species that will benefit from the ocean reserve:

Prickly Shark

The near threatened prickly shark is going to catch a break in Palau’s waters. While the shark is native to Australia, New Zealand, Palau, Peru, Taiwan, Province of China and the United States, the shark won’t have to worry about its biggest threat — being “bycatch in some deepwater line and trawl fisheries” — as much in Palau.

Coral Trout

The vulnerable coral trout is heavily fished for the live reef trade and dead fish trade. It’s overfished so much that the species has declined at least 30 percent over 20-30 years. In Palau, “at least four spawning aggregations have disappeared,” since the 1970s. Fortunately, local fishing will only be allowed 20 percent of the time in Palau now.

Palauastrea ramosa

While this near threatened coral reef is widespread, there is evidence that it has declined. Climate change and coral disease are two of its biggest threats. Other threats like fisheries, human development, dynamite fishing, chemical fishing and pollution from agriculture and industry only exacerbate its decline.

If these species are going to make it, Palau seems like their best bet.

Jessica Ramos|October 26, 2015

Big, hot blob’ puts Hawaiian reefs at risk

A marine biologist assesses coral bleaching in Hawai’i’s Kaneohe Bay during Oahu’s first ever mass bleaching event in late 2014. As local threats combine with El Niño impacts, Hawai’i is bracing for a record coral bleaching event in the coming months. (© XL Catlin Seaview Survey)

The 1997 El Niño climate event resulted in extreme weather conditions across the Pacific Ocean.

But one place in the middle of the Pacific emerged mostly unscathed: Hawai‘i.

This time around, as one of the strongest El Niños on record continues to intensify in the Pacific, it’s a different story.

“We are definitely in uncharted waters,” said Dr. Jamison Gove, a coastal oceanographer for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “As this very strong El Niño takes hold in the Pacific, the island state braces for a record coral bleaching event. It has warmed ocean temperatures in Hawai‘i to well beyond anything we’ve observed in quite some time.”

The black line indicates weekly sea surface temperature in western Hawai‘i. The spike in 2015 shows waters reaching above 29 degrees Celsius, or around 84 degrees Fahrenheit — well above the average for the past 30 years, depicted by the red line. (Credit: NOAA Coral Reef Watch)

One of the first victims of the record high ocean temperatures is the state’s treasured coral reefs, victim to a massive worldwide coral bleaching event now under way.

“We have this big, hot blob of water, and we expect this to perhaps be the worst bleaching event we’ve seen in some time — perhaps in recorded history,” said Dr. Jack Kittinger, director of Conservation International (CI) Hawai‘i.

The state’s coral reefs have mostly dodged the devastating effects of bleaching events that hit other regions of the world.

“But this event is shaping up to be more widespread than anything we ​have observed in the past,” Gove said.

A dangerous mix

The arrival of warmer seas is not the only culprit for the bleaching, however — a combination of locally specific threats have made Hawai‘i’s reefs more vulnerable.

According to Kittinger, three key stressors are at play. First, coastal development and changes in land use have increased the amount of sediment, nutrients and other pollutants that run off onto the reefs — pollution that can reduce coral’s ability to cope with rising sea temperatures.

Second, overfishing disrupts the intricate balance of the coral reef ecosystem. For example, removing too many herbivorous fish that graze on algae can cause the seaweed to run rampant and take over the reef — smothering coral, and reducing the health of the habitat.

Third, while coral depend on certain algae for food, invasive species of algae have “gone bonkers,” Kittinger said, growing out of control. They compete with native algae, smothering and killing reefs, blanketing native fish habitats and preventing new corals from attaching to the reef.

In response to these stressors, reefs can “tip” into a degraded state that may be difficult to reverse.

“Those stresses are growing with coastal population, and the cumulative effect is pushing reefs close to a tipping point,” explained Dr. Carrie Kappel, an associate project scientist at the University of California Santa Barbara and contributor to Ocean Tipping Points, a marine science and policy think tank.

“Even without this bleaching event, some of Hawai‘i’s reefs had already ‘tipped’ into a less desirable state, with few live corals, lots of seaweed and few fish,” Kappel explained. “We need to reduce the other stresses on these reefs so they can be resilient to future climate change.”

Kittinger put it in starker terms.

“We have to get a handle on our local stressors or there won’t be reefs around for climate change to kill,” he said. “That’s the bottom line.”

Study global, act local

A 2013 study provided a similarly dire forecast: Using global climate models from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a paper published last year in Global Change Biology estimated that Hawai‘i could experience severe annual bleaching by the middle of the century.

“Given how infrequently we’ve experienced these types of coral bleaching events to date, that’s a very alarming prediction for the future health of our coral reefs,” Gove said.

It’s also a startling forecast for Hawai‘i’s people. The state’s coral reefs provide tremendous value: They attract divers and snorkelers, support fisheries that provide food and income, harbor unique biodiversity and increase property values — contributing an estimated US$ 360 million to the state’s economy every year.

This global problem will require local solutions for reefs to survive. “Local protection coupled with more serious efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions are needed if we want coral reefs to be part of our future,” Nancy Knowlton of the Smithsonian Institution told the Washington Post earlier this month.

To that end, CI and a network of partner organizations are getting to work.

In early October, Eyes of the Reef, a community reporting network for Hawai‘i’s coral reefs, hosted an event dubbed “Bleachapalooza,” in which citizen scientists reported widespread bleaching — including bleaching of smooth coral, usually the most resistant to it. The information will be shared with the state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) to inform reef management.

DLNR also joined with CI Hawai‘i to launch a Community Fisheries Enforcement Unit — three Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement officers in a vessel donated by CI — to enforce fishing regulations in the waters off the island of Maui. Since its first patrol in 2013, the unit has led to a 90% compliance rate with fishing laws, a small step toward reducing overfishing and increasing the resilience of coral. Better enforcement means better compliance, which keeps reef fish populations healthy, ensuring the viability of the reef.

Will local efforts like these add up to a brighter future for Hawai‘i’s coral reefs?

“Places that have successfully weathered severe bleaching events in the past are the places that have strong management, enabling these ecosystems to bounce back,” Kittinger said.

“We are building the partnerships necessary to help Hawai‘i’s reefs — and the communities they support — be resilient to a changing climate.”

Cassandra Kane|staff writer|conservation international|October 22, 2015

South Florida Running Out Of Sand

The state, known for its sunny beaches, is reportedly fast running out of the precious commodity due to erosion from storms and tides, a rising sea level and man-made structures like jetties that have been built on beaches, causing sand to build up on only one side of the structure.

“It is quite a concept but unfortunately it’s true,” Jerry Scarborough of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told NBC News of the sand scarcity.

According to the New York Times, communities who live along Florida’s Atlantic coastline have been replenishing their beaches by dredging up off-shore sand for decades.

But in South Florida, the situation has become dire, with Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties facing a shortage like none they’ve experienced before.

“We’re running out of sand off-shore, we’ve pretty much vacuumed everything up,” Stephen Leatherman of Florida International University told NBC.

Part of the worry, of course, is that without stretches of pristine beach, people — particularly tourists — will be less likely to spend their money in these counties.

But, there’s a larger concern as well.

“These beaches, people think they are recreational, but they are storm damage reduction,” Jason Harrah, the Army Corps project manager in charge of the Miami-Dade beach restoration, told the Times. “They are meant to sacrifice themselves for the loss of property or life. In the event we have that kind of storm, we wouldn’t have the means to replenish them.”

South Florida’s vulnerability in the face of a large storm “is very real,” said Stephen Blair, chief of restoration and enhancement in Miami-Dade’s department of environmental resources management, according to the AP.

Communities in South Florida are thus now scrambling to come up with the best way to get sand back on their beaches.

Some ideas include crushing up recycled glass bottles to make artificial sand and buying the coveted commodity from from mines in Central Florida or countries in the Caribbean.

Huffington Post

They’re Back, Cod in Newfoundland

“The great northern cod comeback: A once decimated cod stock is making a strong comeback after nearly two decades of decline.” Reports ScienceDaily, 27 October 2015.

“Using acoustic-trawl surveys of the main pre-spawning and spawning components of the stock, we show that biomass has increased from tens of thousands of tons to >200 thousand tons within the last decade.”

“The increase was signaled by massive schooling behaviour in late winter, perhaps spurred by immigration. Increases in size composition and fish condition and apparent declines in mortality followed, leading to growth rates approaching 30% per annum.”

“The cod rebound has paralleled increases in the abundance of capelin (Mallotus villosus), whose abundance declined rapidly in the cold early 1990s but has recently increased during a period of warm ocean temperatures. With continued growth in the capelin stock and frugal management (low fishing mortality), this stock could rebuild, perhaps within less than a decade, to historical levels of sustainable yield.”

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Plastic Bags and Fishing Nets Found in Stomach of Dead Whale

A mature sperm whale found dead in Taiwan had vast quantities of plastic bags and fishing nets filling its stomach, highlighting the devastating toll of marine pollution.

According to the Association Foreign Press (AFP) news agency, the 15-meter (49-foot) whale was first found stranded near the town of Tongshi on Oct. 15.

Coastguards and scientists returned it to the sea, but three days later, the same whale was found dead around 20 kilometers (12 miles) away.

After conducting an autopsy of the whale, local marine biologists reported that there was enough plastic bags and fishing nets found in its stomach to fill an excavator bucket.

Professor Wang Chien-ping, head of the whale research center at National Cheng-Kung University, told the AFP that while the whale might have died from many causes, such as heart or lung disease or infections, trash was also a culprit.

“The large amount of man-made garbage in the stomach could reduce its appetite and cause malnutrition,” he said. “It was likely a critical cause of death.”

About 80 percent of the sperm whale’s diet is giant squid, so this whale might have mistaken plastic bags for food.

He Chih-ying, spokeswoman for The Society of Wilderness conservation group, spoke about how ocean trash is a major plague to marine life.

“We frequently heard of marine animals killed after swallowing lots of garbage, but this one was the biggest in size for many years,” she told the AFP.

The harmful effects of marine pollution have been choking the entire marine food chain, from plankton to much larger creatures.

In August, a group of fishermen in Middle Harbour, Sydney, came across an endangered Southern right whale struggling with a plastic bag and fishing line caught in its mouth. Luckily, the men were able to remove the debris.

Marine biologist Tegan A. L. Mortimer told EcoWatch that incident is a reminder that these creatures live in our backyards and are impacted by human activities.

“Globally, the leading threats to whales, dolphins and porpoises are entanglement in fishing gear and strikes from vessels,” she said. “The impacts of plastic pollution on these animals isn’t well understood but we do know, from examples like this, that these animals are interacting with our plastic trash. Plastic in the ocean is something that everyone can have a positive impact on.”

Lorraine Chow|October 29, 2015

Another Whale Dead From Ingesting a Plastic Bag

Marine debris can be a dangerous problem for the animals that inhabit the marine environment. Unfortunately, we recently saw this first-hand on a Florida beach. A melon-headed whale that was recovered along Florida’s east coast died due to a large plastic bag in its digestive system. NOAA Fisheries’ stranding network staff, partnering with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute responded to the call about a stranding on Riviera Beach.

A decision was made to euthanize the whale after vets at the Palm Beach Zoo determined that the animal was in very poor condition and extremely thin. A necropsy (a non-human autopsy) was performed by a veterinarian to discover the cause of the animal’s poor health and subsequent death, during which a large plastic bag was found to be blocking the whale’s intestinal tract. The whale had suffered from starvation due to the blockage.

The plastic bag found within a melon-headed whale’s digestive tract. Photo Credit: FAU Harbor Branch

The plastic bag found within a melon-headed whale’s digestive tract. Photo Credit: FAU Harbor Branch

This is a sad reminder of the impact of marine debris. Every piece of debris matters. Animals can mistake trash for food or accidentally ingest it when consuming actual food items. However, we can help! By properly disposing of our trash, following the three R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle), helping to educate others, and by cleaning up our shorelines and waterways by getting involved in cleanup events, we can fight the marine debris problem and work to avoid outcomes like this in the future. To learn more about how you can help, visit our website.

NOAA Marine Debris Program|October 30, 2015

Algal Blooms Linked to Largest Die-Off of Great Whales Ever Recorded

In Argentina baby whales have been dying off the coast in increasingly high numbers for the past decade and no one has known exactly why. “The average number of right whale deaths per year at Peninsula Valdes jumped more than 10-fold, from fewer than six per year before 2005 to 65 per year from 2005 to 2014,” reports National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries West Coast Region. “Even more striking,” they say, “90 percent of the deaths from 2005 to 2014 were very young calves fewer than three months old. The mystery killer appeared to be targeting the nearly newborn, sometimes more than 100 calves of the endangered species each year.”

This will have a long-lasting effect on the southern right whale population, explains Dr. Mariano Sironi, scientific director of the Institute de Whale Conservation in Argentina.

“In 2012 we lost nearly one third of all calves born at the Peninsula. Southern right whales have their first calf when they are nine years old on average,” he says. “This means that it won’t be until a decade from now that we will see a significant reduction in the number of calves born, as all of the female calves that died will not be contributing any new offspring to the population.”

Now, thanks to a report published in Marine Mammal Science, NOAA Fisheries and NOAA Ocean Service scientists and others from the U.S. and Argentina believe they have found the culprit: toxic algal blooms. These blooms have been found to pose a significant threat to fisheries and other wildlife, so it’s no surprise that the blooms are wreaking havoc on whale populations, as well.

NOAA states:

[The study] found that the number of whale deaths at Peninsula Valdes closely track the concentrations of the toxic algae Pseudo-nitzschia. The higher the density of Pseudo-nitzschia, some species of which can produce a potent neurotoxin called domoic acid, the more young whales that died. When the density of algae dropped, so did the number of deaths.

The correlation is not definitive proof that the algae caused the deaths, but is strongly suggestive.

“The numbers [of algae and whale deaths] hinge at the same point and have the same pattern,” said Cara Wilson, who led the study. “What’s unusual about this is how long these bloom events continued to reoccur. You don’t usually have deaths every year but the calves died in high numbers every year from 2007 to 2013.”

The findings have implications beyond Argentina and whales. Algal blooms are expected to increase worldwide due to climate change. And if one of the largest species in the ocean is susceptible to these toxic blooms, it’s just further evidence that no species is safe. NOAA scientists are currently investigating mysterious whale strandings off the coast of Alaska. Between May and August of this year, at least 30 large whales in the western Gulf of Alaska washed ashore.

“Given the lack of solid evidence the new study does not definitively prove that the toxic algae caused the spike in deaths of whale calves. But it does offer strong circumstantial evidence, and that puts researchers in a better position to understand the possible impacts of future algal blooms,” said Gregory Doucette, coauthor of the paper.

“For us, the more opportunities we have to try to examine that relationship, to link up these mortality events to potentially toxic blooms, the better we can assess the possible effects,” he added.

Cole Mellino|October 29, 2015

Plastic Trash Found in Arctic Ocean, Likely Forming Sixth Garbage Patch

Not even the Arctic Ocean is safe from marine pollution. In a study published last week in the journal Polar Biology, researchers from the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) in Germany found marine litter on the surface of Arctic waters.

It was the first litter survey conducted north of the Arctic Circle, and it shows that this trash makes its way to the “farthest reaches of the planet,” according to AWI. “We found a total of 31 pieces of litter” in about a 3,500 mile area, said AWI biologist Dr Melanie Bergmann.

Though this number seems low, Bergmann and her team say they are certain there is much more litter in the Arctic region. “Since we conducted our surveys from the bridge, 18 meters above sea level, and from a helicopter, we were only able to spot the larger pieces of litter. Therefore, our numbers are probably an underestimate,” the marine biologist explained.

“We currently know of five garbage patches worldwide,” said the researchers. Now they are hypothesizing that a sixth garbage patch is “most likely in the early stages of formation.” Increasingly populated coastal areas, along with more and more cruise liners and fish trawlers operating further north, are driving the pollution in this remote part of the world’s oceans.

And, clearly, far more ocean debris can be found below the surface. “In a previous study, Melanie Bergmann analyzed photographs from the deep Arctic seafloor for signs of plastic, glass and other types of litter,” said AWI. “Her conclusion: in the time frame of 10 years the amount of litter in the deep sea has doubled with densities in a similar range to those from southern Europe. In fact, the litter density on the deep seafloor of the Fram Strait is 10 to 100 times higher than at the sea surface.”

“On the deep Arctic seafloor, we found an average of 2.2 to 18.4 pieces of litter per kilometer of our route,” said Bergmann. “This indicates that the deep seafloor may be the ultimate sink for marine litter.”

Marine pollution takes a devastating toll on our ocean environment. Last year, 5 Gyres Institute estimated in a groundbreaking study that there are 5 trillion pieces of plastic floating in the world’s oceans. Another study by the Plastic Disclosure Project and Trucost estimated that pollution is causing about $13 billion in damages to marine ecosystems each year.

Cole Mellino|October 29, 2015

Wildlife and Habitat

Quail and Fire: leaving a legacy for fire ecology

Wealthy northerners no longer hunt quail on the 19th century plantation and tenant farmers don’t grow corn or cotton any more. Instead, scientists study fire and its effect on wildlife on the 4,000 acres just north of Tallahassee, Fla.

It all started when the quail disappeared.

Renowned naturalist Herbert Stoddard was brought to the plantation to find out why and discovered that suppressing fire had destroyed the bird’s habitat. So in 1958, when the plantation owner Henry Beadel left his land and resources to create “a fire type nature preserve … to conduct research on the effects of fire on quail, turkey and other wildlife,” Tall Timbers Plantation Research Station and Land Conservancy offsite link image     was founded.

Instead of attracting quail hunters, now foresters from across the US and all over the world travel to train in prescribed burning, interns and scientists come to do research, and the public tours the station to learn about the cultural and natural heritage. The only crops grown are forests.

Fifty years of prescribed burning has restored habitat for quail as well as many other declining species, including birds, reptiles, amphibians and plants. Scientists have conducted milestone research on fire ecology, Northern bobwhite, red-cockaded woodpecker, native plant communities, longleaf pine, ornithology, herpetology and invertebrates. Formerly cultivated lands and natural areas that were never farmed provide benchmarks for restoration studies. As set out in Beadel’s will, strides have been made to reestablish the longleaf pine ecosystem, which ranks as one of the most endangered ecosystems in North America.

Eric Staller has seen the results of prescribed burning first hand in his 20 years at the station as a wildlife biologist and land manager. In the 90s only one quail could be found per 10 acres and now one to two quail occupy an acre. “We have the largest Red-cockaded Woodpecker population on private lands because of frequent fire,” he said. The endangered woodpecker species only forage in and on the pine trees, preferring the longleaf because of their longevity and heavy sap flow. More longleaf trees can occupy the same area as other pine trees. With its wider-set leaves and open canopy, longleaf pine allows more sun to reach the groundcover that provides food and shelter for wildlife. Longleaf can tolerate more frequent burns than other trees, keeping the hardwoods out and encouraging grasses and forbs to grow, also providing wildlife food and habitat. Staller burns 60-70 percent of the 2,700 acres of uplands on the station every year.

“”Restoration is continual. If I stopped burning for three years the hardwoods would come back, and after that, we would really lose ground. My goal is to have the understory consist of one third woody stems, one third grasses and the rest forbs, because that is what the wildlife in the Southeast do well in,” he said.

Natural Resources Conservation Service provides financial and technical assistance to the station for the work through Farm Bill programs such as the Environmental Quality Improvement Program. This year Staller enrolled 1,200 acres into the Longleaf Pine Initiative and 2,000 acres into the Working Lands for Wildlife program. He will use those funds to plant longleaf pine, prescribed burning and remove invasive weeds. Steve Tullar, district conservationist in Monticello, Fla., has worked with the station for eight years.

“Years of management has not only worked to restore quail—they have wild turkey and deer in abundance. They continue to plant and support the endangered longleaf pine ecosystem and improve habitat conditions. I am proud of the land management they are doing on their property. Plus, they work with and influence other private land owners to improve forestland. This is important because so much of the land in Florida is privately owned,” Tullar said.

USDA NRCS Florida|10/26/15

Florida black bear slaughter – not again. ‏

Gov. Rick Scott’s Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) just completed their cruel and widely condemned Florida black bear hunt, and it was an unmitigated disaster. They were forced to end the hunt early after the state’s quota of 320 bears was nearly met in just two days. In the eastern Panhandle nearly triple the state’s quota of bears for that region were killed.

These numbers don’t even account for the orphaned bear cubs that will be unable to survive without their mothers, or the injured bears left to die in the forest, or any illegally killed undersized bears that went unreported. Unbelievably, despite this horrific debacle, Gov. Scott’s Fish and Wildlife Commission is already planning the next black bear bloodbath. 

State officials have claimed that the hunt was necessary to control the growing bear population, but that assertion is flimsy at best considering the state does not even have reliable population numbers for black bears. In fact just three years ago, Florida’s black bears were still a protected species. As the Sun Sentinel editorialized, “it was way too early to have this hunt. And it’s way too early to think about having another.”

Gov. Scott’s wildlife commission not only ignored science when conducting Florida’s bear hunt – they ignored the will of Floridians. Prior to the hunt, the FWC received about 40,000 comments and the overwhelming majority of 75% opposed the hunt.

Gov. Rick Scott and his administration have been dismantling Florida’s environmental and wildlife protections for too long. It’s time Floridians speak in an overwhelming and united voice and make clear that our state’s treasured wildlife including the iconic black bear must be protected for future generations.

Mark Ferrulo|executive director|Progress Florida|10/27/15

295 Bears Killed in Florida’s First Black Bear Hunt in Decades
It was a sad weekend for bears in Florida. Saturday marked the start of Florida’s first statewide bear hunt since 1972. Wildlife officials ended the season on Sunday after hunters killed 295 bears in just two days, approaching the statewide limit of 320 bears. The hunt had been approved for up to seven days.

Hunters killed 295 bears over the weekend. Photo credit: U.S. Forest Service Southern Region

Hunters killed 295 bears over the weekend. Photo credit: U.S. Forest Service Southern Region

In two of the four management regions where hunting was allowed, officials ended the hunt even earlier following just one day of hunting, as hunters approached or exceeded regional quotas. In the eastern Panhandle, hunters far exceeded the 40-bear quota for the season, killing 112 bears over the weekend, and in the central region, where the limit was set at 100 bears, 139 were killed.

The hunt was unanimously approved by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) in June. All seven commissioners were appointed by Republican Gov. Scott and have ties to the private sector, including in ranching, contracting, real estate and land development.

The state issued 3,778 bear hunting permits in anticipation of the hunting season. Florida’s bear population is currently estimated at around 3,500 bears, compared to 12,000 before European settlement.

The announcement that bear hunting would be permitted in Florida sparked outrage among environmental advocates. Until 2012, the black bear had been listed as “threatened” by the FWC for more than four decades. Wildlife advocates contend that black bear recovery in Florida isn’t complete, noting also that bear populations are increasingly threatened by fragmentation of Florida’s natural habitats. They also argue that there are more appropriate management alternatives to hunting, and had called for the FWC to complete a full census of black bear populations before moving forward with the hunt.

Information on the FWC website supports many of these claims, explaining that bears occupy only 18 percent of their historic range in Florida, and “while some subpopulations appear to be doing well, others are clearly still recovering.” By FWC estimates, Florida black bears will lose 2.3 million acres of habitat by 2060.

A dozen environmental organizations joined together in a lawsuit to block the hunt, but were unsuccessful. Gov. Scott refused to intervene.

The FWC touts hunting as an important conservation tool, pointing to growing bear populations and the desire to reduce human-bear conflict. But environmentalists suggest that hunters are often primarily motivated by the prospect of a hunting trophy, and in a recent Tampa Bay Times article, one hunter said a bear would be “a nice thing to have.”

“The hunt is a betrayal of this intelligent animal and a slap in the face to Floridians who love the Florida black bear,” Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a press release. “We take their land, run them over with cars, and then shoot them when they become habituated to our trash—our bears deserve better.”

The October hunt prohibited killing any bears with cubs, but the rule was loosely enforced—hunters reportedly brought in several mother bears. Tammy Sapp, a FWC spokesperson, told the Orlando Sentinel the hunt was timed so orphan cubs would be old enough to live on their own. Florida Black Bear cubs are weaned at 6-8 months, but typically stay with their mother until they are a year-and-a-half old. Funds from the bear permits—which were sold for $100 each—will go to bear conservation and public education efforts.

Here’s to hoping that Florida doesn’t approve another bear hunt.

Michael Sainato|Earth Island Journal|October 29, 2015

It’s Official: Jon and Tracey Stewart Convert 12-Acre Farm to Animal Sanctuary

The rumors are true. Jon Stewart and his wife Tracey are turning their 12-acre farm in Middelton, New Jersey into an animal sanctuary affiliated with Farm Sanctuary. The organization has been working for the last three decades to end inhumane farm practices and create better lives for animals. Tracey revealed the news on Saturday night at Farm Sanctuary’s annual gala at the Plaza Hotel in New York City.

“We bought a farm in New Jersey, with the intention of starting a farm sanctuary of our own,” she said at the gala, where she and Jon were honored with an award. “We’re getting married. Farm Sanctuary and us, we’re getting married.”

It will be the fourth such Farm Sanctuary site with the original in upstate New York and two in California, according to Farm Sanctuary’s website.

The Stewart’s farm is called Bufflehead, and it’s currently home to four rescue pigs. Future inhabitants, the New York Times reports, will likely include more pigs, as well as cows, sheep, goats, chickens and turkeys.

Tracey, a longtime animal advocate and vegan, is the editor-in-chief of the online parenting magazine Moomah. Her new book is called Do Unto Animals, a humorous and insightful look into the secret lives of animals and a guide for how to live alongside them. A portion of the proceeds will go to Farm Sanctuary.

Fans of The Daily Show know that Jon was a consistent animal advocate throughout his time on the air. Most notably, he skewered Gov. Christie on vetoing a popular gestation crate ban. He also hosted Gene Baur of Farm Sanctuary to discuss animal rescue and veganism and John Hargrove, the former SeaWorld employee who became a whistleblower on the company’s animal cruelty.

Cole Mellino|October 27, 2015

Restore the Great Marsh for Wildlife

Have you heard about the Great Marsh?

Marshes matter! Snowy egrets and hundreds of wildlife species couldn’t survive without them.

But our life-giving marshes are disappearing at an alarming rate.

At 20,000 acres, the Great Marsh stretches from Massachusetts to New Hampshire. This unique salt marsh supports more than 300 bird species—from osprey, to endangered piping plovers, to American black ducks and even bald eagles.

Invasive species, rising tides and coastal erosion have destroyed and damaged so much of this vital marsh habitat. That’s why we’re leading a massive conservation and restoration effort called the Great Marsh Resiliency Partnership—so these habitats and the wildlife that depend on them aren’t lost forever.

Collin O’Mara|President & CEO|National Wildlife Federation

Turkey Point canals may be too salty for nesting crocs

Nests have dropped by 75 percent over last five years

Turkey Point’s hotter and saltier cooling canals have become increasingly inhospitable to the endangered crocodiles that use the sprawling system for a nursery.

Over the last year, the number of nests counted along the banks fell precipitously, from between 20 to 25 nests over the last five years to about a half dozen this year, said U.S. Fish and Wildlife spokesman Ken Warren. The dramatic drop has prompted federal wildlife managers to take a close look at the canals, which produce a third of the nests statewide and serve as one of only four nesting grounds.

In all likelihood, federal officials will re-evaluate measures needed to protect the crocodiles, which rebounded significantly under a successful management plan operated by Florida Power and Light.

“It’s a matter of concern because that area has been significant in the recovery of the species,” Warren said. “Our primary concern is what can be done to lower the salinity.”

The problems with the crocs are just the latest for the aging canals, which began running hotter after the utility temporarily shut the canals down to increase power output and triggered an algae bloom. An underground salt plume, pressured by the canal’s heavier saltier water, has also spread west, threatening drinking water supplies and prompting legal action by the city of Miami, environmental groups and rock miners.

Biologists first discovered the problem with the crocs when they visited the 6,700-acre system, which acts like a massive radiator, during the spring nesting season.

“There was a change in order of magnitude at Turkey Point and no where else was there a similar change,” said University of Florida biologist Frank Mazzotti, who monitors the Turkey Point nests along with two nesting sites in Everglades National Park and another in Key Largo.

Scientists don’t know for sure that the decline in nests is caused by the saltier water, but they do know younger crocs can’t tolerate such conditions.

“It’s correlated in time and space,” Mazzotti said. “But these things are so difficult to prove — the actual cause — especially when you don’t have controls.”

Last year, after rising temperatures repeatedly risked shutting down nuclear reactors they help cool, FPL obtained permission to run the canals hotter at 104 degrees. But as temperatures topped 100 degrees, salinity climbed, to as much as three times nearby ocean water in Biscayne Bay.

FPL hastily obtained an emergency permit to pump water from the nearby L-31 canal to freshen the canals. But the permit only allowed pumping after enough water reached Biscayne Bay, which has also been fighting increasing salinity. FPL was only able to pump water for a few weeks before the dry season kicked in. The utility renewed the permits, but this summer’s drought got in the way. Since last year, FPL has added over 2 billion gallons of water, but salinity remains well above the bay.

FPL officials pointed out that the number of nests fluctuate over the years, although never this low.

“We do believe that canal conditions, with increasing salinity, has reduced the number of crocs spending time in the system” said spokesman Greg Brostowicz. “But these animals move in and out of the canal system regularly.”

But the utility does not believe the increase in power output is affecting the crocs, he said.

To freshen the canals, FPL hopes to install permanent wells to pull additional water from the deeper Floridan aquifer, which lies beneath the Biscayne aquifer that supplies freshwater to the region. It also plans to control the spreading plume by installing deepwater injection wells in an agreement made with Miami-Dade County earlier this month. FPL will also ask to renew temporary permits to pump from the L-31 until salinity, which is down from a high of about 90 parts per thousand to 50 to 60 parts per thousand, matches Biscayne Bay, Brostowicz said.

If the canals return to what they were, Mazzotti said there’s no reason to believe the crocs won’t return.

“If FPL fixes the problem — they need to get the salinity down and the algae bloom under control — I don’t see why the crocs would not return and the nests will be back up,” he said. “That should be what everyone should be focused on.”

Jenny Staletovich|

Stop the EPA From Poisoning Our Wildlife

In theory, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is supposed to protect our environment and the wildlife in it. So why did the EPA ignore Endangered Species Act (ESA) protocol and approve a pesticide — benzovindiflupyr — that’s poisonous to wildlife without even consulting wildlife biologists first?

The EPA’s “Indifference” Harms Wildlife and Habitat

According to a Center for Biological Diversity press release, the EPA even recognizes that benzovindiflupyr can “harm wildlife and critical habitat protected by the Endangered Species Act, but approved it for use without consulting with expert wildlife agencies as required by the Act.” The government agency also permitted the use of the pesticide without considering the impact that it would have on struggling bees, even though studies have shown that fungicides like benzovindiflupyr can negatively impact them.

Unfortunately, it’s not just bad for bees. Stephanie Parent, the Center for Biological Diversity’s senior attorney, describes the extent of the problem with benzovindiflupyr: “This pesticide is highly poisonous to fish and other wildlife, but the EPA approved it anyway.” Parent says that the agency’s “indifference” can disrupt imperiled wildlife all across the country. Wildlife biologists should’ve been consulted and more studies should’ve been performed.

For Parent, the EPA not only failed in a legal sense — that’s why a lawsuit has been launched to protect wildlife — it also failed in a moral sense. Benzovindiflupyr is a new fungicide that we know can be very toxic to our marine life. It has no business being sprayed on crops for human consumption, like “cereals, corn, vegetables, fruits, turf grass and ornamentals.” Like other pesticides, it’s just going to end up in our waterways and contaminate our marine life as runoff.

Benzovindiflupyr isn’t pretty. A draft analysis of benzovindiflupyr prepared by researchers Jürg Zarn and Alan Boobis shows how bad the pesticide can be. They analyzed how the pesticide affected other animals (rats, mice, rabbits and dogs) over various long- and short-term studies. One study recorded that dogs exposed to doses of the pesticide experienced salivation and vomiting, and another study with exposed mice observed mice with “piloerection, rolling gait, staggering, circling, irregular respiration and soft faeces.” Another study “concluded that benzovindiflupyr is carcinogenic in male rats at the highest dose tested.” Is this what our wildlife has to look forward to?

The EPA’s benzovindiflupyr oversight doesn’t end there. In a litany of bad decisions, the EPA also approved 3 more pesticides — difenoconazole, propiconazole and azoxystrobin. Like benzovindiflupyr, the impacts of these pesticides on our wildlife were also not fully investigated. It’s plain negligent and potentially dangerous. Not only did the agency refuse to study these pesticides individually, but it also “refused to consider the impacts of benzovindiflupyr when combined with these other chemicals, despite the likelihood that synergistic impacts may make these products more toxic.”

Of course, the EPA knows better. The Endangered Species Act requires it to consult specialists first; it has many reforms set in place just to address the needs of endangered species — reforms that were completely disregarded. The National Academy of Sciences also issued the agency a report to tackle wildlife protection and pesticides.

There’s no excuse.

Jessica Ramos|October 30, 2015


Why a Wildlife Biologist Cares About Longleaf

As a private lands biologist I spend much of my time helping private landowners who want to improve their property for wildlife.  Managing wildlife means more than just managing the population, in means managing the habitat.  For wildlife that inhabit a pine forest, the species of pine that makes up that forest is important.  Especially when it comes to managing that forest over time.

A longleaf pine ecosystem is one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet next to the tropical rainforest. It is also one of the most endangered systems having been reduced by 97 percent of its former range.  But it’s only one species.  How can there be much diversity when we are talking about one species?  For that you have to look down.  As a wildlife biologist I spend much of my time in the longleaf ecosystem looking at the ground. That’s where you find the diversity. Although the longleaf pine is the dominant feature of the landscape, it’s the ground cover that makes it so important to wildlife.  A longleaf ecosystem can have over 40 different species of plants in a square yard.  Now that’s a diverse ecosystem.

If it is the understory that is so important then why do we care about what species of pine occupies the overstory? It gets back to the idea of managing habitat for wildlife. Longleaf has many beneficial features that other pines do not. First, understand that southeastern habitats evolved in an environment of frequent lightening fires. Historically lightening fires burned the landscape on a one to three-year basis.  These mostly summer fires kept hardwoods in check and pine species that could not handle fire at a young age were killed or survived mostly in the wetter areas along streams and bayheads that fire didn’t usually reach. Longleaf’s features allow it to survive fires when very young. In the “grass stage,” the bud is protected from fire by the long needles that fold up around it as fire approaches and protects it until the fire passes. 

Another important feature of longleaf is its open structured canopy. Mature longleaf branches are open enough that more sunlight passes through the canopy to reach the forest floor. Unless sunlight reaches the forest floor there will be no groundcover, which means no food or cover for many species of wildlife. Longleaf also has a much longer life span; up to 500 years.  It produces more resin and is susceptible to red heart disease as it reaches 100 years old. That is important to red-cockaded woodpeckers because the red heart makes excavating a cavity easier, and this is one of the few woodpecker species to create cavities in a live tree rather than a snag. The higher resin content allows the birds to create predator defenses by pecking resin holes below the entrance, which makes climbing the tree by rat snakes a sticky mess they won’t tolerate.

What about the other commercial pine species? How do they stack up for wildlife? Slash and loblolly pine are not fire resistant at a young age and you usually can’t burn them until they are about eight to 12 years of age. A lot of brush can invade a forest in that much time. Their canopies do not have as open a structure as longleaf and usually are planted at too high a density to allow much sunlight to reach the forest floor. A mature heavily thinned slash or loblolly forest is not necessarily bad for wildlife, structurally the overstory can be suitable for many species of wildlife. It’s the early ages where burning is restricted and the older ages where the shorter lifespan of these species becomes a problem for certain species of wildlife.

So back to the original question: why does a wildlife biologist care about longleaf? Because it gives a wildlife biologist the flexibility to manage with fire from an early age to promote the understory grasses and forbs that are so important to wildlife. Plant succession marches on if we do nothing, so a pine that allows us to manage for early successional stages is valuable. Longleaf does that better than any other pine species in the southeast.  If you are interested in managing your property with longleaf contact your nearest Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission landowner assistance biologist or an NRCS district conservationist.

Arlo Kane|northwest region conservation planning coordinator|Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Madagascar’s sacred forests have a guardian — in space

Madagascar’s Avenue of the Baobabs at sunset. Outside of protected areas, one of the major threats to these iconic trees is fires resulting from tavy, the local name for slash-and-burn agriculture. (© Cristina Mittermeier)

For most people in Madagascar, fire is a way of life.

It is the primary source of light, heat and cooking; burning old grass to encourage new growth for cattle grazing is a traditional part of agriculture in the African island country.

But when conditions are dry and windy, these fires can get out of hand — and the results can be devastating. As climate change brings higher temperatures, and deforestation and habitat degradation increase landscapes’ susceptibility to burn, uncontrolled fire has never been a bigger threat.

What if there was a way to let farmers in Madagascar know when it’s too dangerous to start a fire?

Thanks to cutting-edge technology developed by Conservation International (CI), there is.

A fire alarm for the world’s forests

To help people in remote forests prevent fires from getting out of control, CI designed Firecast in 2013. A successor to its Fire Alert System, an automated early warning system developed in 2007, Firecast uses the latest web-mapping technology and satellite coverage.

Here’s how it works:

  1. The web-based Firecast system retrieves near-real-time fire detection data from NASA satellites for Indonesia, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and Madagascar.
  2. This data is then sent via daily, customized alerts (text-based emails, maps or reports) to fire and forest service departments, conservation organizations, park rangers and local residents who sign up to receive the free messages.
  3. These decision-makers then use that data to inform policing and enforcement of illegal activities; protecting infrastructure and livestock from fires; and land-use management.

What’s more, Firecast doesn’t just monitor current fire destruction — it can also be used as a forecasting tool, using satellite-derived weather conditions to predict where fires are likely to break out or spread. Daily and seasonal forecasts provide valuable information to decision-makers to prevent the ignition and spread of fires during times of elevated risk.

For farmers and residents in Madagascar, an additional sensor may be especially useful. At an August 2015 workshop in Antananarivo, the capital, CI introduced high-resolution, satellite-derived, active fire alerts from VIIRS, a NOAA/NASA sensor that can detect fires when they’re significantly smaller, and with greater locational accuracy, than was previously available — and users in Madagascar can receive this information sooner, to help fight fires before they grow out of control.

Sacred trees under threat

Fires can have a detrimental effect on biodiversity. For example, Madagascar’s Baly Bay is home to the plowshare tortoise, one of the world’s most threatened tortoises, with only 2,000 individuals left in the wild. The species’ habitat is under serious threat from fires.

Sometimes, fires even encroach upon Madagascar’s sacred, protected baobab trees. A sign at Avenue of the Baobabs, a prominent group of baobab trees lining the dirt road between Morondava and Belon’i Tsiribihina in western Madagascar, explains that one of the major threats to baobabs outside of the protected area is agriculture-related fire occurring too close to the trees.

In August I traveled to Morondava to see the famous trees, a long day’s drive from the workshop. As we entered the central highlands, the charred and barren landscape was heartbreaking and seemed to stretch for hours. The driver became emotional describing what it was like to drive this route over the past 20 years and to see the forest gradually disappear to logging and fire. Burnt seedlings indicated that this practice was ongoing.

From extinguishing fires to preventing them

We may never be able to completely prevent deforestation and habitat degradation from fire, resource extraction and agricultural expansion in remote areas, but thanks to Firecast, we are a step closer. Equipping Malagasy people — and others around the world — with a tool that enables them to be proactive about fire threats instead of just reacting to incidents will have long-lasting benefits, including prevented deforestation and avoided greenhouse-gas emissions.

Back at the workshop, representatives from the Missouri Botanical Garden showed a video made by a local Malagasy community about how they fought a recent fire that jumped a river in the windy conditions. This reminded me of a fire back home in California in July that jumped a freeway, but this community did not have the same tools to fight it — no protective gear, and only watering cans and branches. It was tragic to see what they lost in the fire, but I admired their determination to replant and rebuild.

Hopefully with new data from Firecast, they can prevent something like this from happening again.

Kellee Koenig|cartographer and GIS manager|Conservation International|October 21, 2015.

Ecologists Speak Out in Defense of Tree-Killing Beetle

Ecologists Speak Out in Defense of Tree-Killing Beetle

If you’ve spent any time in the forests of the Western United States, chances are you’ve heard about the bark beetle — and heard horror stories about how this tiny insect is ravaging North America’s forests. Over the past decade, millions of acres of forest have succumbed to bark beetle infestations, and now lawmakers are sounding the alarm.

In California, state legislators have been pushing Governor Jerry Brown to declare the epidemic an official state of emergency. On the national level, the House of Representatives has already passed a new bill, H.R. 2647, or the “Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2015,” ostensibly aimed at helping preserve National Forests by removing trees that have already been infested or have been deemed at risk.

Lawmakers claim these measures are necessary to protect the nation’s forests from destruction, but ecologists aren’t supporting these initiatives — instead, they’ve been speaking out against them. Not only are these policies based on bad science, they say, but both of these legislative pushes would open up protected forests to harmful commercial logging operations.

Back in March, Mother Jones spotlighted the work of Forest Service researcher Constance Millar, who has an unconventional perspective on the bark beetle epidemic: She believes the bugs are actually helping create healthier, more resilient forests. In her studies, she found that the beetles tended to target trees that were less genetically adapted to survive climate change, leaving them weaker in warmer weather, while leaving trees more suited to the current climate untouched.

In fact, once the cold-adapted trees had died off, the survivors were able to grow stronger and faster. According to Millar, scientists and policy makers should approach bark beetle infestations as a form of beneficial natural selection, rather than a plague to be stopped.

So what about the dead trees left behind after a beetle infestation occurs? Most people assume large stands of dry wood have to pose a greater hazard for wildfires — an especially urgent concern now, following California’s worst fire season on record. However, ecologist Chad Hanson claims that concern is misplaced in a recent article. Again and again, he says, research has shown that trees killed by bark beetles simply do not cause wildfires to burn more intensely in affected forests — in fact, there’s some evidence that the dead trees are less susceptible to fire, not more.

Not only do these trees pose no additional fire danger, but allowing logging companies to remove them may actually decrease biodiversity in the surrounding forest. A wide variety of animals — including birds, bats and small mammals — all make their homes in these pockets of dead trees. Some are unable to nest in living trees due to the hardness of the wood. Others live in the shrubs that provide ground-cover in these areas, plants which are often unable to thrive beneath the light-blocking canopy of living trees. By clearing these areas and replanting new trees, entire ecosystems are being lost.

In the end, the pressure remove these trees comes from a predictable source: the logging industry. Kevin Van Tighem, a conversation biologist based in Alberta, Canada, summed up the issue this way: “When someone tells you to be worried, it pays to check what business they are in. Fear of insects and fear of fire are two time-tested public relations strategies employed by people who profit from logging, in order to weaken controls on logging and improve their profits.”

It’s true that the warmer, drier weather caused by climate change is allowing bark beetles to infest more trees than ever before — and this is a problem that scientists should continue to study. But GOP-backed legislation that makes it easier for the timber industry to bypass Federal protections for our National Forests is not the answer.

Julie M. Rodriguez|October 30, 2015

Global Warming and Climate Change

Why Climate Change Is Responsible for Record-Breaking Hurricanes Like Patricia

Hurricane Patricia—the most intense hurricane ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere—was downgraded to a tropical depression with 35-mph sustained winds on Saturday, and offered to some observers a reminder of the consequences of a warming planet.

No fatalities from the historic storm, which forced the evacuation of some 50,000 people, have yet been reported, and initial reporting indicates no major devastation, damages from potential heavy winds, rains and landslides are still unfolding as the storm makes its way inland.

By Saturday morning Patricia had been downgraded to a Category 2. The National Hurricane Center reports, “On the forecast track, the center of Patricia will move across central and northeastern Mexico today and tonight.”

The New York Times reports:

The hurricane spared the densely populated centers of Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo; it appears to have done the most damage to small villages between the two cities. For many in these impoverished communities, it could take much time to recover from even moderate damage.

The Weather Channel notes that flooding and mudslides remain potentially deadly threats, and adds: “El Universal reported that multiple homes were severely damaged and banana and papaya crops were destroyed in Michoacan state. Mud and landslides closed several roads in the region. Some homes in Cuyultan, Colima, were flooded.”

Before making landfall Friday evening along Mexico’s Pacific coast with sustained winds of 165 mph, the then-Category 5 storm was packing winds of 200 mph. “These are the highest reliably-measured surface winds on record for a tropical cyclone, anywhere on the Earth,” meteorologist Jeff Masters wrote.

Masters and fellow meteorologist Bob Henson described Patricia as “stunning, historic, mind-boggling, and catastrophic.” They add that it’s “the fastest-intensifying hurricane ever observed in the Western Hemisphere,” and that Patricia’s “200 mph sustained winds make it the 3rd strongest tropical cyclone in world history.”

“How did Patricia get to be so strong?” meteorologist Eric Holthaus asks at Slate.

The answer, quite simply, involves human-caused climate change. Hurricane Patricia is exactly the kind of terrifying storm we can expect to see more frequently in the decades to come. Although there’s no way to know exactly how much climate change is a factor in Patricia’s explosive strengthening, it’s irresponsible, at this point, not to discuss it.

“Meteorologically,” Holthaus adds, “there are at least four reasons why global warming could have contributed to Patricia’s ferocity: El Niño, exceptionally warm ocean temperatures, increased atmospheric humidity and sea level rise.”

The Washington Post also notes that “record-setting hurricanes are consistent with predictions by climate researchers about the consequences of a warming world.”

The Post continues:

The oceans heating up because of climate change will have consequences, said Michael Mann, a climate researcher at Penn State University. “Hurricane Patricia, and her unprecedented 200 mile-per-hour sustained winds, appears to be one of them now, unfortunately.”

Such consequences were undeniable to Mexico’s climate negotiator at the Bonn, Germany climate talks, which concluded Friday and where delegates sought to hammer out a draft climate treaty ahead of the upcoming COP21 talks in Paris.

Reportedly holding back tears, Roberto Dondisch urged the other delegates to reach consensus on a deal.

“In about four hours, Hurricane Patricia will hit the Mexican coast,” Dondisch said. “I don’t think I need to say more about the urgency to get this deal done.”

Yet climate change campaigners say the Bonn talks failed to make the needed progress.

“The deplorable inaction at the climate negotiations is a calamity for people across the world,” said Dipti Bhatnagar, Friends of the Earth International’s climate justice and energy coordinator. “We are facing a planetary emergency with floods, storms, droughts and rising seas causing devastation. The risk of irreversible climate change draws ever closer, and hundreds of thousands of people have already paid with their lives.”

Andrea Germanos|Common Dreams|October 25, 2015

Young People Hold the Key to Mobilizing Climate Action

At age 13, I participated in civil rights marches and other activities. A few years later I was also active in anti-war marches and events. By the time I was 16, I helped lead a protest at my high school, which ended with a ceremonial tree-planting on the first Earth Day in 1970. I was fortunate because my family supported and encouraged my activism, as they have throughout my career.

As I look toward our planet’s future, I reflect on numerous examples from our past, in which young generations not only helped lead, but also provided the main spark that forced older decision-makers to push through change. The 1960s and ’70s in the U.S. are one big example. The Berliners tearing down the wall in 1989 is another. The Arab Spring in 2010/11 changed that corner of the world forever. And more recently, the rise of and its mass mobilization of young people, which included the People’s Climate March in New York in 2014, is a big new force in the fight to address climate change.

It’s clear that if we want change, we need to not only watch and listen to young people, but also embrace and support them to help create the change our planet needs. If the leaders at COP21 in Paris don’t get this message, they are simply missing the boat.

That’s why Global Greengrants Fund is partnering with to provide grants and assistance to international youth groups that are working to fight and address the impacts of climate change in their communities. In addition to Global Greengrants Fund’s normal granting—which has provided $45 million to grassroots and indigenous groups in 165 countries over the last 20 years—we are now in the process of granting out $475,000 specifically to grassroots and frontline youth groups so they can mobilize the climate movement in the lead-up to Paris. This grantmaking strategy is being directed by the youth climate organizers who make up our Next Generation Climate Board and’s global network of campaigners.

Young grantees are often from marginalized or indigenous communities that are already being impacted by climate change and stand to be devastated as the chaos worsens. They need to be given more opportunities to tell their stories and lead. Developing and empowering their voices isn’t just a good idea—it’s a necessity.

When we started searching around the world to find youth leaders and groups to fund with our grants, we were amazed at the work that was already moving forward that we were able to support. Young people from Peru to Malawi already had structures in place to address the impacts of climate change in their communities. Here’s the “#YouthOnClimate” campaign that Global Greengrants and have put together:

  • We’re making grants to groups in Africa, Asia, Latin America and beyond.
  • We’ve put together a series of videos to help amplify emblematic young voices in Kenya, the Philippines and Ecuador.
  • Our Call2Action focuses on mobilizing youth around COP21 to engage in civil action in their local communities.
  • We will have a contingent of youth voices at events in Paris for COP21.
  • We and others are moving “Through Paris,” not “To Paris,” to make sure these young people have the tools and resources needed to take the movement beyond Paris and back into their communities.

I’ve traveled around the world and met with dozens and dozens of local environmental groups and leaders. Young people, women, indigenous people and people from countries in the Global South hold a key to the solution of climate change. These groups bring a badly needed perspective, whether it is deep respect for the Earth, concern for the future or new ideas and tactics.

Climate change is imperiling our youth, and so we are empowering our youth to fight it.

Terry Odendahl|October 26, 2015

3 Biggest Fossil Fuel Consumers Fall ‘Far Short of Fair’ to Contain Global Warming

Pledges by the three titans of greenhouse gas emission—Europe, the U.S. and China, which are the three biggest fossil fuel consumers—fall “far short of fair” and may not be nearly enough to contain global warming, according to new research.

In the complex game of power politics, development economics, environmental campaigning, climate science and greenhouse gas accounting that will characterize the forthcoming UN climate summit in Paris, COP21, in December, the most important components so far are the declarations of intent made by the most developed nations.

The U.S. has announced plans to reduce emissions by 28 percent by 2025 and 83 percent by 2050. The EU is aiming for 40 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050. China has said its emissions will “peak” by 2025 and then start declining, and it aims to improve energy efficiency by 60 to 65 percent.

The question then is: does this set the world on course to contain global warming to 2°C?

Harsh Demands

The answer is probably “no,” say Glen Peters, senior research fellow at the Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo, Susan Solomon, professor of atmospheric chemistry and climate science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Pierre Friedlingstein, chair in mathematical modeling of climate systems at the University of Exeter, UK.

They have been looking at the sums, and they report in Environmental Research Letters that the promises of the big three translate into harsh demands for the rest of the world.

If the 2°C target is to be met, the remainder of the world would have to commit to per capita carbon dioxide emissions somewhere between seven and 14 times lower than the EU, U.S. or China by 2030.

Carbon accounting—the calculations that involve how much carbon dioxide can safely be emitted before temperatures rise to dangerous levels—is notoriously difficult, and under continuous revision.

But one working estimate right now is that the world can burn coal, oil and natural gas at a level that will have dumped 3.7 trillion tons of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere before the global average temperatures notch up 2°C above the levels before the Industrial Revolution.

Since humans have been burning fossil fuels at increasing rates for the last 200 years, that leaves just 1 trillion tons—about 30 years’ worth at the current levels—before the planetary thermometer rises to the danger level.

The study puts it bluntly: when combined, the European, U.S. and Chinese pledges don’t leave much room for other countries to burn fossil fuels to power their economies.

If any agreement in Paris is to be “globally inclusive and effective in the long term”, then by implication the rich nations will have to do a lot more than they have pledged to do.

Struggling to Develop

“The challenge of the problem is that we have about 7 billion people on the planet, and about 1 billion of us live pretty well,” Professor Solomon says.

“The other 6 billion are struggling to develop, and if they develop using carbon, as we did, the planet is going to get quite hot. And hot is, of course, just the beginning of the story in terms of what climate change actually means.”

The scientists calculate that, even if the EU, China and the U.S. fulfill their pledges, it commits the planet to a warming of at least 3°C. Even a rise of 2°C would represent a huge change—resulting in sea level rise, a greater frequency of extremes of temperature and dramatic shifts of climatic conditions.

In 2003, an unprecedented heatwave in Europe caused at least 10,000 deaths, with some estimating many times more than that figure.

“That summer was about 2°C hotter than an average European summer,” Professor Solomon says.

“By 2050, every summer in Europe will probably be 2°C hotter than average, if we keep going the way we’re going right now. Three degrees, in my opinion, is a really frightening change.”

Tim Radford|Climate News Network|October 24, 2015

Miami Beach’s battle to stem rising tides

Miami Beach Flooding

Miami Beach has put into action an aggressive and expensive plan to combat the effects of sea level rise. As some streets keep flooding from recent king tide events, the city continues rolling out its plan of attack and will spend between $400-$500 million over the next five years doing so.

The sea started boiling up into the street. A major Miami Beach road was under water. Tourists sloshed to hotels through saltwater up to their shins, pants rolled up, suitcases in one hand, shoes in the other.

But one corner of Miami Beach stayed perfectly dry. In Sunset Harbour, which has historically flooded during seasonal high tides, the water was held at bay last month by a radically re-engineered streetscape that will be put to the test again this week with another king tide.

Read Entire Article …

New report addresses how we can slow climate change

Top environmental researchers from UCLA joined a team of 50 University of California experts in issuing a new report today with solutions to stabilize Earth’s climate this century. 

The report, Bending the Curve, was released Tuesday at the UC Climate Neutrality Initiative Summit in San Diego, and provides 10 scalable solutions to reduce global greenhouse emissions. UCLA’s Jon Christensen, an adjunct assistant professor and journalist-in-residence at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, served as the report’s senior editor, and explained some of the report’s goals.

The other UCLA contributors were environmental economist Magali Delmas, political ecologist Susanna Hecht, climate change legislation scholar Cara Horowitz, and Stephnie Pincetl, director of the California Center for Sustainable Communities at UCLA.

Some of the report’s solutions include:

  • Immediately targeting short-lived climate pollutants, including methane, black carbon, hydrofluorocarbons, and ozone, which are all powerful contributors to global warming. Unlike carbon dioxide, emissions of these pollutants can be cut back quickly, slowing warming in the near term, averting extreme climatic events. 
  • Scaling up the technology we already have by providing more economic incentives for using things like solar and wind power, electric vehicles and efficient lighting.
  • Focusing on communication from a variety of leaders, including religious and community leaders, to encourage fundamental changes in attitudes and behaviors.
  • Reducing emissions from the wealthiest, who contribute roughly 60 percent of the climate pollution, while promoting clean energy solutions for the poorest three billion people, and providing more support for those who also live in and manage many of the great forests and other ecosystems that capture and store carbon.

Gov. Jerry Brown, who joined UC President Janet Napolitano at the UC Carbon and Climate Neutrality Summit, said the solutions from the UC Climate Solutions Group could help shape talks among global leaders at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris this November.

“This is a call to action. We put all of our best minds in California on this — a very formidable force. Nothing less than that is required,” said Brown.

Continue reading at UCLA.

UCLA|October 27, 2015

Climate Change ‘A Serious Threat’ to King Penguins, Study Warns

In a new study, published in Nature Communications, scientists reveal how feeding and breeding of king penguins has varied between 1992 and 2010, and how climate change could put a dent in their numbers.

King penguin fitted with an Argos transmitter. Photo credit: C.A. Bost

King penguin fitted with an Argos transmitter. Photo credit: C.A. Bost

The study focused on the Crozet archipelago in the southwest Indian Ocean, around 3,000km southeast of South Africa. With more than 600,000 breeding pairs, the islands are home to the world’s largest king penguin population.

King penguins breed from mid-December to mid-March. When foraging for food to feed their young, the adults swim south towards the fish-laden waters of the polar front, which is typically 300-500km away. This region, shown as a dotted blue line in the image below, is where the cold ocean surrounding Antarctica meets warmer waters further north.

The position of the front varies from year-to-year with natural fluctuations in the southern Indian and Atlantic oceans. These are, in turn, affected by climate phenomena such as El Niño.

Using satellite transmitters attached to selected breeding penguins, the study tracked their movements between 1992 and 2010. In some years, the researchers found the penguins had to swim further and dive deeper to find food. These years coincided with warmer waters in the southern Indian or Atlantic Ocean, which shifted the polar front southwards.

An increase in ocean temperatures of 1C in the southwest Indian Ocean, for example, pushes the front 130km further south.

In 1997, natural fluctuations conspired to bring “abnormally” warm water to the Crozet islands, pushing the polar front further than scientists had seen before. The satellite tracking showed the penguins had to swim almost twice as far to find food, and dive around 30 percent deeper.

The extra distance took its toll on the survival of the penguin population, the researchers say. The following year, the number of breeding pairs had fallen by 34 percent, and took five years to recover to pre-1997 numbers.

While the study looked at natural fluctuations, the findings support previous work that suggests king penguin populations could be negatively affected by climate change. The polar front is projected to shift southwards as ocean surface temperatures warm, increasing the distance that breeding penguins will have to swim to reach food. Climate change, therefore, represents “a serious threat for penguins and other diving predators of the Southern Ocean”, the new study concludes.

Robert Mcsweeney|Carbon Brief|October 28, 2015

Indonesia’s huge fires might be the worst climate change crisis on Earth right now

On Monday afternoon, Indonesian President Joko Widodo cut short a visit to the United States and headed home to oversee efforts to extinguish a rash of epic wildfires that have engulfed his country.

Joko was in Washington, D.C., for a photo op with President Barack Obama, to talk about climate change, and to promote Indonesia as a choice venue for foreign investors. His trip was also supposed to include a stopover in San Francisco for meetings with tech industry executives. But Joko’s decision to return to Indonesia early underscores the challenges his country faces in stopping the worst deforestation on Earth — deforestation that is playing a critical role in global climate change.

There’s more to global warming than pollution from cars and power plants. In the United States, coal-fired power plants are the No. 1 source of carbon dioxide emissions, followed by tailpipe emissions from cars and trucks. That’s why the Obama administration has focused its climate policies on those sources; Obama’s signature plan aims to reduce power-sector emissions by one-third by 2030. Those policies get some natural help from the ecosystem, as trees and soil soak up carbon out of the atmosphere. In the United States, thanks to forest conservation and climate-friendly farming practices, land use (a term climate wonks use to describe emissions that come from the land rather than from human-made infrastructure and vehicles) actually offsets about 13 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions from the rest of the economy.

But on a global scale, land use is a source of greenhouse gas emissions, rather than a sink. The biggest culprit is deforestation: Living trees store carbon; dead trees release it back into the atmosphere as they decompose. Emissions from crop soil, fertilizer, and livestock also play a major role. Overall, land use accounts for about one-quarter of the world’s total greenhouse gas footprint.

In Indonesia, the situation is even more dire. According to the World Resources Institute (WRI), land use represents 61 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. That means deforestation causes far more climate pollution than all of the country’s cars and power plants combined.

In fact, Indonesia has the world’s highest rate of deforestation, even higher than Brazil, which contains most of the Amazon rainforest. From 2000 to 2012, according to research published in Nature, Indonesia lost more than 23,000 square miles of forest to logging, agriculture, and other uses. That’s roughly the size of West Virginia. In 2010, the government attempted to put the brakes on deforestation by exchanging a two-year moratorium on new logging permits for $1 billion in aid from Norway and the United States. But according to Susan Minnemeyer, a forest analyst at the WRI, that policy appears to have had the “perverse impact of accelerating [deforestation], because those with permits felt that they had to take action quickly or they would no longer be able to.”

This all adds up to global-scale pollution: Indonesia is the world’s fifth-ranking greenhouse gas emitter, coming in just behind Russia and India. In other words, we can’t stop climate change without saving Indonesia’s rainforests.

Indonesia is in the middle of a public health crisis from forest fire haze. The problem isn’t just deforestation, but how that deforestation is happening. In Indonesia, forests are often cleared out with fire. This can be done legally with a permit, but it’s often carried out illegally as well. This year, forest fires are also being fueled by El Niño-related weather patterns. The combination of El Niño and intentional deforestation has proven incredibly dangerous: The country has experienced nearly 100,000 fires so far this year, the worst since the last major El Niño in 1997. Fire activity typically ramps up in September and October, the end of the dry season, and over the last couple of weeks the conflagrations have grown to crisis proportions — hence Joko’s hasty return. The fires are so big they can be seen from space.

The greenhouse impact from those fires is staggering: On several days over the last month, emissions from Indonesian forest fires have exceeded all emissions from the U.S. economy:


World Resources Institute

To make matters worse, more than half of those fires occur on land made of peat, the thick, soil-like material made from decomposed plant matter. Peat is packed with carbon, and fires that occur on peatland can have a global warming impact 200 times greater than fires on normal soil, according to the WRI. Last week, Joko said the government would stop issuing new permits for commercial development on peatland, but that won’t stop the fires that are already burning.

Climate pollution is just part of the problem. Firefighting costs are pushing $50 million per week. The impact of this fire season on Indonesia’s economy could reach $14 billion. And the thick blanket of haze that is stretching from the country across Southeast Asia has caused at least 10 deaths from haze-related illness and 500,000 cases of acute respiratory illness.

Your snacks and makeup are part of the problem. Of course, Indonesians aren’t just chopping and burning down trees for fun. Besides logging, one of the main uses for cleared land is to plant African oil palm, the fruits of which are used to produce palm oil. Palm oil is the world’s most popular form of vegetable oil, and half of it comes from Indonesia. It’s also found in about half the processed food you encounter in a grocery store (as well as many cosmetics).

Palm oil has some advantages over other oils: It’s cheap to produce and doesn’t contain trans fats, and the trees yield far more oil in the same land area — using fewer chemical fertilizers — than soybeans or sunflowers. According to the World Bank, the increase in global demand for cooking oil by 2020 could be met with palm oil using one-seventh the land area that would be required to fill that demand using soybeans. For that reason, it could actually have many environmental advantages over other types of oil.

Unfortunately, much palm oil production now happens in highly vulnerable ecosystems, often in the former habitats of endangered animals such as tigers and orangutans. Pressure is growing on Indonesia’s palm oil producers to stop deforestation and stay out of sensitive areas. A handful of major U.S. food processors, including Nestlé and PepsiCo, have adopted commitments to rid their supply chains of palm oil linked to deforestation, according to a report from the Union of Concerned Scientists. But that report also that found many fast-food chains are lagging behind. Last year, an Indonesian court ordered the first-ever major fine — $30 million — for a palm oil company found to have cleared forest in protected orangutan habitat.

Indonesia’s climate test. For the international climate negotiations coming up soon in Paris, Indonesia has pledged to increase its emissions over the next 25 years by 29 percent less than it would have under a “business as usual” scenario. That won’t be possible without curbing forest fires and deforestation. So for Indonesia, getting a grip on palm oil producers will be even more important than going after power plants, as Obama is doing. Joko has been moving in the right direction, Minnemeyer said, but it’s unclear how his promises will hold up.

“Across the board, there has been very weak enforcement of Indonesia’s environmental laws,” she said. If they’re going to meet their climate target, “the fires are going to be a key part.”

Tim McDonnell|27 Oct 2015

Some Ice Sheets in Greenland slowing their movement

In the face of decades of increasing temperatures and surface melting, the movement of the southwest portion of the Greenland Ice Sheet that terminates on land has been slowing down, according to a new study being published by the journal Nature on Oct. 29.

Researchers derived their results by tracking ice sheet movement through Landsat satellite images taken from 1985 to 2014 across a roughly 3,088-square-mile (8000-square-kilometer) region in southwest Greenland. They found that, between 2007 and 2014, ice movement slowed in 84 percent of the study area, during a period of high surface melt, compared to the years between 1985 and 1994. The average slowdown was 12 percent, or 32.8 feet (10 meters) per year.

The finding is contrary to the widely held view that a greater amount of surface melting will result in faster-moving ice sheets, as the movement of both ocean- and land-terminating ice sheets is caused in part by surface meltwater, which makes its way to the bedrock through openings in the ice and acts as a lubricant. The amount of meltwater draining from the ice sheet in four out of the five years between 2007 and 2012 has been the most substantial of the last 50 years.

Researchers found that while the larger summertime meltwater volume of recent years has led to greater lubrication of the ice sheet base, speeding up its flow as expected, by the end of summer the meltwater has also established channels at the base that act as efficient drainage systems to lessen the water under the ice sheet, slowing it down by winter.

ScienceDaily|October 30, 2015

Read more at ScienceDaily.

Southeast Florida regional climate group amends sea level rise projections

A working group of engineers, researchers, and municipal officials from four South Florida counties has amended their short- and long-term projections on the severity of rising sea levels Thursday, saying they expect six to 10 inches of sea level rise by 2030, and between 28 and 57 inches by 2100.

The four-county Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact updated their predictions after a comprehensive review of recent scientific and technical literature, the group said in an announcement.

The likely effects of this sea level rise according to the new findings include coastal inundation of inland areas, increased frequency of flooding in vulnerable coastal areas, increased flooding in interior areas due to impairment of the region’s stormwater infrastructure, saltwater intrusion into the aquifer and local water supply wells, and contamination of the land and ocean with pollutants and debris and hazardous materials released by flooding.

The report also cited socio‐economic impacts such as displacement, decrease in property values and tax base, increases in insurance costs, loss of services and impaired access to infrastructure.

The group found the likelihood and severity of the effects depend on greenhouse gases emitted globally, rate of melting of land‐based ice sheets, the decisions and investments made by communities to increase their climate resilience, as well as “many interconnected processes” both natural and man-made that cascading climate change will affect.

The Compact was formed in 2010 as a partnership between Broward, Palm Beach, Miami-Dade, and Monroe counties to advance regional climate mitigation and adaptation strategies.

The new report did include a caveat about the boundaries of their predictions.

“Projected sea level rise, especially by 2060 and beyond, has a significant range of variation as a result of uncertainty in future greenhouse gas emissions and their geophysical effects, the incomplete quantitative understanding of all geophysical processes that might affect the rate of sea level rise in climate models and the limitations of current climate models to predict the future,” the report read.

Ryan Ray|Oct 30, 2015

Extreme Weather

SFWMD Chairman’s Message

While October typically marks South Florida’s transition into the dry season, the District’s operations staff is busy preparing for a wet winter. The National Weather Service is predicting above-average rainfall for the region in the coming months as a result of a strong El Niño weather pattern.
Given this forecast, the District continues working to help protect the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries by moving water south from Lake Okeechobee. At the same time, operations staff is looking for opportunities to improve conditions at the southern end of the peninsula, where Florida Bay is seeing the ecological impacts of a multiyear drought.

As the District works to improve water management across South Florida, restoration of complex ecosystems involves even more. This month, the Board renewed an agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research service to develop biological controls for invasive plants. These “biocontrols” are insects, specially raised at a laboratory built as a project in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. Biocontrols are a cost-effective part of the District’s extensive efforts to control aggressive exotic plants that harm the region’s natural ecosystems.

Daniel O’Keefe|Governing Board Chairman

The Middle East could be looking at 140-degree days thanks to climate change

Climate change isn’t fair. Seattle may have produced a whole lot of atmosphere-altering airplanes, but as climate change seriously kicks into gear, the Pacific Northwest will remain a sylvan glade, relatively speaking. Washington, D.C., which generated a lot of resistance to the Kyoto Protocol? Well, it’s going to become a hot, sticky sandbaggy Venice, so that seems fair. Greenland? What did Greenland ever do to anybody? It’s still melting.

So a new research paper that predicts that much of the Middle East could become uninhabitable thanks to unchecked climate change in less than a century is … interesting. The region is home to what are arguably the world’s most abundant and easily accessible reserves of petroleum and natural gas. Countries like Saudi Arabia have ardently worked for decades (with the help of the U.S.) to stymie climate agreements that would slow the business of selling those reserves.

Cristina Figueres, who heads up the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, described the situation this way:

“The Saudis are sitting on a vast reserve of very cheap oil,” she continued. “Can you blame them for trying to protect that resource and that income for as long as they can? I don’t blame them. It’s very understandable. Let’s do a thought experiment. I come from a country that has only hydro and wind as power resources. If I had been born in a country with fossil-fuel reserves, would I have a different opinion about what’s good for the world? Maybe. Very likely, in fact.”

The Middle East study, published this week in the science journal Nature Climate Change, comes with a good pedigree: One of the researchers, Elfatih Eltahir, teaches civil and environmental engineering at MIT and specializes in modeling the present and future climates of Africa, Southwest Asia, and Southeast Asia. The other one, Jeremy Pal, does pretty much exactly the same thing, but at Loyola.

The two estimate that — based on the IPCC’s Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) “business-as-usual” carbon emissions trajectory (aka, “RCP 8.5”) — cities like Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Doha will, by 2100, see temperatures that go higher than 45 degrees C (113 degrees F) several times a year, with occasional temperature spikes closer to 60 degrees C (140 degrees F). Humidity levels will make the high temperatures even more dangerous, because when the air gets moist and hot enough, people can’t just cool themselves by sweating. The 2 million pilgrims who journey to Mecca each year spend from dawn to dusk praying outdoors; if the Hajj falls during a heat wave, they’ll be risking their lives.

This scenario isn’t guaranteed. Climate models are, well … climate models. Earlier studies said that it would be more like 200 years before this future came to pass. (Admittedly, that’s not so great, either, and also not too far away.)

Will ominous warnings of the Middle East’s future weather change the game for climate negotiations? Air conditioning is already nearly ubiquitous in cities, like Doha, that can afford it, so Pal and Eltahir aren’t holding their breath:

Although much of the oil produced in this region eventually ends up in the atmosphere and contributes to global climate change, the same oil brings significant financial benefits to the region. These same benefits enhance the capacity of the region to adapt to climate change. Electricity demands for air conditioner use, for example, would considerably increase in the future to adapt to projected changes in climate and population. Although it may be feasible to adapt indoor activities in the rich oil countries of the region, even the most basic outdoor activities are likely to be severely impacted. In contrast, the relatively poor countries of Southwest Asia with limited financial resources and declining or non-existent oil production will probably suffer both indoors and outdoors.

In other words, the future could contain a whole lot of air-conditioned bunkers for the haves, and a roiling air swamp for the have-nots. Think Dune, but with the kind of killer humidity that ruins the drape of a great costume. If that isn’t a compelling reason for the U.N. Conference on Climate Change to actually get something done this year, I don’t know what is.

Heather Smith|28 Oct 2015

South Africa Sets Earth’s Hottest October Temperature on Record: 119°F

Earth’s hottest temperature ever recorded in the month of October occurred on Tuesday, Oct. 27 in South Africa, when Vredendal hit a remarkable 48.4°C (119.1°F). According to weather records researcher Maximiliano Herrera, this is also the highest temperature ever observed at Vredendal and the third highest temperature in South African history.

The new global October heat record was made possible by a “Berg wind” — a hot dry wind blowing down the Great Escarpment from the high central plateau to the coast. As the air descended it warmed via adiabatic compression, causing the record heat. These sorts of foehn winds are commonly responsible for all-time record temperatures; mainland Antarctica’s all-time record high of 17.5°C (63.5°F), set on March 24, was due, in part, to a foehn wind (see wunderground weather historian Christopher C. Burt’s blog post on this).

According to Herrera, the previous world October heat record of 47.3°C was set at Campo Gallo, Argentina on Oct. 16 1936, and South Africa’s highest reliable temperature for any month is 48.8°C (119.8°F), recorded at Vioosdrif in January 1993.

Five-minute resolution plot of the temperature at Vredendal, South Africa on Oct. 27, when the station hit a remarkable 48.4°C (119.1°F)—an all-time record for the planet for the month of October. Photo credit: South African Weather Service / Gail Linnow

Five-minute resolution plot of the temperature at Vredendal, South Africa on Oct. 27, when the station hit a remarkable 48.4°C (119.1°F)—an all-time record for the planet for the month of October. Photo credit: South African Weather Service / Gail Linnow

Arabian Sea’s Tropical Cyclone Chapala a Threat to Yemen and Oman

In the Arabian Sea, Tropical Cyclone Chapala has spun up to hurricane strength, with top winds of 75 mph estimated at 8 a.m. EDT Thursday by the Joint Typhoon Warning Center. Chapala is expected to take advantage of low wind shear, warm ocean waters near 30°C (86°F) and favorable upper-level outflow to intensify into a Category 4 storm by Sunday. Thereafter, weakening is likely as the storm encounters higher wind shear, lower oceanic heat content and interaction with land. Chapala is likely to make landfall on Monday in a sparsely populated area near the border of Yemen and Oman.

Tropical Cyclone Chapala as seen by the VIIRS instrument at 08:30 UTC October 29, 2015. At the time, Chapala was intensifying from a tropical storm with 65 mph winds to a Category 1 storm with 75 mph winds. Photo credit: NOAA / RAMMBTropical Cyclone Chapala as seen by the VIIRS instrument at 08:30 UTC October 29, 2015. At the time, Chapala was intensifying from a tropical storm with 65 mph winds to a Category 1 storm with 75 mph winds. Photo credit: NOAA / RAMMB

Cyclone could dump a year of rain on Arabia

Cyclone Chapala is taking aim at the Arabian Peninsula and was forecast to strengthen into a Category 5 storm Friday, with winds of up to 166 mph. It should approach Oman and Yemen at Category 2 or 3 strength late Sunday or early Monday.

A cyclone is the same type of storm as a hurricane or typhoon. They’re known as cyclones in the Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal.

A Category 3 storm has winds of at least 111 mph.

“Chapala is also on pace to become the strongest cyclone on record in the Arabian Sea,” Accuweather Senior Meteorologist Jason Nicholls said.

Regardless of its strength, Chapala has the potential to dump a year’s worth of rain or more in just a day or two over parts of eastern Yemen and southwestern Oman, the Weather Channel said.

According to the website, the average annual rainfall in Salalah, Oman, is just 4 inches.

According to Weather Channel hurricane specialist Michael Lowry, there is no record of a hurricane-strength cyclone landfall in Yemen dating back to 1945.


Take steps to prepare for major El Nino

Pacific Ocean weather phenomenon could spawn severe late fall, winter storms

Storms fueled by El Nino in the late fall and early winter could hit so quickly and powerfully that the weather pattern has been given a fighting name: Bruce Lee.

That’s how one writer is referring to it.

El Nino is a natural climate cycle defined as warmer-than-average seawater in the tropical Pacific Ocean, which changes weather patterns around the world, from Australia to the Americas to Europe and Africa.

Local, state and federal officials began issuing alerts and holding news conferences in the past week to make the public more aware of the potential for rough weather and to relay sound safety advice.

El Nino conditions manifest at different times in different places, meaning distinct preparation steps should be taken depending on where you live. To stand up to the El Nino’s strength — which is believed to be record-setting — go back to basic defensive tactics.

If you live in the mountains:

Make roof repairs now. Precipitation means snow at higher elevations. The rule of thumb is that snow weighs about 20 pounds per cubic foot. Do the math on your roof size; hundreds or thousands of extra pounds can be added by snowfall. A whole roof can cave in if it’s in disrepair.
Store extra blankets, food and water in case you get snowed in.
Prepare your vehicle. Now is the time to switch to winter tires and put snow chains in the trunk. Don’t forget to keep antifreeze full and switch to lighter engine oil. It flows better and gives you better miles per gallon in winter.

If you live on a mountainside:

If you get caught in a mudslide, look upstream so you can see what is coming your way. Large objects, even cars, can get swept away and move quickly toward you.
Keep a shovel and traction pads in the trunk of your vehicle in case you get stuck in the mud trying to evacuate.

If you live in a valley:

Check flood hazard maps, and get flood insurance far ahead of the wet season.
Construct flood barriers with sandbags if runoff gets severe, and seal and waterproof roofs, basements and windows.
Clean out your drains and gutters.
If you drive to evacuate, don’t speed; you risk hydroplaning. Also, don’t attempt to drive through flooded roadways. Find other routes.

Thomas M. Kostigen|USA TODAY

Genetically Modified Organisms

Food Fight Continues Over GMO Labeling

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA)—the world’s largest trade association for food, beverages and consumer products—has issued a road map to its member companies on how to comply with Vermont’s precedent-setting law that requires the labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), even though the powerful organization has heavily lobbied and spent eye-popping sums to fight state-by-state labeling mandates.

Americans can hardly agree on anything, but polls show that 93 percent of us want the federal government to require labels on genetically engineered food. How is Big Food responding to near consensus? Photo credit: a katz /

Is Big Food Throwing in the Towel on GMO Labeling?

The GMA, which represents more than 300 food and beverage titans such as ConAgra, Nestlé, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Kellogg and Hershey, has posted on its website a six page, 29-point FAQ [Frequently Asked Questions] document in order “to respond to questions that companies have about compliance with the Vermont law,” Roger Lowe, the executive vice president of GMA’s Strategic Communications, told EcoWatch in an email.

EcoWatch was made aware of this FAQ after a tipster sent us a copy of an earlier version of the document that was last updated on Aug. 3, 2015.

In the document, the GMA offers a bevy of guidelines for its companies on how to comply with Vermont’s label law set to take effect July 1, 2016, even though the GMA has slapped lawsuits on the state to block the labeling law, and has spent millions in lobbying against mandatory labels at the state and federal level.

Their FAQ brings up points such as the specific language that can be used on a label, what the label should look like, where it should be placed, financial penalties for noncompliance, whether or not the word “natural” can be used for GMO-foods (prohibited by Vermont), and even whether or not GMO-food sold from restaurants or vending machines would require labeling (they don’t).

Although the GMA expresses outright that this document is “NOT legal advice” and “it is up to each company to unilaterally decide its own course of action,” just the existence of this FAQ suggests that Big Food companies are preparing a transition to labeling their GMO products, or at least in Vermont.

But there’s a larger picture: If (or when) Vermont’s mandate kicks in next year, it could have far-reaching implications for the labeling of GMO food products in the U.S.

Vermont Wins the Right to Know

The case for labeling GMO food has been boiling over in recent years, and in May 2014, Vermont became the first state in the U.S. to do just that. Unsurprisingly, the law was immediately shunned by the GMA and the organization sued the state, claiming GMOs are “safe and have important benefits for people and our planet.” It would be too burdensome and costly for national food and beverage manufacturers to make a special GMO label for Vermont but not for the other 49 states, is how the argument against labels basically goes.

In June 2014, the GMA, as well as the Snack Food Association, International Dairy Foods Association and National Association of Manufacturers, asked for a preliminary injunction against implementation of the Vermont labeling law at the state’s District Court. District Judge Christina Reiss denied the request, so the groups promptly filed a joint appeal at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York City. Opening arguments for Grocery Manufacturers Association, et al. v. Sorrell, Case No. 15-1504, were heard earlier this month.

Unless the Second Circuit panel rules in favor with the food groups, or a federal law supersedes Vermont (more on that later), Vermont’s labeling law could open the door for at least 30 other states considering GMO label laws, such as Connecticut and Maine that are waiting on neighboring states to pass similar legislation before triggering their own GMO labeling laws.

Public Opinion on GMOs

So why did the GMA bother to float around a FAQ document guiding its members on how to accommodate Vermont’s new GMO labeling mandate—something they’ve been fighting tooth and nail? 

The document suggests that the food industry is responding to U.S. consumer wariness over GMOs, according to Scott Faber, the vice president of government affairs at the Environmental Working Group, who has seen a copy of the document.

An oft-cited statistic is that 93 percent of Americans support mandatory labeling of GMOs, and that at least 64 countries have either banned GMOs or require labels. The sentiment is compounded with the World Health Organization’s infamous classification of glyphosate—the main ingredient in biotech giant Monsanto’s popular weedkiller Roundup—as a possible carcinogen.

“It’s evidence that the industry is recognizing that they face a steep climb, and the time has come to prepare for labeling,” said Faber, who is also the executive director of the Just Label It campaign that advocates for mandatory labeling of GMO foods.

The Elephant in the Room

Now, the federal bill. Vermont’s labeling law could be completely undermined with the passage of a national standard for labeling GMO food and beverages. And that might actually happen.

This past July, the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of H.R. 1599. The bill bans states from requiring GMO labels on food, blocks the U.S. Food and Drug Administration from ever implementing mandatory GMO food labeling and allows food companies to continue to make “natural” claims for foods containing GMO ingredients. The bill has been dubbed the “Deny Americans the Right to Know” Act or DARK Act by opponents.

Lowe told EcoWatch that the GMA “supports a uniform national standard for GMO labeling so that consumers have the same labeling rules and regulations regardless of where they live or shop, not a patchwork of different state labeling mandates that are confusing and costly to consumers.”

However, as POLITCO said in a report, the GMA is “advocating for an industry-friendly law with a voluntary federal standard—a move that food activists see as a power grab by an industry that has tried to kill GMO labeling initiatives every step of the way.”

The fate of GMO labeling is now in the hands of the Senate. On Wednesday, the Senate’s Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry held its fourth hearing on the topic of GMO food.

During the hearing, the consensus from nearly all of the Senate Agriculture committee and the panel members providing testimony was that GMOs are safe and that mandatory labeling for foods that contain GMOs would be too burdensome for food companies and manufacturers.

This tweet from Wednesday, indicates that the GMA seemed pleased by what was said in the hearing:

“While we continue our efforts in federal court to challenge Vermont’s state labeling law, the court process could take years until full resolution, and will certainly not be concluded prior to the implementation of the Vermont law in just over eight months. That leaves only Congress with the authority to prevent this law and others like it from enactment,” said Pamela G. Bailey, president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, in a statement after the hearing.

“It is critically important that Congress act this year to prevent a costly and confusing patchwork of state labeling laws from taking effect next year and spreading across the country,” she concluded.

Time will tell if the mostly Republican-backed bill will reach the Senate floor, but currently no Democrat Senator has agreed step up to bat for it.

“The truth of the matter is that Congress is unlikely to come to the industry’s rescue,” EWG’s Faber explained to EcoWatch about the likelihood of a Senate-backed bill. “Nothing changes the fact that passing legislation to deny the right of Americans to know what is in their food is an uphill climb.”

The Organic Food Movement  

The debate over the human safety and environmental impacts of GMOs is, in a word, polarizing. While many consumers, scientific minds and agricultural industries deem these products safe and aid global food insecurity, there are just as many individuals in these same camps who think the exact opposite.

Amid the controversy of labeling GMOs, more and more U.S. consumers are buying organic food and products. According to the latest Organic Survey from the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, sales from organic farms across the country boomed last year, with consumer spending up 72 percent since 2008.

Many major restaurants and food brands have also transitioned away from GMOs on their own. In April, Chipotle removed genetically modified ingredients from its menu, making it the first major restaurant chain to take this step. Vermont’s own Ben & Jerry’s has been GMO-free since 2013.

In recent news, Wendy’s, McDonald’s and Gerber have decided to not sell or use the Arctic apple, the first genetically engineered apple approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The “Natural” Label Fight

Another interesting question raised by the GMA in their FAQ addresses use of the word “natural” for food products containing GMOs, a designation that the GMA has been actively seeking from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) since Dec. 2013.

“Natural” or “all natural” is a famously dubious food description that the FDA has not defined. As such, labeling GMO products as “natural” was made illegal by Vermont’s GMO labeling law. However, as the GMA notes in its document, this specific condition could change after the Second Circuit case or if the topic enters into higher courts.

How should companies address “natural” claims on labels given the Vermont trial court’s favorable response on this issue?

The Vermont law bans the use of the specific terms “natural,” “naturally,” and “nature” on labels of food containing GE ingredients. The state has clarified in its Annotated Rule that this also includes any advertising at the physical retail premises and includes in-store advertisements. This is regardless of the type of media (printed circulars, window signs, billboards, television commercials, or other digital displays).

This suggests that the next big food labeling brouhaha could center on the definition of the word “natural,” so it looks like this GMO food fight is only heating up.

Lorraine Chow|October 25, 2015

85% of Tampons Contain Monsanto’s ‘Cancer Causing’ Glyphosate

Glyphosate, a widely popular herbicide that has been linked to cancer by the World Health Organization’s cancer research arm, was detected in 85 percent of cotton hygiene products tested in a preliminary study from researchers at the University of La Plata in Argentina.

Sixty-two percent of the samples also tested positive for AMPA (or aminomethylphosphonic acid), a derivative of glyphosate.

According to Revolution News, the samples—which included gauze, swabs, wipes and feminine care products such as tampons and sanitary pads—were purchased from local supermarkets and pharmacies in the La Plata area.

The findings were presented last week at the third national congress of Doctors of Fumigated Towns in Buenos Aires.

“Eighty-five percent of all samples tested positive for glyphosate and 62 percent for AMPA, which is the environmental metabolite, but in the case of cotton and sterile cotton gauze the figure was 100 percent,” Dr. Damian Marino, the study’s head researcher, told the Télam news agency (via An English translation of the Télam report can be read here.

“In terms of concentrations, what we saw is that in raw cotton AMPA dominates (39 parts per billion, or PPB, and 13 PPB of glyphosate), while the gauze is absent of AMPA, but contained glyphosate at 17 PPB,” said Dr. Marino.

Dr. Medardo Avila Vazquez, president of the congress, said (via that the result of this research is “very serious when you use cotton or gauze to heal wounds or for personal hygiene uses, thinking they are sterilized products, and the results show that they are contaminated with a probably carcinogenic substance.

“Most of the cotton production in the country is GM [genetically modified] cotton that is resistant to glyphosate. It is sprayed when the bud is open and the glyphosate is condensed and goes straight into the product.”

Glyphosate is the key ingredient in biotech giant Monsanto’s Roundup, the most popular weedkiller in the U.S. “Roundup Ready” cotton, soy and corn crops have been genetically modified to withstand application of the herbicide.

In fact, farmers sprayed 2.6 billion pounds of Monsanto’s glyphosate herbicide on U.S. agricultural land between 1992 and 2012, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

In 2015, the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that adoption of genetically modified-varieties, including those with herbicide tolerance, insect resistance or stacked traits, accounted for 94 percent of the nation’s cotton acreage.

The graph below from the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicates an upward trend on the country’s adoption of genetically modified soybean, corn and cotton.


Monsanto maintains the safety of their product, citing its approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which “classified the carcinogenicity potential of glyphosate as Category E: ‘evidence of non-carcinogenicity for humans.’”

Monsanto is also demanding a retraction of the World Health Organization’s classification of glyphosate as a possible carcinogen.

This is not the first time that the chemical makeup of feminine care products has been put under the lens. A 2013 report by Women’s Voices for the Earth detailed how the feminine care industry sells products containing unregulated and potentially harmful chemicals, including preservatives, pesticides, fragrances and dyes.

Lorraine Chow|October 26, 2015

We just went to court to stop Dow AgroSciences’ Enlist Duo! ‏

Last week we went to court to stand up to Big Ag and irresponsible chemical companies and stop the cycle of using more and more toxic pesticides with less and less oversight.

Last Friday, my team and I filed our opening brief challenging the government’s approval of Dow AgroSciences’ highly toxic and controversial herbicide Enlist Duo.

Since our initial challenge began, one thing has become clear: We are up against deep-pocketed, powerful corporate interests that will stop at nothing to put greed above the health of people and our natural world.

Enlist Duo combines glyphosate and 2,4-D for use on a new generation of GMO corn and soybeans genetically engineered to be immune to these powerful chemicals.

Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, and the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer recently determined that it’s a probable carcinogen. The herbicide 2,4-D was used during the Vietnam War as an active ingredient in the infamous defoliant Agent Orange, and has been associated with many serious illnesses. Both chemicals also threaten the survival of wildlife. For example, widespread use of Roundup on GMO crops has been implicated in the drastic decline of the monarch butterfly.

Essentially, Dow AgroSciences has created a newer, even more dangerous herbicide to tackle the remarkable failures of the older Monsanto herbicide and GMO crop combination, subjecting our agricultural system to increased reliance on more and more toxic chemicals.

Enlist Duo is much too dangerous for widespread use, yet the Environmental Protection Agency is bowing to industry pressure. The agency has already expanded the pesticide’s approval to 15 states, and more are expected soon!

The EPA is supposed to be our watchdog, not the chemical industry’s lapdog, but now more than ever our regulators are bowing to corporate interests.

For decades my colleagues and I have stood up to Big Ag and chemical companies in court. Time and time again we have succeeded in pulling pesticides off the market.

But we can’t do our work—and win—without you!

Paul Achitoff|Managing Attorney|Earthjustice

Lawsuit Launched to Protect Wildlife From Toxic New Pesticide

The Center for Biological DIversity is headed to court over the Environmental Protection Agency’s approval of a new fungicide that’s highly toxic to fish and aquatic invertebrates. The EPA in August gave broad approval to this pesticide, called benzovindiflupyr, for use on most crops, including cereals, corn, vegetables, fruits and turf grass.

Here’s the problem: The EPA recognized that the pesticide could harm wildlife and “critical habitat” protected by the Endangered Species Act, but the agency approved it for use without consulting with expert wildlife agencies, as required by the Act. The EPA also allowed the use of benzovindiflupyr without properly examining its impact on imperiled bee populations, specifically ignoring studies indicating that fungicides may severely impact native bumblebees.

This week, the Center notified the EPA of our intent to sue over its approval.

“The EPA has a legal — not to mention moral — duty to protect our water and wildlife from pesticides,” said the Center’s Stephanie Parent. “Instead, though, it has rubber-stamped its approval on yet another dangerous new pesticide.”

Read more in our press release.


WildEarth Guardians Busts U.S. Interior Department Over Montana Coal Mining

Last Friday, a federal court agreed with us that the U.S. Interior Department illegally excluded the public and ignored the environmental consequences of approving more coal mining in Montana.

It’s another resounding victory that comes on the heels of a similar win we scored in Colorado earlier this year.

And it’s another stinging rebuke to the Interior Department’s practice of rubberstamping more fossil fuel development even as our nation works to reduce greenhouse gases and combat climate change.

That’s because this ruling gets to the heart of what I see as the problem—the Interior Department is putting the coal industry’s interests before ours. The result is devastating.

In this case, Interior’s coal approval opened the door for 117 million tons of new coal mining at the massive open pit Spring Creek mine, located in the Powder River Basin of Montana. That’s enough to fuel 50 coal-fired power plants for a year.

Even worse, coal from Spring Creek is exported through the Pacific Northwest. And the owner, Cloud Peak Energy, has been pushing for new ports in the northwest.

We know we can’t mine our way to a safe climate. I’m happy to say that our latest court success means things are truly starting to change.

Ultimately, if we’re going to reduce carbon, we have to keep our fossil fuels in the ground. I think this latest win turns up the pressure on Interior to move full speed ahead in that direction, rejecting coal, oil, and gas so the door can be opened for clean energy.

I can’t emphasize enough how much this reflects the effectiveness and importance of what WildEarth Guardians does. And it’s a testament to the skill and talent of our dedicated staff attorneys.

We still have work to do, but the long moral arc of the universe bends towards justice. With this latest ruling, we’re on track for even greater success.

Jeremy Nichols|Climate and Energy Program Director|WildEarth Guardians

EPA objects to portions of Sabal Trail pipeline, calls for re-routing

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Monday it has environmental objections to significant portions of the proposed route of the $3.2 billion natural gas pipeline slated to traverse from Alabama through Georgia and North Florida  to Florida Power & Light Company’s Martin County plant.

The EPA strongly recommends an alternative route be considered and selected to avoid impacts to the Floridan Aquifer which provides drinking water to millions of people, to  environmentally sensitive areas such as wetlands, conservation areas and sensitive geologic formations, and to certain communities as well.

The Sabal Trail Transmission Project proposes to construct 480 miles of pipeline. It is a joint venture of a subsidiary of FPL’s parent company, NextEra Energy Inc. and Houston-based Spectra Energy. The southern 126 miles is proposed by Florida Southeast Connection, another NextEra subsidiary. If approved, it would transport natural gas from the Central Florida Hub to FPL’s plant near Indiantown and then to its plants in Riviera Beach and Hollywood.

It would be the state’s third major natural gas pipeline. FPL uses natural gas to generate 68 percent of its electricity.

In a 30-page document addressed to Kimberly Bose, who heads the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, EPA administrator  Christopher Militscher said the EPA has completed its review of the draft environmental impact statement for the project.

FERC, a federal agency funded by fees from the industry it regulates, must issue a permit before construction can begin. Sabal Trail officials have said it will be in service by May 2017.

Militscher requested that FERC conduct a more thorough investigation and establish meaningful environmental metrics that allow for a full and informed comparison between the full range of reasonable and environmentally sound alternatives.

The EPA has “very significant concerns over the FERC’s process and full and objective compliance” with National Environmental Policy Act requirements. FERC”s consultations with the Florida and Georgia Geological Societies, Suwannee River Water Management District, Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the EPA occurred after FERC accepted the applicant’s (Sabal Trail’s)  2014 application and after it approved the applicant’s 2013 request to begin the pre-filing process.

The EPA said preferred route became FERC’s preferred route. That route  is the subject of an enforceable contract signed between Sabal Trail and FPL on June 26, 2013.

The EPA also questioned whether concerns about the financial impact to Sabal Trail if contractual deadlines are not met influenced FERC’s process.

“From the EPA’s understanding, the applicant will potentially suffer ‘monetary damages’ if it cannot meet its pre-committed contractual deadlines,” the EPA stated.

“The EPA believes that these pre-conditions may have affected the FERC’s ability to rigorously explore other potentially more environmentally-sound  alternatives for portions of the proposed pipeline route,” the EPA said.

“The EPA generally supports cleaner, alternative fossil fuels such as natural gas to replace coal-fired and oil-fired plants. However, considering the potential magnitude of the proposed project and its resulting greenhouse gas emissions, the EPA is requesting that a full life cycle analysis be conducted for the proposed pipeline,” the document states.

Among the specifics the EPA mentioned that the pipeline would directly impact which have not been sufficiently addressed are:

•1,255 acres of wetlands cover three U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Districts

•177 acres of conservation areas including the Green Swamp in Florida

·Karst areas in Georgia and Florida where the pipeline could be a threat to groundwater and surface water

•Possible hazards due to the  existence of other pipelines which the new proposed pipeline would cross

•The possibility of FPL using liquefied natural gas instead of another pipeline as a fuel source

•The risk of sinkholes developing

» Read the EPA’s recommendation

Susan Salisbury|October 26, 2015

Just Released: 100+ New Studies Demonstrating the Risks of Fracking

A partnership encompassing nationwide medical and public health experts and scientists released the third edition of the Compendium of Scientific, Medical and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking. The compendium, the first two editions of which were important in highlighting the science in New York before the ban was announced, compiles and summarizes hundreds of peer-reviewed studies and other important findings on fracking. The emerging science, including more than 100 studies after New York’s ban was announced, further shows that Gov. Cuomo and his Administration were right to ban high volume fracking.

For the first time, the compendium includes a section on fracking infrastructure, examining the impact of pipelines and compressor stations on health and safety in New York. Physicians for Social Responsibility, a Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization of physicians, nurses and other public health professionals, joined with Concerned Health Professionals of New York to release the report nationally and send the new report to Gov. Cuomo and Health Commissioner Zucker, with a letter urging the state to put a hold on gas infrastructure expansion until and unless their safety can be demonstrated through comprehensive public health and environmental assessments.

Additionally, the organizations sent letters with the report to President Obama and the Surgeon General asking that they acknowledge the health risks and to call for a meeting. They also sent letters to the governors of Pennsylvania and Maryland, highlighting the significant health risks and calling for moratoria or ban on fracking.

The health groups’ letter to Gov. Cuomo and Commissioner Zucker likewise applauds them for their leadership in relying on solid scientific research and protecting the public health and safety of New Yorkers. In the face of numerous proposals to expand gas infrastructure in the state and emerging scientific evidence of impacts and risks from infrastructure, the health groups are calling for New York to use its power in the permitting process to put on hold and deny permits to expand gas infrastructure and for assessments of public health and environmental impacts to be undertaken. The letter notes that in many cases the federal government has approved permits without adequate consideration of critical issues and impacts.

The letter states, “We strongly urge New York State to put on hold and deny any expansion of natural gas transmission and storage projects, until and unless their safety can be demonstrated through comprehensive public health and environmental assessments.”

The letter notes the range of proposed projects and potential impacts, “What we already know about the public health and climate risks of fracking infrastructure is troubling. What we don’t know is all the more alarming. As New York is faced with numerous proposed new and additional gas pipelines, compressor stations, storage facilities and a major liquefied natural gas terminal, we believe it is crucial to examine both the individual risks these projects pose and to consider their cumulative impacts, including to the state’s climate and energy goals.”

The section of the compendium on drilling and fracking infrastructure compiles the science evidence available, which includes evidence of alarming risks. For example, compressor stations and pipelines are both major sources of air pollutants, including benzene and formaldehyde, which create serious health risks for those living nearby.

As the letter says, in their review of fracking, New York’s Department of Health (DOH) and Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) rightly noted the potential for harmful air impacts, environmental impacts and other risks from infrastructure. (DOH Health Review p. 5 and Findings Statement p. 27) Given the risks, this year the Medical Society of the State of New York and the American Medical Association each specifically called for comprehensive health impact assessments regarding the health risks associated with fracking infrastructure, including natural gas pipelines and compressor stations.

The letter also notes that infrastructure poses climate impacts, which are counterproductive to the state’s climate and greenhouse gas emissions goals. New York concluded (DEC Findings Statement, p. 18) that natural gas contributes to climate not only directly but also by furthering availability and consumption of fossil fuel, which “has the potential to undermine the deployment of various types of renewable energy and energy efficiencies, thereby suppressing investment in and use of these clean energy technologies.”

Kathy Nolan, MD, MSL, of Concerned Health Professionals of New York and Physicians for Social Responsibility—New York, said, “Gov. Cuomo and his Administration showed great wisdom and courage in listening to the science and ultimately prohibiting high volume fracking in order to protect public health. Similar to fracking, numerous gas infrastructure proposals pose risks of harm to public health, air pollution and exacerbating climate change. For the wellbeing of all New Yorkers, Gov. Cuomo should put on hold and deny gas infrastructure expansion proposals until and unless their safety can be demonstrated through comprehensive public health and environmental assessments.”

Physicians for Social Responsibility and Concerned Health Professionals of New York|October 14, 2015

The coal industry didn’t expect this to happen ‏

The coal industry thought it could dump its pollution on a rural community and no one would notice. They were wrong.

Coal ash is the toxic waste created by coal-fired power plants and it is polluting communities all across America. This is the story of one of those places, La Belle, PA.

Chris Jordan-Bloch, Earthjustice|10/27/15

Game Over: Chevron’s RICO Case Spectacularly Implodes as Corrupt Ex-Judge Admits to Making It Up in Exchange for Chevron Payoff

Chevron's ongoing contamination in Ecuador

Faced with a likely multi-billion dollar verdict against it for deliberate pollution of the Ecuadorian Amazon, in 2010 Chevron began fabricating an elaborate story of bribery, corruption and ghostwriting to strike back. It claimed everyone and everything against it was part of a scheme – the evidence, the contamination, the Ecuadorian villagers, all the environmental and human rights organizations – everyone. The company spent millions to concoct its cover story. There was only one big problem: it all hinges upon the testimony of a completely non-credible witness who has now admitted on the stand that he lied about it in exchange for payments from Chevron.

Back in 2009, someone at Chevron was probably jumping up and down exclaiming “slam dunk”. The company had found a key witness they could buy who was willing to say what they needed to pull together their fabricated fraud story in Ecuador. How did they “find” him? Easy, he came to Chevron asking for a bribe to help Chevron get out of its massive legal problems in Ecuador. That should have been a red flag, but fueled by their own arrogance and legal hubris Chevron moved forward with Guerra as their star witness. It turns out that rather than a Bond-esque spy thriller with intrigue and a sophisticated plot, the story for Chevron is more like “Harold and Kumar go to White Castle”.

Alberto Guerra, who we explained before is a corrupt ex-judge, claimed that the legal team for the Ecuadorians offered him a bribe to ghostwrite the judgment against Chevron. Guerra said he asked Chevron for a bribe first, and they turned him down, so then he went to the Ecuadorians. Despite the fact that Guerra was acknowledged by judge Kaplan himself to be less than credible, his testimony was allowed to stand (this is the same court that forbade evidence of actual contamination). The argument was that Guerra’s testimony fit the “circumstantial evidence” against the Ecuadorian legal team. Except that evidence has also evaporated.

The sweetest irony is how this has all come about. Chevron brought a separate case to the Hague under a bilateral trade agreement between the US and Ecuador. In obvious forum shopping (which has been called out by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals) they were hoping to pin their financial liability on the Ecuadorian tax payer. Only their entire effort is backfiring – like when that body recently denied Chevron’s claim that an agreement with the government of Ecuador released them from civil liability. Much like the actual evidence it presented in Ecuador, Chevron is hanging itself with the very action it hoped to use to escape justice.

Guerra claimed that the bribe of $300,000 he was offered (at one point he also said it was $500,000) was to work with the presiding judge Zambrano to ghostwrite the judgment. When asked about it before the Hague Tribunal he said: “Yes sir, I lied there…I wasn’t being truthful.” Zambrano has denied this from the beginning and ALL the forensic evidence backs it up. You see, also as part of Chevron’s Hague action, the government of Ecuador hired the world’s top computer forensic analyst to review the document. As Courthouse News reported today:

“…forensic expert Christopher Racich testified that he found a running draft of the judgment against Chevron on Zambrano’s hard drives. Ecuador now argues that this forensic evidence – which Courthouse News reported exclusively early this year – proves Zambrano painstakingly wrote the ruling and saved it hundreds of times throughout the case. Chevron has not been able to produce emails between Guerra, Zambrano and the purported ghostwriters, Donziger and Fajardo, Ecuador’s forensic expert says.”

The seemingly never ending stream of Guerra lies doesn’t stop there. At first Guerra said that he had thumb drives with the judgment on it to prove his claim. Then later he admitted that he didn’t. Then he said he has calendar entries of his meetings with the Ecuadorian legal team. Then he admitted that he didn’t. Guerra also claimed he had agreed with Zambrano to cut him in for 20%. Now he admits that too was a lie. Chevron claims evidence of meetings with Guerra and Zambrano backs up their claims, but no, Guerra now says no meetings he ever had with Zambrano had anything to do with Chevron. Oops.

Indeed there IS evidence of a bribe – Chevron bribed Guerra to make up this story. And unlike the lie about ghostwriting, there’s actual evidence to back this bribe up. Guerra, a man with less than $200 in his bank account at the time, admits that he said all these things to get more money out of Chevron. He and his entire family now live in a house Chevron bought for him, drives a car they gave him and live on $12,000 per month from the oil giant. How’s that for evidence?

At this point, I’m sure you are asking yourself: How on Earth did Chevron get this witness on the stand in a NY Federal Court in the first place, and what did they think would happen once his true story came out? (The Ecuadorians tried to save Judge Kaplan from the embarrassment.) Well, they were certainly worried about how Guerra would do – which is why they coached him for 53 straight days before his testimony. It clearly wasn’t enough.

Chevron’s polluted house of cards has come crashing down around them. Guerra is a liar – and he freely admits it. Chevron can either double down and insist Guerra was “before it before he was against it” or denounce him now – in which case they can never argue he’s credible by any stretch.

There’s a LOT of provably unethical and illegal behavior here – all of it from Chevron’s camp.

What should happen now:

The Federal Appeals Court should completely throw out Kaplan’s verdict. It depends entirely on Guerra’s false testimony and the judgment against Chevron has been conclusively proven to be legitimately written by Zambrano (as the Ecuadorian appeals court had already determined).

Chevron and their lawyers should be investigated and brought up on charges. They have intimidated judges in Ecuador, bribed others, falsified evidence, and coached Guerra to submit false testimony in US Federal Court and made a complete mockery of the our judicial system (not to mention the mis-use of a trade agreement to go after the government of Ecuador).

Amazon Watch will be calling for such an investigation. We know Chevron is never likely to admit they lied and schemed to create this false RICO attack. Nor will they stop trying to attack us and our funders. They need to be held to account.

We look forward to the day they try to peddle this preposterous RICO verdict in Canada. Perhaps we will all get a chance to see Guerra take the stand once again. If so, it can only get worse for Chevron.

Paul Paz y Miño|October 26, 2015

Fracking fears surface in North Florida

Environmental groups worry the exploration for oil and gas in Calhoun and Gulf counties could lead to drilling and fracking.

A Texas oil company’s plan to search for oil and gas in North Florida is stoking fears that drilling and possibly even fracking could come to areas around the fragile Apalachicola and Chipola rivers.

Cholla Petroleum, a family-owned oil and gas company based in Dallas, Texas, is seeking state permits to begin seismic testing using small underground charges as soon as December on private land in Calhoun and Gulf counties in a possible prelude to future drilling.

It’s an exploratory phase only. No permits have been issued. And it’s far too early to know whether production, let alone fracking, will ever happen.

But the prospects of oil production just north of Apalachicola Bay has led to apprehension among some residents, environmental groups and elected officials. They’re worried testing could lead to drilling, which could bring further harm to a coast that’s teetered on the edge of collapse for years.

“I’d just as soon they stay in Texas,” said Leon Morris after a morning of fishing on the Dead Lakes, a hidden-away section of the Chipola River speckled with old Cypress stumps and located within the testing area. “I kind of like things the way they are. And it’s going to change if you come in here and start drilling.”

Cholla’s applications prompted Rep. Gwen Graham, D-Tallahassee, to send letters to the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection saying oil and gas production in general, and fracking in particular, pose “a great threat” because of risks including water contamination. She said fracking and its use of mass quantities of water “seem incompatible” with Florida’s most important industries, agriculture and tourism.

“Our region knows all too well the harm an environmental disaster can cause,” Graham wrote. “The BP oil spill inflicted tremendous harm on our economy, and the Apalachicola Bay’s ecology has been under attack for years. I’m fighting in Congress to protect North Florida’s springs and oceans — and worry fracking presents yet another threat to our North Florida way of life.”

But David Mica, executive director of the Florida Petroleum Council, said the oil and gas industry has had an excellent environmental track record since oil was discovered in 1943 in the Sunniland Trend in South Florida. He said the testing amounts to a geological sonogram or MRI.

“Oil and gas activity creates the quality of life that we have in the United States,” he said. “We can produce jobs, become less dependent on foreign sources of oil and gas and we can produce that energy right here at home. It’s irresponsible to have concerns about basic science research because there’s so much to be gained from it – not just oil and gas but for all of our understanding of where we live.”

Fueling the fears are GOP-backed bills moving through the Legislature that would create a regulatory framework for fracking in Florida. The controversial drilling technique is actually legal now, but it’s believed to have occurred only once in the state near the Everglades. Democrats, meanwhile, are offering bills that would ban fracking, though similar measures have gotten little traction in the past.

The fracking legislation comes at a time of renewed interest in oil and gas exploration in Florida. Energy companies are hoping to conduct seismic testing in the Big Cypress National Preserve and exploratory drilling in the Everglades.

‘Minimal’ impacts from seismic testing

Cholla (pronounced choy-uh) Petroleum, named after a cactus found in the southwest, wants sign-off from the DEP and other agencies to begin testing in a swath of land stretching from about 17 miles south of Blountstown in Calhoun County to immediately north of Wewahitchka in coastal Gulf County. Roughly a third of the testing area consists of wetlands, with the rest uplands, just west of the Apalachicola River.

All of the land is in private hands, with most of it held by the Neal Land & Timber Company in Blountstown. The business has given Cholla permission to access about 85 percent of the surface and below-ground minerals within the project area, and consultants say remaining permissions from land owners will be in hand before field work begins.

Cholla, working with Dawson Geophysical Company of Midland, Texas, plans to drill shot holes 100 feet deep in about 1,000 spots along crisscrossing lines totaling 63 miles. Crews will drop small explosive charges into the holes and detonate them one at a time.

The explosions send acoustic waves into rock layers, faults and folds deep underground, which bounce back to the surface, where they’re recorded by more than 6,000 receivers called geophones. The data is analyzed to find potential oil and gas prospects.

Representatives from Lampl Herbert, a Tallahassee consulting firm working with Cholla, said the testing is safe, with minimal and only temporary impacts to the environment and wildlife. The firm has submitted detailed plans to avoid and protect wildlife and cultural resources during the testing. And observers approved by DEP will monitor the testing to make sure it complies with regulations.

After the testing, crews will fill in the holes and clean up the area. It’s a simple process consisting mostly of pulling up stakes and raking out and repairing ruts.

“After a couple of rainfalls, it’s unlikely that you’d notice there had been testing there,” said Linda Lampl, president and CEO of the consulting firm.

‘Potential for contamination’

But others are unconvinced the testing won’t lead to wildlife disturbances and possible damage to the Floridan Aquifer, the source of the state’s drinking water. Craig Diamond, president of the Apalachicola Bay and Riverkeeper board, said the consultants have asserted all of the testing will be done within the shallow aquifer.

“They’ve given us some assurances that the drilling and the blasting itself will not result in any cross-contamination between the (shallow) aquifer and the underlying ground water,” he said. “They’re telling us that, but I don’t have the greatest confidence in it.”

Matthew Schwartz, executive director of the South Florida Wildlands Association, said seismic testing poses a number of risks, including the spread of invasive plant species by off-road vehicles and the contamination of water supplies.

“You’re putting chemical explosives underground and setting them off,” he said. “There’s always strong potential for contamination of both underground water supplies and surface water supplies.”

Dee Ann Miller, a spokeswoman for DEP, said the testing is beneficial in defining targets for subsequent exploratory drilling.

“Refining drilling targets with geophysical data greatly reduces overall surface impacts by reducing the number of exploratory wells necessary to discover new oil and gas fields,” she said.

‘No indication’ fracking will occur

Scientists have reason to believe oil and gas may be located Gulf and Calhoun counties based on logs from exploratory wells drilled in the area between the 1940s and late 1980s. A basin located 15,000 feet underground appears similar to areas in Santa Rosa and Escambia counties that produce significant amounts of oil from the Smackover formation.

If data from the seismic testing is promising, Cholla would come back to conduct exploratory drilling, the consulting firm said. If oil and gas is found, the company would almost certainly begin drilling in earnest. Exploratory drilling and actual production would require new rounds of permit applications and reviews and approvals from DEP.

Cholla, which according to media reports has fracked wells in Texas, hasn’t signaled whether it would do the same thing in Florida. But the company hasn’t ruled it out, either. Consultants suggested it was unlikely, in part because the state’s porous geology doesn’t require fracking to extract oil and gas.

“It’s premature to even talk about drilling a well,” Lampl said. “And the main reason is that you don’t know where you’re going until you start getting that data. (But) there’s been no indication that it would be anything other than conventional drilling.”

Fracking has become a common practice in the United States — more than 1 million wells have been hydraulically fractured to extract oil and gas. But it’s generated controversy because of concerns over pollution, groundwater contamination and health problems. The process involves the injection of mass quantities of water along with chemicals and sand under immense pressures to fracture rock formations deep underground.

‘We just don’t need it’

Cholla’s exploration for oil and gas has prompted a new round of debate over the safety of fracking and whether it should ever happen again in Florida.

Dr. Ron Saff, a Tallahassee allergist and member of Physicians for Social Justice, and others have been appearing before county commissions to ask them to pass their own fracking bans.

“Fracking requires hundreds of chemicals, dozens of which are carcinogens and are used to lubricate the drill bit as it bores deep down into the earth’s surface,” he said. “The oil companies state that fracking will bring some jobs. They are correct. Grave diggers, morticians, funeral-home directors and coffin makers will likely see some job growth.”

Others say it’s perfectly safe. Roger Williams, a retired cable-television worker who lives in Gulf County, has firsthand experience with the drilling technique — an energy company has been fracking for natural gas on his family’s farmland in West Virginia since 2008, paying him royalties along the way.

“I wouldn’t care if they fracked here because no one has ever proven that fracking is the cause of any damage to anyone’s wells,” he said. “That was the whole problem in the beginning — people were claiming that their water wells were being tainted by fracking. But it’s untrue. After studies were done, it showed that maybe two wells out of a thousand were actually tainted by fracking.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a draft report in June finding no widespread, systematic impacts to drinking-water supplies from fracking. The agency found instances where well integrity and waste-water management related to fracking did affect drinking water, but the report says they were comparatively small in number. The EPA noted, however, a number of risks to water supplies from fracking, including possible spills of fracking fluids and waste water.

Dan Tonsmeire, the Apalachicola riverkeeper, said he opposes oil and gas production in the area in part because of major spills and accidents that have occurred over the years, from the Deepwater Horizon disaster to mishaps in Yellowstone National Park and Alaska.

“Everywhere they’re working is a mess,” he said. “And they often want to leave a mess behind. And the people who live in these communities, they’re the ones left with the aftermath. People are still suffering from these oil companies making these huge mistakes. And I don’t want that to happen here again. We just don’t need it.”

Oil and gas production in Florida

The state has two areas that have produced oil and gas for decades through conventional drilling: the Sunniland Trend, located in Collier, Hendry, Lee and Miami-Dade counties, and the Jay Field, located in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. The state has produced roughly 600 million barrels — about 25 billion gallons — since 1943. Production peaked in the late 1970s and has been on a general decline since then.

Jeff Burlew|Democrat senior writer

U.S., Cuba eye offshore drilling possibilities 


The thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations is raising prospects for new business opportunities, among them offshore oil drilling. (Photo: Thinkstock)

HAVANA — The thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations is raising prospects for new business opportunities for American companies in the island nation, among them energy.

That was evident this past week in Havana, where more than 120 people from the U.S., Cuba and other countries gathered for a cutting-edge conference on offshore oil development.

The Safe Seas Clean Seas Symposium was organized by the Houston consulting firm Hunt Petty LLC to promote cooperation in preventing and responding to spills in Cuban waters as Havana plans to resume drilling next year, following unsuccessful exploration in recent years.

Given that the drilling would occur as close as 50 miles from Florida’s coast, doing so safely and with the best equipment is critical to both Cuba and the U.S., even as the decades-old U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba continues to restrict transactions between the two countries.

As Jay Hakes, a former head of the U.S. Energy Information Administration and a speaker at the Havana conference, put it: “If there ever is a spill like the Macondo well, it would get to the U.S. in a couple of days.”

That reference, of course, was to a BP well in the Gulf of Mexico that exploded in 2010, resulting in the biggest oil spill in U.S. history. The incident, along with the U.S. embargo, came up frequently over the course of the two-day meeting.

But the prevailing interest among participants was becoming familiar with each other.

“It’s timely in the sense that it’s the first time it’s been possible for a U.S. entity to hold a conference in Cuba” since the Obama administration and Cuba began to normalize relations last year, said Lee Hunt, a partner in Hunt Petty LLC and a former president of the International Association of Drilling Contractors.

“It’s also the first time that business persons and professionals who are American citizens could travel to Cuba for the purpose of participating in such a meeting. It’s groundbreaking in that sense.”

Among those attending the event at a Havana hotel were representatives of the Cuban government and the Cuban oil company, Cupet, as well as U.S. Coast Guard officers and staff from the recently reopened U.S. Embassy in Havana.

Others at the meeting included representatives of U.S. companies with an eye out for eventual business in Cuba, including Cameron, a maker of drilling equipment, and Wild Well Control and Witt O’Brien, two businesses that respond to oil emergencies, plus non-U.S. companies already active in Cuba’s oil sector.

Environmental concerns were represented, too, including the Environmental Defense Fund and the Gulf of Mexico Foundation.

Hunt, who has organized several other smaller, lower-profile meetings between American and Cuban officials in the U.S. and Trinidad, said the two governments’ interest in the event was significant.

“They were paying attention on both sides,” he said.

James Watson, president of the Americas Division for ABS, a Houston-based provider of standards for marine operations and a speaker at the event, found Cuba’s commitment to safe drilling convincing.

“I’ve heard directly from the highest-level officials that I spoke to here that they don’t want to start (offshore oil drilling) again unless they have the best technology and the appropriate response preparations,” said Watson, a retired Coast Guard rear admiral who until recently was director of the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which regulates drilling in U.S. waters. “That’s a good thing. Hopefully, some of the barriers can be brought down.”

Taking a similar view of the discussions in Havana were Hakes, whose government work included a stint as the director of research for an Obama administration commission that investigated the 2010 spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and Roberto Suárez, the deputy general director of Cupet.

“I think the meeting demonstrates that U.S-Cuban relations are moving steadily forward, and energy is playing a big part in that progress,” Hakes said. “Given that just a few years ago the two countries were at odds with each other, it was remarkable how well everybody got along and generally had a comparable view of what the problems are and how they should be addressed.”

“It’s accomplished a lot,” Suárez said. “For me, it’s networking. It’s the most important thing.”

Bill Loveless|Special for USA TODAY|October 25, 2015

Alarming Uptick of Earthquakes in Kansas Linked to Fracking With 52 in Just Last Two Weeks

Just like in Oklahoma, Kansas is seeing a shocking uptick in earthquakes connected to the underground disposal of wastewater from the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, process.


This map, which records recent seismic activity in Kansas, has lit up like a Christmas tree just this week alone. Photo credit:

The Washington Post reports that Kansas has recorded more earthquakes in the past two weeks alone than there have been in the years between 1990 and 2013. According to the Kansas Geological Survey, between Oct. 15-26, there were 52 quakes, most with a magnitude between 2.0 or 3.0. That’s a huge increase from the 19 earthquakes recorded in the state between 1990 and 2010.

In all, the number of earthquakes in the state jumped from four in 2013 to 817 in 2014, the Post reported.

In recent years, Kansas has seen an energy boom-and-bust due to technological advancements in fracking and horizontal drilling. However, this quest for oil and gas has produced mixed results, from harmful waste spills to an increase in seismic activity.

Earlier this year, the Kansas Corporation Commission, which regulates the state’s oil and gas industry, decided to limit the underground injection disposal of saltwater from oil wells mainly in Harper and Sumner Counties. The decision reportedly tamped down on the number of earthquakes in the area, according The Wichita Eagle.

However, one can only wonder if the recent spate of tremors in the state has anything to do with the commission’s regulations expiring Sept. 13.

Fracking involves shooting highly pressurized liquid into underground rock and shale formations to release trapped oil and gas. This large quantity of leftover liquid from the fracking process is then injected into underground wells. Multiple studies have said that this action has been triggering long dormant fault lines.

Kansas currently has 7,000 permitted waste wells, compared to the 2,000 it had 15 years ago, the Post observed.

Besides Kansas, other oil-and gas-rich states such as Oklahoma, Arkansas, Colorado, Ohio and Texas have all observed more earthquakes that are linked to wastewater injection activity, according to IBTimes.

“Activities that have induced felt earthquakes in some geologic environments have included impoundment of water behind dams, injection of fluid into the Earth’s crust, extraction of fluid or gas, and removal of rock in mining or quarrying operations,” the U.S. Geological Survey says.

Lorraine Chow|October 28, 2015

Study finds South Florida power grid vulnerable to sea rise and hurricanes

Sea rise could make a third of South Florida’s power grid vulnerable to storm surge; The number triples by 2070

Hurricanes and rising sea levels make South Florida’s power grid increasingly vulnerable, according to a new study that argues for building a more resilient energy system along the U.S. coastline.

The study, produced by the Union of Concerned Scientists, found that storm surge from a Category 3 hurricane could knock out about a sixth of Southeast Florida’s electrical substations. Factor in sea level rise projections and the number doubles, the report said. By 2070, with sea rise fueling storm surges that spread farther inland, the number could triple.

Miami Beach has put into action an aggressive and expensive plan to combat the effects of sea level rise. As some streets keep flooding from recent king tide events, the city continues rolling out its plan of attack and will spend between $400-$500 millio

“Coastal residents in these places and elsewhere on our coasts should be asking their utilities — and the commissions that regulate them — what they’re doing to protect their power plants and substations from current and increasing flood risks,” co-author Steve Clemmer, the UCS’s director of energy research, said in a statement.

Since the brutal 2004 and 2005 seasons, the utility has spent about $2 billion to strengthen the grid by installing flood monitoring equipment on substations, spokesman Bill Orlove said. FPL also outfitted 25 more vulnerable stations with surge-proof doors, hurricane-proof windows and sump pumps. By the end of this year, impact windows will be installed on another 228 substations, he said.

The utility also has incorporated 100-year flood estimates and the National Hurricane Center’s SLOSH model, Orlove said. That’s the same model forecasters use to warn residents about storm surge.

“We are taking steps with our substations to ensure we are able to provide reliable service, whether it be good weather or bad,” he said.

But the UCS argues that the utility needs to include future sea rise projections and expand the power supply to include more renewable energy.

Utilities “need to consider clean energy solutions like wind and solar coupled with energy storage that can simultaneously limit the severity of future climate impacts and provide communities with power even when the centralized electric grid goes down,” said co-author Julie McNamara.

The analysis examined five metropolitan regions, including the Delaware Valley, southeastern Virginia, the South Carolina Lowcountry, southeastern Florida and the central Gulf Coast. It found that if a Category 3 hurricane hit those regions today, 68 power plants and 415 major substations potentially could be flooded unless utilities have upgraded protections. Substations considered vulnerable ranged from 16 percent in southeastern Florida to nearly 70 percent in the central Gulf Coast.

 Jenny Staletovich|

Mexico Planning $46 Billion Coast-to-Coast Wind Energy Push

Mexico is planning to quadruple its wind power capacity as part of President Enrique Pena Nieto’s effort to transform the country’s energy industry.

The country expects to have about 10 GW of turbines in operation within three years spread across almost every region, up from 2.5 GW in 2014, part of a government plan to add 20 GW of clean energy by 2030, according to Mexico’s Wind Energy Association.

A total of 22 GW of wind power will be added over the next 25 years, requiring $46 billion in investment. The wind push is due to two converging trends: Mexico’s historic shift from a state-controlled energy monopoly, and its efforts to transform a grid that relies on fossil fuels for three-fourths of the nation’s electricity.

“We’re already a new country,” Alejandro Peraza, general director of the energy regulator CRE, said in an interview in Mexico City. “Mexico is getting cleaner.”

Mexico is Latin America’s largest crude producer and the world’s No. 10 producer of greenhouse-gas emissions. It was the first developing country to submit its plan to reduce carbon emissions before a United Nations conference in Paris in December, where almost 200 countries are expected to sign a deal to fight global warming.

Mexico pledged to reduce 22 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Wider use of renewable energy will reduce fossil-fuel based power generation to 45 percent.

“There is a clear national policy on climate change taking place,” Peraza said. “We are going in the direction of a low carbon economy.”

Mexico’s economy will expand 2.4 percent this year, according to a Bloomberg News survey. The government expects energy demand to increase 4 percent annually over the next decade.

That growth will be fueled by the shift toward renewables, which will jump to 51 percent of total installed capacity by 2040, from 14 percent now, according to New Energy Finance. Most of that will come from wind, in part because import taxes drive up costs for solar power.

“Investors are starting to line up their horses,”  Lilian Alves, a New Energy Finance analyst in Sao Paulo, said.

To facilitate that transition, the government plans to hold annual energy auctions, with the first set for March. Power producers will receive certificates for every MWh of clean energy they generate, and will sell 20-year certificates through the auctions to large electricity users.

Large consumers must get 5 percent of their power from clean sources by 2018. The government also set a mandate in 2012 to get 35 percent of the country’s energy from non-fossil fuel sources by 2024, up from 21 percent now.

Those who don’t meet the mandate may be fined as much as $200 per MWh used, according to Peraza. Large industrial users may be required to buy clean-power certificates on the spot market.

Power companies are keen to jump into Mexico’s clean-energy market as soon as new rules for the auctions and certificates are finalized, according to Adrian Escofet, president of Mexico’s Wind Energy Association. Those policies are expected to be issued this month.

Gauss Energia, a Mexico City-based company that owns Mexico’s largest solar farm, is planning to register 100 MW of power projects for the March auction.

“I am optimistic,” Chief Executive Officer Hector Olea said. “The certificates can’t be included in project finance papers now, as we don’t know their prices.”

New government policies may not be enough to stimulate renewable energy in the short term, according to Luis Alberto Salomon Arguedas, clean energy specialist at International Finance Corp.

“Developers are waiting for more benefits, such as possible tax cuts for renewable energy or different ceiling prices for each energy source,” Arguedas said. “If the game rules don’t change a lot, I think the government’s target is going to be difficult to be reached.”

“This is an important moment to prompt wind-energy development,” in Mexico, said Angelica Ruiz Celis, Vestas Wind Systems A/S’s general manager for the country, where the biggest turbine supplier has 1 GW of capacity installed or under construction. “Mexico is a key market for Vestas.”

Vanessa Dezem, Adam Williams|Bloomberg|October 21, 2015

[I have nothing against wind power as long as the windfarms are sited properly. They don’t belong in a migratory flyway, and Mexico is in three of them.]

To Protect Climate, Groups Appeal Obama Administration’s Largest Coal Mining Plans

Strip Mining Approvals Opened the Door for Massive Amounts of Carbon Pollution

Denver—Stepping up to defend the climate, WildEarth Guardians and the Sierra Club today took the next step in their challenge to the Obama Administration’s approval of billions of tons of coal mining in the western United States.

“Our clean water, the air we breathe, the safety of our communities: they all depend on reversing the impacts of global warming and restoring a safe climate,” said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program Director. “In spite of this, the Administration is signing off on more coal mining, literally undermining our efforts to cut carbon pollution and protect our nation.”

The appeal seeks to overturn a U.S. District Court ruling that upheld the approval of four coal leases in northeastern Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, which produces more than 40 percent of the nation’s coal. The U.S. Department of the Interior issued leases for South Hilight, North Hilight, South Porcupine and North Porcupine in 2012, opening the door for companies to strip mine more than two billion tons of new coal.

Coal from the Powder River Basin is burned throughout the U.S. and is increasingly exported to Asia, releasing carbon pollution on a global scale.

If all of the newly leased coal were burned, it would release more than 3.3 billion metric tons of carbon pollution into the air, the equivalent of cutting down enough trees to cover an area more than twice the size of Texas. The decision to open up large amounts of taxpayer-owned coal contradicts the Obama Administration’s action on climate elsewhere, including its rollout of the Clean Power Plan and preparation for November’s international climate summit in Paris.

“When it comes to acting on climate change, the BLM’s federal coal leasing program is out-of-step with the rest of the Obama administration and has been for some time,” said Connie Wilbert, a Sierra Club organizer based in Laramie, Wyo. “If President Obama and Secretary Jewell want to leave a positive climate legacy and protect Americans from climate disruption, they need to keep taxpayer-owned coal in the ground. This administration must protect future generations of American families from the harm that opening up billions of tons of coal would cause.” 

The challenged coal leases are some of the largest leases ever approved by the federal government. Together the four would expand the nation’s two largest coal mines, Arch Coal’s Black Thunder mine and Peabody Energy’s North Antelope-Rochelle mine.

The leasing decisions underscore the Department of the Interior’s role as a root contributor to global warming. 40% of all coal produced nationally is publicly owned and managed by Interior, making the agency responsible for to more than 10% of all U.S. greenhouse gas pollution.

A report released earlier this year called the Obama administration’s role in approving coal and other fossil fuel development a “blind spot” in its efforts to reduce carbon emissions, and Interior is increasingly under fire for approving more coal mining even as it acknowledges the need to combat climate change.

Coal leases last for 20 years and give companies a right to mine at any time during their duration, guaranteeing that coal under appeal will be mined and burned if the leasing is ultimately upheld.

The appeal was filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver.

Jeremy Nichols|Climate and Energy Program Director|WildEarth Guardians ; Meg Matthews|Sierra Club

Activists: legislation doesn’t go far enough


Legislation aimed at regulating hydraulic fracturing doesn’t go far enough in addressing environmental concerns and the types of extraction techniques used in Florida, activists said Wednesday.

“What we have found is the legislation that has been filed is a little lopsided,” said Stephanie Kunkel, a lobbyist who worked with the Conservancy of Southwest Florida during the 2015 legislative session, during the Florida Fracking Summit.

Kunkel, speaking during a fracking summit held by environmentalists, said while legislation filed in advance of the 2016 legislative session is better in some respects than what was proposed in 2015, there are still concerns about the measures – filed by Rep. Ray Rodrigues and Sen. Garrett Richter, both Southwest Florida Republicans.

Under the proposals, Kunkel said drillers don’t need to notify the Department of Environmental Protection if chemicals are unintentionally added during high pressure well stimulation. It also does not include matrix acidizing, which dissolves rock instead of fracturing it.

Jennifer Hecker, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida’s natural resources policy director, said the acidizing method is widely used in Florida and uses many of the same chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing.

“Our point to the Legislature is, the public doesn’t care if it fractures or dissolves rock,” said Hecker. “If it uses these chemicals, it needs to be studied and these techniques should be suspended until there is a scientific evaluation into their impacts and they should be regulated if they’re ever used.”

Hecker said the Conservancy will work to make sure all forms of well stimulation are covered by proposed legislation, but Kunkel said a provision that significantly limits local control could be the sticking point of legislation this year.

She said the provision “will be the big piece that gets changed” during the legislative session. The provision would void all existing and future local ordinances or regulations dealing with oil and gas drilling, except for those in place before Jan. 1, 2015.

Kunkel encouraged summit participants to keep working within their cities and counties to pass local zoning regulations, something Estero community leaders are already doing.

On Wednesday, Estero council members agreed to consider a ban on fracking in November. If approved, the community would be the second Southwest Florida municipality to ban fracking. Bonita Springs approved a ban over the summer. Council members also agreed to consider a resolution urging Florida to ban fracking and not limit local government control.

“I don’t think fracking should be occurring in Florida. Period,” said Councilor Katy Errington. “It’s so dangerous to the environment, the wildlife, the quality of life.”

The Conservancy offered a shuttle service to take summit participants interested in addressing council members to the Estero Village Council meeting, and high fives and cheers erupted when a Conservancy attorney told summit participants the council would be

considering a ban. 

Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster||Naples Daily News staff writer Maryann Batlle contributed to this report.

Land Conservation

Once a Fetid Mess, Now Serene Wetland: NYC Waters Transform

NEW YORK — Amid the crammed concrete and steel of Brooklyn, a ribbon of clear water stretches out into a vast bay. Tall grass rustles along the undulating shoreline, where bursts of golden flowers, pines and cacti flourish in the soft sand.

“This is what would have been here pre-us. Pre-European development,” said John McLaughlin, director of the office of ecological services at New York City’s department of environmental protection.

Just a few years ago, the tributary, known as Paerdegat Basin, was a fetid mess. The water was murky green, teeming with 1.8 billion gallons of sewage and rainwater that streamed in during storms. The working-class neighborhoods along the waterway stank like an outhouse during hot weather and low tide. The shoreline was strewn with rusted out cars, garbage and broken bottles.

“It was a junkyard. It was a chop shop,” McLaughlin said. “It was a weed-strewn mess, full of invasive plant life. And boy, did it smell.”

The Paerdegat tributary feeds directly into Jamaica Bay, a body of water and marsh sandwiched between Brooklyn and Queens, and on the shores of which sits Kennedy International Airport. Part of the area is run by the city; the other is Gateway National Recreational Area, which contains a wildlife refuge with one of the most important bird sanctuaries in the Northeast.

And now a decade-long $455 million investment by the city to clean up Paerdegat Basin is nearly complete, including a new sewage overflow retention facility at the head of the 1.3-mile-long channel and 52 restored acres of native grasslands and wetlands.

In older cities like New York, sewer systems are built on one pipe that handles both rainwater and sewage. With considerable concrete and not enough exposed earth to absorb rainwater, the combined runoff often overflows and backs into city waterways.

The new retention facility is capable of preventing 50 million gallons of wastewater per storm that would previously have streamed into the water and out to the bay. It was completed first and has been operational since 2011. Automated, state-of-the-art machinery clicks on when water levels rise too high. Giant rakes segregate large sticks, bottles and other refuse from the pooling wastewater, which is then collected and stored in giant underground tanks. After the storm subsides, the water is pumped out to a treatment facility and cleaned, and sent out the waterways.

The facility is spotless. Even the air is filtered, so there’s no smell.

“That’s the best compliment you can give us,” said Chris Laudando, the chief of collections facilities for southern Brooklyn.

It has reduced the amount of wastewater spilling into the channel from 1.8 billion gallons annually to about 650 million, said Vincent Sapienza, deputy commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection. That means better water quality in the basin and out to the bay and a better habitat for birds and fish that live there.

The idea for the project was first discussed in the mid-1990s, but took until 2005 to get off the ground. Conservationists have praised the project as forward-thinking and inclusive. Dan Mundy of the Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers, a watchdog group for Jamaica Bay and its tributaries, said he has noticed a visible change in the bay.

“We’re very excited,” he said. “I think it’s a big deal, the work that went into the project is paying off and now it’s an area really to be enjoyed.”

The construction on the channel began after the retention facility. Crews dredged the filthy sediment and cleared the shoreline of refuse, then used sand excavated for the retention facility to form the hills. The department of environmental protection planted more than 100,000 plugs of grassland and wildflowers, more than 5,300 shrubs and nearly 1,100 trees.

Then, they waited for the fragile seedlings to grow. The result is a mass of soft golds and greens that reflect off the water. Goldenrod and smooth cord grass are now about waist-high. Atlantic white cedars grow among little blue stem, American holly and the eastern prickly pear— the only cactus native to the Northe