“You have to stand up for some things in this world.” — Marjory Stoneman Douglas
Corps to host meeting on water operations field test June 30
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District will host a Project Delivery Team (PDT) meeting to discuss the first increment of the G-3273 and S-356 Pump Station Field Test,
a water operations field test aimed at increasing flows to Everglades National Park.
The meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, June 30 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. at the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Miami Field Station, 9001 NW 58th Street, in Miami, Fla.
PDT meetings enable federal, state and local agencies and tribal governments to provide their input into the first increment of the field test.
Members of the public may attend the PDT meeting and provide public comment both during and at the end of the meeting.
“The first increment of this field test is a critical step forward in evaluating how we will ultimately send additional water south to Everglades National Park,” said Donna George, Jacksonville District project manager.
“At the meeting, we will discuss how the first increment of the field test will be implemented, the data we will be collecting and what we are planning to do in future increments as well.”
The first increment of the field test will evaluate the raising or removing of the G-3273 constraint of 6.8 feet while holding the L-29 Canal
stage at 7.5 feet to enable increased water deliveries to Northeast Shark River Slough in Everglades National Park.
This is the first step in the incremental approach to develop the final operating plan for the Modified Water Deliveries to Everglades National Park and C-111 South Dade projects.
The meeting will also be available via teleconference and Web meeting, and can be accessed at:
USA Toll-Free: (877) 848-7030
Access Code: 3753824
Security Code: 1234
Web Meeting Address:
Meeting Number: (877) 848-7030
Access Code: 3753824
Security Code: 1234
* The first time you use the Web Meeting Service, you will need to download the client software.
Web Meeting HELP & Software Downloads can be found at: https://www.webmeeting.att.com *
Additional information on the first increment of the G-3273 and S-356 Pump Station Field Test available on the project fact sheet (http://1.usa.gov/1SHnlRq)
and on the project Web page: http://bit.ly/MWD_FieldTest
Free Children’s Nature Tour & Video Shoot
Children’s Nature Tour & Video Shoot
When?! Wednesday, July 8th from 10:00 am to 12:00 pm
Where?! Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge
The Marshall Foundation is creating an educational video library which includes examples of the field trips we provide free to Palm Beach County schools.
Therefore we need families to come out for a free morning field trip and video shoot.
All adults are welcome but we will only be videotaping the kids’ tour. We need 20 children aged 6-15 to simply enjoy a fun walk
in nature while learning about the Everglades, its plants animals, birds and importance to South Florida.
If this sounds exciting to you sign up at Meetup!
Of Interest to All
No Fishing one foe Biscayne National Park
South Florida Wildlands Association recently received word from the National Park Service that one of our longstanding campaigns – the future of Biscayne National Park – had been resolved
While awaiting the decision, we considered the importance of the most visited marine park in our nation and its outstanding natural resources, including dozens of federally listed species and the only coral reef in the continental U.S. located inside a National Park. We also reflected on the multi-year campaign South Florida Wildlands and our allies waged to protect this unique park through the adoption of a new General Management Plan – a plan we hoped would restore dwindling fish populations; protect and restore seagrass beds and coral reefs damaged by boat propellers, fishing debris, anchors, and groundings; prevent disturbances to nesting birds along the park’s fragile shorelines – known to abandon nests in the presence of loud motors; and reduce or eliminate powerboat collisions – often fatal – with endangered manatees, sea turtles and other marine wildlife.
We’re happy to say that this time the National Park Service got it exactly right. Biscayne National Park has announced it will be implementing a 10,502 acre marine reserve (a “no fishing zone”) over the heart of the park’s coral reef in addition to no combustion motor, no wake, and slow speed zones surrounding many of the park’s sensitive shorelines. Not only will the elimination of recreational and commercial fishing inside the reserve allow more and bigger fish to survive and reproduce (and spill out to the vast majority of the park which remains open to fishing), but it will also greatly reduce anchor damage, groundings, and fishing debris from impacting the park’s very special reef tract. Regulations on motoring will benefit seagrass beds, manatees and other wildlife as well as nesting birds. And human visitors who enjoy paddling, diving, glass bottom boat viewing, bird watching, and fishing will have the opportunity to experience a quieter and healthier park ecosystem with a more natural abundance of the fish and wildlife that draw visitors to Biscayne National Park from throughout the world.
The finalizing of a new General Management Plan for a national park is a strenuous effort for all involved. In almost every case, desires for “access and use” compete with the mission of the National Park Service as expressed in the Organic Act written nearly 100 years ago – “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” A big thanks to all who stood up for this important conservation mandate.
Matthew Schwartz|Executive Director|South Florida Wildlands Association
Mosaic Co. announces ‘Leading with Purpose’ report, renewed sustainability goals
As businesses worldwide begin taking a closer look at sustainability — in energy, materials, and waste – one major company in Florida is taking the lead in environmental responsibility.
On Tuesday, The Mosaic Company released its 2014 Sustainability Report, titled “Leading with Purpose.” In it, the Polk County-based company, one of the world’s leading producers of agricultural nutrients, outlined both last year’s past progress in sustainability and set new goals for 2020.
The Report addresses several Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) indicators, which govern activities such as freshwater and energy use, and greenhouse emissions. It is Mosaic’s sixth such report since 2009.
GRI, an independent global organization, helps corporations, governments and organizations worldwide understand the impact of business on sustainability issues such as climate change, human rights, corruption and others. The independent organization, founded in the late 1990s, develops a series of reporting guidelines on various issues called G4 Core Sustainability Reporting. Groups provide data to GRI on water, waste, energy and greenhouse gas emissions, which is verified by third-party reviewers.
Through the most recent set of GRI guidelines, Mosaic renewed its commitment to materiality – the use, waste and conservation of physical material.
“No element of our company’s progress shines more brightly than our commitment to sustainability,” said Mosaic CEO Jim Prokopanko, “We are leading with purpose. We’re growing our value to shareholders while achieving measurable and meaningful environmental and social progress,”
In helping Mosaic identify areas of improvement, Prokopanko credits its employees – the company employs about 4,000 Floridians — for “delivering industry-leading sustainability performance.”
Among Mosaic’s strategic 2020 objectives: Reduce freshwater use by 10 percent per ton of product produced; avoiding the use of approximately 30 million gigajoules of energy; and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent per ton of product produced.
“As global demand for food, water, and precious natural resources increases, we are driven to improve how we operate and produce crop nutrients,” said Mosaic COO Joc O’Rourke, slated to become Mosaic’s Chief Executive Officer in August. “These water, energy and emissions targets build on our existing business strategy, and position us to stretch our environmental responsibility efforts even further.”
In 2014, Mosaic officials say they received a 99 out of 100 carbon disclosure score, with a grade of “A” for climate performance. In addition, 7 million gigajoules of electricity produced in Mosaic’s North America operations through cogeneration, which converts waste heat to energy.
As for environmental stewardship, Mosaic’s phosphate business unit planted 2 million trees in its effort to reclaim approximately 6,000 acres of land in Central Florida. Those efforts landed Mosaic its fifth consecutive year on Corporate Responsibility Magazine’s 100 Best Corporate Citizens list, named No. 40 in 2015.
Phil Ammann|June 24, 2015
EPA to Analyze Impacts of Roundup, Atrazine on 1,500 Species
In a historic agreement, the Environmental Protection Agency this week finally agreed to analyze the effects of atrazine and glyphosate — the two most commonly used pesticides in the United States — on 1,500 endangered plants and animals across the country. The agreement is part of a settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity in litigation seeking to protect wildlife from dangerous pesticides.
Up to 80 million pounds of atrazine are used in the United States each year. In addition to causing severe harm to endangered species, the chemical may be linked to increased risks of thyroid cancer and birth defects in people. It’s the second most commonly used pesticide after glyphosate, more commonly known as Monsanto’s Roundup, which has been linked to massive declines in monarch butterflies.
The EPA has, for decades, continued to register and allow the use of pesticides without considering their impacts on endangered species. The Center has filed a series of lawsuits to force the agency to conduct those analyses and better understand how these chemicals affect everything from Florida panthers to California tiger salamanders.
“This settlement is the first step to reining in the widespread use of dangerous pesticides that are harming both wildlife and people,” said the Center’s Brett Hartl.
Pope Francis offers hopeful perspective on global crises
Earth has existed for 4.5 billion years, humans for somewhere around 150,000. But in my brief lifetime — less than 80 years — human populations have exploded exponentially, from two billion to more than seven billion. In that short time, we’ve created consumer societies and decimated the planet’s natural systems, used up resources, filled oceans with plastic and pollution, altered water cycles, and upset the Earth’s carbon cycle, disrupting global climate systems.
Our impacts on this small blue planet have been so rapid, widespread and profound that many scientists call this the Anthropocene Epoch. Much of it has coincided with the discovery and exploitation of fossil fuels, which showed great promise when I was a child. They were abundant and we didn’t understand the consequences of recklessly burning them. Cars were designed to use lots of gas and propel oil industry profits, not to conserve energy. Factories were built to create products and increase distribution efficiencies.
No longer confined to growing food and providing agricultural services, people moved to cities and, freed from the constraints of limited access to resources, grew rapidly in number, dramatically increasing consumption.
Because our technological prowess has grown faster than our knowledge, wisdom and foresight, much of what we’ve created is now crashing down around us — battered by pollution, ecosystem collapse, species extinction, resource scarcity, inequality, climate change and overpopulation.
Pope Francis recently put humanity’s situation in context — and offered hope for the future. Regardless of how you feel about religion or the Catholic Church, or even some ideas in the Pope’s encyclical, there’s no denying it contains a powerful, scientifically and morally valid call for radical change that will reach an audience far beyond the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.
In his June 18 address, the Pope called on the world — not just Catholics — to recognize the need for change in the face of ecological crises such as human-caused global warming and the failure of growth-fuelled market economics to facilitate human survival, happiness and prosperity. “Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years,” he said.
In his wide-ranging address, Pope Francis spoke about pollution, climate change, water, biodiversity, inequality, poverty, economics, consumerism and spirituality. “The pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes, such as those which even now periodically occur in different areas of the world,” he said. “The effects of the present imbalance can only be reduced by our decisive action, here and now.”
He also called out those stalling or preventing action to confront environmental problems, especially global warming: “Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions.”
Connecting the dots between environmental degradation and inequality, he urged people to “integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”
Although parts of the address are bleak, the Pope argued that open conversation and changes in thinking, acting and governing could bring about positive change, even for the economy: “Productive diversification offers the fullest possibilities to human ingenuity to create and innovate, while at the same time protecting the environment and creating more sources of employment.”
And, he noted, “Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start, despite their mental and social conditioning.”
The Pope joins a diverse global chorus of people calling for changes in our destructive lifestyle to confront crises such as climate change and the ever-growing gap between poor and rich.
These expanding and increasingly urgent calls to confront our hubris for the sake of humanity’s future represent a necessary shift in a way of thinking that has propelled us along what is, after all, just a recent and brief destructive course in our history. As Pope Francis said, “We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it.”
Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington
Calls to Action
Tell your elected leaders to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund – here
Don’t Put Gas Pipelines in National Parks – here
Tell your Representatives to oppose the doomsday amendments to the Interior Appropriations Bill – here
Tell the US Fish and Wildlife Service to deny the Florida Wildlife Commission’s efforts to delist Florida panthers – here
Tell President Obama and his agency chiefs to take a stand against illegal logging – here
Protect Bryce Canyon National Park From a Dirty Coal Strip Mine – here
Birds and Butterflies
Flamingo adjusts to new life with prosthetic limb after a fracture and infection resulted in its leg being amputated
Rio Grande Levee Lawsuit Expanded to Protect Imperiled Cuckoo
Corps’ plan threatens to destroy habitat to cut costs
Santa Fe, N.M.—WildEarth Guardians today amended its lawsuit targeting a mammoth, river-choking levee project under construction by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in central New Mexico with new claims to protect the yellow-billed cuckoo and its habitat along the Rio Grande.
Earlier this year, the group filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Corps seeking to stop the construction of 43 miles of engineered levees along the Rio Grande (from the San Acacia Diversion Dam to Elephant Butte Reservoir) to prevent destruction of the river ecosystem and the loss of hundreds of acres of key habitat for the Rio Grande silvery minnow and Southwestern willow flycatcher.
“The Rio Grande is an oasis in the desert that is critical to the survival of birds, fish and wildlife as well as the local economy,” said Jen Pelz, Wild Rivers Program Director at WildEarth Guardians. “Pushing through a traditional flood control project in the 21st century without evaluating more environmentally sound ways to provide the same benefits is simply irresponsible.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the cuckoo as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act on October 3, 2014 and proposed critical habitat that includes the section of the Rio Grande from Cochiti Dam to Elephant Butte Reservoir. The Corps, however, never opened discussions with the Service regarding the impacts of the project on the cuckoo and its critical habitat despite the clear mandate of the Endangered Species Act.
The group amended its original lawsuit to compel the Corps to evaluate the impacts of the project on the yellow-billed cuckoo and ensure that the cuckoo is not harmed by the permanent habitat destruction resulting from the project.
Guardians also informed the Corps that it will seek an order from the court to enjoin any deposition of earthen material into an environmentally critical region called the Tiffany Basin because such activity will permanently alter key flycatcher and cuckoo habitat.
The Corps plans to deposit approximately 1.6 million cubic yards (the equivalent of 800,000 full sized pick up trucks) of earthen material from existing levees into the Tiffany Basin, which is designated critical habitat of the flycatcher and proposed habitat of the cuckoo. The excavated material will cover 300 acres of the Tiffany Basin at a depth of 6.5 feet deep, essentially converting riparian habitat of the birds to upland habitat and destroying its value to the species.
“The Corps’ plan to dump a massive amount of spoil in protected critical habitat of imperiled birds is not necessary to protect the safety and health of the local communities,” said Pelz. “It is this type of a short-cut taken by the Corps to lower the cost of the project at the expense of the river that we believe needs reconsideration. A proper environmental analysis by the Corps, as required by environmental laws, could yield environmentally sound alternatives that do not compromise such an important bosque restoration site.”
This is the latest action in WildEarth Guardians’ campaign to protect and restore the Rio Grande, America’s third longest and one of its most iconic rivers.
Contact: Jen Pelz 303-884-2702
Bittern populations back from the brink of extinction in the UK
After facing near-extinction, the Bittern is back in numbers in our reedbeds
Bittern were extinct in the UK by the end of the 19th century and was absent as a breeding bird between the 1870s and 1911, when the first breeding male was recorded.
The bird returned to peak numbers in the 1950s with around 80 breeding males.
From that time the decline began again, attributable to habitat loss. By 1997 there were only 11 breeding males recorded in England.
Concern over a second UK extinction led to a concerted conservation program which is driving the current recovery.
Scientists count bitterns by listening for the male’s foghorn-like booming song, and this year over 150 males have been recorded in England and Wales.
During the breeding season, the bittern prefers sizeable tracts of wet reedbed – a habitat which, two decades ago, in the UK had become scarce and under managed.
Simon Wotton, an RSPB conservation scientist, comments: “In the late 1990s, the bittern was heading towards a second extinction in the UK, largely because its preferred habitat – wet reedbed – was drying out and required intensive management, restoration and habitat recreation.
“Thanks to efforts to improve the habitat, combined with significant funding from two projects under the European Union Life Program, the bittern was saved, and we’re delighted that its success keeps going from strength to strength.”
Martin Harper, the RSPB’s conservation director, adds: “The bittern is a species which proves that conservation can be successful, especially when you can identify the reason behind its decline and bring in measures and funding to aid its recovery.”
Over the last 25 years there have been several significant habitat-restoration projects, some of which are now RSPB nature reserves, including:
· Ham Wall, in Somerset, which was created from old peat workings from 1995. The bittern has been booming regularly from 2008 with first nesting in that year. In 2015, 17 boomers have been recorded at the site.
· Lakenheath, in Suffolk. This wetland site was converted from carrot fields from 1995. Bitterns were first recorded booming here in 2006 and the first confirmed nesting was recorded in 2009. This year six booming males are being recorded on site.
· Ouse Fen, in Cambridgeshire. This partnership project with Hanson has seen wetland creation former mineral workings, which started around 10 years ago. In time, it will be the largest reedbed in the UK. The first confirmed booming was in 2012, with 10 recorded in 2015.
According to this year’s figures, the top UK county for bitterns is Somerset, with over 40 booming males.
Following the restoration and extensive creation of large wetlands in the Avalon Marshes, at Ham Wall (RSPB), Shapwick Heath (Natural England) and Westhay Moor (Somerset Wildlife Trust), bitterns became re-established in Somerset in 2008.
East Anglia with over 80 booming male bitterns remains the bittern’s regional stronghold in the UK, particularly in traditional sites on the Suffolk Coast, and in the Norfolk Broads but also increasingly in the Fens, particularly at newly created habitat.
Over half (over 59 per cent) of the booming males are on sites protected under international law, namely the European Union’s Birds and Habitat’s Directives.
These sites, referred to as Special Protection Areas or Special Areas of Conservation, are collectively known as Natura 2000 sites.
Martin Harper adds: “These sites have been vital to the conservation of the bittern and other key species in the UK.
“However, the European Union is consulting on the future of the Birds and Habitats Directives. And we fear this may lead to a weakening of the directives, with potentially disastrous consequences for many threatened species.”
The RSPB is working in partnership with a range of organisations across Europe and across the UK which are encouraging people to take part in a European Commission-led consultation on the Birds and Habitats Directives.
Click here for more information.
FWC discusses strategic priorities for panther conservation
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) at its meeting June 23 in Sarasota discussed a draft position paper outlining strategic priorities for panther conservation.
The Commissioners agreed that the Florida panther is a conservation success story but acknowledged that with this success comes new challenges.
The draft paper presented at the meeting calls for focusing strong conservation efforts on the panther’s core range in south Florida, effective ways to address human-panther conflicts, and building support among private landowners whose properties provide essential panther habitat.
“This position paper does not call for a change to the panther’s protected status. It’s intended to help us consider the next steps in this tremendous success,” said Commissioner Liesa Priddy.
After hearing substantial public testimony, FWC Commissioners agreed to provide additional input to staff to finalize the draft position paper for further consideration.
The FWC also continues to place emphasis on assisting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in updating the federal panther recovery plan to better reflect current knowledge of panthers and set more realistic and meaningful conservation objectives and criteria. The draft panther position paper is available by going to www.MyFWC.com/Commission and clicking on “Commission Meetings” then “Agenda” for this meeting.
Greatest Threat to the Everglades? Maybe Not Pythons
A deceptively deadly force is slithering its way through the Florida Everglades. Sinuous and stealthy, this invasive species is one of the greatest threats to the ecosystem. And it’s not a python.
Old World climbing fern, Lygodium microphyllum, is arguably the worst of many invasive species in the Everglades.
“It grows quickly, spreads easily, and is changing the entire ecosystem,” says Kristina Serbesoff-King, the associate director of conservation for the Conservancy’s Florida chapter.
Pythons may get all the press, but this little fern has some serious destructive potential.
What is So Bad About a Fern?
Old World Climbing Fern
Native to Africa, Australia, and southeast Asia, Old World climbing fern (OWCF) was introduced to Florida as an ornamental garden plant and was first found in the wild in the 1960s.
This situation is typical of non-native species — 90 percent of the problem of invasive plants in Florida is that they were brought in on purpose, says Serbesoff-King, typically as ornamental or forage plants. Pythons were intentionally brought to the state, too, and today’s wild population is descended from both escaped and purposefully released pets.
But OWCF isn’t you’re average garden plant — it’s a highly invasive, insidious fern that’s adaptable, fast-growing, difficult to control, excellent at colonizing remote areas, and hard to kill. As far as invasives go, it’s a quadruple-whammy.
OWCF’s destructive power lies in sheer mass — it slinks its way up, over, and around native plants. Eventually the fern completely covers their leaves, blocking sunlight and literally smothering them. Native plant and animal species decline, and the fern takes over.
Plant vs. Python
South Florida has no shortage of invasive species — according to estimates from the South Florida Water Management District, more than 130 of the animals in the greater Everglades ecosystem are non-natives, and about 26 percent of the mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish in all of South Florida are non-native.
Pythons are certainly among the worst — they’re devouring mammals, birds, and bird eggs at destructive rates, having a direct impact on Everglades wildlife. So how can a plant be as problematic as a python?
The Everglades ecosystem is the emblematic river of grass, dotted with hardwood tree islands, or hammocks. Hammocks are a critical habitat for Everglades animals, providing dry ground, refuge, and a place to find food and breed.
But hammocks are no match for OWCF, which buries the islands under so much plant matter that they literally collapse. “They look like a massive green crater,” says Serbesoff-King, “because the outside rim of trees is still standing, but [the] middle has collapsed in on itself.”
OWCF also makes tree islands vulnerable to fire, says LeRoy Rodgers, a lead scientist with the South Florida Water Management District. The fern’s tendrils act like a bridge, transporting fire from the marsh grasses onto the islands.
“The fern is literally changing the landscape and the processes that make this habitat unique,” he says.
Restoration in Peril
If changing the very ecosystem wasn’t bad enough, OWCF may also jeopardize Everglades restoration efforts.
Rodgers explains that OWCF is not widespread across the Everglades ecosystem — yet. Most of the infestation is concentrated in Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, where good management spared many of the tree islands from destruction.
Restoration efforts are expected to increase the number of tree islands, which just so happen to be the fern’s favorite habitat. “The better we make the habitat, the more likely it is to be invaded by the fern,” says Rodgers.
He worries that OWCF could thwart billion-dollar restoration efforts to fix the historic flow of water across the state to the Everglades. “Even if we fix the water,” he says “it’s not going to be the Everglades anymore if we don’t remove plants like melaleuca and climbing fern.”
For melaleuca — the poster-child of invasive species in south Florida — machetes and poison are the tools of the trade. But manual removal can actually make an OWCF infestation worse, says Serbesoff-King. The slightest yank to a vine sends millions of minuscule spores billowing into the air — and onto the clothes, vehicles, and tools of the people trying to remove it.
“Some people try to pull up the fern, load it into truck beds, and drive it off their property,” she says. “The next year, the entire roadway they drove past is covered in the fern.”
Herbicides are the best weapon, but mass application isn’t an option because OWCF fern grows on plants, and a heavy hand will end up killing native plants, too. And it takes more than one treatment to finish the job.
“When you treat an invasive plant the first year, all you do is make it angry,” says Serbesoff-King. “The plant’s reaction is to release as many seeds or spores as possible because it knows it’s dying.”
But land managers have one final weapon. Like other invasive species, OWCF has few or no predators, parasites, or pathogens, so there’s little to stop it from spreading — unless you import a fern nemesis from its native range.
This tactic, known as biological control, has proved successful in controlling other species, including melaleuca. Between 2004 and 2009, the U.S. Department of Agriculture introduced two species of lygodium moth and one species of lygodium gall mite, all of which harm the fern by either feeding on its leaves or causing leaf deformities. So far, only one of the moth species is prospering in the wild.
Front Line of the Fern Fight
An invisible line runs across the Florida peninsula, from northern Tampa, through Ocala National Forest, and to Daytona Beach. It’s the northward range of OWCF, and the conservancy and other partners are doing everything they can to hold the front line.
Cheryl Millett, a biologist with the Florida chapter, helps run a monitoring and treatment network called the Central Florida Lygodium Strategy. Using a combination of aerial surveys and boots-on-the-ground monitoring, Millet and her partners in the local, state, and federal government monitor a network of 130 sites along the invisible boundary.
Anytime the fern pops, up they coordinate rapid herbicide treatments to prevent further spread. The conservancy also treats infestations on private lands, where the fern might otherwise go unnoticed.
“We are holding the line,” says Millett, “while we wait for the biological controls to help us out.”
Aside from manning the boundaries, the conservancy is also looking ahead. Using existing invasive plants as an example, Doria Gordon, the Florida chapter’s director of conservation, and her colleagues at the University of Florida tested a Weed Risk Assessment for the state to identify whether it would accurately predict if a non-native plant species will turn into an all-out menace.
“With Old World climbing fern, we realized that we could have predicted its spread,” says Gordon. “We’re learning from this lesson and working preventatively to identify the next big invader.”
And in Florida, the “next big invader” is never far away.
Justine E. Hausheer|The Nature Conservancy|June 21, 2015
USFWS Injurious Wildlife Listing
On March 6, 2015 the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) declared four reptiles as “injurious” (reticulated python, DeShauensee’s anaconda, green anaconda, and Beni anaconda) under the Lacey Act. Please see the attached memo below regarding these changes. If you have any questions please feel free to give the Captive Wildlife Office a call at (850)488-6253 or write to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Division of Law Enforcement, Captive Wildlife Office, 620 South Meridian Street, Tallahassee, Florida 32399-1600.
New Guinea Flatworm, One Of The World’s ‘Worst’ Invasive Species, Found In Florida
A worm called one of the world’s “worst” invasive species by conservationists has been found in the United States for the first time, an international team of researchers announced on Tuesday.
The Platydemus manokwari, also called the New Guinea flatworm, poses a major threat to the planet’s snail biodiversity, according to an article published in the scientific journal PeerJ. “It is considered a danger to endemic snails wherever it has been introduced,” the report states.
The flatworm is thought to originate in New Guinea, but researchers say it has spread to Florida, New Caledonia, Puerto Rico, Singapore, the Solomon Islands, and the Wallis and Futuna Islands. Jean-Lou Justine, who led the research team, said that scientists had previously found the animal in other Pacific islands and in France.
“Once the New Guinea flatworm arrives in a new territory, and providing the conditions are right, it reproduces quickly,” Justine said in an email to The Huffington Post. “It quickly adapts itself to predate on local snails and other invertebrates.”
The International Union for Conservation of Nature included the worm on its most recent list of the 100 worst invasive alien species. The USDA classifies invasive species as plants, animals or pathogens that are non-native to an ecosystem, “whose introduction causes or is likely to cause harm.”
Human activity is the main reason for the spread of invasive species. Justine said the New Guinea flatworm typically moves no more than a few hundred yards a year on its own, but it has spread rapidly thanks to international trade in living plants.
The species has already been found in several gardens in Miami, Justine said, and it is likely to disseminate throughout Florida and parts of the South through soil, potted plants and garden waste.
The U.S. has strict rules on the import of agricultural and plant products to help curb the spread of invasive species. But once they’re on the U.S. mainland, regulations aren’t as stringent. “There are no customs or quarantine restrictions between Florida and the other U.S. states,” Justine said. “From Florida, the flatworm can be inadvertently spread to all states in the southern part of the U.S. From [there], it can be transported to Mexico and to the rest of the Americas.”
The creature caused a minor uproar in the French culinary world after some scientists said it had the potential to decimate populations of snails traditionally used in escargot, The Guardian reported last year.
“All snails in Europe could be wiped out,” Justine told the outlet at the time. “It may seem ironic, but it’s worth pointing out the effect that this will have on French cooking.”
Nick Visser|The Huffington Post|06/23/2015
4 Times Humans Used an Invasive Species to Defeat Another Invasive Species
The forests of Denver, Colo., are currently under attack by an invasive insect species from Asia (see #4). So what is the scientists’ plan to stop this assault on trees? They’re going with the controversial move of introducing a second invasive species to destroy the first one.
If it sounds like that children’s song about the old lady who swallowed the spider to catch the fly, that’s because it basically is. Unleashing a second non-native species might help to eradicate the first species, but it can also unleash a series of other consequences. Previous experiments in this invasive species vs. invasive species tactic have worked out with various degrees of success, as these four examples will show:
1. Ash Whiteflies vs. Wasps
In the late 1980s, ash whiteflies started taking over southern California. The pests are known to devastate fruit crops, and once their population grew, they took a real toll on the region’s citrus production.
Initially, scientists thought the whiteflies had no natural predators, until researchers discovered that certain wasps loved to feast on the whiteflies larvae. Accordingly, entomologists released hundreds of wasps throughout the area to prevent so many whiteflies from hatching. Research published in the California Agriculture journal later deemed the experiment a “success” since it helped to decrease the populations of four (out of eight) species of whiteflies that were dominating in southern California.
2. Rabbits vs. Ferrets and Weasels
In the 1800s, New Zealand decided to intentionally import rabbits to its country from England. The idea was to have a new animal for people to eat and hunt, but the rabbits soon bred like… well, rabbits, and the population was out of control.
With too many bunnies destroying their crops, farmers advocated shipping in predators of the rabbits to keep the population in check. In the UK, ferrets and weasels naturally preyed on rabbits, so they brought in many of them. Unfortunately, this new invasive species didn’t do a good job of taking out the first invasive species. Instead, the ferrets and weasels found easier meals in the native New Zealand birds, many of which are flightless.
Now, New Zealand has a bunch of non-native species wiping out the native species. The country has set up a lot of traps to catch these animals in an effort to spare the actual New Zealand creatures. If they’re smart, they’ll stick to the traps and not try introducing any new animals. I bet tigers would eat weasels!
3. Cane Toads vs. Lungworms
Like New Zealand, Australia – a once isolated continent – is especially prone to invasive species. That’s precisely what happened when cane toads made their way to Australia during the first half of the twentieth century. The toads preyed on vulnerable native species and took over their habitats.
Biologists have tried all sorts of measures to reduce the cane toad population, including sterilization, genetic modification and relocating them. Still, one of the zanier approaches was to introduce lungworms to the habitats. These invasive parasites would enter cane toads through their eyeballs and ravage their insides.
According to a study by the University of Sydney, the results were mixed. The lungworms did put a dent in the cane toad population, but they also had health consequences for the native frog species residing in the same area (the very creatures the plot to get rid of cane toads was designed to help). While some frogs could withstand the worms with minimal illness, magnificent tree frogs died from this exposure. It goes to show that you can’t always limit what types of lives a new invasive species attack.
4. Emerald Ash Borers vs. Wasps
… Which leads us to the upcoming experiment in Denver. Certainly something needs to be done about emerald ash borers, since they are destroying entire forests in a matter of years. These Asian insects, which were first accidentally introduced to America back in 2002, place heir larvae underneath tree bark and, as the Smithsonian reports, “kill the tree from the inside out.”
In Asia, there are natural predators and stronger trees that keep these beetles in check. Since those are not the conditions here, Colorado scientists hope that the oobius agrili wasp could do the trick. The wasps lay their eggs right by the beetle eggs. If all goes according to plan, the wasp larvae will eat the beetle larvae before they can wreak havoc on the tree.
Kevin Mathews|June 24, 2015
‘Giant’ Goldfish and the Problem of Invasive Aquatic Species
Canadian officials are warning people not to release their pet goldfish into local lakes because those fish are surviving and are reproducing in increasing numbers in the wild, with the potential to cause considerable environmental damage.
CBC news reports that large goldfish are regularly being spotted in lakes across Alberta, with others getting into storm water ponds:
Goldfish, some the size of dinner plates, are being found from Lethbridge to Fort McMurray, the province says.
“It’s quite a surprise how large we’re finding them and the sheer number,” said Kate Wilson, aquatic invasive species coordinator at Alberta Environment and Parks.
“That’s really scary because it means they’re reproducing in the wild, they are getting quite large and they are surviving the winters that far north,” said Wilson.
This has prompted officials to begin the “Don’t Let it Loose” campaign which aims to warn people of the environmental and economic dangers of letting non-native pet species loose into local lakes. The problem with goldfish in particular is that, like other species of carp, they are limited by the size of tank they are kept in. Once in open water however, they will grow and get surprisingly large, which means they will eat more and be that much harder for native species to live with. There’s another issue too. As the Washington Post reports, goldfish feces may (the research is ongoing) encourage algae which in turn can further disrupt the underwater environment.
The report also cites a number of other species that Alberta’s officials are battling against, not all of them strictly pets but still a problem. These include Dreissenid mussels which can attach themselves to the bottom of boats, or may be brought back by people going out into open water. These mussels are aggressive and out-compete many native species, to the point that they can actually be quite devastating to local ecosystems. (Click through to page 16 of the report for “before” and “after” pictures of what invasive species can do.)
As Care2 blogger Susan Bird reported a few weeks ago, this isn’t a problem confined to Canada either. Wildlife officials in Colorado were recently dealing with a non-native population of some 3,000 to 4,000 goldfish in Teller Lake, likely as a result of pet owners releasing their goldfish. You can read more about that story here.
As touched on above, it’s not just goldfish that are a problem, either. Canadian officials are saying that they are seeing fish species that are even more disruptive, such as the Prussian carp which are proving hard to manage. In fact, a large percentage of invasive water species not just in Canada but across the U.S. too are as the result of pets being released or people intentionally releasing species in the hope of fishing them once those fish have established a strong presence in a particular lake. The latter practice is illegal and incredibly damaging because it often involves introducing species that are highly aggressive and which may prey on other fish that previously had few predators and therefore are not adapted to deal with this new threat.
Another issue with dumping fish is that this often involves dumping the water that the pet fish were in. That can come with a pretty hefty dose of things like chemicals and parasites to which wild fish are not accustomed, and while goldfish and other so-called ornamental fish may be relatively robust and can live in poorer water conditions, other species will not deal with that influx of foreign parasites and substances as easily, further disadvantaging local species.
It is true that the goldfish population is likely to, of itself, be largely benign, but the very fact that they are surviving Canada’s winters has shocked experts. As global temperatures rise, we may see other released pet species that would have otherwise died off begin to flourish, and while that may be good for them in the short term, in the long term the imbalance this could cause may prove costly not just for individual native species, but whole swathes of fish because, as has become elsewhere, once the food chain is interrupted, it has knock-on effects that can impact not just fish but the animals that feed on them like birds and aquatic mammals.
So if you know someone who’s considering dumping a pet goldfish, remind them firstly that the goldfish is a living creature that they promised to take care of, and secondly that by dumping it they might be doing a whole lot of harm not just to the fish, but to other fish and the habitats other animals live in, too.
Steve Williams|June 28, 2015
Bees feeding on fungicide-dosed flowers develop health issues, studies say
While insecticides are a known deadly threat, two studies find that bees exposed to fungicides are smaller, sickly and declining in ‘chemical cocktail’ farmlands
While the relationship between insecticides and bees has made headlines – and controversy – for years, two recent studies have shown that another class of agricultural chemicals, little-appreciated but used in ever-increasing amounts, may also pose a threat to pollinators.
The new studies have raised concerns about fungicides: in one, foraging on fungicide-dosed flowers harmed bumblebees. Colonies were smaller, their workers tinier, their queens seemed sickly, it found. In the other, exposures were linked to declines in wild bees living in agriculture-intensive areas. They are only two studies, and far from conclusive, but the findings fit with a growing body of research on fungicides once thought innocuous.
“It’s a group of pesticides that hasn’t been looked at too closely,” said entomologist Hannah Gaines-Day of the University of Wisconsin, whose bumblebee study appeared in the June issue of Insects. “Insecticides are meant to kill insects, so people have been really interested in how insecticides kill beneficial insects. But fungicides are not meant to kill insects, so they’ve been passed over.”
Gaines-Day and her colleagues conducted their study after being asked by local farmers whether it was safe to spray fungicides on crops while they bloomed, and while bees forage on the flowers. For insecticides, usually neonicotinoids, that’s obviously bad news: bees would feed on insect poison. But blossom-spraying is still customary with fungicides, said Gaines-Day, and early safety studies suggested the chemicals were safe. Yet those studies were limited.
They involved only honeybees, ignoring the many species of wild bees that also provide pollination, both to crops and to landscapes at large. They also focused on obvious, flagrant harm, such as bees dropping dead within a day or two, and generally ignored subtle but important effects evident over longer periods of time: whether fungicides affected bee behavior or immune systems, for example, and thus long-term health and reproduction.
Those methods came under criticism even as fungicides became steadily more popular around the world, with sales rising from $8bn in 2005 to a predicted $21bn in 2017. Fungicide pollution has been detected across the US; exposures are routine in bees, and some researchers have started to wonder whether they might contribute to declines in both honeybees and in wild, native bees.
Gaines-Day cautioned that her team’s study, which involved five bumblebee colonies kept in field enclosures where flowers were sprayed with field-realistic doses of chlorothalonil, a common fungicide, was small. The resulting diminishing in bumblebee colony size and health can’t be translated immediately to real-world colonies.
The findings also raise obvious methodological questions. Bees within the tents couldn’t feed anywhere else, but free-ranging bees can feed on non-treated flowers. That’s an important caveat, noted Gaines-Day. It also fits with patterns observed in another new study, published in the June Proceedings of the Royal Society B by researchers led by Mia Park, a pollinator ecologist at the University of North Dakota.
Park’s team found bees in New York orchards to be healthier on farms located within nature-rich areas rather than agriculture-intensive habitats. In the latter there were fewer bees, and fewer different species. Fungicides made “a significant contribution” to pesticide effects, wrote Park and colleagues, suggesting “deleterious properties of a class of pesticides that was, until recently, considered benign to bees”.
Wild bees were affected much more than honeybees and avoiding sprays during blooms didn’t seem to help. “Our findings suggest that heavy use of conventional pesticides, even some traditionally viewed as benign, can render our crops net sinks for bee populations,” wrote the researchers. In layman’s terms, crops can kill more bees than they sustain.
David Goulson, a bee biologist at the University of Sussex, said the new studies “suggest that the fungicides may be having more profound effects on bees than would have been expected from the standard lab toxicity studies”. The Park study in particular, said Goulson, “demonstrates very clearly how the cocktail of chemicals used in modern farming makes farmland an inhospitable place for bees”.
Neither of the research groups investigated precisely how fungicides could harm bees, but one possible mechanism is described in a 2013 study by US department of agriculture researchers, who found that fungicides rendered honeybees more vulnerable to parasites. Their immune systems seemed to be weakened.
Also concerning is fungicide interaction with other chemicals. Fungicides like those used in Gaines-Day’s experiment can short-circuit bees’ natural ability to detoxify some pesticides. “A quick look at a fungicide bottle might show minimal risks,” said Aimee Code, pesticide program coordinator at Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, “but if mixed with some insecticides, the synergistic effects can be staggering.”
Gaines-Day and colleagues think fungicides might compromise bee microbiomes: the communities of beneficial microbes, including fungi, that are so important to the health of all animals. “Fungal diseases are a huge problem and can destroy a farmer’s crop,” said Gaines-Day, “but we don’t think, ‘What about the good microbes that can be helping a beneficial insect?’”
Brandon Keim|New York|18 June 2015
NY Blood Center “Abandoning” Research Chimps
It’s a nonprofit organization that New Yorkers normally associate with helping people, but the outcry is growing against the New York Blood Center for allegedly abandoning 66 of its former research chimpanzees.
Anthropologist Brian Hare, an assistant professor at Duke University, says the NYBC made plenty of money from experiments conducted on the chimps in Liberia. He has started a petition drive on change.org that now has more than 125,000 people calling on the Blood Center to reinstate promised funding for lifetime care for the chimps. “They’ve made over $400 million in profits off of the patents that the chimpanzees were involved in,” Hare points out. “And they just left them to die, literally to starve or dehydrate.”
The New York Blood Center reportedly stopped funding the chimps’ care in March.
The NYBC did not respond to our request for comment. Hare says the chimps’ care costs a little over $300,000 a year, while the Blood Center’s income equals about a quarter of the gross national product of Liberia. Kathleen Conlee, vice president of animal research issues with The Humane Society of the United States, says the 66 former research chimpanzees are scattered on six different, Liberian islands. “They have to have food taken out to them by boat,” she says. “Thankfully, a number of organizations have stepped up and people have been donating to the cause and we’ve gotten them to the point where they are getting fresh water, and we’re making other improvements to their care.” Hare says he has never seen a major organization simply leave its former research subjects to die. “I think, they’re kidding themselves if they think this is a problem that is going to go away,” he says. “
Chimpanzees live for decades, and we’ll have plenty of opportunities to remind everyone again and again, what they’ve done here, if they fail to do the right thing and be part of a positive solution.” The cause is active on social media with both the petition drive and a Go-Fund-Me campaign to provide temporary support for the chimps.
Mike Clifford|Public News Service – NY|June 15, 2015
Japan to resume whale hunt in Antarctic this year
Tokyo intends to resume whale hunting in the waters of the Southern Ocean this year, despite disapproval recently voiced by the International Whaling Commission (IWC).
Japan’s chief whaling negotiator Joji Morishita said that the international debate over whether the country should be killing whales has moved from science into politics, AFP reported on Monday.
It comes despite a Friday report by the scientific committee of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) that stated that the country failed to provide a proper explanation for the reason behind the scheduled killing of almost 4,000 minke whales over the next 12 years in the Antarctic.
As the global whaling moratorium allows killing for research, Japan has been hunting the mammals under that guise. Yet their meat is processed into food, and the country backs the plan for the so-called sustainable whaling.
“There is no definite conclusion in the report itself… which is not so surprising in the IWC, because as we know very well the IWC is a divided organization. Because of this division, even the scientific committee is always having difficulty in coming up with some kind of a conclusion,” Morishita said, according to AFP.
“Still … we will try to provide as much scientific research as possible and try to get approval from the scientific committee for their go-ahead. But this could be a never-ending story. Well this has been a never-ending story,” he added.
Morishita also stated that the official position to hunt in the Antarctic later this year hasn’t changed, however. “Without finishing those additional analyses, I don’t think it is appropriate to say whether we will start our research activity from this winter or not.”
Tokyo has accused environmentalists of being emotional on the matter, and it actually doesn’t need any permission from the IWC for whaling on scientific grounds.
Morishita said that the logic behind killing one animal instead of another was “strange”.
“If you keep on like this, I worry that a country which has international political power could impose its standards and ethics on others,” he said, calling it “environmental imperialism”.
“For example, if India becomes the world’s number one power and starts to say ‘Don’t eat beef’, what shall we do?”
Last year, the International Court of Justice, the highest court of the United Nations, called the annual Southern Ocean expedition a “charade” – a commercial hunt under a scientific mask destined to side step the international moratorium.
Back in 1986, the IWC first banned commercial whaling, but Japan continued the practice, backed by large amounts of tax money which funded the operations.
However, in recent year the country’s actual catch has decreased due to a decline in domestic demand for whale meat, as well as because of actions by the protest group Sea Shepherd.
FWC approves comprehensive bear management rules
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) continued its long-standing, proactive approach to bear management at its meeting in Sarasota on June 24. FWC Commissioners approved several bear-related rules that address a wide variety of tools to manage bears.
In summary, Commissioners approved changes to strengthen the wildlife feeding rule. Commissioners also approved changes to the bear conservation rule, which include a permit program to authorize landowners to remove a bear causing property damage under certain circumstances. These changes also allow the public and trained security personnel to scare bears with less-than-lethal methods in appropriate situations without a permit. As a small part of FWC’s management of bears, Commissioners also approved a very limited bear hunting season in limited locations.
The Commissioners asked staff to continue focusing on educating people about the repercussions of feeding bears and how to co-exist with bears to minimize conflicts.
“Education is key. We know that bear feeding is an issue, so we need to continue to be proactive and responsive with our efforts,” said FWC Chairman Richard Corbett. “Properly securing garbage and other attractants is the single most important action for reducing conflict situations with bears.”
The Commissioners signed a Waste Management Resolution and approved a policy paper, explaining the need for comprehensive waste management to address human-bear conflicts and improve public safety.
“The FWC will continue to perform its role to educate the public, provide technical assistance, remove conflict bears, manage bear populations and enforce feeding prohibitions,” said Dr. Thomas Eason, director of the Division of Habitat and Species Conservation. “The problem of unsecured waste needs to be addressed by bringing together local officials, along with waste service companies, to work together with FWC to resolve this problem in a cost-effective manner.”
The Commission also passed final rules to establish a bear hunting season in late October within four of the state’s seven Bear Management Units (BMUs). The units that will have a hunting season contain the largest bear populations and include all three national forests as well as southern Florida.
The purpose of reinstating a hunting season is to help control the growth of expanding bear populations, as one part of FWC’s overall approach to managing bears. Bear conservation in recent decades has been a success story, and now FWC’s approach must include a means for managing bear population size. As other states have shown, hunting is the most effective and responsible method for managing the growth of bear populations.
This year, Florida’s bear hunting season will open Oct. 24 and will last at least through Oct. 25, but could run as long as seven days ending on Oct. 30, depending on if and when a BMU’s bear harvest objective is met.
Bear hunting permits will cost $100 for residents and $300 for nonresidents. Hunters will be limited to buying only one permit, which will allow the harvest of one bear per permit.
The same methods of take and shooting hours for deer will also apply to bears, but hunting bears with dogs or over bait is not allowed. On private property, game feeding stations may continue to be used as long as the feed is what is typically used for deer or hogs. To harvest a bear on private land, both the hunter and bear must be more than 100 yards away from any game feeding station.
Hunters will be required to take harvested bears to an FWC check station within 12 hours. Information will be collected at the check stations from each bear that will be used to inform the FWC about the local bear population .The new rule also makes it illegal to sell any parts of a bear or its hide.
MyFWC.com/Bear provides information about Florida black bears and how to avoid conflicts with them. Please report any threatening bear behavior to the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).
Plan to conserve dozens of imperiled species updated
Florida’s Imperiled Species Management Plan (ISMP), a combination of species-specific actions and broader conservation strategies, is being updated to reflect both new scientific knowledge and significant input from the public.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) at its meeting June 24 in Sarasota heard about changes to the draft ISMP, which is the FWC’s first comprehensive approach to managing multiple listed species. The newly drafted ISMP can be viewed at MyFWC.com by clicking on “Wildlife and Habitats,” then “Imperiled Species” and looking for “Read, Review, and Comment” in the right-hand column.
“This work goes back more than a decade and focuses on safeguarding Florida’s state listed species,” said FWC Vice Chairman Brian Yablonski.
Earlier this year, the FWC received over 500 comments on the original draft of the Imperiled Species Management Plan.
“That level of interest and expertise from our partners, stakeholders and the public has been invaluable,” said Laura Barrett, the FWC’s Imperiled Species Management Plan coordinator. “The latest draft of the ISMP reflects their thoughtful input, as well as changing conditions for wildlife out in the natural world.”
While a full presentation of the ISMP will occur at a later Commission meeting, FWC staff today presented the following key changes to the plan:
- Three species federally listed since the ISMP was first developed were removed from the plan: Atlantic sturgeon, Florida bonneted bat and pillar coral.
- New information led to re-evaluation of the status of two species: the Eastern chipmunk and alligator snapping turtle. Eastern chipmunk was preliminarily recommended for removal from the list, pending peer review. Staff also recommended maintaining Species of Special Concern status for the alligator snapping turtle until a Biological Review Group can assess new studies indicating there may be three species of alligator snapping turtle in Florida and determine if they warrant listing.
- Species guidelines are being prepared for all 57 species in the ISMP and will include conservation measures and permitting standards when applicable.
[How can they, in one breath, say they are championing scientific knowledge and public input, while in another they approve bear hunting and in still another, call for eliminating regulation of the Florida Panther, our State Animal? Whose input are they really considering?]
The World’s Smallest and Rarest Porpoise Could Disappear in a Few Year
Conservationists have been concerned with the future of the the world’s smallest and rarest porpoise for decades, but an alarming new report has raised concerns that they’re doing even worse than we thought.
The tiny porpoise at the center of concern is known as the vaquita, who can be found only in a small area of the Gulf of California, off the coast of Mexico.
Despite past efforts to protect them, including the creation of a refuge in 2005, their population was recently believed to have dwindled to fewer than 100 individuals just a year ago.
Unfortunately, according to a recent report released by the International Whaling Commission (IWC), that brought to light new information from the Mexico-based International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA) that was collected through its acoustic monitoring program, which records the number of vocalizations heard in the Gulf.
Between 2011 and 2013 scientists believed their numbers were dropping at an average rate of 18.5 percent each year, but now it’s up to 30 percent. Between 2013 and 2014 alone they declined by a staggering 42 percent.
Now scientists believe there are only 50 or fewer individuals left in existence, and at the rate they’re declining, they’ll be gone forever in as little as three years.
“It’s horrifying to witness, in real time, the extinction of an animal right in front of our eyes,” said Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Without drastic help, vaquitas could vanish completely in just a few years. We need the world to wake up and help save these incredible porpoises.”
One of their main threats is being killed as bycatch after getting entangled in gillnets used to catch shrimp and other fish, but they’re also suffering as a result of illegal fishing targeting endangered totoaba for its swim bladder, which is used in Chinese medicine and is also considered a delicacy.
A recent undercover investigation conducted by Greenpeace found the black market that brings dried bladders from Mexico, through the U.S. to China is alive and well, bringing in prices as high as $645,000.
In response to pressure to act, Mexico announced a two-year ban on gillnet fishing in the northern Gulf in April, in addition to increasing monitoring and enforcement of the ban in the area and compensating fishermen for their lost catches.
While the effort was applauded as a step in the right direction, CIRVA and conservation organizations including the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Center for Biological Diversity believe the only thing that will save the vaquita from extinction now is to make the temporary ban on gillnets permanent throughout the vaquita’s entire range.
Now, in addition to calling for a permanent ban, conservation organizations are encouraging a number of actions that could potentially help them recover from asking the Obama administration to impose trade sanctions on Mexico in an effort to stop illegal fishing and urging authorities to increase customs enforcement to stop the trade in totoaba.
They’re also petitioning the World Heritage Committee to designate more than 6,900 square miles of ocean and islands in northern Mexico as “in danger,” which they hope will raise both awareness about the plights of the vaquita and the totoaba, in addition to raising funds for conservation efforts.
Alicia Graef|June 24, 2015
The Tallest Mammal In the World Is Silently Going Extinct. Does Anyone Care?
When you think of endangered animals in Africa, the classic elephants and rhinos probably come to your mind first. Yet there is another iconic African animal which has been flying under the radar for years when it comes to population decline, and which needs our help.
In 1999, there were around 140,000 giraffes in Africa. Today, the population has plummeted to an estimated 80,000 giraffes left in Africa. That’s a 40% drop in just the last 15 years – but no one is talking about it.
The Silent Extinction
As the human population grows, the population of the world’s tallest mammal declines almost by default. A stronger human presence means more settlements, roads, and destruction of the giraffe’s natural habitat and main source of food, the acacia tree. A large portion of giraffe habitat is now being used for agricultural purposes, depriving these gentle giants of even their homes.
Poaching also remains a huge problem for giraffes in Africa, as well as other endangered species, and despite efforts to contain it. Because giraffes are so easily killed, they are a popular target for poachers looking for a quick reward. Many are killed for this reason, as well as for the meat and hides, which are lucrative but require little effort needed to obtain them. The tail of a giraffe, which is used to make bracelets, fly whisks, and thread, is a prized commodity for many African cultures. People in Tanzania actually believe that consuming giraffe brains and bone marrow acts as a cure for HIV, adding to the giraffe’s value for poachers, who can get up to $140 per piece.
There is widespread misconception that giraffes are roaming everywhere in Africa, but that is simply not true. Giraffes are subject to the same poaching and habitat fragmentation that all African wildlife is exposed to, yet they get so little attention in the media. We all know the plight of the elephant and rhino; isn’t it time to focus on the giraffe before it’s too late?
14 More Species Moved to the “Critically Endangered” List
In the most recent update of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List, 14 species have been moved from the “endangered” category to the “critically endangered (possibly extinct)” category. The update illustrates the worldwide crisis facing many species around the globe in the face of habitat loss and degradation.
The IUCN’s Red List compiles data and evidence from researchers from all around the world. The list now includes information about 77,340 different species, of which 22,784 are threatened with extinction.
The list of species considered critically endangered now includes ten species of orchids found only in Madagascar, which are threatened by forest loss and illegal collection. Another species is a Magnolia tree, Magnolia emarginata, found only in Haiti, and has lost an estimated 97 percent of its forest habitat in the past century.
Two species of crabs are now considered critically endangered, Karstama balicum and Karstama emdi, which are only found in a single cave in Bali. The crabs are threatened by human activity in the cave, such as tourism and frequent religious ceremonies.
While many species are in dramatic decline, no species have been moved into the “extinct” category. However, this may be due in part to the difficulty of gathering sufficient evidence to prove an species has in fact disappeared. “It takes a long time of gathering negative evidenced before we can say, ‘ok, that species has gone’,” Craig Hilton-Taylor, head of the IUCN’s Red List told New Scientist.
The update does come with a few glimmers of good news. A few species that were once on the brink of extinction now have growing populations, such as the Iberian Lynx, which is no longer considered critically endangered thanks to conservation efforts.
Jane Smart, Director, IUCN’s Global Species Program, said in a press statement that while seeing the populations of several endangered species improving, we are still a risk of losing many species overall. “We must act now to develop stronger policy and on-the-ground conservation programs to protect species and halt their declines.”
Margaret Badore|TreeHugger|June 26, 2015
Corps releases comprehensive study on Aquifer Storage & Recovery capabilities
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District has released a comprehensive study on research related to the use of Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR), an Everglades restoration component proposed as part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) to recharge, store and recover water underground for ecological restoration uses.
The ASR Regional Study was developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) to reduce uncertainties of ASR implementation on hydrological, ecological, and geotechnical conditions in the Greater Everglades.
“The ASR Regional Study documents the results of over a decade’s worth of scientific and engineering investigations,” said April Patterson, Jacksonville District project manager for the study. “The results of the report will serve as a technical guide when considering ASR implementation as part of future Everglades restoration efforts.”
As part of the CERP, it was estimated that up to 333 wells could store water underground for the Everglades and natural systems. These wells, known as Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) wells, would be part of a system to take surplus fresh surface water, treat it as required for permit compliance, and then store it in the Floridan Aquifer System (FAS) for subsequent recovery during dry periods. ASR technology offers the potential to store and supply large volumes of water beneath a relatively small surface footprint.
The study investigates the feasibility of regional-scale ASR, using state-of-the-art methods and models. Investigations were performed in collaboration with the SFWMD, U.S. Geological Survey, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
View the key findings of the study: http://1.usa.gov/1G00CYQ
The ASR Regional Study and additional information available at: http://bit.ly/ASR_RegionalStudy.
Press Release|17 Jun 2015
SFWMD Readies Storage for Wet Season
Efforts continue to identify storage opportunities
Fort Myers, FL – South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) engineers have made thousands of acres of land available for water storage this wet season to benefit the Caloosahatchee River and Estuary.
“Critical planning and engineering during the past dry season allowed the District to prepare an array of options to store excess wet season water that would otherwise flow to the river,” said SFWMD Governing Board member Mitch Hutchcraft. “And we continue to work toward bringing more storage online to increase flexibility going forward.”
Throughout the watershed, several new storage projects have come online since the last rainy season, including:
Operational/Available to Store Water:
* Nicodemus Slough – 34,000 acre-feet: The District began operations in January, and has successfully utilized the site in Glades County to store water and also provide water supply to the river and local agriculture.
* Boma Property – 1,500 acre-feet: Three new electric pumps have been installed and improvements have increased storage capability. The site in Glades County was tested and utilized for water storage in the spring.
* North Six Mile Cypress Slough – 1,400 acre-feet: Through a partnership with Lee County, construction was recently completed to store water and redirect historic water flows to Six Mile Cypress Slough.
* Mudge Ranch – 396 acre-feet: The site located just north of the Caloosahatchee River in Glades County recently came online to store water.
* Alico Ranch — 91,944 acre-feet dispersed storage: Located in Hendry County, the project has been contracted and is under design.
* Babcock Ranch – 1,214 acre-feet: The site in Charlotte County is contracted and is under design.
Additionally, the District has coordinated with local West Coast drainage districts to hold as much water as possible within their facilities, including:
· East County Water Control District – About 1,000 acre-feet of storage is being made available at Mirror Lakes/Halfway Pond.
· Barron Water Control District – About 5,000 acre-feet is being made available through weir and operational improvements at the C-2.
Click here to download your free copy of Audubon’s comprehensive biannual report on the River of Grass
Water Quality Issues
Governor Dries Up Funding For Water Farming
Governor Rick Scott is getting mixed reviews for pulling the plug on so-called “water farming.” Scott vetoed more than $31 million that paid landowners to pull up their crops and store polluted runoff.
Gov. Rick Scott vetoed more than $30 million in funding for so-called “water farming.” The money pays growers and ranchers to set aside land for water storage.
Audubon of Florida executive director Eric Draper doesn’t want to see money for the program dry up. But he agrees with Scott that the funding should flow from local agencies.
“The Legislature expanded the program and put a huge amount of money into it and it probably grew too fast.”
Draper says the program is an important part of a decades-long attempt to divert dirty water from Lake Okeechobee. Overflow from the lake winds up in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers, feeding toxic algae blooms further downstream.
Florida Farm Bureau lobbyist Adam Basford says the industry will work hard next year to change Scott’s mind.
“That’s an important program as we in Florida try to spread the water pie. Alternative sources of water are important as we have a lot of competing interests.”
The program hasn’t won universal praise.
A recent audit from the South Florida Water Management District found taxpayers could save significant money by using public land.
But Stan Bronson, executive director of the Florida Earth Foundation, says part of the idea is to pay back private landowners for becoming better environmental stewards.
“The issue always is, ‘show me the money.’ And so, from my perspective, it seems as though it’s only fair to compensate landowners for taking land out of production.”
The program began in 2005 as an experiment with eight South Florida farmers and ranchers. It grew to include mega landowner Alico of Southwest Florida.
Jim Ash|Jun 25, 2015
Offshore & Ocean
Toxic algae bloom off West Coast most prolific ever
A team of ocean researchers has set off to comb the Pacific from Southern California to Canada for signs of dangerous algae blooms that can cause confusion, gastrointestinal problems and, if eaten, death.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s fisheries service sent the team out last week on the nearly three-month mission after two major fisheries were shut down because so many animals got severe domoic acid poisoning after eating neurotoxins embedded in the unusually large bloom of this naturally occurring algae.
The lucrative coastal Dungeness crab fishery in Washington closed, forcing fishers to try to find the shellfish further offshore or to land other species. Razor clams also are off limits in Washington and Oregon.
Shellfish and coastal fin species such as sardines and anchovies have been found with domoic acid levels more than five times the limit for human consumption in California, Oregon and Washington. Alaskan researchers are investigating whether nine recent fin whale deaths are related to the poisonous plankton.
Californians have been advised to steer clear of all anchovies and sardines, as well as recreationally harvested mussels and clams fished in Monterey or Santa Cruz counties. The internal organs of crabs — also known as “crab butter” — should be avoided, according to the state Department of Public Health.
The West Coast is in the midst of the most prolific toxic algal outbreak ever recorded, said Vera Trainer, manager of the Marine Biotoxin Program at NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center.
“We saw the first sea lion having seizures because of this toxin a couple weeks ago on a Washington beach,” Trainer said. “All the signs are pointing to this being a really unusual event that is very widespread. That’s the reason we sent folks on the National Marine Fisheries cruise to document the offshore occurrences” of the toxins.
So far, Southern California hasn’t been hit as hard as northern coastal communities by the outbreak, but researchers say this event spread faster and has lasted longer than any others previously.
The toxins seem to be following unusual currents of warm water that have brought tropical fish species to the coast and dramatically restructured ecosystems. The so-called “warm blob,” a vast pool of warmer water that formed in 2014 in the northeastern Pacific Ocean, and the increasing influx of warm El Nino waters, are major suspects in this algal event, scientists say.
“It really seems like this algal bloom is lurking offshore, not getting dissipated by storms and weather,” Trainer said. “So it looks like it will stay like this. But it’s still too early to say that it’s linked to warm water, though it does look like it could be linked and that this is a window of things to come” with the increased ocean warming of climate change.
What makes it even more unusual is that other debilitating toxins have been found alongside it — in some cases infecting the same animals hurt from domoic poisoning.
Domoic acid can cause amnesic poisoning symptoms such as memory loss and gastrointestinal problems, while the other toxins cause paralytic poisoning like loss of muscle control and death.
A major domoic acid event four years ago caused hundreds of sea lion deaths along Southern California beaches. Disoriented, dazed pelicans, sea lions and other marine species suffering from the neurotoxin were rescued from sidewalks, in parking lots and other unusual locations.
While infected marine animals are found in small numbers year-round, large domoic algal blooms in 2005 and 2011 filled the Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro to overflowing.
What ocean conditions must exist for these toxic microscopic plants to thrive in such large numbers that massive die-offs occur?
“It’s more like a process of nutrients coming at all the right times and a series of events that happens in just the right sequence allowing (a large algal bloom) to take place,” Trainer said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if this has influence over our entire coastline, with varying intensity at different parts.”
Sandy Mazza|Daily Breeze |06/21/15
Update: The green monster ‘blob’ taking over California’s oceans: Largest algae bloom ever seen is turning seafood toxic
Outbreak is the worst toxic algal bloom in more than a decade
Stretches from California’s Central Coast to Washington
Toxin accumulates in shellfish and small fish such as anchovies
A massive toxic bloom off the coast of California could grow to become the biggest of its type ever seen, researchers have warned.
The large blooms of toxin-producing algae in Monterey Bay, raising concerns about potential effects on marine mammals and seabirds.
The bloom, which researchers have nicknamed ‘the blob’, involves microscopic algae called Pseudo-nitzschia (a type of diatom), which produce a potent neurotoxin called domoic acid.
Massive blooms of Pseudo-nitzschia, a type of single-celled algae, have been seen off the California coast. It can produce the neurotoxin domoic acid under certain conditions.
IS SEAFOOD SAFE TO EAT?
Periodic blooms of toxin-producing Pseudo-nitzschia diatoms have been documented for over 25 years in Monterey Bay and elsewhere along the U.S. west coast.
During large blooms, the toxin accumulates in shellfish and small fish such as anchovies and sardines that feed on algae, forcing the closure of some fisheries and poisoning marine mammals and birds that feed on contaminated fish.
All of Washington’s razor clamming beaches are currently closed, and the southern coast of Washington has the largest-ever closure of our state’s Dungeness crab fishery.
“The current bloom of Pseudo-nitzschia spp., the diatom responsible for domoic acid and amnesic shellfish poisoning, appears to be the biggest spatially we have ever observed,” Antony Odell of the University of Washington said.
“It has also lasted for an incredibly long time — months, instead of the usual week or two.”
It began earlier this year and shut down several shellfish fisheries along the West Coast
The toxin was first detected in early May, and by the end of the month researchers had detected some of the highest concentrations of domoic acid ever observed in Monterey Bay.
The current outbreak is the worst toxic algal bloom in more than a decade, stretching from California’s Central Coast to Washington, and possibly to Alaska, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The algae is producing toxins in unprecedented amounts in some ‘hot spots’ along the coast, officials say.
‘Researchers in both the Monterey Bay and the Central Oregon Coast have found some of the highest concentrations of domoic acid that they’ve ever seen,’ NOAA Fisheries spokesman Michael Milstein said.
‘It’s a pretty massive bloom,’ said Raphael Kudela, professor of ocean sciences and Ida Benson Lynn Chair of Ocean Health at UC Santa Cruz.
‘The domoic acid levels are extremely high right now in Monterey Bay, and the event is occurring as far north as Washington state.
‘So it appears this will be one of the most toxic and spatially largest events we’ve had in at least a decade,’
Periodic blooms of toxin-producing Pseudo-nitzschia diatoms have been documented for over 25 years in Monterey Bay and elsewhere along the U.S. west coast.
During large blooms, the toxin accumulates in shellfish and small fish such as anchovies and sardines that feed on algae, forcing the closure of some fisheries and poisoning marine mammals and birds that feed on contaminated fish.
Blooms such as the current event typically last for several weeks to a month. ‘Often, if we have a big event in the spring, it will go away during the summer and come back in the autumn,’ Kudela said.
‘This event may be related to the unusually warm water conditions we’ve been having, and this year that warm water has spread all along the west coast, from Washington to southern California.’
Kudela’s lab conducts weekly sampling of water and mussels at the Santa Cruz Wharf and works closely with the California Department of Public Health and other organizations.
Although Pseudo-nitzschia blooms often affect wildlife, careful monitoring and fishery closures ensure that commercial seafood remains safe to eat.
Raphael Kudela leads a team of researchers studying a large bloom of toxic algae along the west coast.
During the May 2015 event, researchers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) measured concentrations of both Pseudo-nitzschia cells and domoic acid in the bay using robotic instruments called Environmental Sample Processors (ESPs), which are deployed on ocean moorings and can detect algal cells and toxins and send the results back to shore within an hour.
Complementing the data from the ESPs, Kudela’s lab analyzed water and animals collected from the bay for Pseudo-nitzschia cells and domoic acid, and UCSC has two robotic gliders collecting data from the surface to a depth of 200 meters in the bay.
‘We have confirmed domoic acid at very high levels in mussels and anchovy,’ Kudela said.
His lab also found very high levels of the toxin in samples from a dead pelican found on the beach in Moss Landing, and testing of sea lion samples is under way.
‘Domoic acid has clearly worked its way into the food web,’ he said.
When the current domoic acid event began in Monterey Bay in May, the model was also predicting a bloom in coastal waters near Humboldt Bay in Northern California.
Anderson, who happened to be up there to give a talk, got local researchers to collect samples for testing, and Kudela’s lab was able to confirm the presence of domoic acid.
‘We’re now developing a model specifically for the shellfish growers in Humboldt Bay,’ Kudela said.
‘We know users are paying attention to it.
‘In addition to shellfish growers, the Marine Mammal Center is also using it to keep an eye on spatial patterns and whether toxin levels are going up or down, so they know where and when to expect strandings.’
Mark Prigg|Dailymail.com|26 June 2015
6 Signs of Hope For Our Blue World
Diving in the clear blue waters of the Caribbean in March, I saw why the obituary for the Caribbean’s ocean health has been written multiple times.
Society Islands, French Polynesia
Invasive lionfish are overpopulating and preying upon native fishes. Overfishing and pollution have enabled algae to devastate coral reefs. Those corals lucky enough to escape the algae are being bleached by rising ocean temperatures due to the continuing advance of climate change.
The Caribbean isn’t alone — all of our oceans are under assault from human activities, threatening the benefits we receive from them.
There is no doubt: We need significant action to secure ocean health and prosperity for the people that depend on it. Several recent developments make me confident that we can put oceans on a path to recovery:
1. The number and size of marine protected areas are increasing.
Protected areas are not new: Since the creation of Yellowstone National Park in 1872, hundreds of thousands have been established around the world. It took longer for the concept to be applied to the ocean, in the form of marine protected areas (MPAs), and only 3% of the ocean — an area larger than the United States — is covered by MPAs. This kind of marine management is catching on, though.
The United States, for example, added more than 1 million square kilometers (400,000 square miles) to the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument in October 2014. And the nation of Kiribati closed its Phoenix Islands Protected Area to commercial fishing at the start of this year.
More marine protected area coverage will keep ecosystems intact, shelter biodiversity (including important commercial species) and boost coastal economies through tourism.
2. Signs of fisheries recovery are growing.
It has been a while since we have had any objectively good news about fisheries. In 1974, 10% of global fish stocks were overexploited. By 2011, that percentage rose to 29%. This is alarming because fisheries are a source of essential nutrition for people — worldwide more than 3 billion people get much of their protein from fish.
For years, warnings about overfishing were ignored due to short-term economic and political interests, but in some parts of the world that trend has shifted.
The number of overfished stocks in the U.S. declined from 31% of known fish stocks in 1997 down to 16% in 2014. Nations such as Iceland and New Zealand, which have enforced catch limits and created incentives for fisheries recovery, also report that overfishing has stopped and that some stocks are recovering.
Chronic overfishing remains a problem, especially in countries with weak governance and large populations of small-scale fishers with few economic alternatives. Showing that properly managed fish stocks can recover, though, is a great sign.
3. New technology increases monitoring and enforcement.
Technology has helped accelerate ocean exploitation: Better boats, fish-finding technology and fishing gear enable fishers to go farther and deeper, and on the high seas, it’s easier to pursue destructive activities without concerns about environmental impacts.
Technology, however, can also keep an eye on distant waters. Several systems now use GPS information from vessel transmitters to track a boat’s actions at sea. By applying algorithms to vessel movement patterns, it is possible to identify vessels fishing illegally.
Captains that don’t use transmitters are not beyond detection — vessels can be spotted via satellite imagery. There is no better way to make sure people behave than to let them know that someone is watching.
4. Ocean health is becoming an everyday concern.
Ocean conservation — viewed as a luxury few countries could afford when busily pursuing economic development and poverty alleviation — is changing as more countries realize their people depend on healthy oceans for nutrition, livelihoods, protection from storms and other benefits.
Increased awareness and desire for action is manifesting itself through adoption of the Ocean Health Index, which defines ocean health in terms of its ability to provide a range of benefits to people. Since its launch in 2012, 15 countries are using the Index to set priorities and to take action for ocean health.
5. There is a growing appetite for global action on oceans.
I have spent the last quarter-century working on marine conservation and have seen support for global action to conserve our oceans grow substantially in recent years. Heads of state, ministers, CEOs and development organizations have realized their constituents and businesses depend on oceans, and that our impacts need to be brought under control.
The draft set of Sustainable Development Goals, to be finalized this September, includes one dedicated to oceans, which is receiving outspoken support from country delegations and CEOs. Earlier this year, countries agreed to begin discussions on how to better manage areas beyond national jurisdiction, where weak governance currently threatens sustainability. The reason for my visit to the Caribbean in March was to attend a meeting of the Global Blue Growth Network, a group of countries and organizations working to build capacity and guidelines for sustainable blue growth.
6. Conservation actions are recovering endangered species.
On my eye-opening Caribbean dive, I saw a ray of hope: the shadow of a green sea turtle in the distance.
Green and hawksbill turtles were once a much-valued source of tortoiseshell and of meat for turtle soup. So many turtles were taken, however, that numbers plummeted and the species became endangered.
Their numbers have been rising since the 1970s, thanks to improved legislation and trade regulation; awareness campaigns by environmental groups; and alternative livelihood options for coastal inhabitants — they can make more money from taking tourists to see live turtles than they ever could have made from killing them.
In Barbados, thousands of hawksbill nests are now laid each year; in Costa Rica, nesting numbers of green turtles have increased exponentially in a few decades. The revival of these turtles shows that through concerted actions, we can recover the health of our oceans.
Dr. Sebastian Troeng|SVP & Managing Director|Moore Center for Science & Oceans
Detergents damaging ocean beyond repair
Two top Cape Town scientists believe the City of Cape Town’s dirty habit of pumping some of its waste water into the sea could have nasty consequences.
“The council doesn’t even know what is going out of the pipes now,” said University of the Western Cape chemistry department’s Professor Leslie Petrik.
“They haven’t been monitoring what has been going out.”
Petrik, a specialist in water treatment, said waste water contained thousands of potentially harmful chemical compounds.
Of particular concern are so-called “endocrine disruptor” chemicals which are contained in many household detergents and are known to cause hormonal changes in animals.
These compounds do not decompose in the ocean.
She said the diluting waste water did not remedy the situation.
“Dilution is no solution. Once you’ve released those compounds into the ocean you can’t get them back,” Petrik said.
Her concern is shared by University of Cape Town’s Professor Charles Griffiths, who said there was a lack of independent monitoring of ocean “outfalls”.
“There isn’t anybody in South Africa who is working on this type of thing in a holistic way,” he said.
Ironically, South Africa’s water treatment is relatively advanced, if not always properly implemented.
Waste water can even be treated to the point of drinking quality.
“From an engineering point of view it is totally possible,” Griffiths said. “It is a matter of how much we are prepared to invest in purifying our water, given the limited budget.”
Cape Town’s ocean discharge policy has come under fire in recent weeks following the publication of photographs showing what appear to be large plumes of waste water drifting not far from well-known beaches.
Petrik said it was strange that Cape Town should not be held to the same standards as other South African cities.
“Why is it that the city is willing to properly treat the effluent of about 80% of its population, but refuses to properly treat the 20% sitting along the Atlantic seaboard? Every other city is obliged to treat its effluent properly,” she said.
Department of Environmental Affairs spokesman Zolile Nqayi said the department was currently reviewing all waste water discharges, which will assist in its decision to “either prohibit or authorize the discharge with specific conditions”.
Bobby Jordan|22 June, 2015
Wildlife and Habitat
Anti-wildlife provisions quickly advancing!
Leaving behind any shred of decency or moderation, Congress has taken their war on wildlife to a new and frightening level – and it’s moving forward at an alarming pace!
In particular, the spending bill for the Interior Department is loaded with a toxic array of riders – with even more amendments attacking wildlife expected this week. Together they amount to a wholesale retreat from this nation’s commitment to protect and restore wildlife and wild habitats.
Just how bad is it? Judge for yourself. Here’s just a sampling:
A cascade of anti-wildlife fervor. The bill already contains language that undermines the Endangered Species Act (ESA), weakens efforts to protect elephants from ivory poachers and weakens safeguards for wildlife. And we expect another round of attacks during what could well be an amendment free-for-all later this week.
More dead wolves. One rider forces gray wolves in Wyoming and the Great Lakes off the Endangered Species List. That’s a veritable death sentence for hundreds, if not thousands of wolves. In the last year alone, more than 700 wolves were killed in these states.
Just say yes to elephant poaching. An African elephant dies every 15 minutes at the hands of ivory poachers. But that hasn’t stopped the National Rifle Association (NRA) and its allies from inserting a rider to block tougher restrictions on the importation and domestic sale of ivory. This proposal benefits elephant poachers and ivory smugglers at the cost of elephant lives.
A savage attack on the ESA. Yet another provision would prohibit a potential listing of the greater sage-grouse. Additional amendments may be offered on the House floor that would prevent overdue listings of imperiled species or remove protections for species such as the lesser prairie chicken, the American burying beetle or others that still need ESA protection.
Make no mistake – this is not what Americans want. These provisions are the handiwork of special interests who have effectively taken control of one and maybe both Houses of Congress. They can be stopped. And it’s up to all of us to stop them. Please sign #3 in “Calls to Action” above.
What’s going on with bears in Florida?
In August 2012, the Florida Black Bear Management Plan was put into place as a comprehensive document to guide how Florida’s bears should be managed over the next 10 years.
The plan creates Bear Management Units (BMU) based on the seven geographically distinct bear subpopulations in Florida. BMUs give people an opportunity to play an active role in efforts to manage and conserve bears in their local community. Which BMU are you?
In June 2015, the FWC Commissioners approved a limited bear hunt to take place in October 2015 in four of the seven BMUs . Permits will be made available for purchase starting on or around August 3, 2015 through licensed vendors and the online permitting system, RLIS. We will continue to update these pages as more details are finalized.
Do you want to help FWC update the map of where bears are in Florida?
Have you seen a bear or their tracks while hiking, camping, bird watching, or paddling? FWC would like to specifically ask hikers, hunters, and all others who recreate in wild lands for their bear observations .
If you would like to help support bear conservation in Florida, please visit the Wildlife Foundation of Florida to learn more.
If you would like to learn more about the Florida black bear, please view this 15 minute FWC video . Thank you!
Living with Florida Black Bears. 2009. 15 minute video discussing Florida black bear ecology, conservation efforts, and how to avoid conflicts.
Oslo builds its bees a highway of flowers
Oslo is transforming a strip through the city into a series of bee pastures — parks, and green roofs, and balcony flower beds — each a short flight from the next. I like to imagine that from the air you could look down and see ribbon of blossoms, stretching from one side of the city to the other.
According to the Guardian:
Oslo’s “bee highway” aims to give the insects a safe passage through the city, lined with relays providing food and shelter – the first such system in the world, according to the organizers.
Participants in the project – state bodies, companies, associations and private individuals – are invited to post their contribution on a website (polli.no), which maps out the bees’ route across the city.
Like many living creatures, insects are struggling to survive in the world that humans have altered and shaped. (I’ve been writing about bees’ troubles.) But it’s also within our power to alter the landscapes we’ve transformed — and invite the wild things back in.
Nathanael Johnson|26 Jun 2015
300+ Wildfires Rage in Alaska
Thousands of firefighters are working to put out wildfires in Alaska as they blaze across the state. The Alaska Division of Forestry reported that as of today there are 317 wildfires burning in the Last Frontier. On Wednesday alone, there were 40 new fires and Thursday saw an additional 28 new fires, bringing the total acreage burned to 624,496 acres.
Alaska is no stranger to wildfires, but climate change has drastically increased the frequency of wildfires. On Wednesday, Todd Sanford, a climate scientist at Climate Central, released a report on how Alaska is entering a new era for wildfires.
This map shows the current active fires in Alaska. That’s a lot of fires. Photo credit: Alaska Interagency Coordination Center
The report says:
In the past 60 years, Alaska has warmed more than twice as fast as the rest of the country, with average temperatures up by nearly three degrees Fahrenheit. By 2050, temperatures are projected to climb an additional two to four degrees, with the Arctic region seeing the most dramatic increases. These rising temperatures are expected to increase wildfire risks in Alaska, just as they have in the rest of the western U.S.
The report found a nearly 10-fold increase in the number of large fires in the Arctic region in the 2000s compared to the 1950s and 1960s. And the total area that these large fires are burning is increasing every year. “In just two years, 2004 and 2005, wildfires burned a larger area than in the 15 years from 1950-1964 combined,” says the report.
The report found a nearly 10-fold increase in the number of large fires in the Arctic region in the 2000s compared to the 1950s and 1960s. Photo credit: Climate Central
Wildfires are starting earlier and earlier in the year and the last wildfire of the season is occurring later and later each year. And that’s not just the findings for Alaska, but the entire West. With the West in the midst of an epic drought, experts are predicting the worst fire season yet for the U.S. Unsurprisingly, the report found the years with the hottest May to July temperatures also tend to be years with the most fires and the greatest area burned. Alaska just saw a record warm May with a heat wave that saw temperatures top the daily highs for Phoenix, Arizona.
The impacts of Alaska’s wildfires should not be underestimated. The report finds that along with destroying vast swaths of Alaska’s ecosystems, they are “releasing a significant amount of carbon into the atmosphere, further contributing to global warming” and threatening air quality in Alaska and beyond.
And the Washington Post points out the fires often burn more than just trees, shrubs, grasses and wildlife. “They can burn away soils as well and threaten permafrost, frozen soil beneath the ground, and so potentially help to trigger additional release of carbon to the atmosphere,” says the Washington Post.
“One major concern about wildfires becoming more frequent in permafrost areas is the potential to put the vast amounts of carbon stored there at increased risk of being emitted and further amplify warming,” Sanford told the Washington Post.
Bernie Sanders has called Alaska the canary in the coal mine when it comes to climate change. If you haven’t seen him grill Alaskan leaders for failing to address climate change in a Senate hearing, you’ve got to check it out:
A report last week found that Alaskan glaciers have lost 75 billion metric tons of ice every year from 1994 through 2013. That’s enough to cover the entire state in a one-foot thick layer of water every seven years. That rapid glacial loss is bad enough for Alaska’s ecosystems, but Alaska’s melting glaciers are “punching far above their weight” when it comes to contributing to global sea level rise, CBS News′s Michael Casey pointed out. Alaska only holds one percent of the Earth’s glacial ice volume (the vast majority is in Greenland and Antarctica), but losses in Alaska were one third of the total loss from the ice sheet during 2005-2010.
Cole Mellino|June 27, 2015
Global Warming and Climate Change
In ‘climate change’ controversy, a tale of two agencies
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has a steering committee to address climate change. The commission maintains computer modeling programs that show how climate change will affect water and land crucial to wildlife. It holds regular seminars to educate staff on the latest climate science.
On its website, the commission has a “Climate Change 101” page that addresses key challenges the state faces.
Eight miles from the state commission’s Tallahassee headquarters, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which bills itself as the state’s “lead agency for environmental management and stewardship,” states that it is only monitoring sea-level rise. That is its sole effort to address climate change.
As Florida Center for Investigative Reporting first reported, the emphasis on “climate change” within the DEP has declined over the past five years during Gov. Rick Scott’s tenure in office. For instance, a Web page titled “Climate Change and Coral Reefs” hasn’t been updated since Nov. 18, 2011 — the year Scott took office. That was also the year a DEP spokesperson told the Tampa Bay Times that “DEP is not pursuing any programs or projects regarding climate change.”
One likely explanation for the different priorities at the two agencies is that FWC, created by voters in 1999 as an independent commission and run by an autonomous board, does not answer to the governor. The DEP, on the other hand, does report to the governor’s office.
Prior to Scott’s election, DEP was aggressively studying climate change. When Scott, a climate change skeptic, took office in 2011, the terms “climate change” and “global warming” began to disappear from DEP reports, according to a previous analysis by FCIR. Former DEP employees recounted to FCIR meetings where they were ordered not to use the terms. In emails, DEP officials instructed employees and volunteers to stay away from the subject.
Scott and DEP officials have denied the existence of any policy prohibiting the terms, but they have never attempted to explain or dispute FCIR’s findings.
In contrast, FWC’s freedom to tackle the subject indicates a degree of independence from Tallahassee politics and shows how effective a state agency can be when freed to do its job.
“We’ve been working on climate change for a while,” said Thomas Eason, director of FWC’s division on habitat and species conservation.
He acknowledges that it hasn’t always been an easy subject to address.
“We learned pretty early on that using the phrase ‘climate change’ just created such friction, and got in the way of getting the work done,” Eason said. “So early on we experimented with using different terms, like ‘climate variability,’ then settled in to ‘adaptation to climate.’ ”
A review of the commission’s literature found the term climate change still widely used.
“We started to dig in heavily in 2007,” Eason said, when the FWC hosted a summit titled “Florida’s Wildlife: On the Front Line of Climate Change” and created a climate change coordinator position.
“The FWC was, and still is, doing cutting-edge work on adaptation planning,” said Doug Parsons, the commission’s first climate change coordinator who held the position for four years. He left in 2011 to work as climate change liaison for the National Park Service. Today, he works for the Society for Conservation Biology as the North American policy director.
“They [FWC] are regularly invited to share their work nationally,” he said. “They’ve been very effective in working with local partners too, since a lot of interesting things are happening at the city and county level in Florida.”
In addition to ongoing seminars to familiarize staff with the latest climate science, FWC modified a computer simulation program to examine the impact of water rise in wetlands in the Keys. The Sea Level Affecting Marshes Model, known by the acronym SLAMM, is available to communities as they take climate change into account in future development.
“We’re using it within the planning process,” said Jason Evans, an environmental scientist with Stetson University in DeLand, who is helping Monroe County develop a climate and sustainability plan. “It has proved useful.” Evans said that “FWC is at the forefront” when it comes to state agencies providing helpful science to communities.
With 2,100 employees and a $364 million budget, FWC is much smaller than DEP, which has 3,100 employees and a $1.6 billion budget. Its scope of duties is also narrower. FWC is charged with protecting and managing Florida’s wildlife and their habitats, while DEP regulates environmental policies, monitors air, land and water quality, and is in charge of “ecosystem restoration.”
When FCIR asked DEP officials for current climate change initiatives, the department cited ongoing monitoring of sea-level rise, including a sea-level rise working group, a sea-level rise pilot project monitoring two communities, and the inclusion of sea-level rise estimates in a 20-year projection of community water needs. The department declined to make anyone available for comment.
But the effects of climate change in Florida will amount to more than rising water. Increased temperatures will make people more vulnerable to heat stroke and asthma-related illnesses. Precipitation may become more infrequent but intense, and as different animal and insect populations change, new pest control issues will arise.
“In an area like the Keys, FWC’s data and tools have been critical,” said Erin Deady, an environmental lawyer who consults with local governments on climate change. “We don’t have the resources the state has, so we’re hoping to keep building partnerships with state agencies as they wrap their arms around this issue.”
Tristram Korten|Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
$ 40 billion of national parks at risk from sea rise
Sea-level rise puts at high risk more than $40 billion in park infrastructure and historic and cultural resources, including almost $90 million in assets at the Canaveral National Seashore, according to a federal report released Tuesday.
The report by scientists from the National Park Service and Western Carolina University is based on a study of 40 parks, including Canaveral National Seashore.
Sea-level rise threatens structures and other resources at Canaveral that have a replacement value of $88.4 million, according to the report. The park’s 167 listed assets in the report all are considered at high risk of damage from sea-level rise because of the overall low elevation of the park and extreme vulnerability to tropical storms.
Assets at risk at Canaveral include the $1 million headquarters, parking lots, and maintenance and administrative buildings.
“Climate change is visible at national parks across the country, but this report underscores the economic importance of cutting carbon pollution and making public lands more resilient to its dangerous impacts,” U.S. Secretary of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, said in a release. “Through sound science and collaboration, we will use this research to help protect some of America’s most iconic places — from the Statue of Liberty to Golden Gate and from the Redwoods to Cape Hatteras — that are at risk from climate change.”
The report examined LiDAR data flown in 2007. LiDAR is akin to radar, measuring elevations with a laser and analyzing the reflected light.
Secretary Jewell released the report in advance of the two-year anniversary of President Obama’s Climate Action plan.
Sea-level rise projects vary by place and time, but scientists expect a 1 meter rise in the next 100-150 years. In some areas of Alaska, however, relative sea-level is decreasing because as land-based glaciers and ice sheets melt, land is rising faster than sea levels, according to the report.
“Many coastal parks already deal with threats from sea-level rise and from storms that damage roads, bridges, docks, water systems and parking lots,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “This infrastructure is essential to day-to-day park operations, but the historical and cultural resources such as lighthouses, fortifications and archaeological sites that visitors come to see are also at risk of damage or loss.”
Authors of Adapting to Climate Change in Coastal Parks: Estimating the Exposure of Park Assets to 1 m of Sea-Level Rise, examined 40 of the 118 national parks considered at risk from sea-level rise. They used data from U.S. Geological Survey Coastal Vulnerability Index.
Recent assessments by NASA found that sea level at the Kennedy Space Center — just south of Canaveral National Seashore — could rise from 6 to 25 inches by the 2050s and 10 to 49 inches by the 2080s.
The parks service study also included urban areas such as Gateway National Recreation Area in New York City and Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco, two of the most visited parks in the country.
Results from analysis of an additional 30 coastal parks will be released later this summer.
Called “assets,” the infrastructure and historic sites, museum collections and other cultural resources of the 40 parks were categorized as at high- or limited-exposure based on exposure to risk of damage from 1 meter of sea-level rise.
About 40% of assets in the 40 parks, valued at more than $40 billion, are in the high-exposure category. Low-lying barrier island parks in the parks service’s Southeast Region, such as Canaveral National Seashore, account for the majority of the high-exposure assets.
At Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina, for example, the cost to rebuild lighthouses, visitor center exhibits, historic structures and other areas would be almost $1.2 billion, the report says. That does not include the potential billions for loss of lands and tourism.
More than one-third of assets in the parks service’s Northeast Region are in the high-exposure category, including the Statue of Liberty in New York and the landmark structures at Boston National Historic Park and Fort McHenry in Baltimore.
Many national park areas in the Northeast already were damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The storm shuttered the Statue of Liberty for eight months and forced National Park Service to remove much of the Ellis Island museum collection after the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system flooded with sea water.
Although 1 meter of sea level rise may not seem like a lot, Jarvis explained that amount would create a cascade of ill effects.
“Coupled with sea level rise, big storms have that extra volume of water that can damage or destroy roads, bridges and buildings, and we saw what that looks like — again — with Hurricane Sandy in 2012,” the NPS director said.
“Although reality may deal even more harsh circumstances as Sandy illustrated, information from this report provides a useful way to help determine priorities for planning within coastal parks,” Beavers said.
The authors hope to bring attention to the need for “broader guidance related to climate change adaptation, not only at the park level, but also by the NPS regional and national levels,” they wrote in the report.
Jim Waymer|Florida Today|June 24, 2015
BREAKING: Bill gutting climate action passes the House
This is not the leadership we need.
Over the past two days, you and 21,842 of your fellow EDF Activists from all 50 states stood up against Rep. Whitfield’s assault on the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, telling your members of Congress NOT to vote for this dangerous bill that allows states to simply opt out of climate action.
I couldn’t be more grateful for your efforts. But unfortunately, a majority of lawmakers didn’t listen, and the bill just passed the House, with 247 (239 Republicans and 8 Democrats) voting for the bill and 180 (4 Republicans and 176 Democrats) voting against. The companion bill has already been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Capito, and we’ll keep you updated on how you can help in that fight.
In the meantime, there’s good news: The White House has announced, unequivocally, that President Obama will veto this bill when it gets to his desk. And those 247 “yes” votes are short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto. We may have lost this vote, but we will continue to fight to make sure that this bill does not become law.
We know you want to know how your Representatives voted, and we’re gathering that information as we speak—we’ll be in touch soon as we launch our accountability efforts, and we’ll let you know who voted to let power plants keep emitting unlimited amounts of dangerous, climate-altering pollution.
Groundbreaking Court Ruling Says State Must Address Climate Change, Thanks to Teen Lawsuit
In an unprecedented decision, a judge in Washington State has ruled in favor of a group of young people who filed a lawsuit last year asking that the state be required to develop a science-based plan for limiting carbon emissions in order to protect the climate for future generations.
The lawsuit, Zoe & Stella Frazier v. Washington Department of Ecology, was brought last year by eight teens and preteens, the youngest nine years old, who filed a petition last June with the Department of Ecology, requesting that it develop a rule “to recommend to the legislature an effective emissions reduction trajectory that is based on best available climate science and will achieve safe atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide by 2100.”
“Youth petitioners hereby submit this petition for rulemaking on behalf of themselves, the citizens of the State of Washington, and present and future generations of children,” it said.
Last August, the Department of Ecology denied the petition although it did not deny the scientific basis for it. The petitioners filed an appeal, arguing that they had a right to grow up in a healthy environment. King County Superior Court Judge Hollis Hill agreed with them and ordered the Department of Ecology to reconsider their petition and report back to the court by July 8 whether it will consider the science necessary to climate recovery.
“Washington State’s existing statutory limits should be adjusted to better reflect the current science,” wrote Hill in her decision. “The limits need to be more aggressive in order for Washington to do its part to address climate risks.”
The plaintiffs’ attorney, Andrea Rodgers of the Western Environmental Law Center, pointed to the groundbreaking nature of the decision.
“The effect of this decision is that for the first time in the U.S., a court of law has ordered a state agency to consider the most current and best available climate science when deciding to regulate carbon dioxide emissions,” she said. “The court directed Ecology to apply the agency’s own findings that climate change presents an imminent threat to Washington and demands immediate action. The ball is now in Ecology’s court to do the right thing and protect our children and future generations.”
In a footnote to her order, Judge Hill explained why she rejected the Department of Ecology’s plan to delay acting on emissions.
“Ecology suggests no change in greenhouse gas reduction standards until after an international climate conference scheduled in Paris in December 2015, thus delaying action for at least a year from the date of the report or one year and five months after the report’s original due date,” she wrote. “Neither in its briefing nor in oral argument of this appeal did the department seek to justify this suggested delay. The report itself states that after the Paris conference Washington would be better informed how the state’s limits should be adjusted.”
The organization Our Children’s Trust is spearheading such actions around the country, filing lawsuits on behalf of youth plaintiffs in every state. It also joined with two nonprofits to file a federal lawsuit but the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case. And it was unsuccessful in Oregon recently where a judge ruled in May that the state has no responsibility to care for the natural environment or the atmosphere for future generations in a case brought by teenagers Kelsey Juliana and Olivia Chernaik.
“If this judge is right that the sustainability of our atmosphere is merely a question for political debate and disagreement, rather than an inherent constitutional right of all citizens and future generations, then we are in real trouble,” said Juliana. “This opinion sends a devastating message to all citizens that none of the three branches of government can be trusted to ensure our future. The courts must enforce our right to a healthy atmosphere and stable climate for all future generations.”
That decision is being appealed while the Washington victors celebrate the first of what advocates like Our Children’s Trust hope will be a string of wins.
“Kids understand the threats climate change will have on our future,” said 13-year-old plaintiff Zoe Foster. “I’m not going to sit by and watch my government do nothing. We don’t have time to waste. I’m pushing my government to take real action on climate, and I won’t stop until change is made.”
Anastasia Pantsios|June 25, 2015
South Florida swelters from lack of rain
South Florida has seen a lot more hot sun and blue skies than cooling rain and clouds lately.
Most of South Florida has received 4 to 6 inches less rain than normal since June 1.
This likely will end up being one of the driest Junes on record
Although the weather service predicted the beginning of rainy season would be wetter than normal, it’s been anything but.
With most of the region seeing four to six inches less rainfall than normal in the past three weeks, this likely will end up being one of the driest Junes on record, the National Weather Service said Tuesday.
Blame the dearth of rain on an area of persistent high pressure over the western Atlantic. It is creating a stiff easterly sea breeze, which is pushing all the showers and storms far inland or to the state’s west coast.
“Sometimes these weather systems get kind of stuck over an area, and that’s what we’re seeing here,” said meteorologist Robert Molleda.
The lack of rain also is making the afternoons feel unbearably hot because instead of cooling clouds and rains, the sky has been mostly sunny and blue.
“The temperatures really aren’t that much above normal,” Molleda said. “But with the sun beating down, readings of 90 to 92 are persisting later into the afternoon.”
Mix in humidity, which makes temperatures feel even hotter, and South Florida has transformed into a dry sauna, going back to May.
Normally, June is South Florida’s wettest month, with more than 9 inches of rainfall. Since June 1, Fort Lauderdale has received 6.48 inches less rain than normal; Miami, 5 inches less and West Palm Beach 3.88 inches.
The rain chance increases over the weekend, when a low-pressure area might weaken the high-pressure system. But that likely will be temporary, forecasters said.
Because the region has received close to 10 inches less rain than normal since Nov. 1, severe drought conditions have spread into central Miami-Dade County, moderate drought conditions in Broward County and abnormally dry conditions in Palm Beach County.
The main ramification for now is the chance of wildfire increases.
The South Florida Water Management District isn’t considering tightening water restrictions at this point, said spokesman Randy Smith.
That’s because Lake Okeechobee, the region’s backup water supply, remains healthy. It’s level on Tuesday was 12.4 feet, slightly higher than its historical average of 12.09 feet on June 23.
However, residents are urged to conserve water and adhere to year-round restrictions, which limits lawn watering to two days a week in most cities, Smith said..
“We want to make sure all conservation efforts are in place,” he said.
Sarah Dussault|Ken Kaye|Sun Sentinel
Waterlogged fields spell trouble for crops
Farm rep: ‘What we’re trying to battle here is Mother Nature’
Gray clouds are looming for farmers struggling to plant a crop during a soggy spring.
Jerry Schweihofer, an owner of Schweihofer Farms LLC in China Township, estimates about eight inches of rain have fallen on his crops in the past few weeks.
The constant showers have made planting a field difficult and keeping it healthy harder.
“I’ve been farming for 55 years and I’ve never seen anything like this, not this bad, not this late,” said Jerry Schweihofer, who owns the farm with his wife, Linda, son, Ryan, and daughter-in-law, Jeannine.
The China Township man isn’t the only farmer feeling waterlogged.
“It’s pretty widespread throughout the state,” said Kate Krepps, associate field crops specialist for the Michigan Farm Bureau.
“What we’re trying to battle here is Mother Nature — and they call farmers the ultimate risk takers for a reason.”
Phil Kaatz, forages and field crops educator for Michigan State University Extension, said about 35 percent of soybeans in St. Clair County remain unplanted. He said counties south of St. Clair County also are having trouble getting crops planted.
“It seems like there’s a line — roughly from the I-69 corridor south — that has had a lot more trouble getting soybeans planted,” Kaatz said.
“For every day they delay planting, you’re looking at roughly a third of a bushel reduction in yield.”
Ryan Schweihofer said the family farms about 1,200 acres of corn, soybeans, and wheat.
On Monday, about 300 acres of waterlogged fields remained unplanted, and some crops already planted were struggling to grow.
Ryan Schweihofer estimated an acre that would usually produce 180 to 200 bushels of corn likely will produce 100 to 140 bushels this year.
An acre of soybeans that usually would produce 45 to 50 bushels likely will produce 25 to 30.
Krepps said persistent rain has caused trouble for many farmers, but it was too early to say what kind of toll the precipitation would take at harvest.
“Overall, water isn’t good in mass amounts any time,” Krepps said. “It’s even worse if we have mass amounts of water in a short amount of time because the plant can’t get a chance to breathe.”
Krepps said persistent water coverage also could lead to root rot or damage to seedlings.
Jim Domagalski is encountering similar challenges in Columbus Township.
About a quarter of his approximately 500 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat remain unplanted at Domagalski Farms.
“I can’t remember a year like this,” Domagalski said.
“I’m trying to salvage that first field but it’s going to be tough. It not going to be a bumper crop this year, no way.”
Domagalski said corn seems to be hit the hardest but, with more rain forecast for this week, the other crops could be affected as well.
The Columbus Township farmer said he’s not alone.
Erie. “Every one of my neighbors has got idle fields,” Domagalski said.
The Schweihofers and Domagalski have some insurance on their crops but, in most instances, coverage decreases the longer farmers wait to plant. Jim Reid said he was spared some damage to his crops in Grant Township due to drainage systems in his fields and the fact that much of the rain was focused south of Interstate 69 in lower St. C lair and Macomb counties.
“Every other day we get rain so the crops are showing some evidence of damage, but I was able to get them in,” Reid said.
Reid farms about 1,000 acres of corn, soybeans and alfalfa in Grant Township.
“We don’t have100 percent of the fields tiled,” Reid said. “But there was a window of opportunity right around Memorial Day and we were able to get all the non-tiled fields.”
Todd Hulett, an owner of Hulett Farm Market in Port Huron, said the soggy weather hasn’t affected his crops in Capac.
Hulett said he farms about 230 acres of soybeans and 70 acres of vegetables. About 45 of those 70 acres is sweet corn grown for the Pine Grove Avenue market.
“Everything should be the same, normal,” Hulett said. “We’re all tiled ground and well-drained.”
Krepps said farmers can replant, but the time window for doing so is narrowing and seeds may be hard to come by. Farmers also need a break in the rain to have any c hance to replant.
“At the start of the season things were looking really bright, now we just need Mother Nature to give us a break and turn off the faucet,” Krepps said.
BETH LEBLANC|TIMES HERALD
[The two above stories illustrate the vagaries of climate change – one area has unnatural flooding while another has unnatural drought.]
Tornado rips through Michigan’s Sanilac County
Dairy farm wiped out, 21 homes also affected in straight, 20-mile swath
Bill Gilboe heard a sound like a roaring train and, just like that, a Sandusky straw barn collapsed and a mobile home was destroyed.
Jerry Coburn heard a sound like a clap of thunder and, just like that, his Moore Township home was in splinters and half of a semi-trailer was lifted into a cornfield. The other half was carried two miles away.
Henk de Vor got a phone call and, just like that, learned that his farm of 3,500 dairy cows was all but destroyed.
A long track tornado carved through the lives of Sanilac County residents Monday night, the National Weather Service confirmed late Tuesday.
The tornado started four miles northwest of Decker and traveled to two miles southeast of Deckerville — a total of about 20 miles. The tornado was about 250 yards wide and reached peak winds of 95 mph.
Sanilac County emergency manager Todd Hillman said the destruction in the wake of the tornado was significant.
“You’re talking 20-some miles of straight line debris — everything’s in a straight line from M-53 to Carsonville,” Hillman said. Hillman said emergency management heard reports of an unconfirmed tornado shortly after 10 p.m. Monday.
“We had one phone call into Central Dispatch about a quarter after 10 basically giving us a head’s up that there’s a tornado and it’s a big one,” Hillman said.
Hillman estimated at least 21 homes or pieces of property were affected by the storm. He said emergency management doesn’t yet have a cost estimate on the damage.
No one was injured in the tornado.
The storm largely followed Downington Road from just north of Decker east. At M-19, the storm skipped a little south and followed Nicol Road east to about Maple Grove Road in Carsonville.
De Vor Dairy Farm was one of the first areas the tornado hit on its path east through Sanilac County.
Henk de Vor estimated fewer than 40 of his 3,500 cows were killed in the storm. About a dozen buildings were destroyed.
Dead or trapped cows lay among the debris late Tuesday morning. Hundreds of cows waited to be milked under barns torn in half.
“It’s a terrible mess,” he said.
De Vor said the majority of cows were transferred to neighboring farms where they could be milked.
Volunteers and workers from the surrounding areas worked at the farm from about 10:30 p.m. through the night and long into the day Tuesday.
“We live in a terrific neighborhood so everyone’s helping,” de Vor said.
Lance Walker, an animal nutritionist from North Branch, worked hurriedly with dozens of others to cover a mountain of feed at the farm.
Walker said he heard about the farm’s plight through a Facebook post early Tuesday morning.
“It’s a fairly tight-knit community here,” Walker said. “Everybody pitches in when they need a hand.
“…You don’t see FEMA here. It’s just neighbors helping neighbors.”
Doug Link, a veterinarian from Vassar, traveled to the farm Tuesday morning to help amid the piles of rubble and flooded stalls.
“This is why small towns are small towns,” Link said. “This why we keep going.”
A little way from the farm, the Leslies’ yard was covered in branches and siding. The garage had budged from its foundation and a shed was damaged heavily by a fallen branch.
Dawn Leslie said the tornado passed by the home in about 15 seconds.
“I went from the back of the house to the front and it hit,” Leslie said. “You know when you take off in a plane and your ears start hurting and popping? That’s what it was like.”
Further east, in Moore Township, Jerry Coburn and his father Jim picked through the debris that once was Jerry’s home.
Jerry Coburn said his wife received an alert on her phone Monday night and the family ran to the neighbor’s home across the street.
As they were running, Jerry heard what sounded like a thunder clap. In moments, the Coburns’ home was lifted from its location and slammed into the ground.
All that remained were boards, glass, couches, and family mementos scattered across the lawn. The family chickens wandered through the rubble.
A semi-trailer used for storage was ripped apart — half of it landing in a corn field behind the home, the other half carried two miles away, Jerry Coburn said.
Jim Coburn picked through the wreckage Tuesday, pulling out a firefighter’s jacket, boots and an oxygen tank from his years with the Carsonville Fire Department.
“How can that stuff go so far away?” he said, shaking h is head.
Bill Gilboe said his family was in the basement of his Sandusky home when he heard a sound like a train.
The tornado hit. It collapsed a straw barn, removed the roof from a shed and lifted a mobile home from the ground. It crashed and splintered into the ground 20 yards away.
Pieces of wood were driven into the grass like spikes.
“The wind was coming from the east and the west at the same time,” Gilboe said. “It was unbelievable.”
BETH LEBLANC|TIMES HERALD|6/24/15
Tornados, high winds damage homes as storms hit Michigan
MANCHESTER, Mich. — A series of severe thunderstorms that pushed damaging winds and tornados into several parts of Michigan wrecked homes and knocked out power to thousands of people, officials said Tuesday.
From Monday afternoon through early Tuesday, the National Weather Service said tornados struck in the Ionia County community of Portland as well as in Washtenaw, Sanilac and Tuscola counties. State police reported storm damage that could be from tornados in Calhoun, Jackson, Kalamazoo counties.
“Our thoughts go out to all of the people across our state affected by Monday’s severe weather,” Gov. Rick Snyder said in a statement. “Our communities pull together after great challenges.”
The National Weather Service said one tornado hit about 1:30 a.m. Tuesday just outside of Manchester, southwest of Ann Arbor. Garrett Macomber told The Ann Arbor News that his farm was among those damaged.
“Half the roof is gone, it ripped out the trees, and I don’t even know about our fence,” Macomber said as he surveyed the Washtenaw County property. “The roof is all the way out in the hay field.”
Macomber said he jumped out of bed and ran to get everyone into the basement of his home as quickly as possible. The four people who live at the farm were accounted for, as were two dogs, 10 horses and a goat.
“It was a ridiculous amount of wind,” he said. “It felt like the whole house was lifting off its foundation.”
The most damage was reported in Portland, near Lansing, where five people were rescued from buildings after a tornado packing winds of about 100 mph hit Monday. The American Red Cross has opened a shelter for residents as cleanup takes place and Ionia County has declared a local state of emergency. More than 50 homes were damaged, officials said.
Heavy rain also caused flooding that slowed traffic on Detroit-area freeways and prompted flood warnings.
Late Monday, a tornado touched down about 5 miles from Decker in Sanilac County, destroying a large dairy farm. No injuries were reported.
Shortly afterward, about 5 miles from Millington in Tuscola County, another tornado was confirmed. A fire official said at least four houses were damaged and a few people were treated for minor injuries.
Some other damage was attributed to high winds. Storms overturned a recreational vehicle and downed trees in Saginaw County. In the Jackson area, authorities said at least four homes sustained extensive damage.
6 Devastating Heat Waves Hitting the Planet
Need proof that we’re having the hottest year on record? Scorching heat is searing parts of the world, sparking wildfires and claiming lives due to heat stroke and dehydration.
1. India. The relentless heat since mid-April has claimed about 2,330 lives, overwhelming hospitals and devastating the country. As we previously reported, officials have blamed the heat on global warming.
“It’s not just another unusually hot summer—it is climate change,” said Dr. Harsh Vardhan, India’s Minister of Science and Technology and Earth Sciences. “Let us not fool ourselves that there is no connection between the unusual number of deaths from the ongoing heatwave and the certainty of another failed monsoon.”
Temperatures have neared 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius), causing roads to literally melt in New Delhi.
2. Pakistan. India’s neighboring country is also suffering from the horrible heat, with the city of Karachi experiencing temperatures of 113 degrees Fahrenheit (45 degrees Celsius). According to BBC News, the weather has led to the deaths of nearly 700 people, mostly poor and elderly.
Making matters worse, with Pakistanis observing the holy month of Ramadan and fasting during daylight hours, an increased use of electricity for air conditioning has caused outages on their already-unstable grid.
3. The U.S. Southeast. Over on our shores, temperatures in the American South are about 5-15 degrees higher than usual with temperatures ranging between 100 and 115 degrees Fahrenheit, AccuWeather noted. Southerners, especially in southern Georgia and Florida, are also sweltering in the extreme humidity (in the upper 60s and 70s), making it feel even hotter, Weather.com reported.
Those on the West Coast should also brace for extreme heat and wildfires later this month, due to a shift in the jet stream pattern.
4. Alaska. Not only are glaciers rapidly melting, the northernmost U.S. state experienced record heat at the end of May where parts of Alaska recorded temperatures higher than in Arizona.
Unseasonably high temperatures, unpredictable winds and low humidity have been the perfect storm for wildfires to break out in the state, and as of last Sunday, more than 100 new fires have ignited across the state.
5. Israel. Temperatures recently reached 113 degrees Fahrenheit (45 degrees Celsius) in some parts of the country, causing fires to break out.
In the photo below, animals kept in Israeli zoos are being fed frozen treats to help cool off.
Last month, a 20-year-old tourist from Florida died after taking a fall while hiking the desert fortress of Masada on one of the hottest days of the year. The scary part? According to the Associated Press, she didn’t die from injuries from the fall, but from dehydration.
6. Japan. The East Asian country has been shattering their temperature records. According to the Weather Channel, in the city of Otsu in Hokkaido, its April high of 89.4 degrees Fahrenheit (31.9 degrees Celsius) smashed the usual high of 50.9 degrees Fahrenheit (10.5 degrees Celsius). And just this month, roughly 780 people across the country were admitted into hospitals due to a heat wave, Sputnik reported. So far, two people have been reported dead due to the heat.
While the current rainfall must be a welcome reprieve, several prefectures have issued warnings of possible landslides and flooding, according to Sputnik.
Lorraine Chow|June 23, 2015
With Groundwater Pumping, California Sinks At Unseen Rate
In the summer of 2014, U.S. Geological Survey scientists studying soil levels in California found that the state was sinking at its most extreme rate in 50 years, according to Grist. The cause, they say, is the depletion of groundwater supplies as the state grapples with long-term drought.
That type of massive sinkage has not been seen since the 1970s, which was around the time that groundwater depletion was first discovered as the reason for sinking California farmland. But as groundwater has come to supply nearly 60 percent of the state’s water in the current drought, the extreme sinking has made a comeback.
The USGS researchers have reached out to government agencies, as well as private businesses, to inform them of the sinkage and see how they are dealing with it. Many simply haven’t been aware of the subsidence and few track repairs associated with it. Managing the issue is further complicated by a lack of restrictions on groundwater amounts that farmers can pump, as well as current regulations that keep information private on those pumping it.
Daniel Kelly|June 24, 2015
Lake Mead Hits Historic Low
Lake Mead hit a record low last night by falling below 1,075 feet in elevation at 1,074.98 feet, which would trigger a water-supply shortage if the reservoir doesn’t recover by January. The threshold for mandatory cuts was set in a 2007 agreement as part of the U.S. Department of Interior’s Colorado River Interim Guidelines. These cuts would be the first set of mandatory water delivery curtailments to Lake Mead. Should the water levels continue to drop, as they are expected to, more cuts would be required.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will announce a 2016 shortage this August if its projections show that Lake Mead will still be below 1,075 feet in January. Photo credit: Shutterstock
“Water managers expect the lake’s elevation level to rebound enough to ward off a 2016 shortage thanks to a wetter-than-expected spring,” says The Arizona Republic. However, Rose Davis, a Bureau of Reclamation spokeswoman, told The Arizona Republic, “We still need a lot more water.”
The U.S. had the wettest month ever recorded in May—”the wettest places were parts of Arizona, Southern California, Northern Utah, a tiny spot in Nevada and a small spot on the border of Texas and Oklahoma, where precipitation was at least 500 percent of average,” said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Still, the recent rains were not enough to end the Southwest’s 15-year drought.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will announce a 2016 shortage this August if its projections show that Lake Mead will still be below 1,075 feet in January. The elevation, which is recorded hourly, climbed to 1,075.05 feet this morning. Davis says the agency is expecting several more drops below 1,075 feet in the coming weeks, but they estimate the lake level will rise by the end of the year to about 1,081 feet, according to CBS News. Still, many water policy experts are pushing for long-term solutions.
“Drought or no drought, the river is over-allocated,” Drew Beckwith, water policy manager with the Western Resource Advocates, a non-profit environmental law and policy organization, told The Arizona Republic. “Lower-basin states take more than the river system can sustain. The upper basin hasn’t used its full allocation for years, which has kept the problem at bay because the excess is sent to Lake Mead. But that setup won’t last.”
The entire Colorado River system has been over-allocated for decades, according to water experts like Beckwith. “The drought has just hastened that reality,” he said.
“The Colorado River has been cut to death—all 5 trillion gallons a year drained, depleted, dried up,” says Gary Wockner, executive director of the nonprofit Save the Colorado. “The dams have devastated the river’s health and the former 2-million acre wetland in the Colorado River Delta is now a sand-duned wasteland.”
“The dropping water levels in Lake Mead are the condor in the coal mine—we must hear its voice,” says Wockner. “The health of the river and water supplies across the Southwest U.S. are continuing to decline. People are literally draining everything.”
There is serious concern that as water becomes increasingly scarce in the drought-stricken West, cooperation will break down and “lower-basin states would have to do a ‘call on the river,’ where the lower basin will have to legally demand that the water is sent down river,” says Wockner.
For now, Western states are working together to address the problem. “Major river users agreed last year to leave hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of water in Lake Mead by 2017 that they would otherwise take,” reports The Arizona Republic.
Lake Mead 1-Week Daily Elevation Projections
Las Vegas and Phoenix, among other desert cities, have already made major cutbacks in their water use with Las Vegas decreasing water use by 30 percent in 10 years and Phoenix having reduced its overall water consumption by 27 percent in 20 years, despite both cities having some of the fastest growing populations in the U.S. Still, the two cities could be seeing even more curtailments since Arizona and Southern Nevada would get the biggest mandatory cuts should the Bureau of Reclamation announce a 2016 water shortage.
Cole Mellino|June 24, 2015
Record-breaking heat set to scorch Northwest
The first heat wave of the year is forecast to hit much of the northwestern U.S. this weekend, and many cities across the region will see 100degree temperatures for the first time this season, AccuWeather predicts.
Record-high temperatures were expected to be challenged or broken in cities such as Seattle; Portland, Oregon; Boise, Idaho; Reno, Nevada; and Salt Lake City.
In addition to topping daily record highs, this heat wave might also threaten record highs for the entire month of June or, in a few locations, all-time record highs, the Weather Channel forecast.
Heat advisories were in place in several states, including Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana. Excessive heat warnings — the highest level of heat warning issued by the National Weather Service — were in place in Seattle and Portland.
The blistering heat was also likely to make life miserable for firefighters battling the region’s numerous wildfires. As of Friday, 15 large wildfires were raging across the West, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise.
Genetically Modified Organisms
Could these piglets become Britain’s first commercially viable GM animals?
Pigs ‘edited’ with a warthog gene to resist African swine fever could help spawn GM animal farms in the UK
On an isolated farm outside Edinburgh, pigs grunt eagerly as their food arrives. The barn has a typical farmyard whiff, and a litter of tiny piglets, born just hours earlier, lie with trotters outstretched and eyes sealed, as helpless as any newborns. Only the occasional fluorescent snout or trotter reveals that the building is home to one of the world’s most advanced genetic modification projects.
“These are happy animals. They have a lovely sheen on them, their tails are wagging away,” said Prof Bruce Whitelaw, head of developmental biology at the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute, which is responsible for the pigs.
Prof Whitelaw believes the newborn piglets, which are designed to be resistant to the disease African swine fever, could be among the first commercially viable GM animals to have been created in Britain. The piglets are indistinguishable from other Large White variety pigs – except one letter of their genetic code has been flipped to make their immune system slightly closer to a warthog’s.
Within weeks, the piglets will be transported to a high security laboratory in Surrey where they will enter a trial to see if this modification protects them against the tick-borne disease, which is currently sweeping through eastern Europe and could affect British farms in the future.
“We need these animals to deliver something that could be a product,” said Whitelaw. “If these pigs show resilience, we will go to the regulators. The limitations are no longer technical, they’re legal.”
The African swine fever-resistant pigs live alongside others engineered to have enhanced immunity to swine flu (the fluorescent ones), and the pig respiratory disease, PRRS. Whitelaw believes that such animals could be commercially available within five to 10 years.
The breakthrough, he said, has been the development of new “ultra precise” gene editing tools that introduce changes in a way that is indistinguishable from naturally occurring mutations. The new techniques also overcome three major objections to GM in the past: the use of viruses to “carry” genetic changes into the pigs’ cells, the need to use antibiotic resistance genes in the modification process, which has been seen as an environmental threat, and the need for cloning.
“There are no markers, no vectors,” said Whitelaw. “People are absolutely not going to want to eat animals with fluorescent snouts.”
The welfare aspect of creating disease resistant animals may also prove more acceptable to the public than simply trying to create bigger, meatier farm animals, he argues.
“We’re not trying to make huge pigs, we’re trying to make healthier ones,” he said. “I’d be staggered if anyone said ‘No, I don’t want my animal to be healthier’.”
Farmers have also welcomed the focus on disease resistance, because unlike size and fertility, resilience to new diseases is almost impossible to breed in using traditional methods.
At a recent industry talk Whitelaw gave on the African swine fever trial, the first question, from a Lithuanian farmer was “When can I get these animals?” he said. “Farmers are ready.”
This month, around 6,000 pigs are expected to be culled in Poland, after outbreaks on farms, and the disease is known to have spread to neighbouring countries.
The trial, due to begin later this summer at either the Pirbright Institute or the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency in Weybridge, will involve exposing 12 “edited” pigs and 12 normal animals to the virus and testing mortality and transmission rates in the two groups to assess whether the modified pigs fare better.
The gene-editing technique works by taking a fertilized egg and using molecular scissors to snip the pig genome at the target site – in this case an immune gene called RELA. The cell’s natural repair process introduces a minor error, making the gene slightly less active than the normal version, producing a gentler immune response closer to that seen in warthogs. Scientists think this should confer resistance to African swine fever, because the disease causes the pig immune system to go into overdrive. “The immune system grossly overreacts to something that itself isn’t that harmful,” said Simon Lillico, a senior researcher at Roslin. “Warthogs still get infected, they just don’t drop dead.”
The scientists have also created pigs with the exact warthog version of the gene and the first three of these pigs are now entering a breeding program ahead of a second trial due to begin next year.
By contrast, conventional GM techniques start by taking skin cells from an animal. These are then modified, but because the modifications are successful in only a small fraction of cells, scientists include an antibiotic resistant gene tag that allows them to weed unsuccessful cells with drugs.
The nucleus of the modified skin cell is then inserted into an egg, which is grown in culture and transplanted into a “foster” animal to produce a modified clone, but many cloning pregnancies fail.
Other previous genetic modification experiments have involved using viruses to insert genetic changes into cells at a random location on the genome, but this risks so-called “off target” effects.
If the African swine fever trial is a success – the scientists will know the results by autumn – they are likely to apply to the US Food and Drug Administration for commercial approval.
While the FDA has approved several GM crops, until now it has stopped short of declaring farm animals created using the technology safe to eat. A GM salmon designed to grow twice as fast as normal fish could be the first to be approved.
Elsewhere, other GM animals being developed include “double muscled” pigs, designed to be larger than normal, cows that produce milk without beta-lactoglobulin, which causes allergies and dairy cows that do not grow horns, which can cause injuries.
Hannah Devlin|23 June 2015
Roundup Herbicide 125 Times More Toxic Than Regulators Say
Highly concerning new research reveals chemicals used in industrial agriculture are up to 1,000 times more toxic than the regulatory system presently states.
A highly concerning new study published in the journal Biomedical Research International reveals that despite the still relatively benign reputation of agrochemicals such as Roundup herbicide, many chemical formulations upon which the modern agricultural system depend are far more toxic than present regulatory tests performed on them reveal. Roundup herbicide, for instance, was found to be 125 times more toxic than its active ingredient glyphosate studied in isolation.
Titled, “Major pesticides are more toxic to human cells than their declared active principles,” the study evaluated to what extent the active principle (AP) and the so-called ‘inert ingredients,’ i.e. adjuvants, in globally popular formulations account for the toxicity of 9 major pesticides: 3 herbicides, 3 insecticides, and 3 fungicides.
The Deceptive Semantics of Pesticide Formulations And Their Regulation
The paper describes how the agrochemical industry conceals the true toxicity of their chemical formulations by focusing on the health risks associated with only one so-called ‘active principle’ (AP) in their complex formulations, and sets the public up for mass poisoning through the determination of an ‘acceptable level of harm’ via the calculation of the so-called ‘acceptable daily intake (ADI)’ based on the toxicological risk profile of only a single ingredient:
“Pesticides are used throughout the world as mixtures called formulations. They contain adjuvants, which are often kept confidential and are called inerts by the manufacturing companies, plus a declared active principle (AP), which is the only one tested in the longest toxicological regulatory tests performed on mammals. This allows the calculation of the acceptable daily intake (ADI)—the level of exposure that is claimed to be safe for humans over the long term—and justifies the presence of residues of these pesticides at “admissible” levels in the environment and organisms. Only the AP and one metabolite are used as markers, but this does not exclude the presence of adjuvants, which are cell penetrants.”
The problem of underestimated toxicological risk is so severe that the researchers describe previous research which found unexpected toxicity in so-called ‘inert’ adjuvants that were up to 10,000 times more toxic than the so-called active principle glyphosate itself, revealing them to be a greater source for secondary side effects than the main ingredient itself. [i] They also note that this ‘synergistic toxicity’ may explain the results of previous long-term animal research where glyphosate-based formulations showed toxicity in the parts-per-trillion range (.1 part per billion) that could not be explained by glyphosate alone.[ii] [iii]
Dr. Kelly Brogan, MD, commented on this phenomena in connection with the study recently on her blog: “Similar to the non-placebo-controlled trials on vaccines, adjuvants and preservatives are considered innocent bystanders in the consideration of risk profile.” According to Dr. Brogan, an understanding of “Toxicant synergy has exploded the simplistic notion of “the dose makes the poison.””
The Test Method and Results
In order to ascertain the toxicity of various chemical formulations and their ingredients, the researchers used embryonic (HEK293), placental (JEG3), and hepatic (HepG2) human cell lines, “because they are well characterized and validated as useful models to test toxicities of pesticides, corresponding to what is observed on fresh tissue or primary cells.” They noted, “these cells lines are even in some instances less sensitive than primary cells, and therefore do not overestimate cellular toxicity.”
The researchers describe the their method of determining toxicity:
We assayed their mitochondrial succinate dehydrogenase (SD) activity (MTT assay) after 24h pesticide exposure, which is one of the most accurate cytotoxicity assays for measuring the toxicity of pesticide adjuvants such as surfactants . Cytotoxicity was confirmed by the measurement of apoptosis and necrosis, respectively, by caspases 3/7 activation  and adenylate kinase leakage after membrane alterations 
The results of the study were clear. Except for one pesticide (Matin), “All formulations were cytotoxic and far more toxic than their APs [active principles].”
Key findings included:
- On human cells, among the tested products, fungicides were the most toxic (Figure 1), being cytotoxic from doses 300–600 times lower than agricultural dilutions, followed by herbicides (except Matin) and then insecticides.
- In all cell types, fungicides were the most toxic (mean LC50 12ppm).
- The herbicide Roundup (LC50 63ppm) was next in toxicity to fungicides, twice as toxic as Starane, and more than 10 times as toxic as the 3 insecticides, which represent the less toxic group (mean LC50 720ppm).
The researchers noted that theirs was the first study to test all these formulated pesticides on human cells at concentrations well below agricultural dilutions – indicating the relevance of their results to every day human exposures.
The researchers noted that in the present study, the cells were exposed to the chemicals for no longer than 48 hours, but in previous research they observed increased toxicity with time (i.e. “time-amplifying effect”), such that, “the differential toxicity between the AP [active principle] glyphosate and Roundup is increased by 5 times in 72h.”
The study discussion also addressed the profound problem in semantics indicated by the use of the term “inert” to describe chemical adjuvants that amplify the toxicity of the active principle (AP) in a herbicidal formulation by up t 1,000 times:
“Adjuvants in pesticides are generally declared as inerts, and for this reason they are not tested in long-term regulatory experiments. It is thus very surprising that they amplify up to 1000 times the toxicity of their APs in 100% of the cases where they are indicated to be present by the manufacturer (Table 1). In fact, the differential toxicity between formulations of pesticides and their APs now appears to be a general feature of pesticides toxicology. As we have seen, the role of adjuvants is to increase AP solubility and to protect it from degradation, increasing its half-life, helping cell penetration, and thus enhancing its pesticidal activity  and consequently side effects. They can even add their own toxicity . The definition of adjuvants as “inerts” is thus nonsense; even if the US Environmental Protection Agency has recently changed the appellation for “other ingredients,” pesticide adjuvants should be considered as toxic “active” compounds.“
According to the researchers, Roundup herbicide is emblematic of the cognitive dissonance between scientific fact and industrial claim to the still widely held belief that many of the chemicals routinely applied to our food and feed crops are relative safety:
It is commonly believed that Roundup is among the safest pesticides. This idea is spread by manufacturers, mostly in the reviews they promote [39, 40], which are often cited in toxicological evaluations of glyphosate-based herbicides. However, Roundup was found in this experiment to be 125 times more toxic than glyphosate. Moreover, despite its reputation, Roundup was by far the most toxic among the herbicides and insecticides tested. This inconsistency between scientific fact and industrial claim may be attributed to huge economic interests, which have been found to falsify health risk assessments and delay health policy decisions .
The researchers conclude their study by proposing their experimental results challenge the ultimate relevance of the acceptable daily intake (ADI), “because it is calculated today from the toxicity of the AP alone in vivo.” They go further and suggest that the ADI’s should be revised taking into account an “adjuvant factor,” which would require a reduction by at least 100 be applied to ADIs, especially if their preliminary cell research is confirmed through future animal studies. This would mean that the present ADI for glyphosate which is .3 ppm should be reduced to 3 parts per billion or less. They note, however, that this will not replace direct study of the commercial formulation with its adjuvants in regulatory tests. They conclude the study with the following remarks:
“[A]n exposure to a single formulated pesticide must be considered as co-exposure to an active principle and the adjuvants. In addition, the study of combinatorial effects of several APs together may be very secondary if the toxicity of the combinations of each AP with its adjuvants is neglected or unknown. Even if all these factors were known and taken into account in the regulatory process, this would not exclude an endocrine-disrupting effect below the toxicity threshold. The chronic tests of pesticides may not reflect relevant environmental exposures if only one ingredient is tested alone.“
Clearly, research like this represents a paradigm shift in the way we look at agrochemical toxicity and the risk of exposure. If the harm’s associated with pesticidal or herbicidal contamination of our food, water, or air, are up to 1,000 times higher than the present regulatory system believes, we can no longer label as ‘an acceptable level of harm’ the mass poisoning we are experiencing at the hands of the industrial, biotech and chemical-industry driven agricultural system.
Sayer Ji|Founder|April 14th 2014
Sunshine Coast Council Follows France’s Lead in Phasing out Weedkiller
Spraying weeds with synthetic chemicals could be a thing of the past in a few years if the Sunshine Coast Council has its way.
It is phasing out the use of controversial pesticide glyphosate – the active ingredient in Round Up – and introducing natural ways to control weeds, even though regulators from the State Government and CSIRO do not require them to.
Parks manager Mark Presswell says council is concerned that research has shown glyphosate is a health hazard and harmful to the environment
He says they have reduced usage of the chemical by 20 per cent in the last two years.
“We were using around 560 litres a year, we’re around the 400 mark now,” he said.
“We’ve had no advice from our government or from the CSIRO in regard to any potential problems with glyphosate, but we’re just being cautious and careful so we’re just trying to limit the use and eventually phase it out.”
Mr Presswell says council has taken it lead from a World Health Organisation report that states glyphosate is probably carcinogenic to humans.
This week France joined other countries like the Netherlands, Russia, Mexico and Sri Lanka in banning its sale from garden centers.
But an Australian toxicologist, Dr Ian Musgrave says glyphosate is a fairly non-toxic chemical to humans, and is ranked lower than alcoholic beverages and formaldehyde as carcinogens.
Mr Presswell says even though using Round Up is the most cost effective means of controlling weeds for council, his teams are phasing in more natural techniques.
“Some of those areas that traditionally had weeds we now mulch, compost mulch and plant plants in there,” he said.
“That way we get a much more attractive region and we also control weeds.”
Mr Presswell says council also endeavors to shade out weed growth with larger plants where possible.
“Planting out areas is our best form of control – shading weeds out,” he said.
“You could plant a wallum for instance, then handpick the weeds till they disappear.”
Mr Presswell says council has trialed another natural control technique using steam to kill weeds but it was too expensive and the weeds recovered too quickly.
He is unsure when the use of glyphosate by the council will be phased out completely.
“It will depend on how effective our natural control measures are; we want to phase it out as fast as possible,” he said.
Cancer-Causing Chemicals Found in Drinking Water Near Texas Fracking Sites
On June 4, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a report on how fracking for oil and gas can impact access to safe drinking water. Although the report claims not to have found any “widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States,” a new study in Texas provides more evidence that contamination of drinking water from fracking might be occurring.
A research team at the University of Texas at Arlington has published a peer-reviewed study, A Comprehensive Analysis of Groundwater Quality in the Barnett Shale Region, in Environmental Science & Technology, a journal of the American Chemical Society. The heavily fracked Barnett shale region, with more than 20,000 wells, covers a swath of counties in north Texas surrounding the populous Dallas-Fort Worth area. It also sits beneath two major aquifers.
“The exploration of unconventional shale energy reserves and the extensive use of hydraulic fracturing during well stimulation have raised concerns about the potential effects of unconventional oil and gas extraction (UOG) on the environment,” the authors write. “Most accounts of groundwater contamination have focused primarily on the compositional analysis of dissolved gases to address whether UOG activities have had deleterious effects on overlying aquifers. Here, we present an analysis of 550 groundwater samples collected from private and public supply water wells drawing from aquifers overlying the Barnett shale formation of Texas.”
The team, led by UT Arlington chemistry professor Kevin Schug, found elevated levels of 10 metals and 19 chemicals as well as high levels of ethanol and methanol. The chemical compounds found included benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene and xylenes, which have been associated with a range of negative health impacts including cancer. Schug said that his team’s work was “the most comprehensive groundwater study in connection to this whole process.”
“The University of Texas, working independent of the oil and gas industry, found evidence of widespread groundwater pollution connected to fracking,” said Earthworks policy director Lauren Pagel. “The EPA, working for years with the oil and gas industry to study the same issue, managed not to find that evidence in its study released earlier this month. Perhaps that’s because President Obama’s ‘all of the above’ energy policy requires favoring oil and gas over the clean, renewable energy our communities and water really need.”
In Texas, the battle over fracking is particularly heated. In response to the city of Denton, which is located in the Barnett shale region just north of Dallas/Fort Worth, voting to ban new fracking operations in last November’s election, the state passed legislation outlawing such bans.
“Fracking water pollution isn’t a surprise to people living with fracking,” said Earthworks Texas organizer Sharon Wilson. “But it must be a surprise to Texas regulators, who claim to have never found any. Denton was forced to repeal its ban last night. Now Denton and all Texas communities are in the hands of state government, which seems bound and determined to protect the oil and gas industry, not the public. What this study really shows is why communities must have local control to protect their own health and safety.”
While the UT study cautions that the presence of these chemicals cannot be definitively linked to fracking, they are known to be used in the process.
“I hope our data can serve as a springboard for studies that use detailed chemical signatures to pinpoint the impact of various aspects of unconventional drilling processes on groundwater quality,” said Schug.
Anastasia Pantsios|June 22, 2015
Aging Nuclear Power Plant Must Close Before It Closes Us
We must face facts regarding the Indian Point nuclear plant. It’s infrastructure is aging, its safety is dubious and most everyone knows it. What many people don’t know is that it can be replaced at little cost to ratepayers—and energy technologies taking its place would create new economic opportunities for New York.
Indian Point—just 38 miles north of New York City—is vulnerable to terrorism, has 2,000 tons of radioactive waste packed into leaking pools and relies on an unworkable evacuation plan. While some argue that transformer accidents—such as the one that occurred last month—can happen at any power facility, they happen with astonishing frequency at Indian Point. Its age is problematic: You wouldn’t rely on a 40-year-old appliance, why extend this trust to a nuclear plant? Moreover, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) says Indian Point 3 has the highest risk of earthquake damage of all the nation’s reactors. About 20 million people live within 50 miles of Indian Point. If a catastrophic accident occurred, the consequences would be unimaginable.
The NRC permits Indian Point to evade its own safety standards requiring that electrical cables controlling emergency reactor shutdowns have insulation that lasts 60 minutes in a fire. When the NRC found that the plant’s insulation lasted just 27 minutes, it gave Indian Point an exemption. Your own home likely has more insulation on its electrical cables than does the plant.
Entergy and nuclear-industry groups make spurious claims that skyrocketing energy costs would result from Indian Point’s closure. Actually, it can be retired without undermining the state’s electric grid. Planning is under way for better efficiencies and cleaner energy sources. The cost to ratepayers will be minimal when compared to the risks, and homeowners could actually see savings in a few years—especially if they make their homes more energy efficient.
Right now, three efficient transmission projects could potentially save as much as 600 megawatts, and combining hydropower, wind, solar and other renewables could eventually make up the difference.
Closing Indian Point was pronounced doable by New York state in 2013, and it would bring economic opportunities and create jobs. SolarCity’s manufacturing plans in Buffalo are just one signal of the potential.
And then there’s the slaughter of Hudson River fish to consider: Indian Point kills more than a billion fish eggs and larvae each year through its cooling systems. The radiological contamination it leaks violates the Clean Water Act and has devastating effects on the river’s ecology. Closing it would be a step toward restoration of species in decline.
It’s no longer a question of whether Indian Point can be shut down, it certainly can. This aging nuclear power plant in a densely populated and ecologically fragile region is inherently problematic, threatening river life and human life. It no longer has a place in New York’s energy landscape.We must close it before it closes us.
Paul Gallay|June 22, 2015
[How much of this can also be said of Turkey Point?]
Hawaii Enacts Nation’s First 100% Renewable Energy Standard
Hawaii enacted a law this week that mandates that all of the state’s electricity comes from renewable sources no later than 2045. The bill makes Hawaii the first U.S. state to adopt such a standard. This renewable energy standard is being hailed as “the most aggressive clean energy goal in the country.”
“Hawaii is making history, not only for the islands, but for the planet,” said Jeff Mikulina, executive director of the Blue Planet Foundation. “We are making a promise to future generations that their lives will be powered not by climate-changing fossil fuel, but by clean, local and sustainable sources of energy.”
The legislation was drafted by Blue Planet Foundation, whose mission is “to clear the path for 100 percent clean energy.” Many believe Hawaii can reach the goal well before 2045 because the islands are already a renewable energy leader. “Analyses from the utility and elsewhere show that 100 percent renewable energy can be achieved even earlier than 2045, by 2030,” says Blue Planet Foundation. “Hawaii’s renewable energy use has doubled in the past five years, with the islands currently generating about 22 percent of their electricity from wind, solar, geothermal and other renewable energy resources.”
Hawaii’s renewable energy use has doubled in the past five years. Photo credit: Blue Planet Foundation
To make sure the Aloha state stays on track to meet its requirement, the bill has an interim requirement of at least 30 percent renewable electricity by 2020 and 70 percent by 2040. If Hawaii utilities fail to reach that target, it could cost them two cents for each kilowatt hour of excess fossil fuel electricity, according to Blue Planet Foundation.
“This week we put an expiration date on fossil fuel use,” said Henk Rogers, president of Blue Planet Foundation. “Hawaii is sending a signal to the world that 100 percent renewable energy isn’t just a vision, it’s a commitment.”
Cole Mellino|June 11, 2015
Rolling Stone: ‘What’s Killing the Babies of Vernal, Utah?’
In January, the Los Angeles Times ran a story on the fracking boomtown of Vernal, Utah. It described how a midwife named Donna Young was attacked and demonized for drawing attention to an increase in stillbirths in the town and its resistance to the idea that the industry that provides half its annual budget could be responsible.
Now Rolling Stone Magazine has done a deeper dive into Vernal’s story, as well as the political story behind its story, exploring how formerly rural areas came to be fracking hubs and how that’s impacted their residents, in a piece, “What’s Killing the Babies of Vernal, Utah?”
It describes how Young has lost most of her clients, received death threats and uncovered an attempt to poison her livestock after raising questions about whether Vernal’s booming oil industry had caused the wave of stillbirths, miscarriages and birth defects it’s seen in the last several years.
“In most places, detecting a grave risk to children would inspire people to name a street for you,” writes reporter Paul Solotaroff. “But in Vernal, a town literally built by oil, raising questions about the safety of fracking will brand you a traitor and a target.”
Two years ago, Young discovered that at least 10 babies had died in 2013 alone, a high number for a town of 10,000. She brought the issue to the attention of TriCounty health director Joe Shaffer. The department undertook a study but Young says it was a half-hearted attempt to uncover the cause of the epidemic, a deliberate attempt to evade the truth. As Rolling Stone describes it:
The county merely counted up infant deaths and brushed aside the facts about Vernal air pollution: ozone readings that rivaled the worst days of summer in New York, Los Angeles or Salt Lake City; particulate matter as bad as Mexico City; and ground air fraught with carcinogenic gases like benzene, rogue emissions from oil and gas drilling. Indeed, pollution was so bad in this rural bowl that it broke new ground in climate science. The Basin, which is bound on all four sides by mountains, is a perfectly formed bowl for winter inversions, in which 20-below weather clamps down on the valley and is sealed there by warmer air above it. During those spells, when the haze is visible and the air in one’s lungs is a cold chisel, the sun’s rays reflect off the snow on the ground and cook the volatile gases into ozone. The worst such period in the Basin’s recent history was the winter of 2012-13, when nearly all the Utah mothers whose babies died were pregnant.
When the study was released, the deaths were called “statistically insignificant.” The epidemiologist who conducted the study told citizens passed off the blame for the deaths on the mothers’ health issues including smoking, diabetes and prenatal neglect.
Rolling Stone responds:
Which raises a question you might ask in a state whose legislature is so rabid for oil and gas money that it set aside millions to sue the federal government for the right to drill near Moab and Desolation Canyon, some of the state’s most sacrosanct places: How many dead infants does it take before you’ll accept that there’s a problem?
While the deliberate, angry denial of Vernal’s citizens whose livelihoods depend on the fracking industry is understandable, what will anger readers is the background Rolling Stone provides on the Wild West fracking boom that put oil and gas exploration ahead of infant lives. It reaches back to the early days of the Bush/Cheney administration, describing once again for those who have forgotten, the closed-door meetings helmed by Cheney in which fossil fuel barons essentially rewrote U.S. energy law to benefit themselves, massively expanding drilling on public lands and exempting themselves from environmental regulations.
In essence, Cheney’s program turned the Department of the Interior into a boiler-room broker for Big Oil, and undercut the power of the Environmental Protection Agency. Cheney’s plan was such a transparent coup for Big Oil that it took four years, two elections and the Republican capture of both houses of Congress to make it to Bush’s desk as legislation. Along the way, the bill gained a crucial addendum, known today as the “Halliburton loophole”: a carte-blanche exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act for an emergent technique called fracking.
The impact of these sweeping changes affected the daily lives of people in towns like Vernal.
“Fracking moved the oil patch to people’s backyards, significantly increasing the pollution they breathed in small towns,” Amy Mall, a senior policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Rolling Stone. “Basically, it industrialized rural regions and brought them many of the related health problems we were used to seeing in cities.”
And Rolling Stone describes the official silence on the growing health problems as extending far beyond Vernal, as wells in formerly pristine areas leaked, blew out and emitted methane flares, and rather than responding, the state of Texas tied its citizens’ hands, passing a bill forbidding them from regulating the growth of fracking in their towns.
Rolling Stone says:
Whatever Cheney’s doing now, he must look upon his handiwork and smile. OPEC has lost its whip hand over oil prices, SUVs are selling off the lot again, and Obama takes victory laps because we now produce more oil than we import. Glad tidings for all—except the people in more than 30 states who wake up to the thump of fracking rigs. To them, the message from Washington has been tacit but final: You folks are on your own out there.
After four of her five clients had miscarriages recently, Donna Young has the water in their homes tested. Rolling Stone reports:
Most of the batches tested were positive for extreme toxicity from hydrogen sulfide, H2S, one of the most deadly of the gases released by drilling. Exposure to it has killed a number of rig workers over the past few decades. In high enough concentration, just one breath is enough. In much smaller amounts, H2S can cause miscarriages—and the amounts Young says she found were more than 7,000 times the EPA threshold for safety.
“I know I have to call somebody, but who?” Young told Rolling Stone. “Who is there to trust in this town?”
Anastasia Pantsios|June 23, 2015
Earthquakes Tied to Fracking Boom, Two New Studies Confirm
Oklahoma was never big earthquake country, but in the last six years their numbers have surged, going from an average of two a year over 3.0 magnitude to 538 last year, surpassing California as the U.S.’s most seismically active state. Regions in Texas and Ohio that rarely felt an earthquake are now seeing wave after wave of them; eight states overall have seen big increases.
Clusters of earthquakes in Oklahoma have occurred in the areas with multiple injection wells. Image credit: Science Advances
Studies keep showing that the earthquakes start happening when wastewater from fracking is injected underground. Scientists say it’s because those large quantities of water, forced underground by heavy pressure, activate dormant fault lines. Now two more such studies have been added to the pile of evidence.
One of the studies, published in the journal Science, comes from a team of scientists from the University of Colorado at Boulder and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The largest study to date, they analyzed information on earthquakes and 180,000 injection wells from Colorado to the east coast. They tied 18,000 of the wells, primarily in Colorado and Oklahoma, to earthquakes.
“This is the first study to look at correlations between injection wells and earthquakes on a broad, nearly national scale,” said University of Colorado doctoral student Matthew Weingarten, the study’s lead author. “We saw an enormous increase in earthquakes associated with these high-rate injection wells, especially since 2009, and we think the evidence is convincing that the earthquakes we are seeing near injection sites are induced by oil and gas activity.”
They found that “high-rate” injection wells, which pumped more than 300,000 gallons of water a month underground, were more likely to cause tremors than low-rate wells and that wastewater injection wells were more likely to cause earthquakes than so-called “oil recovery” wells which inject fluid to push remaining oil out of depleted wells. They also found that injection wells were tied to earthquakes ranging from 4.7 to 5.6 magnitude in Arkansas, Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas in 2011 and 2012.
“People can’t control the geology of a region or the scale of seismic stress,” said Weingarten. “But managing rates of fluid injection may help decrease the likelihood of induced earthquakes in the future.”
The second study, published last week in the journal Science Advances, was done by a pair of geologists at Stanford University. They looked specifically at the increased seismicity in certain areas of Oklahoma that rarely saw earthquakes before 2009—”no state has experienced a more significant increase in seismicity in recent years than Oklahoma,” they said. They found that it followed big increases in wastewater water from drilling operations that was injected into underground wells nearby.
“The number of small- to moderate-sized earthquakes in much of the central and eastern United States began to increase markedly around 2009,” the study noted. “Some of this seismicity appears to be associated with increases in saltwater disposal that originates as ‘flow-back’ water after multistage hydraulic fracturing operations. Over the past five years, parts of Oklahoma have experienced marked increases in the number of small- to moderate-sized earthquakes. In three study areas that encompass the vast majority of the recent seismicity, we show that the increases in seismicity follow five- to 10-fold increases in the rates of saltwater disposal. Adjacent areas where there has been relatively little saltwater disposal have had comparatively few recent earthquakes.”
In Oklahoma in particular, there has been pushback from the state’s powerful oil and gas sector, which has tried to silence scientists speaking out about the tremors. State seismologist Austin Holland was called into a meeting with oil and gas billionaire Harold Hamm, head of Oklahoma City-based Continental Resources; Hamm is frequently referred to as the founding father of fracking.
“Holland had been studying possible links between a rise in seismic activity in Oklahoma and the rapid increase in oil and gas production, the state’s largest industry,” reported Bloomberg. “Hamm requested that Holland be careful when publicly discussing the possible connection between oil and gas operations and a big jump in the number of earthquakes, which geological researchers were increasingly tying to the underground disposal of oil and gas wastewater, a byproduct of the fracking boom that Continental has helped pioneer.”
Holland said that the Stanford study was a major factor in the recent statement issued by the Oklahoma Geological Survey, for which Holland works, saying it was “very likely” that the earthquakes there are due to the injection of water into deep injection wells.
“The Stanford scientists’ findings were carefully considered before we issued the statement, and contributed to the scientific credibility of the statement,” said Holland.
“We’ve been waiting for exactly this type of study,” said Oklahoma’s Secretary of Energy & Environment Michael Teague. “These findings help us understand the case better so that we can evaluate options that we can take to go forward in finding ways to reduce the quakes.”
Anastasia Pantsios|June 23, 2015
World’s Largest Offshore Wind Turbine Unveiled in Fukushima
Japan officially unveiled today its 7 megawatt (MW) wind turbine, the world’s largest offshore turbine to date. It is slated to be operational by September.
The Fukushima Wind Project, located about 12 miles off the coast of Fukushima, installed a 2 MW wind turbine in November 2013. The turbines are part of a pilot project led by Marubeni Co. and funded by the Japanese government with research and support from several public and private organizations, including the University of Tokyo and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.
The new turbine, which will tower 220 meters above the sea, will transmit electricity to the grid via submarine cable, according to The Japan Times. The government has allocated 50 billion yen ($405 million) for the project, which allows turbines to float in areas that are “too deep for traditional towers fixed to the seafloor,” says Bloomberg News. There are plans to add a third floating turbine with a generating capacity of 5 MW later in the year, which will bring the total output capacity of the project to 14 MW.
Offshore turbines, which have garnered a lot of support in Japan after the Fukushima disaster, “enjoy the benefit of more stable wind than onshore models, and are more efficient because they are not hampered by the constraints posed by land and transportation,” says The Japan Times.
“Countries are exploring floating offshore wind technology and Japan is in a sense at the same level with Norway and Portugal,” which have about 2 MW of offshore wind generating capacity, Yasuhiro Matsuyama, a trade ministry official in charge of clean energy projects, told Bloomberg News.
In the U.S., Deepwater Wind broke ground (or should I say broke water) this spring on the country’s first offshore wind farm off the coast of Rhode Island. When it is finished, the five turbines will have a generating capacity of 30 MW.
Cole Mellino|June 22, 2015
Gulf Power to move toxic coal ash from Apalachicola River
The company on Wednesday settled a federal lawsuit over its storage of coal ash near the river.
Gulf Power has settled a federal lawsuit brought by three conservation groups over the company’s storage of toxic coal ash at its power plant in Sneads near the Apalachicola River.
Last year, the Apalachicola Riverkeeper, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and the Waterkeeper Alliance filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee alleging that hundreds of thousands of tons of coal ash were leaking from unlined waste lagoons on a bluff overlooking the river.
The nonprofit, public-interest law firm Earthjustice, working on behalf of the groups, sued Gulf Power after water samples showed pollutants were leaking from the lagoons into the river, in violation of the federal Clean Water Act.
Under terms of the settlement, Gulf Power agreed to dry out and remove the coal ash from the lagoons and move it to a new landfill located upland at the Scholtz Generating Plant, said Bradley Marshall, an attorney for Earthjustice. An underground wall will be built to make sure the coal ash can’t seep out and groundwater can’t get in, he said.
“What’s really important here is protecting the Apalachicola River, which is one of the most biologically diverse waterways in the country,” Marshall said.
Gulf Power agreed to try to obtain necessary permits with a year and try to complete construction within three years after that, Marshall said. The company will monitor groundwater after construction is done to make sure pollutants aren’t getting into the river. The 62-year-old power plant closed in April.
Jeff Rogers, a spokesman for Gulf Power, said the company has had groundwater monitoring in place at the plant since the mid-1980s and has always been in compliance. While he called the litigation “an unnecessary lawsuit,” he said the settlement allows Gulf Power to move ahead with permanent closure of the ash ponds as part of the plant’s retirement.
“Gulf Power will be working with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection on a plan to ensure the ponds are properly closed,” he said.
The conservation groups were concerned that earthen berms surrounding the coal ash could collapse and cause a major spill, harming the river and the estuary downstream, they said in a news release. Major environmental damage occurred in a coal-ash spill last year at the Dan River in North Carolina and in 2008 in Kingston, Tennessee.
“What we have here is 40 acres of coal ash sitting next to the Apalachicola River,” Marshall said. “And what we don’t want happening is a catastrophic spill like we saw in North Carolina and Kingston. And here Gulf has agreed to do the responsible thing and move the ash back away from the river.”
Jeff Burlew|Tallahassee Democrat|June 24, 2015
Owl Wings Inspire Quieter Wind Turbine Blades
One of the most commonly heard complaints about wind turbines is that they’re loud. Wind farms are usually built a far enough distance away from communities that the noise is negligible, but a new biomimetic technology inspired by the stealthy flight of owls could lead to wind turbines, planes and even computer fans that are virtually silent.
This is significant because not only would quieter turbines make communities more open to having them nearby, but because wind turbines are currently heavily braked in order to keep noise to a minimum, having a way to make them operate quietly could mean that the bladed could run at much higher speeds and produce more energy. In fact, average-sized wind farms could add several megawatts to their capacity.
Researchers at the University of Cambridge, have come up with a prototype coating for wind turbine blades that could make them a lot quieter and they owe the advancement to one of nature’s greatest hunters, the owl. Owls don’t only have great eyesight and sharp talons, they also employ some pretty amazing engineering in their wings that allows them to fly and dive for prey in silence.
“No other bird has this sort of intricate wing structure,” said Professor Nigel Peake of Cambridge’s Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, who led the research. “Much of the noise caused by a wing – whether it’s attached to a bird, a plane or a fan – originates at the trailing edge where the air passing over the wing surface is turbulent. The structure of an owl’s wing serves to reduce noise by smoothing the passage of air as it passes over the wing – scattering the sound so their prey can’t hear them coming.”
Peake, along with a team from Virginia Tech, Lehigh and Florida Atlantic Universities, studied owls’ flight feathers under high resolution microscopes and discovered that the wings are covered with a downy covering that resembles a forest canopy from above, a flexible comb of bristles on the leading edge, and most importantly, a porous and elastic fringe of feathers at the trailing edge that dampens sound.
The researchers then started to develop a coating that could replicate the effect of the fringe that scatters sound. They came up with a porous coating made of 3D-printed plastic. In wind tunnel tests, the coating reduced the noise generated by a wind turbine blade by 10 decibels, without affecting aerodynamics
The researchers plan to next test the coating on operational wind turbines to see if they improve the power output while keeping the noise down.
This post originally appeared on TreeHugger.
Megan Treacy|TreeHugger|June 24, 2015
Renewable Energy Responsible for First Ever Carbon Emissions Stabilization
For the first time ever, the world’s energy consumption has increased without causing an equivalent spike in carbon dioxide emissions.
Carbon emissions in 2014 remained at the previous year’s levels of 32.3 billion metric tons — a milestone that points to the impact worldwide renewable energy investment is having in the face of a 1.5 percent annual increase in global energy consumption, according to a new report from REN21. The tenth annual Renewables 2015 Global Status Report cites “increased penetration of renewable energy” and improvements in energy efficiency as the chief reasons for the noted emissions stabilization.
Renewables Capacity Beats Out Coal and Gas Combined
Among numerous findings, the report also states that renewable energy sources accounted for 59 percent of net global power capacity additions in 2014, which was more than coal and gas combined.
A total of 135 gigawatts (GW) of renewable capacity was added in 2014, bringing the running total of worldwide installed capacity to 1,712 GW. This figure represents an 8.5 percent increase over 2013 and is more than twice the capacity that existed 10 years ago. Also up is the number of countries that now have renewable energy policies in place: 164, which is 20 more countries than in 2013. In 2004, that number was only 48.
Top Global Renewable Rankings
According to the report, the top five countries with the greatest annual investment in renewable power and fuels were China, the U.S., Japan, the U.K. and Germany.
Burundi was noted as the country with the greatest per-unit GDP investment in renewable power and fuels. China ranked first in hydropower, wind power, solar PV and solar water heating capacity. The U.S. took first in CSP capacity, biodiesel and fuel ethanol production. Kenya was ranked first in geothermal power capacity.
The countries with the greatest renewable power generation in 2014 were China, the U.S., Brazil, Germany and Canada.
Global Investment Up 17 Percent
Additionally, the report shows global investment in renewable power and fuels (not counting hydropower greater than 50 megawatts) rose 17 percent between 2013 and 2014, to USD $270.2 billion. In 2004, that figure was $45 billion. The report notes the greatest spending increase occurred in China, where total renewable power and fuels buy-in made up for nearly two-thirds of all developing country investment. Solar power, with significant emphasis on solar PV, accounted for 55 percent of new investment.
A Call for an End to Fossil and Nuclear Subsidies
Not just a celebratory observance of the great gains made in recent years by renewable energy, the report also calls out continued annual subsidies for fossil fuel and nuclear energy as factors that may be stunting even greater renewable growth.
Christine Lins, Executive Secretary for REN21, stated that eliminating fossil fuel and nuclear energy subsidies would “strengthen the development and use of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies” and “make it evident that renewables are the cheapest energy option.”
The REN21 Renewables 2015 Global Status Report, which provides an in-depth look at international renewable energy investment rankings and global market trends, is available online now.
Vince Font|Contributing Editor|June 17, 2015
Judge blocks US fracking rules after petroleum groups and states object
Wyoming court suspends regulations that were due to take effect on Wednesday governing hydraulic fracturing for gas exploration on public lands
The interior department rules due to come into force on Wednesday would require companies to provide data on chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, and to take steps to prevent leakage from oil and gas wells on federally owned land.
But on Tuesday Judge Scott Skavdahl granted a stay to the new rules until 22 July, according to the Independent Petroleum Association of America, which said the judge’s decision on a preliminary injunction sought by IPAA and other opponents of the rules was now expected in mid-August.
IPAA and the Western Energy Alliance were joined by Colorado, Wyoming, North Dakota and Utah in seeking to stop the new rules from taking effect.
“We are pleased the court agreed that the new BLM regulations present serious and difficult questions that justified a stay of these rules’ effective date,” Colorado attorney general Cynthia Coffman said.
Fracking involves injection of large amounts of water, sand and chemicals underground at high pressure to extract gas. Environmental groups and some living near wells have linked the practice to water pollution and increased earthquake activity.
Industry and states producing gas and oil have long opposed federal rules on fracking. Preferring to keep regulation in state hands, IPAA and the Western Energy Alliance filed a lawsuit in the US district court in Wyoming challenging the rules minutes after they were issued in March.
The groups said the rules were “arbitrary and unnecessary”.
Wyoming and Colorado soon followed with their own lawsuit, arguing that the rules would infringe upon their sovereign authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing. North Dakota also intervened in the case against the regulations.
The groups and the states argue that allowing the rules to move forward before the resolution of the legal challenges would harm industry and waste state resources.
The interior department was not immediately available for comment on the judge’s decision.
In its brief opposing the injunction, the department argued that companies would only be affected by the rules if they chose to engage in fracking on federal lands.
Reuters in Wyoming|24 June 2015
More Floridians use solar to generate own electricity, power grid
More Floridians than ever are using renewable energy, such as solar panels to generate electricity. Customer-owned renewable energy grew 28 percent in 2014 to 8,571 systems statewide, from 6,697 in 2013, the Florida Public Service Commission said Wednesday.
Statewide, electric generation capacity from customer renewable energy systems reached 79,797 kilowatts, an increase of approximately 33 percent since last year. These are systems where a homeowner or business owner installs renewable energy equipment to meet all or part of their electricity needs, rather than purchase it from a utility.
eFlorida Power & Light Co. had 3,241 customers, including 339 in Palm Beach County, with renewable generation interconnections as of Dec 31, up from 2,565 in 2013. All of the FPL customers in Palm Beach County have solar photovoltaic systems, with two of them owning wind turbines as well.
FPL spokeswoman Alys Daly said through net-metering, customers who generate electricity into the grid are given a credit on their bill at the retail rate. At the end of the year, customers are paid at the wholesale rate for electricity they generated beyond what they used.
“Net metering was created as an energy efficiency measure so people would generate the amount of solar energy that they need as opposed to receiving a big payment at the end of the year,” Daly said. “They still have to purchase electricity from us at night or when it is cloudy.”
In 2014 FPL paid $41,458 to interconnected customers who owned renewable generation. The total paid since 2008 amounts to $120,185.
The PSC amended its rules in 2008 to promote development of customer-owned renewable generation. By making it easier and more affordable for customers to interconnect an otherwise uneconomic system with their utility’s grid, the PSC’s rules have encouraged customer use of clean renewable generation that also lowers their utility bills.
“The PSC’s commitment to energy efficiency and renewables have given important momentum to renewables in Florida,” said PSC Chairman Art Graham.
Solar photovoltaic panels continue to be the most popular renewable choice; however, use of wind turbines is also increasing.
FPL and the state’s other investor-owned utilities required to offer an expedited interconnection agreement process so that homeowners and businesses interested in generating their own energy can do so quickly.
Every Florida municipal and cooperative that sells electricity at retail is required, by statute, to provide a standardized interconnection agreement and net metering program for customer-owned renewable generation systems.
Susan Salisbury|Staff Writer|Palm Beach Post|June 25, 2015
Solar Thermal Desalination Now Underway in Water-hungry California
As droughts continue to worsen worldwide, a project in California is using solar power to bring water to desperate agricultural lands.
Regional droughts are being exacerbated by climate change, which is mostly caused by what is tasked with bailing them out — fossil fuels. Israel, Australia, and now southern California have all turned to expensive energy-guzzling seawater desalination projects after historic droughts.
The controversial Carlsbad desalination project’s latest projected cost is now $1 billion. It will suck in 100 million gallons of San Diego’s seawater a day and force it through a series of filters to produce 50 million gallons of water a day using high-pressure reverse osmosis.
A modest solar thermal desalination alternative now quietly undergoing permitting inland would produce 5 million gallons of water, about one tenth of that of Carlsbad, but at a much lower cost of just $30 million, using a solar distillation process.
WaterFX will use a 24-MW trough-type solar thermal field supplied by NREL-collaborator SkyFuel to create direct steam from the sun to run multi-effect distillation, desalinating enough agricultural water for reuse to keep 2,000 acres of farmland irrigated each year.
WaterFX Chairman Aaron Mandell, who previously founded Oasys Water, a Massachusetts provider of desalination and water-treatment technologies, said he focused on reusing agricultural drainage water because agriculture is California’s biggest water user. Selenium and other natural agricultural salts build up in soil, eventually making farming impossible.
“The agricultural sector uses about 80 percent of all the water in California,” Mandell explained. “If only 20 percent of the water is being used for municipalities, and you reduce that water consumption by 50 percent, you’ve only made a 10 percent impact overall. Reducing agricultural use has a much bigger impact.”
Last year WaterFX completed a six-month demonstration project that convinced the Panoche Water District to go ahead with the commercial plant. “The water district has been monitoring the pilot project and they’re very happy with the results,” Mandell said.
WaterFX founders initially leveraged their extensive backgrounds in water treatment engineering to build a demo of their Concentrated Solar Still.
Once permitted and built in 2016, Panoche Water District will purchase the water by the acre-foot to sell to the parched farms both in its own and neighbouring water districts. WaterFX proved in its performance test that it can produce desalinated water competitively priced against the cost of surface water.
It will produce 2 million gallons a day in the first phase, then extend the solar field to to produce enough steam to supply 5 million gallons a day.
WaterFX uses thermal desalination, which leaves only about 7 gallons of highly concentrated brine per 100 gallons of intake water.
The Central Valley has ancient seafloor containing minerals and metals that are in the ground naturally, but as the fresh water is being used up, the sediment is concentrated.
This semi-solid brine of naturally occurring salts, which includes gypsum that is used in construction, boron, and selenium that is used in semiconductors, is worth millions, according to Mandell.
“We can actually separate and refine certain components for resale,” he says.
Thermal desalination is an ideal application for concentrated solar power (CSP), which turns sunlight to thermal energy. Unlike most CSP, which is used to ultimately drive a steam turbine to generate electricity, in solar desalination the steam is used directly in a solar still to simply evaporate out the waste.
WaterFX contracted with SkyFuel, the manufacturer of the SkyTrough, to supply both the tracking system and the half-megawatt parabolic trough solar collectors.
SkyFuel manufactures their own lightweight flexible mirror film on 5-ft wide rolls that can slide into position in their 20-ft wide lightweight parabolic trough frame units. Their patented film (ReflecTech) is much lighter and cheaper than the heavy segmented glass mirrors used in parabolic trough CSP, but is equally efficient. A thin layer of pure silver on the flexible aluminum sheet is protected from the sun by layers of polymers.
The solar collecting area and desalination plant would occupy about 1 acre for each 40 acres of farmland it can supply with irrigation.
Distributed Solar Desalination for a Drier Future
By contracting with water districts for a series of smaller and less expensive distributed solar desalination projects, Mandell sees a faster path through permitting than Carlsbad’s, once his initial 24-MW project is approved.
“Solar thermal desalination has really never been done before and we are going through right now exactly what permits are required as first-of-its-kind,” Mandell said.
There are also some special approvals required to produce extra water and put it into the California aqueduct system. But, once the first solar thermal desalination facility is operating, the inland empire contains no shortage of customers for the future. California is the fruit basket for the nation. Climate scientists have long predicted a drier future over the longer term for the region.
“We deal with farmers who have suffered substantial yield losses just due to the low quality of the groundwater, and they have to pump from deeper and deeper depths as the water table gets drawn down,” Mandell said. “They are in pretty dire straits. They are now having their second year in history of zero water allocation.”
WaterFX expects its second solar thermal desalination plant to be approved this year and operate in 2016.
Susan Kraemer|Correspondent|June 23, 2015
Who is Protecting Florida’s State Parks?
The people of Florida take great pride in their state parks. They are the heart of what makes Florida special.
The Florida Park Service has managed Florida’s state parks for 80 years. The agency is directed “to acquire typical portions of the original domain of such character as to emblemize the state’s natural values and conserve those values — for all time.” (62D FAC) This is interpreted to mean that representative examples of original natural Florida will be restored and managed as they appeared when Europeans arrived in 1513, to the extent possible.
Thanks to the vision and dedication of our park rangers and biologists, Floridians can observe what Florida looked like when the state’s history was being made. They can visit Ichetucknee Springs State Park, near Lake City, to experience the springs as Hernando DeSoto did when he was there in 1539. At Manatee Spring State Park, near Chiefland, they can see the natural landscape that naturalist William Bartram described in 1774, and they can visit Torreya State Park, in Liberty County, to witness the natural conditions that General Andrew Jackson experienced there in 1818 during the First Seminole War. No other state has managed their state parks with this extraordinary vision.
Men and women of foresight restored these parks in decades past that were enjoyed by over 27 million Floridians and tourists last year. This is the premier state park system in the United States having won the national state parks Gold Medal Award on three occasions. If there was ever a case of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” this is a prime example.
The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) which oversees the Florida Park Service is responsible for the protection of Florida’s state parks. The state parks have been a single-use agency for 80 years but now DEP intends to manage the parks under a multiple-use philosophy which means practically any activity is permissible as long as it generates more revenue. This includes such activities as logging and livestock grazing. This will be the most significant change affecting our state parks since the state park system was established in 1935. DEP plans to convert 10 square miles of Myakka River State Park into a cattle ranch. Privatization and multiple-use in one of Florida’s oldest and most popular state parks. Who will protect our state parks from such ill-conceived uses?
Florida’s state parks are to Florida what the national parks are to the nation. No one would think of cutting forests or grazing livestock in a national park. It is equally unthinkable that natural forests would be cut in a Florida state park so as to increase revenue. Thankfully, we do not expect public schools, public health and art and history museums to pay their own way. State Parks are living natural museums where we can experience remnants of Florida as they were when the Seminoles lived here. The parks provide 77% of their costs— the most ever. Is that not enough? The DEP secretary told a senate committee that he intends to make the parks 100% self-supporting. Our state parks are special places of importance to thousands of Floridians and they react strongly when their parks are threatened by special interests. It is foolish for DEP to slap this hornet’s nest.
There is no other natural landscape like Florida; however, DEP executives would alter our parks for profit, making them merely Anyplace Else USA. Park rangers and biologists have been sensitively restoring and managing state parks for decades for the enjoyment of Floridians and tourists but not to have them damaged by heavy equipment, chain saws and cattle hooves. Such practices would demonstrate a complete lack of sensitivity to the values of our state parks. Tree stumps, logging truck roads, manure and cell towers may be deemed acceptable on other state lands but they are not acceptable in our state parks. If you have a favorite state park, prepare to fight for it because It is at risk.
It is hypocritical to boast of eliminating thousands of state employees and then criticizing state agencies for not getting their job done? Government designed to fail. Two of the finest springs in the world, Silver Springs and Weeki Wachee Spring, were degraded into honky-tonk tourist attractions by corporations in pursuit of profits. Now they are state parks and the Florida Park Service is left with the task of removing dilapidated structures, acres of asphalt and healing the wounds from decades of abuse, the result of managing our natural treasures like a business.
There is also a myth that some of our state park lands are locked-up denying public access. The park service is very experienced at balancing recreation and preservation. Lands that are not protected from unsupervised use will be seriously degraded. Florida’s state land managers are among the best in the nation. The governor and cabinet have presented the Resource Manager of the Year Award to 22 state park land managers during the past 22 years to commend their good work.
The people of Florida expect the governor and legislature to support the Florida Park Service in doing what it does best, the sensitive, professional management of our state parks—–the Real Florida.
Jim A. Stevenson|Chief Naturalist of Florida’s state parks, 1969-1989|Retired DEP Senior Biologist.
Environmental group Earthjustice is suing the Florida Legislature and its leaders over their budget’s use of money set aside for conservation by Amendment 1.
The lawsuit filed in Leon County on Monday against Senate President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli alleges that almost half of the Amendment 1 money in the budget is being used for purposes that aren’t permitted under state law.
“The Legislature did not do what the amendment requires,” Florida Wildlife Federation president Manley Fuller said in a statement. “Seventy-five percent of Florida voters approved this amendment last November, and they were clear that they want the state to buy conservation land. Instead, the Legislature took the money and used it for things it should not be spent on. This is a slap in the face to Florida voters, and it should not stand.”
The issue has drawn significant controversy since 75 percent of voters supported Amendment 1 last November. The amendment directs more than $700 million to be spent on conservation.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Florida Wildlife Federation, the St. Johns Riverkeeper, and the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida.
Michael Auslen, Staff Writer|Tampa Bay Times|June 22, 2015
5 new national parks for the Bahamas
Five new National Parks have been established in the Bahamas as part of an expansion of the Bahamas National Protected Area System.The new parks, situated on San Salvador island, encompass 8,500 ha of pristine land and seascapes, including all or part of the island’s four Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs). Two of the five new parks are recognised as Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) due to the occurrence of a threatened endemic iguana species.
San Salvador is well-known for its birdlife, and in particular, its abundance and high diversity of seabirds. The island hosts 14 of the 17 seabird species that breed in the Bahamas, the largest diversity of breeding seabirds in this area. It is also home to a number of globally threatened species, including the Endangered San Salvador Rock Iguana, endemic to the island and with fewer than 600 individuals remaining. An endemic (and threatened) race of the West Indian Woodpecker is found only here and on Abaco island.
Due to the island’s small size and isolation, the key habitats of San Salvador are extremely vulnerable to man-made influences. However, large areas of these habitats are now contained by the five new parks. Graham’s Harbour Iguana and Seabird National Park and the Southern Great Lake National Park are internationally recognized as IBAs and KBAs, and between them embrace an extensive mangrove system, important nesting seabird populations and populations of the San Salvador rock iguana, in addition to healthy reef systems and seagrass beds. The three other new parks also protect key habitats, including tidal creeks, and a reef system home to the Critically Endangered hawksbill turtle, and a migratory route for humpback whales. It is hoped that the designation of these five new parks will help to prevent habitat and animal disturbance, and wildlife trafficking of threatened species.
“We are especially pleased with the tremendous amount of expressed and documented community support for these parks,” said Eric Carey, Executive Director of the Bahamas National Trust. “We are thrilled to see the results of all of our joint efforts, including that of other NGOs, come to fruition through this momentous declaration by the government.”
Grand Canyon joins list of endangered historic places
Each year, the National Trust for Historic Preservation names its 11 most-endangered historic places in America, often selecting neighborhoods, landmarks and even sports arenas. But for 2015, one of the nation’s most iconic natural attractions, the Grand Canyon, makes the list. Citing development pressures from tourism and mining, the National Trust deemed the Grand Canyon to be “at risk of destruction or irreparable damage.”
The nonprofit National Trust, which has been doing the list since 1988, says the “designation has been a powerful tool for raising awareness and rallying resources to save endangered sites.”
America’s11 most-endangered historic places for 2015:
A.G. Gaston Motel — Birmingham, Alabama. Now vacant and badly deteriorating, this motel played host to Martin Luther King Jr. and served as a “war room” for leaders of the Civil Rights Movement.
Carrollton Courthouse — New Orleans.
Built to serve Jefferson Parish before the city of Carrollton was annexed by New Orleans in 1874, this is one of the most significant landmarks outside of the French Quarter. After decades of use as a school building, it is now vacant and for sale with no preservation protections in place.
Chautauqua Amphitheater — Chautauqua, New York. A beloved National Historic Landmark that has occupied a special place in American culture for well over 100 years, the “Amp” is threatened by the Chautauqua Institution’s plans to demolish it.
East Point Historic Civic Block — East Point, Georgia. East Point City Hall, City Auditorium, City Library and Victory Park form a contiguous block that has been the heart of downtown East Point since the 1930s, but is suffering a potential fate of demolition by neglect.
Fort Worth Stockyards — Fort Worth. This district attracts millions of visitors each year to experience Fort Worth’s emergence as a center of the American livestock industry. A large redevelopment project would forever alter its character.
The Grand Canyon — Arizona. A beloved international icon and a sacred place for several Native American tribes, the Grand Canyon is threatened by development proposals ranging from tourist resorts to mining.
Little Havana — Miami. A symbol of the immigrant experience, Little Havana is threatened by zoning changes and lack of protection for its many historic buildings.
Oak Flat — Superior, Arizona. A sacred site to several Native American tribes, Oak Flat is threatened because of a land exchange provision included in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015 that would open the site up to mining.
Old U.S. Mint — San Francisco. A National Historic Landmark built in 1874 and one of the very few downtown buildings to survive the 1906 earthquake and fire, the Old U.S. Mint is increasingly at risk from decades of neglect.
South Street Seaport — New York.
The South Street Seaport features some of the oldest architecture in the city. A tower and other development proposals threaten to dramatically alter a historic neighborhood.
The Factory — West Hollywood, California. The Factory was built in 1929 to house the Mitchell Camera Corp. After being adapted to serve many other uses, The Factory re-opened in 1974 as Studio One, an influential disco for gay men that became a hotbed for celebrity performances and AIDS activism. It is threatened by a development proposal.
BEN ABRAMSON|USA TODAY
Perspective: How much land to protect?
Bluehead Ranch, one of the many currently unprotected Florida Forever projects, is important for protecting the headwaters of Fisheating Creek, the health of Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades, habitat for Florida panther and Florida black bear. It is one of the largest remaining private expanses of dry prairie, an endangered ecosystem supporting many listed species, left in Florida.
When it comes to conserving Florida’s natural and rural lands, a simple question arises – how much is enough? How much land needs to be protected to save Florida’s ecosystems?
The short answer? More than is currently protected. The long answer? It’s complicated, so keep reading.
The issue takes on added importance as the Legislature decides how to spend Amendment 1 money. Supporters of the measure, which passed with 75 percent of the vote, say they intended that the money from documentary stamp revenue would be used to acquire important conservation land (or its development rights) to protect it from development.
But some politicians claim that Florida already has enough conservation land or that there isn’t a plan for additional protection needs. They are wrong on both counts.
Florida currently has about 10 million acres, or 29 percent, of its land in protected public and private lands managed compatibly with conservation, with the majority of it in vast acreages of wetlands and federal lands including Everglades National Park and Florida’s many military reservations.
Protecting almost all Florida Forever lands on the current project list would add an additional 2 million acres and raise the protected percentage to approximately 35 percent. But Florida’s extensive research on conservation priorities makes it very clear that additional land protection beyond current Florida Forever projects is essential for achieving our conservation goals.
These are not wild-eyed guesses. For more than three decades, Florida has led the nation in science-based conservation planning regarding identifying the areas most important for protecting Florida’s biodiversity and ecosystems.
Floridians and our political leaders need to keep in mind that protecting our green infrastructure is just as important as providing and maintaining our gray infrastructure, that is, our transportation, residential, commercial and industrial land uses and systems. Green infrastructure is a collective term encompassing the knowledge that biodiversity produces services including clean and sufficient surface water, water recharge, storm protection, flood control, clean air, food and fiber, fish and shellfish production, and nature-based recreation worth billions of dollars every year.
Through cooperative efforts among state universities, state agencies, conservation organizations and private landowners, we have engaged in a series of scientific assessments over the years to identify Florida’s biodiversity and ecosystem conservation priorities. This conservation science and planning coincided with both the start of Florida’s growth management efforts and Florida’s two land conservation programs, Preservation 2000 and Florida Forever. Both programs were heavily influenced by Florida’s wealth of conservation science expertise and collectively protected more than 2 million acres of land from 1990 until 2009.
Though those acres represent very important progress toward achieving the goal of protecting Florida’s conservation priority areas, the science makes clear that there are still many unprotected acres essential for conservation and to sustain human populations. This includes the 2 million acres of land still waiting on the Florida Forever list, and many additional high-priority areas identified as essential for wildlife habitat, wildlife corridors and natural resources including our water supply.
So where does this put us regarding the future of Florida conservation and the claim that Florida already has “enough” conservation lands? And how does it relate to scientific estimates of land needed to effectively protect biodiversity and ecosystem services? Or, in other words, “How much is enough”? Scientists have been investigating this question for at least the last half-century, and the research and discussion continue to be better informed as conservation science continues to advance.
“How much is enough?” depends on a number of factors including geography, climate, habitat diversity, endemism (species found only within a specified region and not anywhere else, and parts of Florida are important centers of endemism), and level of conversion to development.
In short, the answer could be any where from 25 percent to 75 percent of a state or region, though this collective body of work has also suggested that approximately 50 percent of a region’s land in conservation (this includes a range of lands from natural to working landscapes such as ranches and silviculture) is a general benchmark for sufficient protection of our natural resources and to sustain human populations.
As a starting point, we need to use Amendment 1 to revitalize the funding of our landmark Florida Forever program. There is no legitimate, science-based or economic argument against returning Florida Forever to a minimum annual funding of $300 million a year. At current land prices and $300 million a year, Florida Forever might protect approximately 750,000 acres per decade, though protected acres would diminish as land prices continue to increase. That means we have many decades ahead of conservation land protection to achieve our science-based conservation goals.
In addition, the majority of our future conservation land protection can be done using conservation easements (selling development rights), which keeps the land in private hands where the landowner is responsible for management. And Florida Forever is a willing seller program, which means instead of attempting to rely on regulations to protect ecosystems, landowners voluntarily agree to sell their land or the development rights on their land to protect its conservation values.
Florida Forever and similar programs like the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program are by far the most effective tools we have to ensure functional ecosystems are protected. This is especially true now that Florida’s growth management program has been largely dismantled, while Florida is now again growing at the rate of over 350,000 people per year and losing at least 75,000 acres of rural land to new intensive development per year.
The overwhelming message from Floridian voters’ approval of Amendment 1 is that they see these same trends and want a very strong conservation land protection effort to ensure that Florida’s most important lands for conservation are protected before they are lost to development. Now the Legislature needs to listen and act accordingly.
Tom Hoctor|special to the Tampa Bay Times|April 23, 2015
Modifications to Settlement with Alabama Power Company Will Reduce Harmful Air Pollution
WASHINGTON — EPA and the U.S. Department of Justice today lodged in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama a proposed modification of a prior 2006 consent decree with Alabama Power Company that will secure further reductions of harmful air pollutants, primarily sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx), from three of the company’s coal-fired power plants in Alabama. The proposed modifications, if entered by the court, will resolve the remaining claims in a long-running case that alleged violations of the Clean Air Act’s New Source Review program.
The pollution reductions will be achieved through operation of state-of-the-art pollution control devices, the conversion of four units from the use of coal to natural gas, and the retirement of three other units. Among other requirements, the company must meet specified emission rates. Alabama Power will also pay a $100,000 penalty and will spend at least $1.5 million on providing electrical charging infrastructure for electric airport service vehicles and passenger cars. This settlement is part of EPA’s national enforcement initiative to control harmful emissions from large sources of pollution, which includes coal-fired power plants, under the Clean Air Act’s Prevention of Significant Deterioration requirements.
“This action secures reductions of harmful air pollution at Alabama Power Company’s coal-fired power plants across the state,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “This is important progress toward our commitment to cut emissions from the largest sources, and means cleaner air and improved public health for communities across Alabama.”
For more information about EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance:
Plastic garbage in the ocean is mysteriously disappearing
Scientists theorize that the plastic is being broken down into tiny, undetectable particles or that it is being carried into the deep ocean.
A vast amount of the plastic garbage littering the surface of the ocean may be disappearing, a new study suggests.
Exactly what is happening to this ocean debris is a mystery, though the researchers hypothesize that the trash could be breaking down into tiny, undetectable pieces. Alternatively, the garbage may be traveling deep into the ocean’s interior.
“The deep ocean is a great unknown,” study co-author Andrés Cózar, an ecologist at the University of Cadiz in Spain, said in an email. “Sadly, the accumulation of plastic in the deep ocean would be modifying this mysterious ecosystem – the largest of the world – before we can know it.”
Researchers drew their conclusion about the disappearing trash by analyzing the amount of plastic debris floating in the ocean, as well as global plastic production and disposal rates. [Photos: Trash Litters Deep Ocean]
Age of plastic
The modern period has been dubbed the Plastic Age. As society produces more and more of the material, storm water runoff carries more and more of the detritus of modern life into the ocean. Ocean currents, acting as giant conveyer belts, then carry the plastic into several subtropical regions, such as the infamous Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch.
In the 1970s, the National Academy of Sciences estimated that about 45,000 tons of plastic reaches the oceans every year. Since then, the world’s production of plastic has quintupled.
Cózar and his colleagues wanted to understand the size and extent of the ocean’s garbage problem. The researchers circumnavigated the globe in a ship called the Malaspina in 2010, collecting surface water samples and measuring plastic concentrations. The team also analyzed data from several other expeditions, looking at a total of 3,070 samples.
What they found was strange. Despite the drastic increase in plastic produced since the 1970s, the researchers estimated there were between 7,000 and 35,000 tons of plastic in the oceans. Based on crude calculations, there should have been millions of tons of garbage in the oceans.
Because each large piece of plastic can break down into many additional, smaller pieces of plastic, the researchers expected to find more tiny pieces of debris. But the vast majority of the small plastic pieces, measuring less than 0.2 inches (5 millimeters) in size, were missing, Cózar said.
So what exactly is happening to the debris?
One possibility is that it is being broken down into tiny, undetectable particles, whose impact on the ocean is unknown. Another possibility is that it is being carried into the deep ocean.
Whether that’s good or bad isn’t clear.
Less trash at the surface may mean less wildlife comes into contact with plastic.
“The plastic pollution in surface waters can more easily interact with the ocean life, because the surface layer of the ocean hosts most of the marine organisms,” Cózar said.
On the other hand, small fish – particularly lanternfishes – may be eating some of these small plastic pieces, dubbed microplastics, and breaking them down even more. Because small fish are the ecological link between plankton and small vertebrates, and because commercial fish such as swordfish and tuna eat these small fish, it’s important to understand whether the absorption of toxins from the plastic will impact these animals’ health, he said.
The findings were published on June 30 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
4 Reasons Recycling Is Getting More Expensive (and Why it Matters)
The Washington Post printed a great article this past weekend alerting readers to a frightening trend: recycling is getting more expensive. Whereas recycling companies used to earn notable profits from their businesses, most of them are currently operating at a loss, even with some assistance from local tax dollars. What’s changed? Here are four big issues that have made recycling more expensive:
1. Going Rates for Recyclables Are Down
Recycling companies used to make a good amount of profit by selling recycled goods to manufacturers. The demand for these products has shrunk, however, as have the prices. Paper, for example, sold to China for $1,000 per metric ton five years ago. China is only willing to pay $400 for the same amount now. Not only that, but it can afford to be more selective in the product it chooses to buy. By demanding a pure product, that puts more burden on recycling companies to sort out all the extra stuff, thereby increasing costs to run the business all the while making less off of it.
With recycling companies selling recycled goods for roughly half the cost they did a few years ago, that’s leaving a lot of companies losing money.
2. There’s No Need to Sort
In the early days of recycling, Americans had to compartmentalize their recycling. I can recall my mother setting out separate containers for newspapers, cans and plastics. Nowadays, however, I’m able to throw all of those things into my one recycling bin. The reason for this shift is the notion that people will recycle more if it’s easier for them to do so. Recycling centers correctly wagered they’d get more product if they agreed to take over sorting duties.
The process and machinery necessary to sort recyclables is expensive. When prices for these items were higher, it made sense for the companies to eat the cost of sorting. Now that the prices are down, though, recycling companies make less money while still paying the same lofty amount to do the sorting. In the long run, this method will not prove profitable and, consequently, Americans might be asked to resume sorting duties again somewhere down the line.
3. The Bin Is Too Large
In addition to ditching sorting requirements, the bin also has grown significantly larger over the years. Again, recycling companies correctly figured they’d get more recyclables when they gave Americans more space in which to put it, but that has also introduced a new set of problems.
For starters, Americans rarely break down larger items like cardboard boxes like they used to. With all that extra space, boxes and the like fit easily into the bin without the effort. Unfortunately, that means the recycling companies have to take on that additional labor once it arrives, adding to their costs.
Secondly, large bins have ultimately encouraged a lot of “experimentation” on the part of consumers. With limited space, recyclers would put what they know for sure belongs in the recycling, while ample room has prompted many recyclers to put things in that really don’t belong in there “just in case.” Recycling companies must then take on the costs of sorting out the unusable trash.
4. Products Are Getting Thinner
To cut costs of their own, manufacturers have found ways to make their packaging smaller, lighter and thinner. From tin cans to cardboard boxes, just about everything is a little more compact than it was before the turn of the decade.
All of that is actually a boon for the environment overall. Not only does this require less resources to product, lighter products require less oil (and ultimately release less carbon emissions) to ship around the world. Nevertheless, recycling companies still come out the loser in this situation. Since they sell recycled goods to company by weight, lighter products means less of it to sell. When harvesting plastic, recycling companies now need 36 water bottles to get the same weight of plastic it got from just 22 bottles not too many years ago.
It’s worth noting that these downsides are all about the immediate financial hardships on recycling companies. Considering the bigger picture, recycling is a still a smart investment in the environment, and the long-term costs of not conserving resources and unnecessarily overfilling landfills will be immeasurable.
Still, it’s important to recognize that recycling companies are having difficulty making ends meet. Since immediate financial concerns often take precedent over what’s good for the planet decades from now, we’re likely to see recycling plants close unless things turn around. That’s unfortunate because, no matter the cost, what we really can’t afford is to not be good at recycling at this stage in human consumption.
Kevin Mathews|June 23, 2015
Palau Authorities Burn Vietnamese Illegal Fishing Boats Saying ‘We Will Not Tolerate Poachers in Our Ocean’
According to the Office of the President, today Palau authorities burned four Vietnamese “Blue Boat” vessels that were caught fishing illegally off of Kayangel Island. The unauthorized boats were discovered in a protected area with over 8 metric tons of sea cucumbers and reef fish on board. The fishing crew of 77 men will be loaded onto two unburned Blue Boats with enough fuel and provisions to get back to Vietnam. Since 2014, 15 Blue Boats from Vietnam have been captured stealing more than 25 metric tons of Palau’s marine species for the black market in Asia.
Palau authorities burned four Vietnamese “Blue Boat” vessels that were caught fishing illegally off of Kayangel Island. Photo credit: Jeff Barabe
“We have a simple message for those who try to steal Palau’s marine resources: We will not tolerate poachers in our ocean. Palau is working with our military, diplomacy, and NGO partners from around the world to get tough on illegal fishers and protect our food security,” said President Tommy E. Remengesau Jr. “When the Palau National Marine Sanctuary becomes law, it will be even easier to deter, detect, and interdict pirate fishing. Palau is simply no longer an option when it comes to poaching. This message goes to the captain and crews of these vessels. Palau guarantees, you will return with nothing. Captains will be prosecuted and jailed. Boats will be burned. Nothing will be gained from poaching in Palau. From one fisherman to another, respect Palau.”
“Illegal fishing is a major threat to Palau, given its location as a critical gateway to the Pacific,” said Seth Horstmeyer of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Global Ocean Legacy program. “With a no-tolerance policy and growing enforcement capabilities, illegal fishing will be stopped in Palau.”
As the new enforcement strategy is implemented, Palau will continue to strengthen its response to illegal fishing regardless of scale. On Jan. 26, Palau Marine Law Enforcement, in partnership with Pew, used Automatic Identification System (AIS) tracking to successfully apprehend a Taiwanese longline vessel suspected of unauthorized fishing activity. The vessel was found with 304 shark carcasses and several hundred shark fins on board, and was required to pay a $100,000 fine. Penalties will become significantly higher and punishment more strict when the Palau National Marine Sanctuary is launched.
Worldwide, Pew estimates that illegal fishers steal up to 108,000 pounds of fish from the ocean every minute, which averages to approximately 1 in 5 fish caught in the wild. These activities threaten the health of the ocean, the livelihoods of legitimate fishers and food security for island nations.
The Pew Charitable Trusts|June 12, 2015
Donald Featherstone, the New England artist who unleashed the national icon otherwise known as the (plastic) pink flamingo on the world in 1957, has passed away following a long illness. He was 79.
Garamba Park ranger, Jean-Marie Kpionyeslinani, and two members of the Congolese armed forces who were assisting with anti-poaching patrols in the park; Corporal Kambale Musubao and Lieutenant Moise Mospado.
Dr. Mar Cano, conservation hero and one of Sahara Conservation Fund’s founding members.
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