We never know the worth of water till the well is dry. ~Thomas Fuller, 1732
Welcome our new Executive Director, Waterkeeper
The Bay has a new advocate!
Please join us in welcoming our newly appointed Waterkeeper and Executive Director, Rachel Silverstein.
Rachel joined us in June and has already jumped into advocacy for our Bay.
Since Rachel took the helm, she has successfully led BBWK’s latest Deep Dredge legal battle against the Army Corps of Engineers.
BBWK’s suit aims to protect Biscayne Bay and our local, threatened corals from irreparable harm.
Rachel has also given BBWK a fresh look with an updated website and new logo.
Rachel will be expanding BBWK’s current focus areas with new programs that center around three core issues impacting our Bay:
clean water, ecosystem protection, and sea-level rise. We’re excited about what’s next!
Your full-time Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper is part investigator, scientist, educator, and advocate, functioning as a public spokesperson for our Bay,
protecting your right to clean water and empowering you to defend your waterways too!
Learn more about Rachel’s vision for BBWK and check out our new look online at: www.bbwk.org.
The Save Vanishing Species stamp is now on sale at post offices and online. Proceeds support a range of international wildlife conservation efforts.
The stamp, which features an Amur tiger cub, is the result of a 10-year effort begun and led by WWF,
in partnership with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the US Postal Service and other international conservation organizations.
How can a stamp make a difference?
The stamp is important to wildlife because all proceeds raised from the premium will go to the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Multinational Species Conservation Funds,
which support efforts to protect wild populations of tigers, rhinos, elephants, great apes and sea turtles.
These efforts include
work to help combat poaching
education for local communities about the value of conserving wildlife
The stamp, which costs sixty cents, could generate millions of dollars for international wildlife conservation without any additional cost to US taxpayers.
When you head to the post office to mail cards and packages or buy postage online, look for the Save Vanishing Species stamp!
Hog Island Audubon Camp Early Bird Registration Ends December 15th
The Early-bird deadline for camp is quickly approaching.
Hog Island Audubon Camp offers six-day programs for adults, teens and families.
Individuals who sign up for one of Hog Island’s birding and nature programs by December 15th
will receive $50 off the price of enrolling by using the EARLYBIRD code during checkout.
What’s great about 2015?
Hands-on instructors include returning favorites Steve Kress, Scott Weidensaul, and Pete Dunne.
Also joining us for Joy of Birding is seven-time Grammy winner Paul Winter.
Check to see who is coming to lead your desired session and watch for new instructors to be announced.
Looking for something new? Breaking Into Birding will be perfect for entry level birders.
For those seeking advanced skills in bird banding and bird song recording we have the new Hands-on Bird Science program.
Stop by the Hog Island website to register now for these and other exciting programs.
ARTHUR R. MARSHALL LOXAHATCHEE NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
Ask the Manager – Everything You Wanted to Know!
Wednesday, December 17, 2:30 p.m.
Refuge Manager Rolf Olson will be hosting his first ever “Ask the Manager” meeting on December 17 in the Visitor Center auditorium.
Here is your chance to interact with Refuge Management, provide your ideas and ask any questions that you might have about the Refuge.
Tram Tours of the Marsh
Monday, December 15, 10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Every Wednesday, 1:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. except December 10
Thursday, December 11, 10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Thursday, December 18, 10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
Take a Tram tour of the marsh with our volunteer naturalist, who will take you from the Visitor Center to the boat ramp to the LILA impoundments,
then back through the C10 impoundment and the Marsh Trail, across to the Arthur R. Marshall kiosk and back to the Visitor Center.
Your guide will talk about the Refuge, its birds and other wildlife, the ongoing research in the mini-Everglades impoundments of LILA,
and answer all your questions in the comfort of your shaded electric tram.
RESERVATIONS REQUIRED. Call the Visitor Center at 561-734-8303.
Guided Canoe Trips
Saturday, December 13, 8:00 a.m. – 10:15 a.m.
Saturday, December 27, 8:00 a.m. – 10:15 a.m.
Meet at the Lee Road Boat Ramp to enjoy a beautiful canoe tour through a portion of the Refuge interior.
You may rent a canoe for $32 from Loxahatchee Canoeing or bring your own. (One canoe seats 2 to 3 people.)
RESERVATIONS REQUIRED. Call the Visitor Center at 561-734-8303.
Night Prowl Everglades Tour
Monday, December 22, 6:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Meet at the Visitor Center at 6:30 p.m. for a guided night prowl of the Everglades.
With the new moon just setting, the starry skies should be spectacular.
Wear long-sleeved shirt, long pants, closed-toed and heeled good walking shoes and bring a jacket, water, a good flashlight and bug spray.
RESERVATIONS REQUIRED – PLEASE CALL 734-8303. Attendance is limited to 15 people; call to reserve your spot.
For more information, contact Lew Hecker at firstname.lastname@example.org
Flora and Fauna of the Refuge
Saturday, December 6, 1:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.
Sunday, December 7, 1:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.
Sunday, December 14, 1:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.
See lots of wonderful photos and learn about flora and fauna of the Refuge from our expert naturalist in the Visitor Center auditorium.
Each session will be different, so come out and enjoy them all!
Guided Bird, Butterfly and Wildflower Walks
Every Friday, 9:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Join our volunteer naturalist for an early morning nature walk and see how many birds and other critters you can spot.
Learn about our migratory and year-round residents of the Refuge and their habitat.
Your guide will discuss the marsh ecology, answer your questions and identify the birds, butterflies, plants, reptiles and anything else you might find along the way.
Meet in the Marsh Trail parking lot.
Early Morning Bird Walks on the Marsh Trail
Every Wednesday and Saturday, 7:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.
Join a volunteer naturalist for an early morning bird walk on the Marsh Trail. Meet in the Marsh Trail parking lot.
Every Monday and Thursday, 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Meet a naturalist for a guided tour of the Cypress Swamp Boardwalk.
Learn about the swamp ecosystem from cypress tree knees to animals that call the swamp home.
Meet at the pavilion behind the Visitor Center.
Roving Naturalist on Cypress Swamp Boardwalk
Every Tuesday, 1:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m., except December 2
Every Saturday, 9:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
A volunteer naturalist will be strolling around the Cypress Swamp Boardwalk, answering questions and discussing flora and fauna of the swamp.
Roving Naturalist on Marsh Trail
Every Saturday, 9:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
A volunteer naturalist will be strolling around the Marsh Trail, discussing the marsh ecology, answering questions and identifying birds, butterflies, plants, reptiles and anything else you might find along the way.
*** Programs subject to change, for more information on any of the activities and programs, please call the Visitor Center at (561) 734-8303.
Events are listed on the Friends website at loxahatcheefriends.com/events/events.shtml
You can strike out in any direction to shake down your holiday eating – sandy shore, neighborhood sidewalk, regional park or urban green space.
But if you have northern relatives here for a short duration or haven’t been out for yourself in a while, consider a visit to the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.
This Collier County gem was saved 60 years ago from the clutches of Lee-Tidewater Cypress Company, a logging operation intent on converting the world’s last expanse of virgin bald cypress into post-war lumber.
By the late 1940s, threats to the swamp weren’t a new phenomenon:
A warden was patrolling in the early 1900s to protect the largest wood stork rookery in the world, as well as showier wading birds that were slaughtered for their plumes for fancy hats.
But it was the logging of centuries-old, goliath trees that caused the National Audubon Society and a stream of others to raise the support necessary to purchase the invaluable stand.
By Dec. 15, 1954, 2,880 acres were secured-with 640 old-growth acres a gift from the logging company.
The “Corkscrew rookery” became Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, with Audubon warden Henry (Hank) P. Bennett guiding visitors on canoe excursions through the lettuce lakes.
Around 1957, a boardwalk was completed and a chickee hut welcomed intrepid visitors, who arrived via a 4-wheel drive down the dirt-road entrance.
Today, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary encompasses more than 13,000 acres, with the 2.25-mile boardwalk and the Blair Audubon Center the centerpiece of what’s often called the crown jewel of National Audubon Society’s environmental centers.
“Every day throughout the swamp, amazing scenes unfold. With patience, luck and silence, I’ve had the opportunity to see enough to be amazed,” says Sanctuary director Jason Lauritsen.
He recounts moments of deep connection with the ecosystem: “It’s hard to beat standing statuesque in a foot of water in the heart of the bald cypress forest as four dozen raucous wading birds forage on a dense concentration of fish while four otters engage in carefree play, or laying prone on an old logging trail eye-to-eye with a bobcat as he walks within 20 feet of me, casting a casual but lingering glance, or to witness thousands of diminutive tree swallows descending feverishly en masse on a wax myrtle bush, so oblivious to my presence that I could have reached out and touched them.”
The Corkscrew Watershed is part of the Western Everglades, and while it’s still home to the nation’s largest nesting colony of federally endangered wood storks, the watershed also is connected to the Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve and Delnor-Wiggins State Park, and the Estero, Imperial and Cocohatchee rivers along the way. It’s also connected with water quality and wildlife habitat at the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge and the Big Cypress National Preserve.
Currently, Lauritsen says, Audubon is focusing on restoring the health and function of three square miles of Corkscrew’s shallow wetlands by 2020 to support the health of the wood storks and other wildlife.
“Corkscrew serves as a benchmark against which people can identify and measure both the scale of man-induced changes in the environment and a measure of the health of the ecosystem,” he says.
If You Go
* What: A 2.25-mile boardwalk and the Blair Audubon Center, which has a theater, library, photography gallery, restrooms, nature store, and tea room with healthful and vegetarian lunch options.
* Hours: The 2.25-mile boardwalk is open daily from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (last admission sold at 4:30 p.m.), 365 days of the year.
* Admission: $12 for adults; $6 for college students with photo ID; students 6 – 18 are $4; and children under 6 are free. Current National Audubon Society members are $6.
* Details: No pets allowed
* Directions: 375 Sanctuary Road W., northeast of Naples, 15 miles from I-75 on Immokalee Road (Exit 111); 239-348-9151; www.corkscrew.audubon.org
Corkscrew After Hours, Friday, Dec. 12;
World Wetland Day festival, Saturday, Jan. 31
Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count starts this weekend.
Now in its 115th year, the Christmas Bird Count is the longest-running citizen science project in the world and it has become a family tradition among generations.
Data from the count is driving conservation efforts across the hemisphere.
Discover how Audubon scientists are using Christmas Bird Count data to track bird ranges in the face of climate change.
Travel with CBC compiler Bill Sheehan to northern Maine as he tracks irruptive species and hopes for winter finches during the 115th Christmas Bird Count.
Enjoy a gallery of photos taken from around the world during last year’s Christmas Bird Count.
And don’t forget to find a count near you!
Thanks for all you do for Audubon and for the birds.
USDA seeks public comment on new Environmental Quality Incentives Program rule
In an effort to streamline the program for farmers, ranchers and forest landowners, these changes are intended to simplify the EQIP regulation.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is publishing a rule that outlines how it will improve the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, one of USDA’s largest conservation programs.
The interim final rule includes program changes authorized by Congress in the 2014 Farm Bill.
Of Interest to All
WSJ: “U.S. Sugar Soars Above World Prices”
An article in today’s The Wall Street Journal highlights how the antidumping (AD) and countervailing duty (CVD) cases against Mexican sugar imports, filed by U.S. sugar producers in March, have caused U.S. sugar prices to soar well above world sugar prices – and they are expected to rise even more.
- “Sugar is getting dearer in the U.S. even as it is getting cheaper in most other places. … In the U.S. futures market, the sweetener is 58% more expensive than on the global market. …
- “U.S. sugar prices are typically a few cents higher than the world rate due to government policies that restrict imports and support growers. But the gap blew out this year after the government threatened to slap taxes on imported Mexican sugar at the behest of U.S. growers. …
- “‘The scarcity will drive prices up,’ said Mr. [Joseph] Vittoria [President and CEO of PEZ Candy, Inc.]. ‘That is a frightening thought, because sugar is the lifeblood of our industry.’”
These high prices are not temporary. In fact, U.S. sugar prices are expected to remain high for the duration of any suspension agreements signed in the AD/CVD cases – a minimum of five years.
Congress, Reform the U.S. Sugar Program.
Learn more about the need to reform U.S. sugar policy at www.sugarreform.org.
Fossil-fuel lobbyists, bolstered by GOP wins, work to curb environmental rules
Oil, gas and coal interests that spent millions to help elect Republicans this year are moving to take advantage of expanded GOP power in Washington and state capitals to thwart Obama administration environmental rules.
Industry lobbyists made their pitch in private meetings last week with dozens of state legislators at a summit of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an industry-financed conservative state policy group.
The lobbyists and legislators considered several model bills to be introduced across the country next year, designed to give states more power to block or delay new Obama administration environmental standards, including new limits on power-plant emissions.
The industry’s strategy aims to combat a renewed push by President Obama to carve out climate change as a top priority for his final two years in office. The White House has vowed to continue using executive authority to enact more environmental limits, and the issue is shaping up to be a major flash point heading into the 2016 presidential election.
With support from industry lobbyists, many Republicans are planning to make the Environmental Protection Agency a primary political target, presenting it as a symbol of the kind of big-government philosophy they think can unify social and economic conservatives in opposition.
Life in Central Appalachia has long been defined by the booms and busts of the coal industry. These men in Harlan, Ky., are wondering if this latest bust is here to stay. (AP)
“There is a palpable anger at the EPA in America,” said Nate Bell, a Republican state legislator from rural Arkansas who championed a measure at the ALEC meeting supporting the replacement of the agency. “Mention them, and you will get laughed out of any coffee shop or feed store in my district.”
The power of anti-EPA sentiment in Washington was evident last week when the incoming chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), a vocal denier of science showing a human role in climate change, sent a letter demanding that the EPA withdraw the new power-plant limits.
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and incoming Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have discussed how to stop the agency from moving forward, efforts that could include denying funding the EPA would need to enact the regulations.
Meanwhile, underscoring the extent to which fossil-fuel industry allies will pressure Republicans seen as squishy on key issues, the group Americans for Prosperity began an advertising campaign in two dozen House districts after the November elections, pressing GOP lawmakers to oppose tax breaks for wind-energy firms. The organization was founded and funded in part by billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch.
The industry’s aggressive posture in the weeks after the elections is raising anxiety among environmental groups and their allies, some of whom had poured tens of millions of dollars into losing efforts to boost Democratic campaigns — but have seen Obama’s recent climate actions, including an emissions-reducing deal with China, as major triumphs.
Two dozen chief executives of national environmental groups met last week in the Washington offices of Friends of the Earth to talk about how to respond to what participants called “the assault” by fossil-fuel industry allies. The groups plan to solicit contributions from major liberal donors to support a new organization to counter the industry’s growing effectiveness on the state level.
The advocacy groups worry about the role played by ALEC, which has a successful track record of designing conservative legislation on issues such as guns, criminal justice and voting that has won widespread passage in state capitals.
If enacted by states, ALEC’s measures targeting the EPA could be used to delay the federal rulemaking process, fuel lawsuits and build public opposition to an environmental movement that once had bipartisan support, environmental advocates say. If the industry could delay implementation of the carbon regulations until after Obama leaves office, a Republican president could reverse the limits.
Aliya Haq, a climate change specialist for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the ALEC proposals would “handcuff” states just as they would be required to comply with new federal standards. She said that “ALEC and their cronies would love to see as much delay as possible.”
In Washington, Democrats are gearing up for major battles to defend what many see as a significant piece of Obama’s legacy. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who is losing her chairmanship of the Senate’s environment committee to Inhofe, foreshadowed the hostilities in a statement to The Washington Post, saying the panel is “now dominated by deniers on climate and very strong allies of the polluters.” She said she would “use every tool at my disposal” to fight industry efforts to combat Obama’s climate change initiatives.
In addition to the fights over power-plant emissions, GOP lawmakers are expected to push proposals that could roll back proposed rules on ozone pollution — rules described last month by American Petroleum Institute chief executive Jack Gerard as “the most expensive regulation ever imposed on the American public.”
A critical component of the industry’s strategy is an effort to apply pressure on Washington from state capitals, where the GOP has gained substantial ground.
Republicans now control 31 governorships and more than two-thirds of state legislative chambers, a near-record level of dominance, GOP officials say.
The industry’s approach was evident at last week’s ALEC meeting, where officials of fossil-fuel firms such as Koch Industries and Peabody Energy mixed with lawmakers and ALEC organizers to discuss and sometimes edit proposed model bills.
The Post was granted rare access to some parts of the meeting, which was attended by more than 400 people, including industry representatives and state officials from across the country. Multiple participants in the private sessions that focused on environmental and energy policy provided accounts of what happened. In one closed-door meeting, for instance, Sarah Magruder Lyle, a former Energy Department official who is now a vice president at the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers association, made the case for a proposal that would scale back Obama administration rules on ozone. Her argument, a spokesman for her trade group said, was that the ozone rule was “threatening states’ economies while providing little benefit to the environment or to consumers.”
A separate proposal debated by ALEC participants would give legislatures a role in setting state limits for carbon emissions, including the requirement of a cost-benefit analysis.
Another proposed resolution would call for abolishing the EPA and replacing it with a committee of state officials. The idea was put aside after some corporate lobbyists cautioned that it could hurt ALEC’s credibility.
Nevertheless, participants said, the anti-EPA feelings ran so deep at the meeting that an ALEC task force weighing the various proposals agreed to create a “working group” to further consider ways state legislatures could support replacing the federal agency.
“Everywhere I travel in my district, people tell me they are seeing the consequences of EPA overreach,” said state Rep. Yvette Herrell, a New Mexico Republican who attended the meeting. She cited “astronomical” rises in utility bills for her state, which she said relies on coal-fired power plants.
Industry lobbyists said that, after the sweeping GOP victories last month, their clients were optimistic that they could better position themselves against the perceived threat of more regulations.
Scott Segal of the Bracewell & Giuliani firm in Washington said lower public confidence in the EPA will heighten pressure on politicians of both parties to “be sure that benefits of proposed rules are properly calculated and that they do in fact outweigh the costs.”
Industry and state government officials meeting last week also considered ways they could undercut the credibility of the environmental movement and its leading spokesmen. One session held Thursday, called “Big Green Radicals,” included discussion of a national campaign attacking celebrity activists.
Among other things, the campaign has posted a few billboards of prominent environmentalists such as actor Robert Redford, with the headline: “Demands green living. Flies on private jets.”
Tom Hamburger|December 7, 2014
Scott’s DEP hire
Herschel Vinyard, who has been secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection since 2011, recently announced his resignation.
Gov. Rick Scott asked Cliff Wilson, the deputy secretary for regulatory programs, to serve as the interim secretary. Wilson, 35, has been with the DEP for about three years. Eric Draper, director of Audubon of Florida, said: “We don’t know much about Cliff or his background. Not much has happened there to distinguish him.”
No offense to Wilson, but Florida deserves a distinguished DEP secretary. After all, Florida is on the verge of spending billions of taxpayer dollars on programs related to the environment. The state’s natural assets are legion, and many of them were acquired by the public by forward-thinking programs. Yet too many of those same assets are being stressed by development, population growth, invasions of non-native species and the effects of bad political decisions — including sweeping deregulation during the past four years.
Scott faces a decision and as governor could, for instance:
* Propose that Wilson become permanent secretary.
* Appoint a crony or a campaign contributor and charge him with being friendlier to industry than to the environment.
* Aspire to executive greatness and select a leader who has demonstrated a passion for protecting and preserving the environment — even when doing so challenges Scott’s “business first” credo.
When Scott nominated Vinyard nearly four years ago, a spokesman for Associated Industries of Florida lauded the choice, labeling the nominee “a rock-solid businessperson.”
But Floridians seldom felt as though the DEP secretary was dedicated to preserving and protecting Florida’s environmental assets, and maximizing the enormous public and private investments in them. Instead, Vinyard’s tenure seemed to be about creating a “balance” between the financial interests of business and enforcement of regulations.
Perhaps that is one reason 75 percent of voters recently favored amending the state constitution to require Florida to spend a fixed percentage of documentary tax revenue on land and water conservation, also known as Amendment 1.
Implementation of that amendment will provide billions of dollars for preserving and protecting Florida’s environment.
A DEP secretary with a solid conservation record, in addition to top-notch administrative and political skills, could help provide the Scott administration with the credibility it needs to oversee the spending.
The governor, who touts his experience as a private-sector chief executive, can now do what great political leaders do: hire key staffers who inspire their organizations and implement the aspirations of the people.
We hope Scott will seize this moment to leave a legacy — for himself and Florida’s invaluable environment.
Discovery TV show star and partner sent to prison for smuggling snakes
On his reality television show, Swamp Brothers, Robbie Keszey wrestled with scores of alligators, crocodiles and venomous reptiles swarming across his Bushnell snake farm.
But Keszey had a secret sideline. He and his business partner, Robroy MacInnes, were smugglers slipping around state, federal and international law. Last week, their smuggling earned each man a federal prison sentence: a year behind bars for Keszey, 18 months for MacInnes.
The pair, who operated Glades Herp Farm east of Brooksville, collected snakes from the wild in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and purchased eastern timber rattlesnakes that had been illegally collected from the wild in violation of New York law. They transported eastern indigo snakes from Florida to Pennsylvania. And they shipped eastern timber rattlesnakes to Florida.
Their crime was not putting snakes on a plane, despite what Samuel L. Jackson might say about that. It was that all those venomous reptiles are legally protected species, yet Keszey and MacInnes were sending them all over the country and even overseas without permits. The timber rattlers, for instance, were destined for collectors in Germany eager to pay $800 per scaly head.
Keszey and MacInnes’ crimes came to light “as a result of a state and federal investigation into the illegal reptile and snake trade in New York and Pennsylvania,” Justice Department spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle said.
On his TV show, Keszey cut quite a dashing figure with his black cowboy hat and cool confidence while handling dangerous critters. His official biography notes that he previously traveled the country as a personal assistant to guitarist C.C. DeVille of the glam metal band Poison — but his real passion has always been Florida’s reptiles and amphibians.
“Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been interested in reptiles and wildlife,” Keszey wrote on his website. “I would catch frogs and baby turtles and stuff them into my pockets! I drove my parents crazy!” He started handling snakes when he was 8, he wrote, and “by the time I was 13, I knew it was my passion. It went quickly from a few pet snakes to breeding and collecting.”
For the show, Keszey teamed up with his skittish brother Stephen, who had been a bartender in New York City and was more experienced with lounge lizards than real ones. The show depicted him as nervous but eager to learn the ropes at what the website called “Florida’s largest reptile sanctuary and exotic reptile dealership.”
The website said that Glades Herp Farm also “houses Florida’s International Teaching Zoo, which is full of rare species from around the globe and brings in a constant stream of new and different animals each month.”
Swamp Brothers began airing in 2011 on the Discovery Channel. Discovery officials did not return a call seeking comment.
Keszey and MacInnes were indicted by a federal grand jury in Philadelphia in 2012 and convicted last year. At their trial last year, their defense blamed an employee who had avoided charges by cooperating with the government, but the jury voted to convict.
In addition to prison, the pair were sentenced to three years of supervised release. MacInnes was fined $4,000, and Keszey $2,000. They could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
According to federal law enforcement officials, MacInnes told the employee that, if they were caught, what they were doing was no big deal. Judges, used to dealing with murderers and rapists, would consider this a minor offense and any penalty would amount to a slap on the wrist, he reportedly said.
“It’s just snakes,” MacInnes told his employee.
Craig Pittman| Staff Writer|Tampa Bay Times|December 9, 2014|Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report
Eight Jacksonville District projects received congressional authorization June 10
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Eight U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District projects that will provide critical infrastructure to local ports and ecosystem restoration efforts in Florida received approval as part of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) of 2014, which was signed into law June 10.
Four navigation projects and four Everglades restoration projects were included in the bill that, in total, authorized 34 Corps projects across the nation.
“Receiving authorization for these projects demonstrates the valuable work we’re doing here in Florida and the quality work the Jacksonville District continues to deliver,” said Col. Alan Dodd, Jacksonville District commander. “Congressional authorization is the first step. It now makes these projects eligible for funding during the appropriations process. After receiving appropriations, we can then finalize designs, partnership agreements and contract actions that will enable us to start construction.”
The eight Jacksonville District projects that have received congressional authorization are:
- Jacksonville Harbor’s Mile Point Project: Will improve navigation safety by reducing the impacts of ebb tide crosscurrents at the confluence of the St. Johns River with the Intracoastal Waterway
- Jacksonville Harbor Project: Will deepen the Jacksonville Harbor channel to allow passage of larger ships, thereby reducing transportation costs and improving navigation safety
- Canaveral Harbor Project: Will deepen Canaveral Harbor to improve navigation safety and allow passage of larger ships
- Lake Worth Inlet Project: Will widen and deepen Lake Worth Inlet to increase overall port efficiency and safety and generate transportation cost savings.
- Caloosahatchee River (C-43) West Basin Storage Reservoir Project: Will capture and store basin stormwater runoff, along with a portion of water discharged from Lake Okeechobee; Water will be slowly released into the Caloosahatchee River
- C-111 Spreader Canal Western Project: Will preserve clean water for Everglades National Park and restore freshwater flows to Florida Bay
- Broward County Water Preserve Areas: Will reduce seepage loss from Water Conservation Area (WCA) 3A/3B to the C-11 and C-9 basins and capture, store and distribute surface water runoff from the western C-11 Basin that has been discharged into WCA 3A/3B
- Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands Project: Will improve the ecology of Biscayne Bay, including the freshwater wetlands, tidal creeks and near-shore habitat by redirecting freshwater runoff that is currently being discharged through man-made canals directly into Biscayne Bay
All eight of these project’s final reports, known as Chief of Engineers, or Chief’s reports, were submitted to Congress for authorization between 2011 and 2014. One of the district’s broadly-supported ecosystem restoration projects, the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP), is scheduled to complete its Chief’s Report in summer 2014, making it ineligible for the current legislation. However, under this timeline, the massive restoration project aiming to restore the central portion of the central Everglades will be completed in less than three years since its initiation in 2011.
“I’ve heard concerns about CEPP not making it into this legislation; however, do not lose sight of the fact that four important Everglades restoration projects have just been authorized,” said Dodd. “Two of which, the C-43 West Basin Storage Reservoir and Broward County Water Preserve Areas projects, are ones that CEPP will build off of. So, although CEPP isn’t included in this bill for authorization, it will not hinder our ability to move forward with projects that need to be constructed prior to CEPP implementation.”
A project’s inclusion in WRRDA does not guarantee funding in the appropriations process. Still, getting a project into an authorization measure is a necessary first step to acquire funding in a later spending bill. With these eight projects authorized, they now move one step closer towards implementation and open up the queue for additional planning efforts that will be delivering completed Chief’s Reports in the months ahead, such as CEPP, for authorization in a future WRRDA bill.
Additional information on these projects available at: www.saj.usace.army.mil
Jenn Miller|U.S. Army Corps of Engineers|Jacksonville District
Florida’s newly appointed Department of Environmental Protection director
Jon Steverson, Gov. Rick Scott’s choice as Department of Environmental Protection secretary, has been an outspoken director of the Northwest Florida Water Management District during his brief tenure there.
Whether he will impress environmentalists with his passion and results at DEP is uncertain.
Scott named Steverson, 39, on Thursday to replace Herschel T. Vinyard Jr., who resigned as expected on Dec. 1 after serving through the governor’s first term. Steverson had served as executive director of the Northwest Florida Water Management District since 2012.
“Jon has dedicated his career to serving Floridians through the protection of our state’s water and natural resources,” Scott said, “and he is committed to our goal of protecting Florida’s natural treasures so future generations and millions of tourists can enjoy our state’s beauty.”
In 2011, Vinyard told a Florida Senate committee during his confirmation that he was passionate about protecting the environment. But he was criticized later by environmentalists for hiring outsiders to lead his department, proposing to sell state lands and for siding with industries on pollution issues.
Steverson may get criticism from some environmentalists.
That’s because the Scott administration and the Legislature — both Democrats and Republicans — have been committed to policies that are too slow or uncertain about producing results for some environmentalists. And both parties voted to undo protections, such as a septic tank inspection requirement that was repealed in 2012.
Industry has a large voting bloc in the Legislature. The environment has almost no one willing to confront industry.
Nevertheless, Eric Draper of Audubon Florida praised Steverson as “a good public servant who can provide solid leadership for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.”
“He brings intelligence and integrity to an important job,” Draper said.
Steverson has shown true intensity on a few issues during his brief tenure at the water management district.
On the Apalachicola River, Steverson criticized Georgia for its water use while defending the livelihoods of seafood workers in Franklin County.
“The people of Georgia can do a little bit less with their water,” Steverson said during a 2013 U.S. Senate hearing in Apalachicola.
“If their water is low up there,” he added, “it means they can’t drive their favorite jet ski into their favorite little cove and they can’t tie up their boat to the dock. Here, it means these guys can’t make a living.”
Steverson was special counsel and chief of legislative affairs at DEP before being picked in 2012 to replace Douglas Barr, who was not reappointed by Scott to the Northwest Florida Water Management District.
On his first day at the district, Steverson said he’d heard the “conspiracy theories” about a DEP takeover of the water management districts but they’re not true.
Steverson described himself as someone who brings sides together to work out solutions. He also defended the Scott administration’s efforts to speed up decisions on permit applications.
He said faster permitting benefits environmentalists who have opposed the effort. Steverson said uncertainty and delays over permitting could lead to complaints to legislators, who then might be inclined to cut the department’s budget during tough times.
“If we’re working together and we’re working efficiently, it really makes it better all the way around and environmental protections remain intact,” Steverson said. “And if you look at what we passed, there is not a lowering of that regulatory bar.”
Bruce Ritchie|independent journalist|editor of Floridaenvironments.com.| Column courtesy of Context Florida.|Dec 11, 2014
Calls to Action
Stop Monsanto’s secret plan to Kill GMO Labeling – here
Support SB 166: Ban Fracking In Florida – here
Save Threatened Bird From Coal Mine Expansion – here
Save our bees – here
Save Bald Eagles From Lead Poisoning. – here
Help stop oil and gas leasing in the Arctic Ocean – here
Birds and Butterflies
Chris the Cuckoo clocks up 60,000 miles
Since being fitted with a satellite tag by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) four years ago, Chris, a Cuckoo named after naturalist and TV presenter Chris Packham, has travelled over 60,000 miles – the equivalent of flying twice round the world. And in his journeys he’s taken in 22 different countries!
The UK’s Cuckoo population has dropped by 72 per cent in the last 25 years. In order to find out what’s driving this decline, the BTO fitted an original five Cuckoos with state of the art tags to enable them to follow the birds as they made their way out of Britain to Africa for the winter. The tags were believed to have a lifespan of two or three years.
Of the first five, Chris is the only Cuckoo still transmitting live data, far exceeding the expectations of the scientists. He is currently in the Congo rainforest, having arrived at his favored winter spot on 25 October.
Dr Chris Hewson, lead scientist on the project at the BTO, says, “Chris the Cuckoo is a real hero of ornithology. The tag he is carrying has helped us to understand the pressures that he and our Cuckoos face on what is a pretty hazardous migration to Africa.
“He has survived sand storms, hail storms, an exceptionally cold, wet summer, predators over the Mediterranean and in the Congo rainforest, and has crossed the Sahara Desert a whopping seven times since we started following him. We have everything crossed in the hope that he makes it back next spring.”
Chris Packham says, “Chris deserves a medal for what he has given to the understanding of bird migration; he is a truly remarkable bird.
“But even more remarkable is the way in which BTO scientists use the very latest technology to produce contemporary science and then communicate it to a wide audience. It would be so easy to lose this in scientific journals but thanks to the BTO we can all watch enthralled as Chris and all of the other satellite tagged Cuckoos make their way across the globe.
“I’m rooting for all of them and can’t wait until they begin their return journeys back to the UK next spring.”
You can follow Chris, and 15 other satellite tagged Cuckoos on the BTO’s website. If you are looking for a Christmas gift with a difference, you can sponsor one of the BTO Cuckoos for as little as £10.00 and help to inform Cuckoo conservation.
The Mystery Of The Missing Martins Video
When half a million songbirds didn’t show up at their usual roosting spot this summer, I went looking for them. My search took me to the back roads of South Carolina, where I saw firsthand evidence of Shakespeare’s influence on American ecology, met a society of strangely enthusiastic landlords, and learned a bizarre fact about the missing birds: They don’t nest in nature anymore. They only breed in houses provided by humans.
Roseate spoonbills making home in Lowcountry
- Strains small food items from the water with a long, flat spoon-shaped bill.
- 3 feet tall with a 4 feet wingspan.
- Bald, often greenish head, pink wings and long, reddish legs.
- A ha-ha-ha-ha call that sounds like a chortled laugh.
- Its North American range is considered to be southern Florida, Texas and Caribbean islands.
Source: Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
The wading bird that eats with a spoon appears to be delicately settling into the decorous Lowcountry. A roseate spoonbill flitted around the Caw Caw Interpretive Center earlier this week, in among the white ibises.
The gorgeous pink bird with a spooning bill like a flattened pelican has been described by the National Audubon Society as “at once beautiful and bizarre.” But the most striking thing about finding the South Florida native in West Ashley in November might be that it’s just not so unusual anymore.
Although its range is still considered to extend no farther north than the Everglades, the spoonbill turns up here by the dozens and dozens each year. It apparently has joined neo-tropical species such as the white pelican, reddish egret and black whistling duck that are moving from crowded, warming subtropical habitats to the roomier, food rich estuaries of the Lowcountry.
And the summering critters are staying as long as the mellow climate allows.
More than 80 were counted in a single bird-watching at the Cheeha Combahee Plantation in Colleton County. A spoonbill was among the birds at the Yawkey Wildlife Heritage Preserve in Georgetown County during a Christmas bird count. They have been spotted as far inland as the Congaree National Park outside Columbia.
Unlike other wading birds that tend to pierce prey, spoonbills simply lap it up like soup. Along with their striking coloring, their “spooning” makes them a “wow” critter for wildlife spotters.
“They are a bird of great character, there’s no denying that,” said Nathan Dias, of Cape Romain Bird Sanctuary.
But spoonbills making themselves at home in the Lowcountry isn’t too rosy a scenario. They are among any number of species documented to be moving north as their historic habitats warm and change. The rice field and marsh Lowcountry – particularly the vast, protected ACE Basin – appears to be a refuge for them.
The beautiful birds grace an already exotic, but changing wild.
“It is an exciting thing to see,” said Keith McCullough, Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission natural history interpreter. “I can remember when roseate spoonbills were an exceptionally rare thing this far north.”
Bo Petersen|Nov 9 2014
Dozens of Crows Suffer and Die in Portland
On Wednesday, November 26, onlookers watched in horror as dozens of crows fell to the ground, convulsing, gasping, seizing, and dying on the downtown streets of Portland, Oregon.
It was recently confirmed that the crows were poisoned. Necropsies performed on each of the crows showed they had digested corn in their stomachs, which is frequently used as bait with poison. This heinous and despicable crime against these beautifully intelligent and incredibly social creatures violates the Migratory Bird Treaty of 1918, making it a federal crime.
A recent study by the University of New Zealand revealed that crows have an understanding of causal effects matching the understanding seen in seven year old human children, are able to solve causal puzzles, and build and use tools to achieve desired outcomes.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) had said they would open an investigation if poisoning was confirmed. Special Agent Gary Young of the Special Ecological Service Field Office in Portland said his agency made arrangements to send the crows to the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory where they determined the birds had not died from natural causes, but were poisoned. Young says they will gather evidence and present it to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
[You can ask U.S. Attorney S. Amanda Marshall to to find and prosecute the person or persons responsible. Please sign # 6 in “Calls to Action” above.]
Rare Atlantic Shorebird Wins Federal Protection
The red knot — a robin-sized bird that makes 9,300-mile migrations — has won Endangered Species Act protection under the Center for Biological Diversity’s 757 species agreement. This epic traveler depends on horseshoe crabs’ eggs for the energy it needs to make its twice-yearly trips between South America and the Canadian Arctic. Thus, as crab populations decline due to harvest by the fishing and biomedical industries, so do the red knot’s. The bird is also threatened by habitat destruction and climate change.
In 2005 environmental groups petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for emergency protection of the species, but the agency stuck the bird on the “candidate” list, where it languished for nearly a decade. Now, because of the Center’s 2011 agreement, the Service has finalized protection for this singular bird.
With the decision to protect the red knot, our children and grandchildren just may have the chance to marvel at one of nature’s greatest spectacles — the marathon migration of the red knot,” said the Center’s Mollie Matteson.
Read more in the Wisconsin Gazette.
[Maybe there’s still hope for a critical habitat designation for the Florida Panther]
Congress Attacking Sage Grouse, Public Lands, Human Health
This is a dangerous time in Congress, the winter stretch between elections and a new batch of incoming politicians. We’re already seeing a rash of troubling provisions that threaten people, wildlife and public lands.
In a military spending bill, one provision would pave the way for a land swap on national forest land in Arizona to accommodate a copper mine; another would automatically renew grazing permits on public lands without any consideration for how the grazing will affect rivers, streams, wildlife and pristine habitat.
In an omnibus spending bill, a rider would prohibit funds to help save greater sage grouse, Gunnison sage grouse and Mono Basin sage grouse from extinction. Still another rider would prohibit the EPA from regulating toxic lead hunting ammunition that kills millions of birds and other wildlife each year and poses a danger to those who eat meat shot with lead ammo.
“All of these are part of a broad, sustained attack on laws that protect our wildlife and public health,” said the Center’s Randi Spivak. Stay tuned for more updates.
Cornell Lab of Ornithology State of the Birds Report
Conservation Works, but There’s More Work to Do This week, the Cornell Lab and partners released the 2014 State of the Birds Report. The report commemorates Martha, the world’s last Passenger Pigeon, whose tragic passing 100 years ago spurred the creation of the world’s greatest conservation movement.
In the last century we’ve saved Wood Ducks and Bald Eagles, Kirtland’s Warblers and Brown Pelicans, and more. The new report offers the most comprehensive review of long-term trend data for U.S. birds ever, identifying a Watch List of 228 high-concern species as well as 33 Common Birds in Steep Decline to begin conserving now. See the full report and download the lists.
Genes reveal histories of bird origins, feathers, flight and song
The genomes of modern birds tell a story: Today’s winged rulers of the skies emerged and evolved after the mass extinction that wiped out dinosaurs and almost everything else 66 million years ago.
That story is now coming to light, thanks to an international collaboration that has been underway for four years.
The first findings of the Avian Phylogenomics Consortium are being reported nearly simultaneously in 23 papers–eight papers in a special issue this week of Science, and 15 more in Genome Biology, GigaScience and other journals. The results are funded in part by the National Science Foundation (NSF).
Scientists already knew that the birds that survived the mass extinction experienced a rapid burst of evolution. But the family tree of modern birds has confused biologists for centuries, and the molecular details of how birds arrived at the spectacular biodiversity of more than 10,000 species was barely known.
How Did Birds Become so Diverse?
To resolve these fundamental questions, a consortium led by Guojie Zhang of the National Genebank at BGI in China and the University of Copenhagen; neuroscientist Erich Jarvis of Duke University and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute; and M. Thomas P. Gilbert of the Natural History Museum of Denmark has sequenced, assembled and compared the full genomes of 48 bird species.
The species include the crow, duck, falcon, parakeet, crane, ibis, woodpecker, eagle and others, representing all major branches of modern birds.
“BGI’s strong support and four years of hard work by the entire community have enabled us to answer numerous fundamental questions on an unprecedented scale,” said Zhang. “This is the largest whole genomic study across a single vertebrate class to date. The success of this project can only be achieved with the excellent collaboration of all the consortium members.”
Added Gilbert, “Although an increasing number of vertebrate genomes are being released, to date no single study has deliberately targeted the full diversity of any major vertebrate group. This is what our consortium set out to do. Only with this scale of sampling can scientists truly begin to fully explore the genomic diversity within a full vertebrate class.”
“This is an exciting moment,” said Jarvis. “Lots of fundamental questions now can be resolved with more genomic data from a broader sampling. I got into this project because of my interest in birds as a model for vocal learning and speech production in humans, and it has opened up some amazing new vistas on brain evolution.”
This first round of analyses suggests some remarkable new ideas about bird evolution. The first flagship paper published in Science presents a well-resolved new family tree for birds, based on whole-genome data. The second flagship paper describes the big picture of genome evolution in birds.
Six other papers in the special issue of Science report how vocal learning may have independently evolved in a few bird groups and in the human brain’s speech regions; how the sex chromosomes of birds came to be; how birds lost their teeth; how crocodile genomes evolved; and ways in which singing behavior regulates genes in the brain.
New Ideas on Bird Evolution
“This project represents the biggest step forward yet in our understanding of how bird diversity is organized and in time and space,” said paper co-author Scott Edwards, on leave from Harvard University and currently Director of NSF’s Division of Biological Infrastructure. “Because this information is so fundamental to our understanding of biodiversity, it will help everyone–from birdwatchers to artists to museum curators–better organize knowledge of bird diversity.”
The new bird tree will change the way we think about bird diversity, said Edwards. “The fact that many birds associated with water–loons, herons, penguins, petrels and pelicans–are closely related suggests that adaptations to lakes or seas arose less frequently than we thought.”
Added paper co-author David Mindell, an evolutionary biologist and program director in NSF’s Division of Environmental Biology, “We found strong support for close relationships that might be surprising to many observers. “Grebes are closely related to flamingos, but not closely related to ducks; falcons are closely related to songbirds and parrots but not closely related to hawks; and swifts are closely related to hummingbirds and not closely related to swallows.”
Genome-scale datasets allowed scientists to “track the sequence of divergence events and their timing with greater precision than previously possible,” said Mindell. “Most major types of extant birds arose during a 5-10 million year interval at the end of the Cretaceous period and the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs about 66 million years ago.”
It Takes a Consortium…of 200 Scientists, 80 Institutions, 20 Countries
The Avian Phylogenomics Consortium has so far involved more than 200 scientists from 80 institutions in 20 countries, including the BGI in China, the University of Copenhagen, Duke University, the University of Texas at Austin, the Smithsonian Institution, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Louisiana State University and others.
Previous attempts to reconstruct the avian family tree using partial DNA sequencing or anatomical and behavioral traits have met with contradiction and confusion.
Because modern birds split into species early and in such quick succession, they did not evolve enough distinct genetic differences at the genomic level to clearly determine their early branching order, the researchers said. To resolve the timing and relationships of modern birds, consortium scientists used whole-genome DNA sequences to infer the bird species tree.
“In the past, people have been using 10 to 20 genes to try to infer the species relationships,” Jarvis said. “What we’ve learned from doing this whole-genome approach is that we can infer a somewhat different phylogeny [family tree] than what has been proposed in the past.
“We’ve figured out that protein-coding genes tell the wrong story for inferring the species tree. You need non-coding sequences, including the intergenic regions. The protein-coding sequences, however, tell an interesting story of proteome-wide convergence among species with similar life histories.”
Where Did all the Birds Come From?
This new tree resolves the early branches of Neoaves (new birds) and supports conclusions about relationships that have been long-debated.
For example, the findings support three independent origins of waterbirds. They also indicate that the common ancestor of core landbirds, which include songbirds, parrots, woodpeckers, owls, eagles and falcons, was an apex predator, which also gave rise to the giant terror birds that once roamed the Americas.
The whole-genome analysis dates the evolutionary expansion of Neoaves to the time of the mass extinction event 66 million years ago. This contradicts the idea that Neoaves blossomed 10 to 80 million years earlier, as some recent studies have suggested.
Based on this new genomic data, only a few bird lineages survived the mass extinction. They gave rise to the more than 10,000 Neoaves species that comprise 95 percent of all bird species living with us today.
The freed-up ecological niches caused by the extinction event likely allowed rapid species radiation of birds in less than 15 million years, which explains much of modern bird biodiversity.
South Florida butterflies win federal protection
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service butterfly announcement
Two South Florida butterflies won federal protection as endangered species Monday, with wildlife managers planning to scorch their former habitats with fire to clear the way for the return of the plants they eat.
The Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak and Florida leafwing butterflies once ranged as far north as Broward and Palm Beach counties. Today they pollinate and lay eggs only in isolated pine rocklands in extreme South Florida, with the Florida leafwing found only in one section of Everglades National Park.
They join other South Florida butterflies, such as the Schaus swallowtail and Miami blue, as species struggling to survive the loss of habitat and other threats, from mosquito spraying to disease. Of the 160 butterfly species in Florida, about 20 have declined significantly, with most of those found in South Florida, said Mark Salvato, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“We have butterflies from a variety of habitats becoming imperiled in South Florida,” he said. “By blinking out, they’re telling us that something is wrong in these habitats.”
Monday’s announcement came as part of the settlement of a lawsuit with the Center for Biological Diversity, a Tucson, Arizona-based environmental group that had gone to court against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over delays in deciding whether to protect species under the Endangered Species Act.
“This is an important victory for these two struggling Florida butterflies,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida attorney for the Center. “This designation should help protect the rare and disappearing pine rocklands that are important habitat for a host of Florida species.”
The government announced that it would designate 11,539 acres in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties as critical habitat for the Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak and 10,561 acres for the Florida leafwing. Most of the land is already under federal control, such as parts of Everglades National Park and the Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge.
Taken by storm: 10 years after Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne
The primary reason for the two butterflies’ decline is the loss of pine rockland habitat to development and an absence of fire in the habitat that remained. Without fire, either caused by humans or by lightning, fast-growing vegetation will crowd out the pineland croton plants on which these insects depend for food.
The three-inch Florida leafwing, which looks like a dead leaf when its wings are closed, has vanished from 96 percent of its historical range. The one-inch Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak is gone from 93 percent of its range. Both butterflies had only been discovered in the 1940s.
The best way to restore them to some of their old habitat is with fire, Salvato said, using prescribed burns in places such as Everglades National Park, Big Pine Key and various patches of pine rocklands under the control of the Miami-Dade and Monroe county governments. His recovery outline will be ready in two months or so, he said, and will set out prescribed fires as the key step in returning the butterflies to lands on which they used to live.
“First and foremost, we need to get habitat restoration going,” he said. “These butterflies occur exclusively in pine rockland habitat, and there’s not much of that left. Everywhere their habitat is, it’s degraded. The first thing is prescribed burns. That’s going to be the big one.”
Once habitat is restored, they will consider reintroducing the butterflies to their old territory, possibly through captive breeding, he said.
Other reasons for their decline include parasites, disease, butterfly collectors and the use of pesticides for mosquito control. Most recently, a new Walmart has been announced for some of the land in southern Miami-Dade County used by the Bartram’s hairstreak. Federal wildlife officials are in talks with the developer.
A future threat is sea-level rise, since both species live only at low elevations. But Salvato said that if land managers act quickly, they can save both butterflies.
“I’m pretty optimistic,” Salvato said. “The population in the Everglades of the Florida leafwing is doing well. The hairstreak has a number of populations. It’s something to work with.”
David Fleshler|Sun Sentinel|August 11, 2014
[Maybe there is hope yet for a critical habitat designation for the Florida Panther.]
Conservation success leads to increased human interaction with Florida panthers
Over the past 40 years, Florida panther conservation efforts have resulted in the panther population growing significantly from the1970s, when the panther was first federally listed as Endangered. As the population grows, the chance for interaction between the large cats and humans also increases – which can be bad for both people and panthers.
At one time, reports of panther sightings were rare. Today, even though panthers are generally shy and tend to avoid people, panthers are being seen with increasing frequency.
Panthers typically prey on a variety of wildlife such as deer, wild hogs, raccoons, armadillos and rabbits. Unfortunately, they sometimes prey on domesticated animals such as goats, sheep, calves and even pets. When a panther or other wild animal preys upon or injures a pet or domestic livestock it is called a depredation.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) investigates reports of panther depredations on pets and livestock and works with residents to reduce these incidents. So far in 2014, FWC staff has verified 32 panther depredation events, a record number, and all occurred in Collier County. In some cases, more than one animal is killed in a depredation; the 32 events have resulted in the loss of over 50 individual animals.
“The likelihood of panther depredations on backyard animals and pets can be greatly reduced if people take the necessary precautions,” said FWC panther team leader Darrell Land. “The best way to protect small livestock is to keep the animals in a secure, fenced enclosure with a roof, especially at night. Also, pets like dogs and cats should be kept indoors at night or in an outdoor, panther-proof pen.”
Reports of dangerous encounters with panthers are very rare in Florida. However, panthers are large, powerful predators, and people should use caution if they see one. Here are some tips to avoid a negative interaction if you encounter a panther:
- Give the panther space. Most Florida panthers will avoid a confrontation. Give them a way to escape.
- Do not run. Stand and face the animal. Make eye contact.
- Avoid crouching or bending over, as it makes you look smaller, resembling a prey-sized animal.
- If attacked, fight back with whatever is at hand (without turning your back).
“Panthers are a federally protected species, but people who hurt or kill a panther while protecting themselves or others from bodily harm will not be prosecuted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS),” said Dawn Jennings, USFWS panther coordinator.
The panther is also protected under state law.
“The FWC will not issue a citation to a person if they hurt or kill a panther while they are protecting or defending themselves from injury,” said Nick Wiley, executive director of the FWC. “Force should be used only in circumstances when the safety of human beings is definitely at stake – but in those cases human safety comes first.”
If you experience a panther depredation or encounter, please call the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or #FWC or *FWC on a cell phone.
“If securing pets and livestock in panther-resistant enclosures does not work, we can provide additional technical support. In extreme situations, we have used other measures to discourage panthers, even going so far as removing them from the wild due to safety concerns,” said Land. “But we need to know about a situation before we can assist residents.”
For more information about how to protect people, pets and livestock from panthers and other predators, visit FloridaPantherNet.org and click on “Living in Panther Country.”
To see if panther depredations are occurring in your area, visit FloridaPantherNet.org, click on “Panther Pulse” and scroll down to “Depredations.” You can sign up to receive panther information, including depredation e-mail updates, by simply clicking on the red envelope on any page of MyFWC.com and selecting “Florida Panther” under the “Wildlife/Managed Species” section.
Florida residents can support panther conservation efforts by purchasing a Protect the Panther license plate, available at BuyAPlate.com. Fees from license plate sales are the primary funding source for the FWC’s research and management of Florida panthers.
You can help with panther research by reporting panther sightings and uploading photos and video to the FWC, at MyFWC.com/PantherSightings.
BRING BACK THE POLLINATORS!
Bees are undoubtedly the most abundant pollinators of flowering plants in our environment. The service that bees and other pollinators provide allows nearly 70 percent of all flowering plants to reproduce; the fruits and seeds from insect pollinated plants account for over 30 percent of the foods and beverages that we consume. Beyond agriculture, pollinators are keystone species in most terrestrial ecosystems. Fruits and seeds derived from insect pollination are a major part of the diet of approximately 25 percent of all birds, and of mammals ranging from red-backed voles to grizzly bears. However, many of our native bee pollinators are at risk, and the status of many more is unknown. Habitat loss, alteration, and fragmentation, pesticide use, and introduced diseases all contribute to declines of bees.
The Xerces Society advocates on behalf of bees. We are working with scientists and citizen monitors to understand the status of declining bumble bees and other rare species. We also work with lawmakers on legislation that encourages pollinator-friendly habitat restoration. Xerces Society staff consult with farmers, homeowners, and land stewards to restore the landscape for the benefit of bee pollinators.
Learn more about our Pollinator Conservation program.
Invasive lionfish threaten Gulf of Mexico ecosystem
GALVESTON, Texas – It sounds like something from a horror film: A beautiful, feathery-looking species of fish with venomous spines and a voracious appetite sweeps into the Gulf of Mexico, gobbling up everything in its path. Unfortunately for the native fish and invertebrates it’s eating, this invasion isn’t unfolding on the big screen.
In recent months, news has been spreading of lionfish, a maroon-and-white striped native of the South Pacific that first showed up off the coast of southern Florida in 1985. Most likely, someone dumped a few out of a home fish tank. With a reproduction rate that would put rabbits to shame and no predators to slow its march, the fish swept up the Eastern seaboard and down to the Bahamas and beyond, where it is now more common than in its home waters.
“The invasive lionfish have been nearly a perfect predator,” says Martha Klitzkie, director of operations at the nonprofit Reef Environmental Education Foundation, or REEF, headquartered in Key Largo, Fla. “Because they are such an effective predator, they’re moving into new areas and, when they get settled, the population increases pretty quickly.” The lionfish population exploded in the Florida Keys and the Bahamas between 2004 and 2010. As lionfish populations boomed, the number of native prey fish dropped.
According to a 2012 study by Oregon State University, native prey fish populations along nine reefs in the Bahamas fell an average of 65 percent in just two years. Lionfish first appeared in the western Gulf of Mexico in 2010; scientists spotted them in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, a protected area about 100 miles off the Texas coast, in 2011. Now scuba divers spot them on coral heads nearly every time they explore a reef.
So far, significant declines in native fish populations haven’t occurred here, but the future is uncertain. “It’s kind of this impossible battle,” says Michelle Johnston, a research specialist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Galveston, who manages a coral reef monitoring project at the Flower Garden Banks. “When you think how many are out there, I don’t think eradication is possible now.”
Lionfish are fascinating, beautiful creatures. Two nearly identical species are found in the Gulf. They grow to about 18 inches and have numerous venomous spines. Their stripes are unique, like those of a zebra. They hover in the water, hanging near coral heads or underwater structures where reef fish flourish. Ambush predators, they wait for prey fish to draw near, then gulp them down in a flash. The fish mature in a year and can spawn every four days, pumping out 2 million eggs a year. They live about 15 years. In the South Pacific, predators and parasites keep lionfish in check.
But here, nothing recognizes them as food – those feathery spines serve as do-not-touch warnings to other fish.
The few groupers that have been spotted taste-testing lionfish have spit them back out, Johnston says. In the basement of the NOAA Fisheries Science Center on the grounds of the old Fort Crockett in Galveston, Johnston sorts through a rack of glass vials. Each one contains the contents found in the stomach of a lionfish collected in the Flower Garden Banks. She points to a fish called a bluehead wrasse in one jar. “This little guy should still be on the reef eating algae, not here in a tube,” she says.
Other jars contain brown chromis, red night shrimp, cocoa damselfish and mantis shrimp, all native species found in lionfish bellies. “The amount of fish we find in their guts – it’s really alarming. They’re eating juvenile fish that should be growing up. They’re also eating fish that the native species are supposed to be eating.” Lionfish can eat anything that fits into their mouth, even fish half their own size. They eat commercially important species, such as snapper and grouper, and the fish that those species eat, too. They’re eating so much, in fact, that scientists say some are suffering from a typically human problem – obesity. “We’re finding them with copious amount of fat – white, blubbery fat,” Johnston says.
They can adapt to almost any habitat, living anywhere from a mangrove in 1 foot of water to a reef 1,000 feet deep. They like crevices and hidy-holes but can find that on anything from a coral head to a drilling platform to a sunken ship.
They can handle a wide range of salinity levels, too. Their range seems limited only by temperature – so far they don’t seem to overwinter farther north than Cape Hatteras, N.C. – and their southern expansion extends to the northern tip of South America, although they are expected to reach the middle of Argentina in another year or two. “As long as they have something to eat, they’ll be there,” Johnston says.
The impacts of their invasion could become widespread, scientists warn. In the Gulf, lionfish are eating herbivores like damselfish and wrasse – “the lawnmowers of the reef,” Johnston calls them – that keep the reef clean. “When you take the reef fish away, there’s not a lot of other things left to eat algae,” she says. That creates a phase shift from a coral-dominated habitat to an algae-dominated one. “When you take fish away, coral gets smothered, the reef dies, and we lose larger fish. It’s a snowball effect of negativity.”
Pam LeBlanc|Austin American-Statesman (MCT)
Snow Leopard Cub to Be Rescued From Sad Roadside Cage
New Year’s Eve 2012 proved to be a fateful night for a little snow leopard cub in Pakistan. Villagers from the northern region of Gilgit-Baltistan came upon the months-old cub, all by herself. Fearing for her survival, they took her back to their village.
While the well meaning villagers may have thought they saved the cub’s life that night, they didn’t have a suitable place to keep her. There are no facilities able to care for dislocated wildlife in this area of the world. With no good options available, the cub ended up in a small cage by the Karakoram Highway — and there she has lived for two years.
In this sad little cage, the cub is constantly exposed to traffic noise and pollution, summer heat, and taunting by unkind passers-by. It is truly “an untenable situation for this wild animal,” according to Dr. Ali Nawaz, head of the Snow Leopard Foundation of Pakistan.
Thanks to the efforts of a coalition of six conservation and governmental groups, however, this cub’s life is about to change dramatically for the better.
A new 11,00 square foot wildlife care facility will begin construction in the Naltar Valley in early 2015, thanks to a partnership among the Snow Leopard Trust, the Snow Leopard Foundation Pakistan, Gilgit-Baltistan Parks and Wildlife Department the Embassy of the United States in Islamabad, Pakistan, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), and the Snow Leopard Conservancy.
The cub will be cared for within this facility, which will better approximate her natural habitat than any cage she could live in. Designed with the help of wildlife care and rescue experts at Nordens Ark, the facility will also increase the region’s ability to adequately manage future dislocated or orphaned snow leopards.
Why not just release the cub back to the wild? The Gilgit-Baltistan Wildlife Department consulted experts to determine if she could indeed be returned. Because she now lacks the hunting and defense skills she’d require to survive, returning to the wild is impossible. Instead, she’ll be well cared for.
The new facility will also include a Wildlife Education Center, where the public will be able to learn about snow leopards, how they live, and the dangers they face. The Center will support regional wildlife and habitat education as well as local outreach efforts.
“One of the Education Center’s main purposes is to help people understand that it’s almost always best to leave wildlife in the wild, even young cubs,” said Brad Rutherford, Executive Director of the Snow Leopard Trust. “This is what the villagers didn’t understand when they came upon this cub. His mother may well have been away seeking food and would likely have returned to him.”
“Often, mothers will return for their babies even when it appears they might have abandoned them,” noted Rutherford. “One of our aims through the education portion of the facility is to help people to understand and decipher when and why it is okay to leave animals in the wild — even if they seem to be lost.”
“We believe every snow leopard deserves a better and more secure future,” said Dr. Rodney Jackson, founder and director of the Snow Leopard Conservancy. “That being said, it is important to make sure local people in Pakistan, or anywhere else, will no longer separate a cub from its mother or remove it from the wild.”
This cub, though never able to live as a wild snow leopard, still has an important role to play in Pakistan. She may well help future generations better survive.
“We hope that this snow leopard will serve a useful role as an Ambassador animal, offering people who rarely see a snow leopard with the opportunity to marvel at its beauty and ensure other wild snow leopards are allowed to roam free from threats,” said Dr. Jackson.
From cage to more natural habitat is the happy future awaiting this cub, thanks to villagers, governments, and conservation groups who cared enough to do something for one animal in need. Yes, she’s still in her cage for now, but not for much longer.
Only 4,500 to 6,000 snow leopard remain in the wild. The survival of every one of them is important.
“We are very happy to contribute in this effort to ensure that the snow leopard gets an adequate quality of life,” said IFAW Director of Animal Rescue Katie Moore. “It is our hope that her story carries an enduring message on the importance of leaving wildlife in the wild.”
Susan Bird|December 8, 2014
Endangered St. Lawrence Belugas and the end of an oil port project
St. Lawrence Belugas – and all citizens who rallied for months for their protection – can now take some well-deserved time to unwind. Earlier this week, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) issued a recommendation to alter the status of this small population of beluga whale, downlisting it from “threatened” to “endangered.” This prompted Quebec Premiere Philippe Couillard to issue a VERY strong hint that developer TransCanada should look for alternative sites for its oil port, which would route oil sands bitumen to external markets.
Protests against the proposed terminal peaked months ago, with citizens, commentators and environmental groups sharply criticizing TransCanada’s plans for Cacouna. A big part of the opposition came from the company’s decision to ignore the best available science and move ahead with plans to build the Energy East pipeline terminal in part of the Gulf of St. Lawrence that’s a known gathering place for female beluga whales and their young. This is habitat that’s essential for the survival of an endangered species.
In September 2014, WWF supported a lawsuit initiated by Nature Québec, the David Suzuki Foundation and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, and conducted by the Quebec Environmental Law Centre. The suit resulted in the Quebec Superior Court ordering the suspension of TransCanada’s exploratory drilling, which had been previously authorized by Ottawa and the government of Quebec. The court ruled that Quebec’s Ministry of Sustainable Development, Environment and the Fight against climate change authorized drilling without obtaining proper scientific analysis from Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The court severely criticized the minister for the incomplete analysis, ordering that work be suspended on the project until 15 October.
Subsequently, TransCanada’s encountered further delays when drilling was again suspended due to noise tests that revealed it was exceeding an established 120 decibel limit. The Quebec government then demanded that the company submit a new work plan that clearly showed compliance with underwater noise regulations.
TransCanada did not reach compliance, and the company’s work authorization certificate expired on the 30th of November. Drilling has not resumed.
Science won the day, but are policymakers listening?
The status change for St. Lawrence belugas comes as no surprise to experts. This small beluga population is one of the most studied in the world, and top scientists have contributed to a beluga recovery strategy that falls under Canada’s Species At Risk Act for over three decades. But despite these efforts, we’re still seeing a decline in the St. Lawrence beluga population. It now stands at only 900 individuals.
The Canadian government has completely failed in its legal obligations to protect the St. Lawrence Beluga under the Species At Risk Act! This failure allowed TransCanada to gain the permission it needed to start work in Cacouna. Imagine the time and energy that could have been saved if procedure had been followed. Hopefully, the “endangered” classification will lead to formal designation of the beluga’s critical habitat.
For the past 15 years, Fisheries and Oceans Canada has been studying the possibility of creating a Marine Protected Area (MPA) on a portion of the St. Lawrence Estuary covering almost 6,000 km2, an area roughly the size of Prince Edward Island, and stretching from Rivière-du-Loup, Cacouna and L’Isle-Verte. This area, the first in Quebec, would aim to protect the habitat of the St. Lawrence beluga and the many other marine mammals that live there.
In light of the new circumstances, an MPA seems entirely appropriate. We hope the government will act quickly to make this happen.
The future of the St. Lawrence beluga?
The big question we need to answer now is: what can we do to help this endangered species survive? There’s a lot to learn. We still don’t have a clear picture of St. Lawrence belugas’ wintering conditions, but we think they might be suboptimal. Also, we need to find out if climate change is affecting food sources. To answer these questions, WWF is supporting a research project lead by the Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals (GREMM), which aims to better protect this wonderful and unique species.
Marie-Claude Lemieux|December 5, 2014
Destruction of Carbon-Rich Mangroves Costs up to $42 Billion in Economic Damages Annually
Globally Coordinated Action and Policy Interventions Required to Stem Loss of One of the Planet’s Most Threatened Ecosystems
ATHENS – Mangroves are being destroyed at a rate 3 – 5 times greater than the average rates of forest loss, costing billions in economic damages and denying millions of people the ecosystem services they need to survive, according to a new report launched today by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).
The Importance of Mangroves: A Call to Action launched today at the 16th Global Meeting of the Regional Seas Conventions and Action Plans, describes how emissions resulting from mangrove losses make up nearly one-fifth of global emissions from deforestation, resulting in economic damages of some US$6 – 42 billion annually. Mangroves are also threatened by climate change, which could result in the loss of a further 10 – 15 per cent of mangroves by 2100.
Found in 123 countries and covering 152,000 square kilometers, over 100 million people around the world live within 10 kilometers of large mangrove forests, benefiting from a variety of goods and services such as fisheries and forest products, clean water and protection against erosion and extreme weather events.
UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said, “Mangroves provide ecosystem services worth around US$33 – 57,000 per hectare per year. Add to that their superior ability to store carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere and it becomes clear that their continued destruction makes neither ecological nor economic sense.”
“Yet, the escalating destruction and degradation of mangroves – driven by land conversion for aquaculture and agriculture, coastal development, and pollution – is occurring at an alarming rate, with over a quarter of the earth’s original mangrove cover now lost. This has potentially devastating effects on biodiversity, food security and the livelihoods of some of the most marginalized coastal communities in developing countries where more than 90 per cent of the world’s mangroves are found.”
“By quantifying in economic terms the value of the ecosystem services provided by mangroves as well as the critical role they play in global climate regulation, the report aims to encourage policymakers to use the tools and guidelines outlined to better ensure the conservation and sustainable management of mangroves,” he added.
The report argues that in spite of the mounting evidence in support of the multitude of benefits derived from mangroves, they remain one of the most threatened ecosystems on the planet. The report describes financial mechanisms and incentives to stimulate mangrove conservation, such as REDD+, private sector investments, and the creation of Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions for developing countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while increasing national capacity.
Mangrove degradation and loss is predicted to continue into the future if a business-as-usual scenario prevails. The Importance of Mangroves: A Call to Action offers readers and especially policymakers many management and protection measures and tools that are available for use at national, regional and global scales to help ensure a sustainable future for mangroves.
Policymakers, it says, should consider several of these, including integrating mangrove-specific goals and targets into the post-2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals agenda, as well as better coordination of global action on mangroves through the development of a Global Mangrove Commission, and the streamlining and coordination of Multilateral Environmental Agreements.
Protecting these long-term reservoirs of carbon, and preventing their emissions from being released back into the atmosphere is, the report says, a sensible and cost-effective measure that can be taken to help mitigate climate change.
· By 2050, South-East Asia will potentially have lost 35 per cent of the mangrove cover it had in 2000, with associated negative ecological and socio-economic impacts.
· Ecosystem service losses in South-East Asia from the destruction of mangroves has been estimated at more than US$2 billion a year over the period 2000 – 2050, with Indonesia predicted to suffer the highest losses at US$ 1.7 billion per year.
Climate Change Regulation and Mitigation
· Research is increasingly pointing to the role of mangroves as significant carbon storage systems, sequestering vast amounts of carbon – about 1,000 tons per hectare – over thousands of years, making them some of the most carbon-rich ecosystems on the planet.
· One study carried out in the Potengi Estuary in Brazil on 1,488 hectares of mangroves found that the forest trees and sediments were retaining concentrations of heavy metals that would otherwise cost US$13 million to treat in a zeolite plant.
· A large number of commercially important fish species such as snapper, mullet, wrasse, parrotfish, sharks and rays utilize mangroves during all or part of their lives, with the mangrove providing critical food, shelter and refuge functions.
· It has been estimated that 30 per cent of the fish caught in South-East Asia are supported in some way by mangrove forests; a figure approaching 100 per cent for highly mangrove-dependent species including some species of prawn.
· It was estimated that the annual average landing of mangrove-associated fish and blue crab in the Gulf is 10,500 tons, with an estimated total value of US$19 million to local fisheries.
Extreme Weather Events
· The complex network of mangrove roots can help reduce wave energy, limit erosion and shield coastal communities from the destructive forces of tropical storms, cyclones and tsunamis.
· The mangrove-lined “hurricane holes” in the Caribbean have been a well-known safe haven for vessels for centuries, and of the 20-odd established hurricane holes recommended for boaters needing to ride out storms in the Antilles, 16 gain such a reputation because of the presence of mangroves.
· In Vietnam, extensive planting of mangrove has cost of US$1.1 million but has helped reduce maintenance cost of the sea-dyke by US$7.3 million per year.
· Mangroves form the foundation of a highly productive and biologically rich ecosystem that is home to a spectacular range of species of birds, mammals, invertebrates and fish which help to support people through fisheries, tourism and cultural heritage.
· The combination of clearance and degradation has meant that globally about 16 per cent of mangrove tree species and some 40 per cent of the animal species dependent on these ecosystems are now considered vulnerable and/or at risk of extinction. The mangroves of Australia are home to over 200 species of birds, and at least 600 different fish species are known to occur in mangroves across the Indo-Pacific region.
Policymaker guidelines for the improvement, management and protection of mangroves include the development of protocols to Regional Seas Conventions that promote protection and sustainable use of mangroves, and the implementation and enforcement of national laws and policies relevant to mangrove protection and management. Others include:
· Create a Global Mangrove Fund to support “climate resilience” actions that conserve and restore mangroves, and protect the carbon stored within them;
· Encourage mangrove conservation and restoration through carbon credit markets such as REDD+, the “Bio-Rights” mechanism and corporate and private sector investments;
· Promote economic incentives such as Payments for Ecosystem Services as a source of local income from mangrove protection, sustainable use and restoration activities and ensure beneficiaries of mangrove services can find opportunities to invest in mangrove management and restoration planning;
· Explore opportunities for investment into Net Positive Impact biodiversity offsets by the corporate and business sectors as a way to finance the protection and sustainable use of mangroves;
· Ensure that mangroves are addressed in wider Marine Spatial Planning and policy frameworks.
Access full report here
Lawyers Square Off to Save Okinawa Dugongs From Military Airstrip
Lawyers are in federal court in San Francisco today in our historic case to stop construction of a U.S. military airstrip in Okinawa, Japan, that would pave over some of the last remaining habitat for endangered Okinawa dugongs, gentle marine mammals related to manatees.
Our case, filed by Earthjustice this summer on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity and other American and Japanese conservation groups, is the latest in the long-running controversy over the expansion of a U.S. Marine base at Henoko Bay. There were an estimated 50 Okinawa dugongs left in the world in 1997; today there are probably just a few dozen.
The Center has been fighting for more than a decade to save these vanishing dugongs.
“These gentle animals are adored by both locals and tourists. Paving over some of the last places they survive will not only likely be a death sentence for them, it will be a deep cultural loss for the Okinawan people,” said the Center’s Peter Galvin.
Read more in our press release.
Lawsuit Launched to Protect 17 Amphibians, Reptiles in Southeast
The Center for Biological Diversity this week filed a notice of intent to sue the Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to decide whether 17 increasingly rare amphibians and reptiles in the Southeast should be considered for Endangered Species Act protection.
In July 2012 the Center petitioned to protect alligator snapping turtles, six snake species, the Carolina gopher frog, the Cedar Key mole skink, the Florida scrub lizard and seven lungless salamanders. All of them are threatened with extinction because of habitat loss and other factors. The government has missed its deadline for deciding whether our petition will move forward.
“There’s broad scientific consensus that amphibians and reptiles face a profound, human-driven extinction crisis that requires prompt action,” said the Center’s Collette Adkins Giese. “The Endangered Species Act has a nearly perfect record of stopping animals from going extinct — it’s hands-down our best tool for saving these guys.”
Read more in USA TODAY.
Scientists Urge Federal Protection of Northern Long-eared Bats
The fungal disease “white-nose syndrome” has devastated northern long-eared bats, wiping out 99 percent of the population in their core range. So more than 80 scientists sent a letter Monday urging the Fish and Wildlife Service to finalize last year’s proposal to fully protect them under the Endangered Species Act. Scientists are gravely concerned that the agency may be on the brink of caving to special interests to give the bats only “threatened” instead of “endangered” status — which would let companies continue to log, mine and otherwise destroy bat habitat.
In the eight years since the white-nose epidemic arrived in upstate New York, it has spread to 25 states and five Canadian provinces, killing bats of six different species — about 7 million animals at last count. The northern long-eared bat has been the most severely affected species, and in the Northeast it has nearly disappeared.
Only the western states and Canadian provinces are still unaffected by the fungal epidemic, and most researchers expect these regions will eventually become infected too.
Read more in our press release.
Orcas Suffer Another Heartbreaking Loss, But Efforts to Save Them Are Underway
Critically endangered orcas in the Pacific Northwest continue to face threats that put their future survival in question, and now they’ve suffered another heartbreaking loss with the confirmed death of a pregnant female.
These orcas, otherwise known as the southern resident killer whales (SRKW), live in three distinct pods (J,K and L) and travel through Puget Sound, the Strait of Georgia and the Strait of Juan de Fuca during the summer months before migrating to the open ocean in the winter.
Even with live captures being banned, federal protection and millions spent on research and recovery efforts, they’ve yet to make a comeback. The latest blow comes with the confirmation that the most recent death was Rhapsody (J32), an 18 year-old female member of the J-pod who was found near Courtenay, BC in northwest Georgia Strait. Her loss was compounded by a necropsy that confirmed she was pregnant with a full-term fetus.
Some experts suspect her death was related to complications with her pregnancy, but nothing has been confirmed yet.
“The fetus was decomposing,” Ken Balcomb, Director of the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, who also assisted in the necropsy, told CBS News. “The tests will be able to tell whether the fetus was already dead before the mother died, and therefore may have been the cause of her death.”
Rumors swirled this summer that she might be pregnant, raising hope that these orcas would be welcoming a new family member soon, which makes her death twice as heartbreaking and raises even more concerns about how another loss will affect them.
They have already lost two adult members this year. In August it was reported that 37-year-old L53 (Lulu) and 13-year-old L100 (Indigo) had not been spotted and are presumed to have died, which brought the population’s number down to only 78 members – the lowest it’s been since 1985. In September, orca advocates and researchers celebrated the birth of a calf who was the first to be born to the L pod in two years, but the calf tragically did not survive.
Even though they were protected under the Endangered Species Act in 2005, with the recent loss of Rhapsody there are only 77 left of these orcas left in the wild – which leaves them with 11 fewer members than there were when they were declared endangered.
While they continue to face a variety of threats from boat traffic and noise to toxic pollutants, many believe that the biggest problem is now a lack of food. Their main food source, Chinook salmon, is also endangered due to habitat loss, overfishing and dams. Balcomb, previously stated that addressing their food source is what matters most now if we want to help these orcas recover.
To address this issue, Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) recently started Don’t Let Our Orcas Be Dammed, a campaign that is focused on the rivers the salmon rely on and efforts to remove four dams in the Klamath River – JC Boyle, the Iron Gate, and Copco No. 1 and Copco No. 2. – which runs through Oregon and out to the Pacific in Northern California.
According to WDC: ”Commercial fishermen, native tribes, PacifiCorp (the electricity company that owns and operates all four dams), farmers, fish biologists, and environmentalists have all agreed that taking these dams down is the best thing to help restore the Klamath River Basin. And, it saves money – it will cost less to tear the dams down than it would to upgrade them to today’s standards (including regulations involving fish passage).”
Now WDC is pushing Congress to pass the Klamath Basin Water Recovery and Economic Restoration Act, which will ensure funding for dam removal.
For more info on how to help support the campaign to help these orcas, visit Whale and Dolphin Conservation.
Alicia Graef|December 10, 2014
Slow down as manatees start their swim to warmer waters
The annual migration of Florida manatees to warmer waters begins in November, which is Manatee Awareness Month.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) encourages boaters to help protect migrating manatees by looking out and slowing down for these aquatic mammals that often rest or congregate underwater and can be difficult to see.
“During Manatee Awareness Month, the FWC encourages the public to celebrate manatees by learning more about these gentle giants, including the importance of people’s actions in conserving this iconic Florida species,” said Carol Knox, the FWC’s Imperiled Species Management section leader.
“Boaters slowing down and watching out for manatees can help protect this species from injury. Anyone who spots a manatee that is injured, entangled in fishing line or otherwise in distress can help initiate a rescue by calling the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922,” Knox said.
On their annual trek, manatees, including mothers and their calves, swim along Florida’s many rivers, bays and coastal areas in search of the warmer, more stable temperatures found in freshwater springs, man-made canals and power plant outflows. Unlike dolphins and other marine mammals, manatees do not have true blubber to insulate them from waters below 68 degrees Fahrenheit, so they must find warmer waters during their migration to survive the winter cold.
Despite their size, with adults weighing 1,000 pounds on average, manatees can be difficult to spot. That is why it is important for boaters in Florida, including those using personal watercraft, to slow down to prevent collisions with manatees, particularly in shallow areas or posted manatee protection zones. On Nov. 15, many seasonal manatee protection zones around the state go into effect. For manatee protection zones by county, including the seasonal changes, go to MyFWC.com/Manatee, and click on “Data and Maps.”
Tips on how to spot manatees:
- Wear polarized sunglasses when boating.
- Look for circular patterns on the water’s surface – the so-called “manatee footprints” that indicate a manatee’s presence below.
- Be careful when boating near shallow seagrass beds, where manatees like to graze.
- Watch for posted signs indicating manatee protection zones and appropriate boating speeds.
- Find out about great places in winter to watch manatees by going to MyFWC.com/Manatee and clicking on “Where Can I See Manatees in Florida?”
People can support the FWC’s manatee research, rescue, rehabilitation and management efforts by purchasing the “Save the Manatee” Florida license plate at BuyaPlate.com, or by donating $5 to receive an FWC manatee decal by going to MyFWC.com/Manatee and clicking on “Decals.”
Learn more about manatees at MyFWC.com/Manatee, where you can find “A boater’s guide to Florida manatees” and other information.
DEP PERMIT FOR THE L-8
Critical water storage and treatment will be bolstered by latest construction effort
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Office of Ecosystem Projects issued a permit to the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) today to construct the L-8 Divide Structure, a key component of strategies to restore south Florida ecosystems. The L-8 Divide Structure will assist the movement of stormwater into the L-8 Flow Equalization Basin providing much needed water storage and, when necessary, directing water from the L-8 Flow Equalization Basin south to designated stormwater treatment areas.
“The department and the South Florida Water Management District continue to make progress on Governor Scott’s strategies to restore south Florida’s ecosystems,” said DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard. “This project is another significant step forward for the region as we work to increase our water storage and water treatment capacity and move cleaner water south, where it will ensure proper nourishment of Florida’s Everglades.”
The L-8 Flow Equalization Basin will use a 53-foot-deep reservoir capable of storing approximately 45,000 acre-feet of water, or the equivalent of 22,500 Olympic-sized swimming pools of water. The below-ground reservoir was a former rock mine site located in central Palm Beach County. The location’s unique geology allows for deep, below-ground storage, reduces water loss through seepage and minimizes levee safety concerns. The L-8 Flow Equalization Basin consists of seven interconnected cells that will be utilized to manage basin stormwater. During storm events and other peak flow times, the reservoir will act as a storage feature. During dry periods, the reservoir will deliver flows for optimized treatment prior to those flows entering the Everglades.
Other project elements such as the construction of a permanent discharge pump station and the inflow feature are already underway and on schedule for completion by Dec. 2016. The construction of embankment protection features is also nearing completion. Total project cost for the L-8 Flow Equalization Basin and associated projects is $75.5 million, with $35 million spent to date. Construction of the L-8 Divide Structure is scheduled for Aug. 2014 through Oct. 2016. The total project cost for the divide structure is $5.6 million. When completed, the L-8 Equalization Flow Basin will store up to 15 billion gallons of water so it can be treated and moved south to the Everglades.
The water quality plan includes:
- 6,500 acres of additional stormwater treatment areas, which are man-made managed wetlands that naturally remove phosphorus from water prior to the water being discharged into the Everglades;
- 110,000 acre-feet of water storage capabilities in flow equalization basins or reservoirs that work with the proposed and existing stormwater treatment areas to regulate flows and optimize treatment efficiency; and
- Other components of the plan include engineering projects in existing treatment areas and the modification of conveyance features necessary to move the water through the SFWMD’s massive flood control and water delivery features.
Alico to store 34 billion gallons of Caloosahatchee watershed water
CLEWISTON, FL. — In an ongoing effort to increase water storage to protect South Florida’s coastal estuaries and natural systems, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Governing Board today approved agreements with various land owners including Alico in Hendry county that more than double the overall water retention capacity in its Dispersed Water Management program.
In the largest storage contract, the District reached an agreement with Alico, Inc., on 35,192 acres of ranchland that will retain an annual average of 91,944 acre-feet of water from the Caloosahatchee River Watershed. This is an amount equal to approximately 34.5 billion gallons of water. This property also has the potential of sending water back into the Caloosahatchee River during the dry season.
The approved contracts will add a total potential of 95,812 acre-feet of storage to the program, or about 36 billion gallons annually. This is the equivalent of 1.5 inches of water in Lake Okeechobee, a 730-square-mile lake at the heart of South Florida’s water management system. The program currently has a retention capacity of 93,342 acre-feet across 43 sites.
“Storing water on ranchlands has proven to be an effective tool in the District’s ongoing effort to protect the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries,” said SFWMD Governing Board Chairman Daniel O’Keefe. “Today’s action shows this agency’s commitment to the Dispersed Water Management program, and we support its continued expansion to protect South Florida’s natural systems.”
Don Browne|sw.Florida.blogspot|December 11, 2014
Water Quality Issues
Florida’s Year of Water
Florida is the nation’s “Water State.” Surrounded by estuaries and oceans on three sides, receiving an average of about 150 billion gallons each day from rainfall and underlain by trillions of gallons of fresh groundwater, Florida’s image is synonymous with H2O.
Water in lakes, streams, rivers, wetlands and springs. Water reflecting the sunshine along endless sandy beaches. Water, clean and pure.
Amendment 1, proposed and promoted by the Florida Water and Land Legacy Initiative, received over 700,000 citizen petitions to reach the November ballot and then won the approval of 75 percent of Florida’s voters. Environmental issues consistently achieve high public approval in the Water State.
It is no surprise that Floridians know what is important for their futures — a healthy and protected environment is the bedrock of Florida’s economy and quality of life. Above all else, the most important ingredient for our state’s environmental health is a plentiful supply of pure water.
Unfortunately, within the past few decades, Florida’s image has become more like a mirage than a reality. As a result of our mad rush for economic growth at any cost, Florida has significantly impaired its once pristine waters. Polluted and depleted by harmful human activities, Florida’s waters are fast losing their aesthetic and economic appeal.
Waterways choked by algae. Dying springs. Desiccated wetlands and dry lake beds. Depleted fisheries. Red tide. Sick manatees and porpoises. And a poisoned aquifer.
While Florida’s voters were clear on their support for environmental protection, their election of leaders sent a mixed message. With neither gubernatorial candidate receiving 50 percent of voter approval, it appears that Floridians are confused about who will best ensure a healthy environmental future.
The continuing degradation of Florida’s water resources over the past 30 years, under both Democratic and Republican majorities, is a good indication that neither party has a lock on providing effective environmental protection. This observation proves that neither party has had the ability to stand up to the real decision makers in Tallahassee — the special interests. Under the guise of job creation, economic growth, and creation of durable and consumable goods, a relatively small number of individuals and corporations are reaping big profits by polluting and depleting Florida’s waters. They include home builders, fertilizer and chemical companies, mining operations, industrial farms, and public and private utilities, to name a few.
These special interests and their lobbyists create the myth that environmental protection and economic prosperity are mutually exclusive. We know this myth is not true. We know that polluting and degrading our waters and lands — in the name of job creation and continuing urban and agricultural development — is not our preferred future. That is why Floridians supported Amendment 1 with a super majority.
We are at a crucial point in Florida’s history. Our decisions now will determine if we turn our backs on a sustainable water future, or if we choose to consciously strike off on a new path where we no longer tolerate the depletion and pollution of the public’s surface and ground waters.
Our drinking waters. Our parks. Our springs, lakes and rivers. Our beaches. Our future.
Florida’s elected and appointed leaders need to be reminded that it is we, the people, who pay their salaries. We will not be fooled by rhetoric, by myths, by promises of elusive wealth. We see the nutrient-fueled algae growth in our rivers, lakes and estuaries; the springs turning from blue to green; and the red tides and dying fish — and that is not the future that we Floridians voted for this fall.
Florida’s 2015 Legislature and governor have a new mandate to protect Florida’s fragile water environments from over-exploitation and pollution. Let next year be a true watershed moment in Florida’s history. Plug the loopholes that have been inserted by special interests and compliant politicians in Florida’s Water Resources Act of 1972. Accelerate schedules for water restoration actions. Stress the importance of statewide water conservation. Put new energy into finding ways to stop pollution at its source. And beef up enforcement and public oversight of our water-protection laws. Use Amendment 1 funding to make significant strides toward a healthier environment. And make us proud of our status as the Water State!
Robert L. Knight|Director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute in Gainesville.
Half a million acre feet wasted to sea? That’s what happened in 1995 at Port of the Islands. But that was before we knew better, right? And restoration is on the way?
The above bar chart shows annual discharge volumes out of the area formerly knows as the Southern Golden Gate Estates to tide. The historical percentiles are shown on the right. As you can see, over 300,000 acre feet still flowed over the weir in 2013. But those flows are numbered. Once the Picayune restoration project is complete, this wasted water will be used to rehydrate Picayune Strand instead, from where it will slow drip as sheetflow to the coastal estuaries below.
Yes and yes.
That wasted water will soon be used to rehydrate Picayune Strand instead.
08 Apr 2014
A New Northern Everglades Water Quality Project Breaks Ground
Last week, the Spring Lake Improvement District (SLID) broke ground on a new project that will clean up water before it flows to Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades. This innovative project will store and treat stormwater from their property before it enters Arbuckle Creek, on its way to Lake Istokpoga, and then on to Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades.
The ground-breaking was initiated by (left to right) Highlands County Commissioner Don Elwell, Gene Schriner, project engineer, Brian Acker of SLID, Marty Mielke, Senator Grimsley’s office, Representative Cary Pigman, and Highlands County Commissioner Greg Harris.
Currently, polluted stormwater from Lake Wales Ridge, Sebring Regional Airport and U.S. 98 flows the residential areas around Spring Lake. The new project will capture this water and treat it in stormwater ponds before it flows on to Arbuckle Creek and areas throughout the Everglades. In addition to these water quality benefits, Spring Lake Improvement District plans to manage the area for wildlife viewing and enjoyment for its residents.
The 70-acre system is funded through a $416,000 legislative appropriation to the SLID with $625,000 of matching funds from a DEP grant. Sen. Denise Grimsley and Rep. Cary Pigman helped obtain legislative funding, with support from Audubon. This project is part of an admirable $4 million effort on the part of this small District to improve water management.
The Spring Lake Improvement District is an independent special district that provides services to Spring Lake, a community on the northern shore of Lake Istokpoga in Highlands County. The Spring Lake community was designed 50 years ago and has experienced stormwater runoff problems in recent years.
Audubon scientist Paul Gray has been following this project in its development and notes, “This project has the type of vision that helps meet stormwater goals for this community, by adding an amenity for its residents and protecting Arbuckle Creek and Lake Istokpoga, which are the natural beauty that attracted the development in the first place.”
Beautiful Arbuckle Creek will be a beneficiary of the Spring Lake project.
For more information on this project, please click here.
November 5, 2014 in Lake Okeechobee
Let’s Talk About 40 Years of Safe Drinking Water
This month marks the 40th anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act. We’ve made such incredible progress in improving the safety of the water we drink over the past 40 years that today we almost take it for granted. But, clean and reliable water is at the very foundation of what makes our communities strong. It’s what lets our children grow up healthy, keeps our schools and hospitals running, and fuels our economy.
As one part of our commemoration of this important milestone, I’ll be participating in a Twitter chat on Tuesday, December 16, at 1:00 pm ET. We’ll talk about the accomplishments of the past 40 years under the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the challenges that lie ahead. Please plan to join the conversation by asking questions and sharing your ideas for ways that we can continue to ensure we all have safe water to drink!
Want to join me?
Before the chat:
· Plan to participate on December 16, 2014 starting at 1:00 pm ET.
· Encourage your friends to take part, too.
To learn more about this milestone for our nation’s drinking water, read my blog post, “Safe Drinking Water Act Turning 40,” and visit the 40 Years of Safe Drinking Water website. You can also watch me discuss the anniversary in this video. I look forward to our chat on Tuesday!
Peter Grevatt, Ph.D.|director of EPA’s Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water|2014 December 12
Great Lakes & Inland Waters
Indian River IWW maintenance dredging starts in January
Navigation maintenance dredging of the Intracoastal Waterway (IWW) Indian River Reach 1 in the Indian River Lagoon will start in early January. The dredging area begins a half-mile north of the Indian River County line and extends south for approximately eight miles to the Wabasso Causeway. In addition to improving navigation safety, the dredging will also provide significant environmental benefits by removing muck from the federal navigation channel.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded the $6,058,675 maintenance dredging contract for the Indian River Reach 1 in September to Cavache, Inc., of Pompano Beach, Fla. The contract is funded in partnership with the Florida Inland Navigation District. The Corps anticipates project construction to last approximately five months.
Currently averaging a depth of 9 to 10 feet, the maintenance dredging will remove approximately 300,000 cubic yards of material from the federal channel. The work will return the channel to its federally-authorized depth of 12 feet and provide for safer navigation along the waterway. The dredging will also remove muck from the channel, which is an added bonus for the environment, said Corps project manager Brandon Burch. Muck is a combination of fine sand and decayed organic material that, when stirred by storms or boat wakes, clouds the water and reduces sunlight penetration that is vital to the health of the aquatic environment.
Cavache will place the dredged material in the Dredge Material Management Area IR2, located between U.S. Highway 1 and the IWW near Sebastian in Indian River County. The material has been tested and provides no health risk, but the fine silt material is regrettably not suitable for beach placement.
The Corps asks the public to use caution in the channel during dredging operations and for local residents to be patient with the temporary construction noise as the project progresses. For more information about the Indian River Reach 1 dredging project, please contact Burch at 904-232-2451 or Ms. Shelley Trulock at 904-232-3292. For more information on Corps of Engineer projects, go to www.saj.usace.army.mil.
Tea Party-Controlled Legislature Pushes ‘Industry-Driven’ Great Lakes Water Withdrawal Bill
The Ohio legislature, dominated by a Tea Party-controlled Republican supermajority, often seems to be creating more problems than it solves. And it could be creating a problem with international ramifications. In its lame duck session, the chamber passed HB 490 last week, a water quality bill which alters standards for withdrawing water from Lake Erie and its tributaries, and sent it to the state Senate, where it’s expected to pass.
The omnibus bill contains some good things, such as new restrictions on use of fertilizers on farmland, one of the causes of last summer’s algae bloom in Lake Erie that shut off the water supply to nearly 400,000 people in the Toledo area. But there’s a lot of dissent about its new rules for the withdrawal of Lake Erie water by industrial and other heavy users. And when there’s disagreement about the impact of something this legislature is doing, it’s wise to be wary especially when the fairly conservative Cleveland Plain Dealer calls it “a last-minute, larded-up mid-biennium agricultural bill” with “an industry-driven, water-withdrawal amendment that could condemn Lake Erie to death by a thousand straws.”
Among other things, the new language would consider only the impact of withdrawals on water level and not on wildlife or pollutant levels, potentially violating the 2008 Great Lakes Compact between the eight Great Lakes states and the international Great Lakes St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact with Ontario and Quebec. Joel Brammeier, president and CEO of the nonprofit environmental group Alliance for the Great Lakes, told the Plain Dealer that if Ohio starts picking and choosing which parts of the compact it wants to follow other states might do the same.
“The risk to the Great Lakes is that we go back and start rehashing more than a decade of work that started in 1998 because Ohio has chosen to renege (on) part of the compact,” he told the paper. “That’s not a good use of anybody’s time.”
The Ohio Environmental Council (OEC) says,”OEC strongly opposes the new amendment to the Great Lakes St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact. We believe the amendment violates the letter and spirit of the Great Lakes Compact and leaves Ohio vulnerable to litigation, poses risks to water quantity and the wildlife of Lake Erie, and will harm the public’s and sportsmen’s enjoyment of Lake Erie and wildlife.”
OEC pointed out that Governor John Kasich vetoed a similar provision in 2011, saying “Ohio’s legislation lacks clear standards for conservation and withdrawals and does not allow for sufficient evaluation and monitoring of withdrawals or usage.”
As the Akron Beacon Journal put it in an editorial, Don’t Break the Compact, the “misguided language has resurfaced.”
The paper expressed the hope that the governor will remove that language when the rushed bill lands on his desk, although it’s hard to guess what Kasich, reelected in a landslide to his second and final term and rumored to be harboring presidential aspirations, will do. State representative Teresa Fedor, a Democrat from Toledo, attempted to remove language in the House but that was voted down. Republican Lynn Wachtmann from nearly Napoleon, Ohio, who runs a bottled water company, pooh-poohed objections, telling the Toledo Blade, “Since we passed the original Great Lakes bill, I don’t believe there’s been a single permit issued by (the Department of Natural Resources) to withdraw additional water from any watershed that I’m aware of. So any reference that this bill or something else previous is any cause of algae bloom is nothing less that ridiculous. The water issue in Toledo has zero to do with this issue.”
Anastasia Pantsios|November 25, 2014
Nicaragua’s Great Lake in Danger
Measuring the Depth of Lake Nicaragua Along Proposed Canal Route Confirms the Worst Predictions
Southwest of the Maderas volcano, where the Rivas coast is a line fading into the distance, Lake Cocibolca’s immensity is on prominent display: breezes softly comb stretches of water that are seemingly endless. Sonar has marked this as the deepest point on the route for the “Great Inter-Oceanic Canal” through a lake that the Spanish conquistadores, stunned upon encountering it, named, “the Sweet Sea.”
Economist Juan Sebastián Chamorro, captain of the ship Calypso, backed up by a Hummingbird 980sci side-scan sonar, calculated that on the muddy shores of El Tule, in the municipality of the San Juan River, there are a scant 10 to 15 kilometers (six to nine miles) along the canal route traced by the Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co., Limited (HKND) that are deep enough to accommodate the huge new Post-Panamax megaships (the latest in super-sized cargo ships). (It is these ships that are the rationale to build this new canal.)
“They’d have to dredge almost the whole route, because what we have is that only a single stretch of the 105 km [65 miles] planned has a depth between 27 and 30 meters [88 and 99 feet],” said Chamorro while he maneuvered the Calypso to keep it from running aground. After analyzing the results, he realized the depths included in the map of the proposed route of the canal were identical to those on maps of the lake made in 1899 and 1972 (and thus unlikely to have been the results of more recent measurements).
Lake Cocibolca has always been in the sights of canal-making ventures. Since the 19th Century, first with the U.S. government and now with the Chinese businessman Wang Jing, who holds the franchise granted by Daniel Ortega’s administration, dozens of projects have been cooked up premised on taking advantage of the lake to sail great ships. But few have made scientific studies of the lake’s depth and the implications of the dredging that would be needed to realize the planned canal.
Last July, HKND’s chief engineer, Dong Yunsong, announced the route for the “Grand Canal,” a route which was not all that different from the one in studies sketched out under former-President Enrique Bolaños. “The Canal will have a total length of 278 kilometers [173 miles], of which 105 are through Lake Cocibolca,” Dong said through a translator.
In Managua, Dong said that the Canal would measure 230 to 250 meters (755 to 820 feet) wide, and that its depth would range between 27.6 and 30 meters (91 and 99 feet). Immediately, Nicaragua’s scientific community intensified its alarm over the future of the Great Lake, Latin America’s second largest. The reason: its scant depth.
The last bathymetric or topographic registry made of Cocibolca dates back to 1972. Though outdated, it is the latest reference available. That report gave the first indications of the unavoidable dredging that the lake would have to undergo to meet the projected specifications of the canal. How much would need to be excavated from the lake’s bottom to run the pit through the waterway? What repercussions would that have on flora and fauna? Would it affect the quality of the water? These are among the questions officials have yet to answer.
To facilitate the measurement of the depths of the Cocibolca, the 105 kilometer route was divided up into several sections marked off, following the map submitted by HKND. The first section went from Obrajuelo to H2, the second section from H2 to H3, the third from H3 to H4, the fourth from H4 to H5, and the fifth from H5 to Tule.
On September 27, an expedition for Confidencial, led by sailors Juan Sebastián Chamorro, commanding the Calypso, and Pedro Joaquín Chamorro (President of the tourism commission of the National Assembly) piloting the boat La Bachi, set sail from the coastal town of Obrajuelo, near the Las Lajas river in Rivas. [Pedro Joaqin is the brother of Confidencial’s editor, Carlos Chamorro, and Juan Sebastian is his cousin.] The Canal pit would exit the lake and cut through to the Pacific right through this small town.
Eighty years old, with more than a dozen books on national geography and natural resources to his name, he is the most authoritative voice in the country on environmental issues. Jaime Incer Barquero, former Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources Ministry (MARENA),…
The day’s mission was to cover the 105 kilometers (65 miles) of the Canal route that were within the lake, following the line drawn by HKND as faithfully as possible. To get coordinates, the sailors traced the map given to them by Dong Yunsong.
This trip was divided by five marks to facilitate measuring the lake bottom in sections. “The five points chosen overlapped with the route supposedly laid out for the canal with a real route done with a GPS. First we traced the points and then we entered them into the GPS, and then followed it to take some depth samples,” said Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, laying out the technical points.
Eleven degrees 24 minutes 385 seconds North were the coordinates. The waters were choppy. The heading was toward the second mark, or H2 as they abbreviated it, five kilometers (three miles) northwest of Obrajuelo, where the Canal route makes a small break toward the island of Ometepe and then proceeds in a straight line.
The first stretch we travel—from Obrajuelo to H2—is five kilometers (three miles) point to point. The depth marked is 2.1 meters (6.8 feet), 27 fewer than the Canal requires. The sonar picked up rocky formations that begin on the coast and go 900 meters (just over half a mile) in. On the sonar screen the rocks appear as corrugated irregularities on the lake bottom. As we moved away from shore, the 2.1 meters (6.8 feet) of depth increased to 8.7 meters (28.5 feet). We have reached H2.
The next stretch is from H2 to H3. The peak of the Concepción volcano, in Ometepe, looks greener as we approach. The current sweeps along some trash. The sonar determines an average depth of 12.3 meters (40 feet) between H2 and H3 and at one point reaches 18 meters (60 feet). La Bachi’s motors speed up and on Calypso’s radio we could hear the voice of Representative Pedro Joaquín Chamorro:
“La Bachi to Calypso, over,” said Chamorro.
“Go ahead, Pedro,” replied Juan Sebastián.
“We’re almost on top of the trench!” came the reply.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Map made by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1899.
When the U.S. was interested in cutting an interoceanic path through Nicaragua, it commissioned studies of the terrain which were presented to the authorities to determine the project’s viability.
One of those documents was a hydrographic study done in 1899, carried out by Rear Admiral John G. Walker, Chief of the U.S. Bureau of Navigation; Colonel Peter C. Hains, of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; and Professor Lewis M. Haupt, a civil engineer.
The measurements of Cocibolca made by the Americans determined that there is a space from the Maderas volcano running West to East where depths vary between “80 to more than 100 feet,” (between 24 and 36 meters).
In 1972, the National Development Institute of Nicaragua (INFONAC) commissioned a bathymetric study of the Great Lake, which established that the lake’s deepest zones matched those the U.S. researchers found, from Maderas towards the Solentiname islands. That is the last study available currently, when the Canal venture is now once again seducing Nicaragua with a promise of progress. But 42 years later, has the depth of the lake remained the same, taking into account the millions of pounds of sediment that have accumulated in the enormous body of water?
WILFREDO MIRANDA ABURTO, CARLOS HERRERA|12.05.14
Officials plan to discuss Kalamazoo River cleanup
KALAMAZOO — Officials this week plan to hold a public meeting to discuss ideas being considered for an upcoming Kalamazoo River cleanup. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will provide information and answer questions about cleanup options for the portion of the Kalamazoo River from the Morrow Dam in Kalamazoo County’s Comstock Township to Plainwell.
The meeting is at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Radisson Plaza Hotel in Kalamazoo. The EPA expects to propose a cleanup plan next year. After the plan is announced there will be a public comment period as well as a formal hearing to explain details of the work.
The EPA says Georgia- Pacific LLC, one of several parties legally responsible for the site, produced a feasibility study that describes and analyzes several cleanup options. Those range from no further action to massive multi-million dollar excavations.
The area is part of the 80-mile Kalamazoo River Superfund cleanup. The Kalamazoo River was tainted for decades with industrial waste from paper mills and other manufacturing plants. Problems include contamination by polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. The EPA’s goals for reducing the amount of PCBs in soil and sediment are set in part to protect people’s health and the environment, comply with state and federal regulations and ensure that fish caught in the river other waterways are safe to eat. A fish-consumption advisory has been in place since the 1970s. Officials want to protect people who live, work and play along the river.
Offshore & Ocean
Soaps and cosmetics found in Antarctic waters
Contaminants from personal care products are beginning to pollute the waters around Antarctica
A University of Canterbury research project has found everyday chemicals used in personal care products including soaps, cosmetics and sunscreens are present in sewage effluents discharged from Antarctic research bases.
Active ingredients in personal care products are a class of emerging contaminants increasingly being studied.
The study, funded by Antarctica New Zealand and reported in the Journal of Environmental Research, was undertaken by a Canterbury PhD student Phil Emnet under the supervision of Dr Sally Gaw, Professor Bryan Storey from Gateway Antarctica and Dr Grant Northcott from Northcott Research Consultants.
“Emerging organic contaminants (EOCs) are contaminants that are not routinely monitored for in the environment and have the potential to have adverse ecological or human health effects,” Dr Gaw says.
Dr Emnet adds: “These emerging contaminants were also found in Antarctic coastal waters at concentrations comparable to more urban areas elsewhere in the world including New Zealand.
“What was interesting was how widespread some of the EOCs were in the Antarctic coastal waters. We found contaminants along larger coastal areas than we expected.
“It is likely that the environmental conditions, including extreme cold, could have contributed to the persistence of some of these compounds in seawater.
“Sewage discharges may therefore be having greater impacts over a much wider area in marine environments than previously thought.”
The presence of these contaminants in surface waters is of international concern as many of these everyday chemicals are designed to be biologically active and may have adverse effects on marine organisms.
However, the vulnerability of Antarctic organisms to these contaminants has not been studied, Gaw says.
“This study will lead to better waste management and monitoring systems being put in place for Antarctic research programs. This study highlights Antarctica New Zealand’s commitment to reducing the impacts of scientific research on Antarctica,’’ she says.
Antarctica New Zealand’s Dr Neil Gilbert says the aim as a responsible national Antarctic program is to use the best available research knowledge to help improve environmental management practices.
Town of Palm Beach’s Sand transfer plant out of operation
The town’s sand transfer plant at the southern tip of Singer Island, already crippled by a reduction in sand flow, is now out of operation because of an electrical failure.
“Right now, the plant is broken and they’re fixing it,” town consultant Mike Jenkins, coastal engineering principal at Applied Technology and Management, said Thursday. He spoke during a public meeting at Town Hall on the status of the town’s beaches.
The town relies on the plant, located at the southern tip of Singer Island, to feed its eroded beaches with sand otherwise trapped by the Lake Worth Inlet jetties.
“An electrical problem occurred early last month,” Coastal Coordinator Rob Weber said. “It’s being corrected right now. It should be fixed by the end of the month.”
It’s the second time this year that town officials have announced a setback for the plant. Last summer, the town said it was investigating the cause of a steep drop in the volume of sand moving within reach of the plant. That problem has caused it to pump far less sand during the last two years than it normally does, town officials said.
After being refurbished in 2010, the plant pumped a little more than 200,000 cubic yards in a year, according to Palm Beach County. But in 2013, it pumped less than 50,o00 cubic yards.
Sand movement is affected by many factors, including weather, tides, current and wave climate, Public Works Director Paul Brazil has said. But he said the town is concerned that an artificial reef may be blocking or diverting the flow of sand away from the plant.
From 2009 to 2011, Palm Beach County installed a 1.9-acre reef off Singer Island, about a mile north of the plant. “It may be a factor, and we’re looking at it,” Brazil said earlier this year.
Town consultants, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have been gathering data and analyzing the problem. Weber said Thursday that findings should be released in January.
When he said the plant was out of operation, Jenkins was responding to a question from resident Connie Gasque, who wanted to know what’s causing the reduction in sand flow. She suggested the cause must be the artificial reef or the sand settling basin north of the north inlet jetty. In 2012-13, the basin was expanded so it would capture more sand in an effort to reduce shoaling in the inlet’s navigation channel.
“If we don’t get sand, we are in big trouble for every reach,” Gasque said (the town’s shore is divided into eight reaches for coastal management purposes).
Weber said, however, that recent wave energy has been pushing more sand near the plant. “If it becomes operational, we can certainly dig that out,” he said.
Woods Hole Group, the consultant that reviewed the town’s 10-year coastal management plan, has referred to the plant as a “critical component” of the town’s coastal protection arsenal.
Sanford Kuvin, whose East Inlet Drive home has faced the inlet for 50 years, said sand from the plant has been reduced to a trickle. “There’s been virtually no sand coming for almost a year now,” he said in an interview later Thursday.
More than 40 people, including town, state and county officials, residents and environmentalists, attended Thursday’s meeting, hosted by the DEP to give a status report on the first year of the Palm Beach Island Beach Management Agreement.
The agreement was implemented in September 2013 by the DEP’s Bureau of Beaches and Coastal Systems to take a regional approach to permitting beach nourishment and inlet management. It applies to the nearly 16 miles of Atlantic coast between the Lake Worth and Boynton inlets, 12 miles of which fall within the town.
William Kelly|Daily News Staff Writer|Dec. 5, 2014
Deeper mill channel sought in St. Andrew Bay
PANAMA CITY — As cargo ships get bigger, Panama City mill company RockTenn is seeking a deeper shipping channel in St. Andrew Bay.
To begin the process to dredge a portion of the East Channel, Port Panama City is sponsoring a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) study to explore the environmental and economic impacts of the project, which would deepen RockTenn’s cargo terminal from 30 to 36 feet.
As one of North America’s leading manufacturers of paperboard and packaging materials, RockTenn’s Panama City facility produces unbleached Kraft linerboard and bleached market pulp product, which is exported to 28 countries.
Although the Port Authority does not directly conduct business with the mill, Director Wayne Stubbs said RockTenn’s shipping activity is vital to sustain.
“The ships are getting bigger, so they need to have deeper water to operate efficiently out of that facility,” Stubbs said. “We are cognizant that you need a certain amount of shipping activity to be a healthy port. It’s very important to the whole port infrastructure that (RockTenn’s) activity continues and is sustainable.”
The study began about six months ago and will include a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether the economic benefit justifies the public expense for the project.
“There is a way for a private company to pursue dredging in a federal channel outside their waters, but it’s pretty difficult to do,” Stubbs said. “In order for (the Corps) to dredge it and maintain it, there has to be some public interest involved.”
VALERIE GARMAN|News Herald Writer|December 4, 2014
FWC, partners see ultimate coral reef-building success
Researchers at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) observed transplanted nursery-raised staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) spawning for the first time this month at Tropical Rocks, just over 4 miles offshore of Marathon. These corals were supplied by the Coral Restoration Foundation and Mote Marine Lab nurseries and outplanted by the FWC. The project was made possible by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act via The Nature Conservancy.
The FWC, in collaboration with the Conservancy and other American Recovery and Reinvestment Act partners, began construction on the Middle Keys coral nursery in late 2009 but suffered setbacks due to a coldwater kill and, later, a warm-water bleaching event. The goal of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act project was to expand the current nurseries, develop new nurseries and outplant high numbers of nursery-grown corals throughout the Florida reef tract and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“This is the first time that we have seen staghorn coral spawning at the reef tract that included corals grown as part of our nursery program,” said Caitlin Lustic, coral recovery coordinator for the Conservancy in Florida. “This spawning event shows that outplanted corals have the ability to reproduce just like a natural colony and furthers our goal of creating breeding colonies of coral that can repopulate reefs on their own.”
The FWC and the Conservancy are reseeding coral reefs in efforts to aid recovery of wild staghorn populations. Staghorn coral contributes significantly to reef growth, island formation and coastal protection while providing essential habitat for a number of important reef fish.
“With this project, we developed excellent working relationships with the Conservancy and the rest of our partners,” said Kerry Maxwell, coral researcher with the FWC. “Together we boosted threatened staghorn populations and realized the ultimate goal of the project: spawning. Even though the project backed by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is complete, I anticipate we will all continue to collaborate toward the common goal of coral reef restoration.”
Can a Young Inventor Stop the Plague of Ocean “Ghost Net” Deaths?
There are ghosts in the ocean, and they claim millions of lives every year.
We’re talking about the lives of sea creatures like fish, turtles and marine mammals which become entangled in lost, discarded or abandoned fishing gear — especially netting. These nets are called “ghost nets” because they continue “fishing” even though no one will ever come to claim the creatures unfortunate enough to become trapped this way.
One Spanish engineering student has devised a way that could ensure no nets ever cause this problem on a long term basis again. His award-winning solution is marvelously simple in concept.
Alejandro Plasencia has created a biodegradable net that carries a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag. Called the Remora System, the netting is built to break down if left in the water for four years. Watch a video about the Remora System here:
“The ghost net and plastic soup phenomena threaten the way of life for many populations, so it’s a problem we were very interested in tackling,” Plasencia told Dezeen magazine. Plasencia’s netting includes d2w, an additive that causes the strands of the net to degrade safely and in a nontoxic manner.
“We were inspired by symbiotic relationships in nature, like the remora fish that attaches to sharks’ skin and keeps it clean by eating parasites, feces and leftovers,” Plasencia added.
“Abandoned fishing nets are a source of the 100 million tons of waste that float in the sea,” according to Plasencia. “Before decomposing into thousand of plastic bits, these ‘ghost nets’ carry on capturing fish and marine mammals.”
Indeed, lost and abandoned netting can cause serious problems for many years if left in place. Whales, dolphins, sea turtles, rays and many fish become caught with no hope of escape. They eventually starve or become the target for other ocean creatures, who themselves can become entangled.
Ghost nets are among the greatest killers in our oceans, and not only because of their numbers. Literally hundreds of kilometers of nets get lost every year and due to the nature of the materials used to produce these nets they can and will keep fishing for multiple decades, possibly even for several centuries.
Part of the ghost net problem stems from what it takes to properly dispose of old netting. Some countries charge fees to fishing operations that need to get rid of nets because it’s a lot of plastic that needs to be appropriately dealt with. Those sometimes hefty fees can lead the more unscrupulous fishermen to just abandon their old netting out in the open ocean.
Why must Remora netting last as long as four years? It’s a question of economics for users. Nets have to function as intended and provide a useful life cycle before they must be replaced. Fishermen will want netting that is strong enough to make their investment in this product cost effective.
The point of the Remora System is to help users find and remove their lost netting if possible. If fishermen realize they can’t find their netting, they employ the system’s associated smartphone app. The app tracks the RFID tag, guiding the fishermen to the exact location of the lost net. They can pull it aboard, fix it and deploy it again.
The “backup plan,” if you will, comes into play if the net remains abandoned or lost. When a Remora net sits in the water for a long time, up to four years, it will safely break down. At this point, future threats of entanglement disappear and the netting doesn’t add to the ocean’s exploding “plastic soup” problem.
Even better, fishermen still using regular netting can employ the system’s RFID tags and the app to monitor and find their gear if it goes astray.
“We looking for a very simple, cheap, small unobtrusive piece of technology which could enter the system and make a huge difference,” Plasencia told Dezeen magazine.
The Remora System won the national-level Dyson Award for Spain and was a finalist in the international-level competition in 2014. The annual James Dyson Award recognizes and rewards engineering students’ ground-breaking ideas, with the intent to “ignite young people’s interest in engineering.”
Hats off to the young man who wants to do something truly helpful to fight two battles — the war against plastic refuse in the ocean and the war on ghost net deaths. Alejandro Plasencia recognized a serious problem and came up with a simple but effective solution.
He’s winning awards. With luck, he’ll also win converts that will enable the Remora System and similar inventions to protect the ocean’s ecosystems around the world.
Susan Bird|December 9, 2014
Good News in Atlantic Stewardship for Sustainable Tuna
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) has created a strong and balanced Final Rule that will reduce the waste of Bluefin tuna and support the long-term sustainability of the U.S. Atlantic bluefin tuna fishery. The Final Amendment 7 to the 2006 Consolidated Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan was recently released, implementing regulations to commence January 1.
This is a strong and balanced Final Rule. The new, improved, bluefin tuna fishery includes a suite of responsible management measures that work together to protect areas of high bluefin abundance, significantly reduce and control incidental catch of bluefin overall, and improve data collection and monitoring of the U.S. Atlantic bluefin fishery.
Management of the most magnificent and mercurial fish in the sea is NOAA’s Fisheries greatest challenge. Seven different ways of taking tuna must be regulated across six different calendar seasons from the Gulf of Mexico to the Gulf of Maine, swallowed by a changing ocean.
Wildlife and Habitat
A 31-year Study of Loggerhead Nesting Signals the Alarm on Beach Erosion and Climate Change
Over the period of 31 years, the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Florida has had an estimated 358,243 turtle nests laid on its beach. As reported in an article in the most recent issue of Chelonian Conservation and Biology, the Carr Refuge has been one of the most important areas for loggerhead nesting in the entire Western Hemisphere, and their survival my hinge on preventing beach erosion, which appears to be the biggest factor in egg survival.
The central east coast of Florida is home to one of the largest nesting grounds of loggerhead turtles in the Western hemisphere. Over the period of 31 years, the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge has had an estimated 358,243 turtle nests laid on its beach. This refuge spans some 21 km, of which, 34.5% is publicly owned, 49.8% is residential, 12.6% is commercial, and the remaining 3.1% are small gaps used for public beach access.
An article in the journal Chelonian Conservation and Biology presents data from 1982 to 2012, showing the sea turtle reproduction trends of this area; this is one of the longest, continuous datasets available for sea turtle nesting. The authors show that for over 31 years, the Carr Refuge has been one of the most important areas for loggerhead nesting in the entire Western Hemisphere, and their survival my hinge on preventing beach erosion, which appears to be the biggest factor in egg survival.
The researchers studied hundreds of loggerhead nests and made six classifications of egg-fate: (1) preyed upon by raccoons, (2) eaten by ghost crabs, (3) washed out by erosion, (4) spoiled, (5) prematurity, and (6) a set of other factors (e.g., pipped eggs, infertile eggs, live and dead hatchlings, and infiltration by plant roots). Ultimately, erosion was the main reason that eggs did not reach full maturation.
The authors believe that given the egg-fate tied to erosion, a plan of action needs to be put in place to guard against the pending effects of climate change. Given that the sea level has risen 146 mm in 112 years, and continues to rise at a more rapid pace, the erosion of beaches will also continue more rapidly. This may cause the 49.8% of residential and 12.6% of commercial properties to reinforce their structures on the refuge. Armoring these properties would be disastrous for the habitat. A strategic plan could help prevent this and tackle the problem of naturally occurring erosion issues as well.
Lawrence, KS|(PRWEB)|December 08, 2014
Africa’s Giraffes Are Quietly Disappearing
While conservationists have been ringing alarm bells around the world calling for the protection of charismatic animals like elephants, rhinos and big cats who are disappearing at staggering rates, Africa has yet another iconic species who is in danger of disappearing and in desperate need of attention.
As recently as the late 1990s, there were more than an estimated 140,000 giraffes in Africa roaming 21 countries across the continent, but despite their towering stature as the tallest mammal in the world and seeming prevalence, they have been quietly disappearing from the landscape over the last decade with little fanfare.
According to new research from the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF), their numbers have dropped more than 40 percent over the last 15 years leaving only an estimated 80,000 individuals, but their decline has gone largely unnoticed by the world until now. While researchers don’t want to diminish the threat to elephants, or other species, they note that by comparison there are still 450,000 African elephants left in the wild.
“People love giraffes but they are taken for granted,” Dr. Julian Fennessy, executive director of the GCF, told the Daily Express. “The population has crashed. It’s a silent extinction. People assume they are everywhere and that they are the same across the continent.”
Unfortunately for this species, that’s not the case. Currently, giraffes, who have nine distinct subspecies based on genetics and geographic location, are listed as a species of least concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, but two subspecies – the West African giraffe and the Rothschild giraffe – have recently had their statuses changed to endangered.
Overall, they face the usual suspects when it comes to causes of species loss including habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation and conflicts with humans, in addition to poaching. Giraffes are killed for their meat and parts, but according to ABC News, a relatively new, and false, belief that consuming their brains and bone marrow can cure HIV/AIDS has added to the threats they now face.
Scientists note that our perception that they’re not in trouble and a lack of research have helped keep them off the radar when it comes to species we should be concerned about.
“I think they’re just overlooked,” David O’Connor, research coordinator with the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research, told Scientific American. “They’re so pervasive. Giraffes are everywhere. Look at kids’ books, which are full of giraffes. They’re always in zoo collections. They’re easily visible, so you don’t think we have to worry about them. But we do.”
Now, Fennessy, who is also co-chair of the the IUCN Giraffe & Okapi Specialist Group, and other researchers are putting together data on giraffe numbers to create an accurate census that they expect to publish next year. They hope more information will help raise awareness about the giraffe’s plight and lead to changes in their status that could help protect them.
So far efforts that have focused on protecting them have panned out. In the 1990s the population of the West African giraffe, who lives only in Niger, had dwindled down to a mere 50 individuals but laws banning hunting and poaching and partnerships with local communities are helping them start to rebound.
Hopefully new research and efforts from the conservation community focused on bringing giraffes into the spotlight and increasing protection can help keep these fascinating creatures from vanishing from our world.
For more info on work being done to protect them, visit the Giraffe Conservation Foundation.
Alicia Graef|December 9, 2014
Killing Wolves May Have a Reverse Effect on Livestock Populations
When humans decimated wolf populations, the idea was that farmers would no longer lose sheep and other livestock to the dog-like predators. But that horribly backfired, a new study has recently found.
Looking at 25 years of data, a group of researchers from Washington State University found that more livestock died when wolves were getting culled. It sounds counter-intuitive, but it turns out that for each wolf killed, the chances of a sheep getting killed rises by 4 percent and the chances of cattle getting killed increases by 5 to 6 percent.
“Livestock lobbyists are pretty much vehemently opposed to my research,” Rob Wielgus, one of the lead researchers, told the New York Times. “But in terms of hard science, it stood the test.”
Back in the 70′s the gray wolf was listed as endangered. It took more than 30 years for the wolves to recover, and lethal population control continues to be the primary method for protecting livestock. Killing wolves breaks up wolf packs, which disrupts the general trend of more mature breeding pairs stopping younger wolves from breeding. With all the killings, researchers suspect there are more young breeding pairs with less disciplined wolves. Put simply, killing wolves inadvertently increases their populations.
The reality is, wolves don’t account for most livestock deaths. In fact, they only account for 0.1 to 0.6 percent of deaths. Other predators, disease and birthing are all greater threats. It might be time to look for different solutions, like guard dogs, better livestock security and more people watching over herds.
This post originally appeared on TreeHugger.
Naturalist and Dragon join Prince Charles in tackling deforestation
Wildlife television presenter Steve Backshall and top businesswoman Deborah Meaden from the television program Dragon’s Den have joined The Prince of Wales in calling for businesses to help protect the world’s forests.
At an event organised by WWF, Prince Charles met with representatives from some of the UK’s most successful companies, including Boots, Kingfisher and Kimberly-Clark, to discuss how they could help reduce the amount of wood products sourced illegally and from unsustainable resource’s.
“Forests are vital to the life of our planet – one billion people around the world depend on them for their livelihoods and they are home to well over half the world’s terrestrial species,” said Steve Backshall.
“We all need to learn to respect the forest resources we have and use them responsibly. That starts with making sure that the wood products we all use here in the UK come from legal and sustainable sources.”
The UK is the world’s fifth largest importer of wood-based products, consuming materials valued at over £14.4 billion in 2013. The goal is to achieve a market that allows businesses to flourish without impacting on the world’s remaining forests, which are currently disappearing at a rate of one football pitch every two seconds. Global demand for wood is expected to triple by 2050, meaning businesses could see their supply chains severely challenged if they do not act now.
Deborah Meaden, WWF Ambassador, said: “It makes business sense for leading businesses to work together to reach solutions that ensure the long-term supply of a resource on which they, as well as nature, depend. These businesses need forests, and forests need them.”
Canada’s Grandest Rainforest, the Upper Walbran Valley, at Risk from Old-Growth Logging
One of Canada’s most iconic and grandest old-growth temperate rainforests is under threat as signs of potential logging have been discovered in the heart of the Upper Walbran Valley on Vancouver Island. Ancient Forest Alliance (AFA) activists TJ Watt and Jackie Korn recently documented survey tape marked “Falling Boundary” and “Road Location” in the Central Walbran Ancient Forest, one of the last, largely-intact sections of the unprotected portion of the valley. At this time, the company has not applied for any cutting permits or road building permits from the Ministry of Forests, but the fact that they are surveying the area shows their potential interest in logging there. The Upper Walbran Valley is on southern Vancouver Island near the town of Port Renfrew on Crown lands in Pacheedaht territory, and is being logged by the Teal Jones Group and Western Forest Products.
See the Ancient Forest Alliance’s article in the Vancouver Observer: Canada’s grandest old-growth rainforest at risk from logging, survey tape discovered
Florida’s Longleaf Pine Forests: a Southern treasure
These rich and vital forests once blanketed the Southeast but today less than 5 percent remains.
Species-rich longleaf pine forests once stretched across the South, nearly unbroken, from Virginia to Florida to Texas. Today less than 5 percent remains of the 90-million acre original system, which included open pine savannas with a lush understory of native grasses and groundcover.
Four of the very best remnants are in Florida’s Panhandle and continue down to the Ocala-Wekiva region. They host a remarkably diverse plant and animal community that includes some 300 bird and 2,500 plant species. Many of them depend upon a forest structure that is maintained by a frequent fire cycle.
Our remaining longleaf pine system faces many threats: fragmentation, development, improper management, and conversion to other planted pine species that don’t harbor as many species, provide lower-quality timber, require more water, and are less adapted to resist catastrophic loss due to fire, storms and forest pests.
The Nature Conservancy has begun a massive project – working across seven states in partnership with many agencies and organizations – to protect, restore and expand the forests. Our goal is to grow the ecosystem to 8 million acres by 2024. This will require land protection, thoughtful land use planning and state-of-the-art stewardship.
As part of this effort, we lead two of four Local Implementation Teams, the Apalachicola Regional Stewardship Alliance and Ocala LITs, coordinating restoration and maintenance work on public and private lands in cooperation with partners.
We collaborate regularly with the U.S. Forest Service; all three of Florida’s national forests include important stands of prime pine habitat. We’ll keep you informed.
Victory: California’s “Redwood Curtain” Saved From Highway Project
Following years of opposition from the Center and allies, the California Department of Transportation has withdrawn its controversial highway-widening project that would endanger ancient redwood trees in Richardson Grove State Park, a beautiful old-growth forest in Northern California.
Richardson Grove, often called the “Redwood Curtain,” is the first old-growth forest travelers encounter driving north along Highway 101 in Humboldt County. It’s crucial habitat for numerous rare species and an irreplaceable landmark. But Caltrans wanted to cut into the roots of ancient redwoods to widen the highway to allow massive trucks through the quiet grove — endangering both trees and forest dwellers.
The Center for Biological Diversity and our partners have sued three times, forcing Caltrans to reevaluate its scheme — and now, after a 2014 suit, the agency has rescinded its most recent proposal.
The Center is ready to go back to court if Caltrans revives the project.
Read more in The Press Democrat.
Wind offers a healthy way to generate power
There’s no free ride when it comes to generating energy. Even the cleanest sources have environmental consequences. Materials for all power-generating facilities have to be obtained and transported, and infrastructure must be built, maintained and eventually decommissioned. Wind turbines take up space and can harm wildlife. Hydro floods agricultural land and alters water cycles.
That’s why conservation is the best way to reduce energy-consumption impacts. Reductions in energy use and investment in energy-efficiency technologies are so significant that the International Energy Agency refers to conservation as the “first fuel”.
No matter how good we get at conserving, though, we’ll always need energy, so we must find ways to employ the least damaging technologies and reduce negative effects. We know the world’s preferred, and currently cheapest, method to generate power — burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas — is the most destructive, causing pollution, global warming and massive environmental damage during extraction, transport, refining and use. And supplies are becoming more difficult to obtain and will eventually run out.
In contrast, wind power doesn’t create pollution or global warming emissions, is affordable and will never run out. Improvements to power-generation capacity, efficiency and affordability will continue to boost its importance in the energy mix. But we must ensure turbines are installed in locations and using methods that reduce negative impacts on humans and wildlife.
Thanks to ongoing research and testing, wind power has come a long way in a relatively short time. Wildlife behaviour studies, along with technological improvements, have significantly reduced harm to birds and bats, and better siting has reduced impacts on other wildlife and habitat. Wind power generation is far safer for birds, bats and other animals than burning fossil fuels.
But what about wind power’s effects on humans, a key argument used by opponents? Turbines, especially older ones, can be noisy, and some people find them unsightly — although I prefer the sight of wind farms to smokestacks and smog. Many problems can be addressed by locating quieter turbines far enough from human habitation to reduce impacts.
As for health effects, a recent comprehensive Health Canada study confirms previous research: Although people report being annoyed by wind turbines, there’s no measurable association between wind turbine noise and sleep disturbance and disorders, illnesses and chronic health conditions, or stress and quality-of-life issues. A 2013 Australian report concluded people living near wind installations where anti-wind campaigns were active were more likely to report health problems, suggesting some issues may be psychological.
Health Canada says more research may be needed and we shouldn’t downplay the annoyance factor. Again, improvements in technology and proper siting will help overcome many problems. And there’s no doubt that fossil fuel development and use — from bitumen mining, deep-sea drilling, mountaintop removal and fracking to wasteful burning in single-user vehicles — are far more annoying and damaging to human health than wind power and other renewable-energy technologies.
Wind energy is also becoming more affordable and reliable. Denmark gets 34 per cent of its electricity from wind and Spain 21 per cent, making wind their largest electricity source. Portugal gets more than 20 per cent, Ireland 16 and Germany nine per cent. All have much higher population densities than Canada. Overall, wind power contributes about four per cent to worldwide electricity generation.
Improvements in grid and storage technologies also mean wind and other renewable technologies are increasingly feasible and desirable, especially as costs continue to drop. Investing in wind and other renewable energy is also good for jobs and the economy and can create greater stability in energy pricing than relying on volatile fossil fuel markets.
Total global investment in wind energy in 2012 was more than $80 billion, creating 670,000 jobs. According to a Blue Green Canada report, investing the $1.3 billion the oil industry gets in annual federal taxpayer subsidies in renewable energy and conservation could create 18,000 to 20,000 jobs, compared to fewer than 3,000 in oil and gas. And we can’t ignore the many related cost impacts of fossil fuel development, from health-care to infrastructure.
To reduce global greenhouse gas emissions at a pace and scale that experts agree is necessary to avoid increasing catastrophic effects of global warming, we need a mix of renewable energy. Wind power will play a large role.
By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation’s Senior Editor Ian Hanington.
Global Warming and Climate Change
We’ll Feel Today’s Carbon Emissions Sooner Than You Think
Convincing people to tackle climate change immediately is a hard sell given its delayed and gradual effects. It’s selfish to dismiss global warming as something future generations will have to tackle, but it’s also human nature. Scientists have found that this attitude is foolish, though, and not just from a human survival standpoint. The latest numbers show that the carbon we emit today will wreak havoc just ten years from now.
Previous conventional wisdom was that it takes decades if not centuries for carbon to reach its peak state of destructiveness. Not true, says the latest study. What you pollute today will cause direct problems in a single decade.
The Carnegie research team noticed an often-ignored variable in climate science projections. Looking specifically at how long it takes for a specific emission to contribute to raising the temperature in the most recent climate models, they saw that effects can be felt much sooner than scientists had assumed.
In other words, people who pollute in the present day will not avoid the consequences of their own carbon emissions as they might have been led to believe. It’s karma in action, which is kind of nice to hear. Then again, it’s obviously bad news for the longevity of the human race.
The researchers hope this study will have the opposite effect by helping to encourage national leaders to take action now rather than delaying tough decisions for future generations. “If we avoid an emission, we avoid heating that would otherwise occur this decade,” said Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie research team. “This will benefit us and not just our grandchildren. This realization could help break the political logjam over policies designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
Of course, that’s not to say that our grandchildren won’t suffer worse than us – that still seems inevitable. But if today’s polluters think they’ll be dead before things get bad, they’re kidding themselves. Every reduction in carbon emissions will benefit themselves in the not-too-distant future. Hopefully, that immediacy will impact how we make decisions in the meantime.
Thus far, scientific consensus about a dire future has done little to motivate people toward the aggressive stances necessary to rescue the planet. Certainly, the understanding that carpooling, shopping local, and converting to renewable energies will result in a more pleasant life for you in a matter of years and not just for your hypothetical grandchildren down the road could prove to be a better motivator. If it takes selfishness to encourage contemporary society to be proactive in making environmentally smart choices, so be it.
Kevin Mathews|December 7, 2014
Sea level rise threatening Kennedy Space Center in Florida
ORLANDO, Fla. (Reuters) – Rising seas and pounding waves driven by climate change are chipping away at the coast near the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, threatening launch pads and future operations, scientists said on Friday.
“There’s reason to be nervous now because the problem is so obvious,” Peter Adams, a geology professor at the University of Florida, told Reuters.
Adams and fellow University of Florida geologist John Jaeger released their findings on a day when the space center on Florida’s east coast was celebrating a successful first test launch of the Orion capsule designed to one day fly astronauts to Mars.
Nancy Bray, director of Kennedy Space Center operations, said in a University of Florida news release, “We do consider sea level rise and climate change to be urgent.”
Bray added that NASA’s plans for dealing with climate change included a “managed retreat” in which it will move infrastructure, potentially including launch pads, as needed.
Florida coastal communities could experience about a 2-foot (60-cm) rise in sea level by 2060, the U.S. Geological Survey has previously said. The two main causes are the volume of water added to oceans from glacial melt and the expansion of that water from rising sea temperatures.
The U.S. space agency already has erected a line of manmade dunes to replace eroded natural ones that historically protected the shoreline between launch pads 39A and 39B used by the space shuttle and Apollo missions.
“Without that secondary dune line, we could have saltwater intrusion at the launch pad,” Bray said.
A series of storms including Tropical Storm Fay in 2008, Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012 washed away the protective dunes, Adams said, allowing waves to crest over an old and little-used space center train track.
A parallel road built over electrical power lines and liquid gas fuel lines could be next, Adams said.
Bray said NASA also has developed a plan for dealing with potential effects of climate change at the Wallops Island Flight Facility in Virginia.
Barbara Liston| Reuters|December 5, 2014|Editing by David Adams and Will Dunham
Warming Seas Drive Rapid Acceleration of Melting Antarctic Ice
As warm ocean water rises up to melt them, glaciers around the Amundsen Sea are losing half a Mount Everest a year.
Melting Antarctic glaciers that are large enough to raise worldwide sea level by more than a meter are dropping a Mount Everest’s worth of ice into the sea every two years, according to a study released this week.
A second study, published Thursday in the journal Science, helps explain the accelerating ice melt: Warm ocean water is melting the floating ice shelves that hold back the glaciers.
The two new pieces of research come as officials of the World Meteorological Organization announced Wednesday that 2014 is on track to be the warmest year on record.
Scientists have long worried that the West Antarctic ice sheet is a place where climate change might tip toward catastrophe. The ice sheet holds enough water to raise sea level by 16 feet (5 meters). The region along the Amundsen Sea is the sheet’s soft underbelly, where the ice is most vulnerable. (See “Rising Seas” in National Geographic magazine.)
Earlier this year, researchers at the University of California, Irvine and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory reported that the glaciers flowing into the Amundsen Sea—notably the Pine Island and Thwaites Glaciers—were already doomed to collapse, and at the current rate of melting would be gone in 200 years. A study released Tuesday by members of the same team, published in Geophysical Research Letters, confirms those troubling measurements with ones made by other researchers using a total of four different techniques.
The study shows that ice loss from the Amundsen Sea glaciers has accelerated sharply over the past two decades. Between 2003 and 2011 it averaged an eye-popping 102 billion metric tons every year. Mount Everest—rocks, ice, and all—weighs approximately 161 billion metric tons. (See also West Antarctica Glaciers Collapsing, Adding to Sea-Level Rise.)
The decline is driven less by melting on the surface or changes in snowfall, and more by a speeding up of the glaciers’ journey to the ocean, the scientists concluded. In some cases, glaciers reached speeds of more than a third of a mile in a year as they approached the Amundsen Sea, where they either merge into a floating ice shelf, or fall into the water and become icebergs.
The momentum behind this moving ice means the glacier loss is unlikely to stop any time soon, said University of California, Irvine geophysicist Isabella Velicogna, one of the authors of the new study. Velicogna likened the process to a ball at the top of a hill. “Once you give the first push, the ball just keeps rolling,” she said.
Warming Ocean, Melting Ice
The study published today in Science provides a reason why this conveyer belt of ice might be accelerating. A team led by oceanographer Sunke Schmidtko of the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Germany found that the shallow waters in the Amundsen and nearby Bellingshausen Seas have been warming over the last three decades.
Warming ocean water has been a prime suspect for the decline of ice in the West Antarctic. Massive floating ice shelves there act like a cork, bottling up the ice sheets and glaciers behind them on land. Turn up the temperature in this water bath, and the ice shelves start melting faster, loosening the cork.
This study offers new clues about how that’s happening. Merging a variety of data sets, along with their own observations, the researchers found that deep and relatively warm ocean water known as Circumpolar Deep Water has warmed at a rate of roughly .1 degree Celsius per decade (.18 degree Fahrenheit) since 1975 around most of the continent. That’s thought to be tied to broader climate change that’s pouring extra heat into the oceans, Schmidtko said.
At the same time, this warmer water has been shoaling, or rising closer to the surface, in many spots. In some cases it has risen more than 330 feet (100 meters ) in two decades, reaching depths of 1,000 feet (300 meters).
While one-tenth of a degree might not sound like much, it requires a tremendous amount of heat energy to warm that much water—and that heat can then help melt ice that comes in contact with the water, Schmidtko said.
How far that warmer water encroaches toward ice shelves varies around the continent, a difference that appears to be driven by the wind. As easterly winds blow counterclockwise around Antarctica, they create a current of cold water that acts like a wall, blocking much of the warmer water from getting up to the shallow ocean bottom beneath the ice, Schmidtko said. But those winds have shifted or weakened along the continent’s western edge, making the current weaker and opening the door for warmer water to reach the ice. It’s not yet clear what has caused this change, Schmidtko said.
He and his colleagues found worrying signs that the accelerated melting could spread to bigger glaciers elsewhere on Antarctica. Warm water in the southern Weddell Sea has risen from around 766 yards (700 meters) below the surface in the 1980s to approximately 383 yards (350 meters) after 2010, the scientists found. The ice shelves there connect to glacier systems more massive than the one in the Amundsen Sea. Melting there could cause sea levels to rise up to 10 feet (3 meters).
“If this shoaling rate continues, there is a very high likelihood the warm water will reach the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf, with consequences which are huge,” Schmidt said.
Current predictions of sea level rise may understate the risk because they don’t accurately take into account this shoaling of warm water in the Antarctic, said Sarah Gille, an oceanographer at the University of California, San Diego, who wasn’t involved in the study. “This is really driving at the core of our uncertainty about the future of places where people live around the coast,” she said.
Warren Cornwall|National Geographic|December 4, 2014
As tides rise higher, can mangroves hold on? Researchers dig in to find out
BOGOR, Indonesia—Where tropical forests meet the sea, you’ll often find mangroves, which harbor unique wildlife and store large amounts of carbon.
If that wasn’t enough, a project conducted by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) seeks to show how they could also be protecting our coastlines against rising sea levels.
As climate change leads to global sea-level rise, mangroves’ adaptability could be hugely beneficial. Yet, despite playing a key ecological role in climate change adaptation, mangroves are being lost at a loss rate equivalent to more than 45,000 football pitches each year.“In Indonesia at the moment, we have 2.6 million hectares,” said Daniel Murdiyarso, a principal scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and one of the leaders of the project. “It used to be around 4.5 million hectares in the 1980s. So in the past 30 years, we have lost 40 percent-plus area of mangroves—meaning that the deforestation, or the loss rate, is more than 50,000 hectares a year,” he said.
To help safeguard what the UN has called “one of the most threatened ecosystems on the planet,” CIFOR has set up a project to collect much-needed data on these areas across Southeast Asia.
The scientists are using the “rod surface elevation table marker horizon set method,” known as RSET, that enables them to monitor rates of soil accretion in mangrove forests. To do this, the team must install a series of rods into mangroves’ muddy soil to act as markers against which surface elevation change can be measured.
This may sound simple, but it’s grueling, dirty work in some of the most remote, inaccessible forests in the world. In the video above, the team battles mud and tides to carry out their fieldwork in Bintuni Bay, Papua, Indonesia.
BY Sophie Furnival|1 Dec 2014
Rising ocean floods threaten $10 billion in Texas
Coastal communities throughout Texas will likely experience extreme floods topping 5 feet above the high-tide line by midcentury, and see records broken from Freeport to Corpus Christi. That is the threat under multiple sea level rise scenarios presented in a new report released by Climate Central. At risk are some 37,000 homes, $9.6 billion of property, and 1,600 miles of road on more than 1,000 square miles of land.
More than 1 in 6 homes are threatened at 5 feet in Galveston County, 1 in 5 in Aransas County, and nearly 1 in 4 in Jefferson County, illustrating a threat that confronts the entire Texas coast. Exposure balloons past 175,000 homes by 10 feet, a flood level likely in most coastal areas by end of century under a rapid sea level rise scenario.
“Sea level rise means more floods, reaching higher – and that’s already happening today,” said Dr. Benjamin Strauss, study lead and Climate Central’s vice president for climate impacts. “In Texas, one big concern is the integrity of coastal energy infrastructure, and another is the potential for contamination if petrochemical facilities flood.”
The Plan to Get Climate-Change Denial Into Schools
Activists are pushing educators to teach that human-caused global warming is an opinion—rather than a fact—by issuing textbook ratings of their own.
“As the amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases increase, the Earth warms. Scientists warn that climate change, caused by this warming, will pose challenges to society.”
That language—featured in a fifth-grade Texas social studies textbook from Pearson Education—is exactly the kind of global-warming alarmism that Emily McBurney wants to protect schoolchildren from.
McBurney was a lot happier with an earlier version of the textbook that said, “Scientists disagree about what is causing climate change.” But the publisher cut the material amid pressure from groups like the National Center for Science Education.
The edited educational material, McBurney says, amounts to “a one-sided global-warming climate-change agenda.”
McBurney is a member of the Truth in Texas Textbooks coalition, a volunteer-run organization of more than 100 activists that wants global warming to be taught as an opinion rather than fact.
“If you’re a car salesman and you have a car that has bad ratings, that car is not going to sell,” says Roy White, the founder of Truth in Texas Textbooks and a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel. “That is what is going to happen with these books.”
To shape climate curriculum, the coalition plans to rate textbooks as “good,” “acceptable,” “poor,” or “worse.” The group will score books on an array of subjects—and any educational material that treats global warming as settled science is guaranteed to get low marks.
“We have created a tool so that now people will have a sense of which books are best for their kids.”
Truth in Texas Textbooks formed last year to shape how climate change and scores of other topics are taught. It has no political or religious affiliation but organizers recruit volunteers through tea-party networks and church groups—as well as teachers associations, Rotary clubs, and other civic organizations—and have accused publishers of creating textbooks with an “anti-Christian” and “anti-American” bias.
Teaching that the global-warming theory is controversial reflects public opinion, as there is a sharp divide over the connection between human activity and Earth’s evolving climate. But that approach is sharply at odds with climate scientists, who nearly universally believe the former is driving the latter.
Textbooks are often the first conduit between climate science and young people. The books that the Texas truth coalition is fighting over are expected to be used by more than 5 million Texas public school students for at least a decade. Texas is also the second-largest market for textbooks behind California, and publishers often peddle best-selling Texas textbooks in other states.
And that’s not all: The coalition’s system of rating textbooks could soon spread beyond Texas. White says that activists in California, Florida, Indiana, Maine, Nevada, Ohio, Utah, and Wisconsin have already contacted the coalition to learn how they can create their own rating system.
Advocacy groups giving grades to Texas textbooks is not novel: A conservative Christian organization called Educational Research Analysts has been rating educational material in the state since the 1960s. The group questions scientific evidence for evolution and supports education that promotes abstinence until marriage. Educational Research Analysts also has ties to the Texas truth coalition: Its president, Neal Frey, advised White as he worked to get Truth in Texas Textbooks off the ground.
But Educational Research Analysts hasn’t worked on climate science, which is a targeted area for Truth in Texas Textbooks.
So far, however, the group has struggled. The coalition faced a setback when the Texas Board of Education voted last month to adopt new social-studies textbooks for public schools. Ahead of the vote, major publishers—including McGraw-Hill and Pearson—stripped out passages that cast doubt on climate change. The revisions followed fierce criticism of the content from groups like the Texas Freedom Network, a left-leaning advocacy group that pushes for man-made global warming to be taught in the books, and Climate Parents, an organization dedicated to teaching climate science.
“Administrators and teachers who make the purchasing decisions will see right through the nonsense.”
Eighty-nine new social-studies textbooks have now been approved in the state. But school districts have a lot of leeway over exactly which books to buy, a series of decisions that they’re slated to make this spring.
The coalition sees that policy as an opportunity. It plans to send out a report to school districts detailing the grades assigned to each book. Volunteers are also gearing up to distribute their ratings among concerned-citizens groups and parent-teacher organizations.
“We have created a tool so that now people will have a sense of which books are best for their kids,” White says.
Still, options for altering climate curriculum are limited. None of the approved textbooks that will be used in classrooms next fall dispute the scientific consensus that man-made climate change is underway.
The coalition is working to encourage publishers to make last-minute changes before the books go to print this fall. Barring that, volunteers hope public pressure will inspire teachers to teach climate controversy even if textbooks do not mandate that approach.
“Children are so vulnerable in their younger years and what they hear they believe is truth,” said Karin Gililland, another volunteer with the coalition. “Truth is what this is all about. We want truth.”
Emily McBurney echoed that concern: “I’m afraid that [teaching climate change] is instilling fear in children at a very young age that either we’re going to run out of something or over-pollute the Earth. I didn’t want them to come away with the wrong impression of America.”
But opponents of the coalition insist that teaching the controversy and not the consensus on climate change will lead to devastating consequences.
“Whether climate change is real and caused by humans is not scientifically disputed, and textbooks or teachers who pretend that it is would be mis-educating students,” said Josh Rosenau, the programs and policy director for the National Center for Science Education.
Dan Quinn, a spokesman for the Texas Freedom Network, doubts the coalition will gain traction. He called their reviews “amateurish” and “overtly political” and believes “school administrators and teachers who make the purchasing decisions will see right through the nonsense.”
Volunteers with the coalition remain optimistic and determined to achieve their aim.
“This is just the beginning,” McBurney said. “We’re hoping to spread the word throughout the United States, throughout the world.”
Clare Foran|Dec 8 2014
December 12, 2014 | 5:48 PM
COP20 in Brief, from Lima, Peru
While the picture of exactly where we stand on a climate deal in 2015 is still coming into focus, there are two clear takeaways
Negotiators have just wrapped up two weeks of talks at the 20th Conference of the Parties (COP20) in Lima, and while the picture of exactly where we stand on a climate deal in 2015 is still coming into focus, there are two clear takeaways. First, this has been a critical two weeks with many reasons for #ClimateHope and signs that the tide is finally turning in our favor. Second, we have a lot of work to do between now and December 2015 to get the agreement we need.
Cast Your Vote:
What’s the most important step to reaching a climate agreement in 2015?
Though completely capturing every development at COP20 could easily stretch to the length of War and Peace, we wanted to share several stories that point to key signs of progress we saw in Lima – and the challenges we face in the year ahead.
1. The US is back as a force for climate progress. After years as a pariah in the international climate community, the US put its money where its mouth was and agreed a historic deal with China on emissions reduction last month. The result: the world noticed and Lima attendees even cheered US negotiators. It’s good to be back.
2. The Green Climate Fund hit its target. In 2009, developed nations established the Green Climate Fund to help developing nation adapt to the impacts of climate change and pursue paths of low-carbon development. The goal aims to reach $100 billion in annual public and private contributions by 2020, but the first real milestone was securing $10 billion in commitments by the end of this year. Led by a $3 billion pledge from the US, the fund reached its goal, with a $62 million pledge from Belgium taking it over the line. Many nations including Columbia and Peru also made contributions and even climate denier Tony Abbott’s Australia pledged $200 million.
3. Former US Vice President proved the #ClimateHope message inspires. Addressing negotiators, Vice President Gore posed two questions: “Must we change?”” and “Can we change?”” The answer: unequivocally yes – and more easily and affordably than ever before.
4. Developing nations demand more support from richer countries. One of the major obstacles to a comprehensive agreement in Paris is the level of support developed nations are willing to provide emerging economies to deal with climate change and forgo carbon-fueled development. In short, developed nations say the $10 billion Green Climate Fund is a start and developing nations say much more funding and clarity on its use is critical.
These are just some of the stories to have emerged from Lima, but they all point to the fact that 2015 could be a landmark year for climate action, if citizens around the world come together to compel their leaders to make bold commitments in Paris.
You’ve heard what world leaders have to say about the possibilities for Paris. Now we want to know what you think. Vote in the survey below and let us know your thoughts.
What’s the most important step to reaching a climate agreement next year?
1. Overcoming public apathy with good news about the solutions we have today.
2. Ensuring the US enacts bold policies to cut carbon pollution and show the world we’re serious about action.
3. Mobilizing communities worldwide to support strong commitments in Paris.
4. Inspiring those most affected by climate change to get off the sidelines and into the action.
Climate Reality Project|December 12, 2014
Typhoon Hagupit Hits Philippines: Climate Catastrophe Is Here Now!
As Typhoon Hagupit hits the Philippines, one of the biggest peacetime evacuations in history has been launched to prevent a repeat of the massive loss of life which devastated communities when Super Typhoon Haiyan hit the same area just over a year ago.
“One of the biggest evacuations in peacetime” strikes a sickening chord. Is this peacetime or are we at war with nature?
Each year, the people of the Philippines learn the hard way what inaction on emissions mean. They might be slightly better prepared and more resilient, but they are also rightly more aghast that each year—at the same time—the climate meetings seem to continue in a vacuum, not prepared to take meaningful action, not able to respond to the urgency of our time and not holding accountable the Big Polluters that are causing the climate to change with ferocious pace. Photo credit: Greenpeace
I was about to head to Lima, when I got a call to come to the Philippines to support our office and its work around Typhoon Hagupit (which means lash). In Lima another round of the UN climate talks are underway to negotiate a global treaty to prevent catastrophic climate change. A truce of sorts with nature.
But these negotiations have been going on far too long, with insufficient urgency and too much behind the scenes, and not so much behind the scenes, interference from the fossil fuel lobby.
This year, like last year and the year before these negotiations take place against a devastating backdrop of a so-called ‘extreme weather event’, something that climate scientists have been warning us about if we don’t take urgent action.
Tragically, we are not taking urgent action. Nature does not negotiate, it responds to our intransigence. For the people of the Philippines, and in many other parts of the world, climate change is already a catastrophe.
Only one year ago, Super Typhoon Haiyan killed thousands, destroyed communities and caused billions of dollars in damage. Many survivors who are still displaced have this week had to evacuate the tents they have been living in as Typhoon Hagupit carves a path across the country as I write.
It’s too early to assess the impact so far—we are all hoping early indications will spare the Philippines of the same pain that was experienced after Haiyan.
Here in Manila, we prepare to travel to the impacted areas in the wake of Typhoon Hagupit, or Ruby, as it has been named. We will offer what minor assistance we can.
We will stand in solidarity with the Filipino people and we will call out those who are responsible for climate change, those who are responsible for the devastation and who should be helping pay for the clean up and for adaptation to a world in which our weather is an increasing source of mass destruction.
With heavy hearts we prepare to bear witness. We challenge those in Lima to turn their attention from the lethargy and process of the negotiations and pay attention to what is happening in the real world.
We call on them to understand that climate change is not a future threat to be negotiated but a clear and present danger that requires urgent action now!
Each year, the people of the Philippines learn the hard way what inaction on emissions mean. They might be slightly better prepared and more resilient, but they are also rightly more aghast that each year—at the same time—the climate meetings seem to continue in a vacuum, not prepared to take meaningful action, not able to respond to the urgency of our time and not holding accountable the Big Polluters that are causing the climate to change with ferocious pace.
Before leaving for Manila I also received a message from Yeb Saño, climate commissioner for the Philippines: “I hope you can join us as we bear witness to the impact of this new super typhoon. Your help would be very valuable in delivering a message to Lima loud and clear.”
Yeb was the Filipino chief negotiator for three years at the UN climate talks and recently visited the Arctic on a Greenpeace ship to witness the Arctic sea ice minimum. Two years ago in Doha, as Typhoon Pablo took the lives of many he broke through the normally reserved language of dispassionate diplomacy that dominates UN climate treaty talks:
“Please … let 2012 be remembered as the year the world found the courage to … take responsibility for the future we want. I ask of all of us here, if not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?”
Kumi Naidoo|December 7, 2014
Southern California gets ready for damaging storm
Roads flooded, power out for hundreds of thousands upstate
Strong gales and sheets of rain that knocked out electricity, flooded freeways and toppled trees in Northern California churned Thursday to a slide-prone Southern California bracing for its own beating.“It
’s a big storm, as we expected, and it’s headed south with very powerful winds and heavy rainfall,” National Weather Service meteorologist Will Pi said.
Its strong winds felled a tree in southern Oregon, killing a homeless man, 40-year-old Phillip Crosby, who was sleeping on a trail.
Los Angeles should expect rain by the end of the day. Already, one apartment complex in a spot prone to mudslides in Riverside was evacuated.
In the San Bernardino National Forest, lumber workers were loading concrete weights onto the stacks to keep them from blowing away and piling sandbags in front of their shop doors to stave off floodwater. “We’re getting ready this afternoon because it’s supposed to come in tonight,” said Jim Maddox, a worker at Rim Forest Lumber. “You expect the worse and hope for the best.” The San Bernardino Mountains have been hit by wildfires and were already doused by a storm last week, making them vulnerable to mud flows.
The Port of Los Angeles is ready to take on the storm, spokesman Phillip Sanfield said. “If heavy rains come, we’ve got construction crews to check on the docks; police can deal with flooding streets,” he said. Denise George, who sells boats in Marina Del Rey, worried mostly about the wind. “We make sure the halyards are secure, the canvasses are fastened so nothing gets blown off or opened up — so yes, we are battening down the hatches, for sure,” she said.
Martha Mendoza and Ellen Knickmeyer|Associated Press
Perfect storm of lunar tides and nor’easter takes chunk out of stretch of Northeast Florida shoreline
Rough surf with breakers up to 6 feet high pounded Northeast Florida shores Tuesday for the fifth consecutive day of a passing storm contributing to the worst and most widespread beach erosion that Beaches and St. Johns County officials said they’ve seen in a long time.
The nor’easter triggered erosion ranging from an estimated 3 feet to 10 feet at the beach communities in Duval County to up to 30 feet in spots along the St. Johns County coastline, city and county officials told the Times-Union.
St. Johns County appears to have suffered the brunt of the coastal storm that rolled into the region Friday. Erosion runs from 3 feet to 30 feet. The hardest hit areas are at opposite ends of the county, said Michael Ryan, county communications manager.
The North Beaches area between Vilano Beach and the Guana Reserve north of St. Augustine had significant erosion including 30 feet of beach washing away at one site in the south Ponte Vedra Beach area. Also experiencing significant erosion was Summer Haven, an area of homes along Old A1A in the southern-most tip of the county, Ryan said.
Ryan said authorities declared uninhabitable a vacant home in the 3500 block of Coastal Highway south of Ponte Vedra Beach because the beach eroded beneath it. It hasn’t fallen into the ocean, but is damaged and not structurally sound enough for the county to allow people to live in it, he said.
Pieces of Old A1A in Summer Haven have been falling into the ocean. County road and bridge crews have been working on Old A1A throughout the night for the past three days. In other areas, some beach crossovers, walkways and stairs “have been left suspended” by storm erosion, Ryan said.
“We’re still assessing the damage at this point,” Ryan said. County engineering staff as well as road and bridge and beach staff along with Emergency Management personnel have been going up and down the coast monitoring and evaluating the situation for the past few days.
“This has been an ongoing event for three days. We’re watching the weather patterns and the tides, and we do feel we’re on the back side of it now and kind of out of the woods. But we are still monitoring the situation,” Ryan said.
On Monday, the county declared a local state of emergency due to coastal storm erosion. Evaluations by county engineers and representatives from other state agencies determined recent severe wind, lunar tides and high waves have caused erosion that poses an immediate threat of property damage to structures. That declaration allows officials to expedite the process for residents to get permits to fortify their beach homes against the potential coastal storm damage.
The cost of the clean-up, repairs and mitigation to offset the erosion hasn’t been calculated as yet. Because it wasn’t a named storm, St. Johns doesn’t qualify for any federal dollars, county officials said.
In Atlantic Beach, Neptune Beach and Jacksonville Beach, city officials said they received no reports of damage to homes or businesses because of beach erosion. However, erosion is significant in some areas.
“We lost a good 3 feet of beach,” estimated Neptune Beach Mayor Harriet Pruette, noting the erosion began gradually Friday but “the big jump” was Monday.
Rough and high seas continued to batter the shore Tuesday morning. During high tide, the waves surged up to the dunes leaving a sharp drop-off at the end of city beach walkovers and public access points, and surrounding some private beach walkways with water.
“I think it’s the worst erosion that I’ve seen in a long, long time,” said Pruette, a longtime resident who walks the beach daily.
The worst beach erosion appeared to be at the end of Bay, Lemon, Myrtle and Cedar streets as well as at the end of Rose Place. Normally, people walk down a gentle slope from the crossover to the beach. But by Tuesday morning, they faced a 3 foot to 4 foot jump straight down onto the beach, she said.
“The last three days there have been very angry seas and very high seas. It’s been some of the highest that I’ve seen in a while. The water’s run up right to the dune,” Pruette said.
Neptune Beach public work crews Tuesday morning were doing a detailed evaluation of the city’s 21 public access points, most of which had sharp drop-offs of about 3-to 4-feet because of the erosion. However, the public walkovers themselves appear undamaged and stable, said City Manager Jim Jarboe, who did a cursory inspection of those locations.
“The only thing that concerns me is that it [erosion] is starting to eat into the dune,” Jarboe said. The city will be contacting the state Department of Environmental Protection as the first step in replacing the missing sand.
Atlantic Beach appears to have 6 feet to 10 feet of erosion. “It is nearly up to some boardwalks but it didn’t get there,” City Manager Nelson Van Liere told the Times-Union.
Jacksonville Beach Mayor Charlie Latham said “we know that there’s been some substantial wave action and a little bit of damage to the shoreline because of it.”
Jacksonville Beach City Manager George Forbes said they are assessing the erosion and declined to speculate about the possible extent of the damage. The city will be consulting with its beach erosion and renourishment expert. No damage is expected to the beach walkovers , Forbes said.
“This isn’t the first nor’easter we’ve ever had at the Beaches and we do get nor’easters. And yes, it does erode some of the beach. But also, what might not be as well known, is that some of that beach will wash back up also,” Forbes said.
Fernandina Beach City Manager Joe Gerrity said he’s received no reports of beach erosion damage in that city. Nassau County officials couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.
Slideshow: Neptune Beach loses 3 feet of dune in 5 days
Teresa Stepzinski|Dec 9, 2014
Genetically Modified Organisms
New ‘Harmless Herbicide’ to Compete with Monsanto’s RoundUp
A Non-Toxic Herbicide Alternative?
Why use carcinogenic herbicides to kill weeds when a little hot water will do the trick? Botanists and organic gardeners have known this effective, chemical-free way to treat weeds for hundreds of years. Now a UK based company has developed an innovative herbicide-free way to kill weeds utilizing this age-old wisdom.
Weeding Tech’s new products is said to kill weeds in 24 hours with no pesticides or herbicides. This is great news for the world considering that herbicide-resistant crop technology has led to a 239 million kilogram (527 million pound) increase in herbicide use in the United States between 1996 and 2011.
Saint Louis-based chemical Monsanto says it is in the ‘weed-killing’ business, but it is more likely in the ‘people-killing business’ with all the studies coming out on glyphosate’s toxic ramifications. RoundUp accounts for at least $7 billion in annual sales for Monsanto, so it is likely they won’t want to hear about a weed-killing product that is effective and harmless.
Using just hot-water and foam with a patented thermal technology, FoamStream has the following benefits:
- It visibly kills annual weeds within minutes
- It contains no harmful active ingredients and is not classified as a herbicide
- It is safe for unrestricted use in sensitive environments
- It can be applied in poor weather, avoiding costly delays for farmers
The product has already been trialed successfully in 12 different areas of the UK, and has won multiple awards. It has been proven to be effective at killing invasive species of weeds, without affecting the DNA of plants, inserting BT toxins into the environment, or posing the hazard of cross-pollinating organic crops, as GMO crops meant to withstand herbicides, do.
The Plant Protection Products (Sustainable Use) Regulations which started in the UK in 2012 inspired the recent market success of the product, but it has been in development since the 1990s.
As more individuals desire to reduce the use of traditional chemical herbicides, products like these can help to pave the way. I hope companies like these can give Monsanto and Big Biotech a run for their money.
(This article is not intended to promote the product mentioned, but rather is reporting on (hopefully) less toxic alternatives to what’s already on the market.)
Glyphosate and the deterioration of America’s health
Is rising glyphosate use responsible for increases in modern diseases? Claire Robinson looks at the latest study to raise the question
Is the rise in glyphosate use since the advent of GM crops responsible for the rapid deterioration of health in the US in the last 20 years?
A new study by former US Navy scientist Dr Nancy Swanson and co-authors asks this question. The study charts the huge increase in 22 chronic diseases in the US over the last 20 years and plots it against the rise in the use of glyphosate and the percentage of GM corn and soy plantings.
The correlations, portrayed graphically in super-clear charts, are striking. There’s a highly significant correlation between glyphosate use and the incidence of many of the diseases, including hypertension, stroke, diabetes, obesity, thyroid and liver cancer, kidney disease, and Alzheimer’s. There’s also a highly significant correlation between the percentage of GM corn and soy planted in the US and a similar list of diseases. And the increases in these diseases are not due to people living longer, which the authors adjusted for in most cases.
Does this mean that glyphosate causes these diseases? No – not necessarily. As the authors themselves note, correlation is not causation. The authors do, however, argue that given the known biological effects of glyphosate herbicides, “it would be imprudent not to consider causation as a plausible explanation”.
And while there are thousands of toxic substances and pathogens that could have contributed to the exponential rise in these diseases, the authors state, “No toxic substance has increased in ubiquity in the last 20 years as glyphosate has.”
It’s difficult to argue with this interpretation. And as a scientist unconnected with Dr Swanson and her co-authors told GMWatch, if the issue of GM crops and their associated pesticides were not such a political and economic ‘hot potato’, such a rapid escalation in disease in a population would be investigated as an emergency priority. That may be especially true if the disease in question were caused by bacteria or viruses, where there is massive corporate interest in developing vaccines and anti-bacterial products. In the case of non-infectious diseases, however, where possible culprits may include widely used and consumed GMOs and pesticides, US regulators turn their backs and pretend nothing is happening.
What is required scientifically in order to establish causation? The answer: long-term controlled animal feeding studies performed with the complete glyphosate herbicide formulations as sold to farmers and the public, using realistic doses that you and I could be exposed to and that are currently claimed to be safe. As far as I know, only one study that meets all these criteria has been carried out: Seralini’s study on NK603 maize and the Roundup herbicide it’s engineered to tolerate. The results were clear: doses of Roundup at only half the level allowed in EU tap water were found to cause severe liver and kidney damage and hormonal disturbances.
Arguments against such studies on animal welfare grounds do not hold water. If it is cruel to subject a few hundred or thousand lab rats to environmentally realistic doses of Roundup, it is far more cruel to subject millions of people and animals to these same doses in an uncontrolled experiment where no one is looking at the results and no regulatory action will be taken.
Should we sit back and do nothing until the necessary animal feeding studies can be funded and carried out, and then wait some more time for the regulators to take action? No. It makes sense to minimize our exposure to Roundup and other agrochemicals right now. That means eating organic, filtering our water, avoiding the use of pesticides in our gardens and fields, pressuring local authorities to restrict their use in school grounds and parks and on our roads and pavements, and lobbying for school and hospital meals programs to serve organic and non-GMO food. And if you’re living somewhere other than North and South America, it means doing everything you can to keep herbicide-tolerant GM crops out of your country.
Meanwhile, Dr Swanson’s study (abstract below) provides excellent ammunition against the GMO promoters’ argument that “trillions of GM meals” have been eaten in the US and that Americans are fine. Clearly, they are nothing of the sort.
Christina Sarich|December 9, 2014
Fracking Linked to Miscarriages, Birth Defects and Infertility
As the level of concern about fracking rises—what chemicals are being used in these “unconventional oil and gas (UOG) operations, whether they are getting into the water and air, and whether information on them is being withheld from communities—a new study adds more evidence that the concern is justified. It asserts that fracking increases the rate of miscarriage, as well as other reproductive and developmental problems.
Fetuses, newborns and pregnant women can suffer serious problems as a result of exposure to fracking chemicals. Image credit: Center for Environmental Health
“In this work,” the six researchers from the Center for Environmental Health (CEH), the University of Missouri and the Institute for Health and the Environment say, “we review the scientific literature providing evidence that adult and early life exposure to chemicals associated with UOG operations can result in adverse reproductive health and developmental effects in humans.”
“Children, developing fetuses, they’re especially vulnerable to environmental factors,” said CEH’s Ellen Webb, the study’s lead author. “We really need to be concerned about the impacts for these future generations.”
The study points out that fracking operations have the potential to pollute the air and water of nearby communities, and “every stage of operation from well construction to extraction, operations, transportation and distribution can lead to air and water contamination” from hundreds of chemicals. It looks at what chemicals are used in fracking, the ways in which they can find their way into the air and water, and the adverse reproductive and developmental effects they are associated with.
Looking at more than 150 papers that analyzed the health effects of compounds and chemicals widely used in fracking, such as benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, xylene, formaldehyde and heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium and lead, they identified a range of associated defects and reproductive disruptions known to be associated with exposure to them.
“Research shows that there are critical windows of vulnerability during prenatal and early postnatal development, during which chemical exposures can cause potentially permanent damage to the growing embryo and fetus,” the study said. “Many of the air and water pollutants found near UOG operation sites are recognized as being developmental and reproductive toxicants; therefore, there is a compelling need to increase our knowledge of the potential health consequences for adults, infants and children from these chemicals through rapid and thorough health research investigation.”
Among the problems the study identified are infertility, miscarriage, impaired fetal growth, low birth weight, preterm birth and birth defects, and it found that rates of these conditions were elevated in heavily fracked areas. It also found many of the same problems in farm animals and pets living in those areas.
Pointing out the dramatic growth in fracking, how commonplace spills and leaks are and the links between the chemicals used in fracking and human health outcomes, the authors advised caution in expanding UOG operations.
“Our heartfelt concern is that if the oil and gas industry continues to develop more wells, then the problem is going to be exacerbated greatly before we finally have answers,” study co-author Dr. Sheila Bushkin-Bedient, told U.S. News & World Report. “In terms of chronic diseases and in terms of finding out the developmental problems of babies, we might not know that for a decade or two. We might not know about cancers for a couple of decades, and by that time, it would be too late.”
While oil and gas industry trade group Energy in Depth pooh-poohed the findings and claimed that all the studies on which they are based have been debunked, Webb said, “Federal and state regulators must not ignore the potential serious health impacts from chemicals for families living in close proximity to fracking and other UOG sites. This growing evidence of health concerns for parents and children suggests that there is an urgent need to halt fracking and evaluate the adverse potential health outcomes for these communities on the front lines of the growing fracking industry.”
Anastasia Pantsios|December 8, 2014
Former Secretary of Energy Speaks Out Against Fracking
Dear Former Secretary of Energy Federico Peña,
Thank you for speaking out against fracking, fossil fuels and climate change! I read your lengthy interview on the topic posted on the Boulder, Colorado, Daily Camera news site here. As a former U.S. Secretary of Energy, you are in a unique position to speak out and make a difference on this extremely important issue.
Former Secretary of Energy Federico Peña was interviewed by Boulder, Colorado’s Daily Camera and spoke out against fracking, fossil fuels and climate change. Photo credit: Daily Camera
However, I am compelled to point out what I believe are problems with your approach to the topic. You make two important statements in the interview that are at the center of my critique. First, you state:
“There are some who would say we shouldn’t allow fracking altogether, we shouldn’t allow any more drilling altogether, because it pollutes the air, it’s a fossil fuel, we ought to get out of it. Well, that would be terrific if we could do it in about 40 or 50 years, if we plan for it, if it’s done in a strategic and methodical fashion.”
And then about climate change, you state:
“I think as a nation and as a planet, we’re going to figure this out. And it may take a crisis, it may take some real soil erosion, it may take some coasts being wiped out around the world. It might take some parts of our country. We’ve got islands off the Florida coast that are worried about this kind of thing. But at some point I think most people will finally come to their senses and begin to take action. Now, the longer we wait, the more dramatic the action’s going to be. No question about that.”
As a climate change activist and a person who wants to protect human and non-human life on our planet, I am unwilling to accept that we have to wait to act aggressively on climate change until “coasts are being wiped out around the world.” Further, my understanding of the best available science is that we have to transition off of fossil fuels much faster than “40 or 50 years.”
I appreciate that you support Obama’s efforts so far, and the efforts of the United Nations so far, but the scientific consensus is that neither of those efforts will happen fast enough to keep coasts from being wiped out. Further, in the interview you state that the transition needs to happen more slowly:
“But if we do it in a very methodical way, so that you don’t disrupt the economy, you don’t disrupt the investments that people have made, that companies have made, there is a way for us to begin to invest in cleaner, alternative fuels over a period of years and then gradually phase out our over-dependence on fossil fuels.”
You certainly realize that “wiping out coasts” will disrupt the economy and disrupt investments? Take a look at this infographic about the social and economic costs of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. As one example, Katrina cost the economy $123 billion and Sandy cost $60 billion. Other hurricanes and typhoons around the planet have been even more costly in terms of human lives. Also, take a look at this document put out by the White House that indicates that a 20-year delay of action on climate change could cost the world economy between $1 trillion and $4.7 trillion.
I strongly encourage you to continue speaking out against fracking, fossil fuels and climate change. We need leaders like you who were in very powerful positions in previous administrations to be the “outside game” to push the American people and the U.S. government in the right direction. We also need leaders like you to drill down on the facts and point out actual costs to the economy and human life of inaction.
Gary Wockner, PhD|environmental activist|Democrat and fellow Coloradan.
Florida Utilities: No to Solar, Yes to Fracking
If you were the kind of person who liked to sniff out plots and nefarious designs in headlines, you might raise an eyebrow over the recent actions of Florida’s utilities. Over the course of the summer and fall, Florida Power & Light and others basically blocked the state’s private solar industry from having any say in future policy talks, then delivered a fatal blow to solar by cutting down the state’s rebate program.
Now, reeling from this victory, Florida’s biggest utility has announced it wants to get into the fracking business.
According to the Miami Herald, this week FPL asked the Public Service Commission for permission to form a partnership with an Oklahoma fracking company to tap existing natural gas wells. The utility wants to charge customers $750 million a year for the setup — which basically means all the risk in the venture shifts from shareholders to customers.
The utility argues that the arrangement with PetroQuest will save customers money over time by stabilizing gas prices — somewhere between $51 million and $107 million. Right now, the utility buys natural gas off the open market. Under this proposed setup, however, FPL would pocket a 10.5 percent profit — again, with customers paying for it all.
At a hearing this week before the PSC, opponents of the deal argued against fracking, pointing out that there’s nothing to ensure the wells will produce as much gas as the utility says they will.
In all probability, that opposition won’t do much. The scary thing is that the PSC basically always does what the utility wants — case in point, this year’s solar fiasco. Duke Energy Corp. reps have also expressed interest in following FPL’s lead, which means other utilities could be lining up for a pass to enter the fracking business.
The PSC will decided the issue by the end of the year. As the Herald also points out — adding an ominous tone to this whole thing — FPL also is asking that the commission allow the utility to move forward on similar deals without commission approval. Go figure
Kyle Swenson|Dec. 5 2014
What’s Really at Stake in the Florida Solar Battle?
Renewable Energy World Conference and Expo opens in the sunshine state just as the state takes issue with distributed solar power.
Orlando — My friends in Florida often ask me why their state doesn’t use more solar energy. I used to say, “It’s coming.” But that may no longer be the right answer.
Pro-solar groups see hard times ahead in the sunshine state, at least for the kind of solar my friends are talking about — solar panels on homes and business rooftops.
Their worry stems from a vote taken in late November by the Florida Public Service Commission to end a solar rebate program after 2015.
Losing the rebate program, itself, isn’t the real problem. The rebate isn’t as important as it once was, given the dramatic drop in solar costs, according to Mike Antheil, director of advocacy, Florida Solar Energy Industries Association.
More alarming is what solar advocates fear may follow; they question the motivation for the vote and see it as an opening salvo to bring down distributed solar.
The commission said the rebate program was just too expensive and too few benefited from it.
“We in the solar industry feel pretty confident that is not the real reason,” said Mike Antheil, director of advocacy, Florida Solar Energy Industries Association. “We think it boils down to the simplest answer is usually the right one. The simplest answer is that the people who sell us our electricity are understandably motivated to be sure we don’t produce our own electricity.”
Antheil and other solar advocates see the commission siding with utilities and against distributed generation. It could also be described as the battle between local energy and central generation. Utilities have a financial incentive to build central generation — solar or otherwise — since they can earn a return on the investment. They do not earn a return on distributed solar panels consumers put on their roofs. In fact, the panels rob the utility of electricity sales.
If the utilities dominate solar, Florida is unlikely to develop the kind of democratic grid emerging elsewhere, one where consumers own and control their energy. More likely, solar will come in the form of central plants built by utilities.
Florida regulators aren’t sure the democratic grid is the most cost-effective way to go; the commission chairman indicated he prefers the more conventional approach where utilities socialize costs among their customers. He describe the two sides of the market as supply side (utility solar) or demand side (customer-owned solar).
“I think there is a need for solar. I’m not sure — I’m not convinced that the need for solar is a demand-side need. Maybe a supply-side need. I mean, maybe the supply-side need may be a better way of handling that need. When you have it on the supply side, you don’t have to have $30,000 in your pocket to put it on your roof,” said Art Graham, PSC chairman, according to a transcript of the November 25 meeting.
Fair enough, but are the only two choices a $30,000 bill to the homeowner for solar panels or utility market control? Policies in other states would indicate otherwise. Power purchase agreements, innovative financing and leasing all have emerged as options to make solar affordable to the homeowner or small business.
Further, is it a good idea to place the burden for solar costs on the utility ratepayer when a private market exists that wants to take up the banner?
“We are trying to shift the burden away from the ratepayers,” said FlaSEIA’s Antheil. “As a ratepayer, I have to pay for the new nuclear facility, the new coal and natural facility. I have to pay for industrial scale solar, if they choose to do that. But the solar market wants to shift that investment burden away. That’s why an incentive for a demand-side program, a residential program is so beneficial.”
Even an incentive of just five percent of the total cost of the installed system, would spur the private market to come to the table with the other 95 percent, he said. “That’s a deal for the ratepayer.”
What else could help reduce solar costs for the consumer? Better financing options and property tax exemptions for homeowners and commercial properties with solar, he said. Antheil also suggested that the state look more carefully at the true value of solar beyond just energy production, such as its ability to improve grid stability and decrease line loss.
Most of all, he said, the state needs to keep intact its rules that allow net metering — which gives the home or business the ability to gain credit for selling solar power back to the grid.
And therein lies the biggest worry among solar advocates in Florida.
“I think there is a clear threat and danger to net metering,” said Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE). “You see them laying the ground work for this.”
He fears the state will try to impose a standby charge or adjust the rate to weaken net metering, the cornerstone of the distributed generation market in Florida.
Others take a less gloomy view of events in the sunshine state. Justin Hoysradt, Vote Solar’s regional manager Florida, says that he is “cautiously optimistic.” He pointed out that the commission has announced that it will hold an undocketed workshop (date yet to be set) to discuss future solar policy. “The workshop is a signal that the commission recognizes that solar is an important part of Florida’s portfolio,” he said.
Solar advocates are working to galvanize support in preparation. SACE released a poll Friday showing strong bipartisan backing for solar in Florida. By almost a five to one margin respondents said they were more likely to vote for a legislator who expands the availability of solar. The poll of 600 registered voters in Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando, Pensacola and Tampa, also found that over two thirds of those surveyed support the state’s current net metering law; specifically 67 percent of Republicans, 77 percent of Independents and 73 percent of Democrats.
Smith said that activists plan to use the public backing to launch a strong campaign to protect net metering, first by elevating public awareness, next by seeking legislative support and finally pursuing a ballot measure in 2016, if needed.
Meanwhile, the state may be a little red in the face (and not from sunburn). The PSC actions have captured the attention of the national media. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow gave Florida a talking to on her show. “In the sunshine state they have decided they are against the sun,” Maddow said.
Hyperbole? Maybe. We’ll see in the coming weeks as the PSC releases its written decision and proceeds with its solar workshop.
Lisa Wood|Contributing Editor|December 07, 2014
Congress Delivers Critical Blow to Wind Power
As Environment America prepared to unveil its report More Wind, Less Warming: How American Wind Energy’s Rapid Growth Can Help Solve Global Warming at a press conference today, the U.S. House of Representatives showed that it continues to resist a clean energy future.
Wednesday evening the House passed H.R. 5771, which extended clean energy credits only until the end of 2014. Today senators Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Tom Udall of New Mexico joined Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, and Anna Aurilio of Environment America at the Senate Visitors Center to talk about the report and the carbon reduction benefits of encouraging the growth of wind power through renewable energy tax credits and urge Congress to extend the credits through 2015.
Wind could be the key to a clean energy future in the U.S. if Congress doesn’t block it. Image credit: Environment America
“The House just delivered a blow to wind power by adopting a meaningless three-week extension of clean energy tax credits,” said Aurilio. “Now it’s up to the Senate to push for a two-year renewal of these incentives, so that Americans can reap the benefits of and cleaner air. Speeding the development of pollution-free wind energy will slow global warming. But Congress needs to invest now in healthy air and a healthy planet.”
“Congress needs to provide stability so that American workers can make more of our own energy here at home and reduce carbon pollution as rapidly and cheaply as possible,” added Kiernan. “We need to get out of short-term thinking, including three-week extensions of the policy that is critical to building more wind energy, the Production Tax Credit. That’s why we are urging the Senate today to stand up for renewable energy, vote for the EXPIRE Act and extend the PTC at least through 2015, before considering a phase-out that would provide a glide path for the industry to keep scaling up.”
At the press conference, Udall urged his colleagues to do the right thing, citing the impacts he sees in his home state.
“New Mexico is at the eye of the storm when it comes to the impacts of climate change,” he said. “But while global warming is a threat we must fight, it’s also a tremendous opportunity to invest in clean energy jobs of the future. Wind has huge potential—not only is it carbon free, it’s abundant in New Mexico and it uses almost no water. Now is the time for Congress to make a commitment to fight climate change and help create jobs of the future by extending the wind production tax credit—not just for one year but long enough for this important industry to meet its full potential.”
More Wind, Less Warming points to the dramatic increase in wind-generated power in the U.S. and says that by 2030, the country could be generating 30 percent of its electricity from wind while cutting power plant pollution by 40 percent over 2005 levels in the same time period. That exceeds the 20 percent that a recent Greenpeace/Global Wind Energy Council report projected wind could be providing of the world’s power by that same deadline.
“The U.S. generates 24 times more electricity from wind power than we did in 2001, providing clean, fossil fuel-free energy that helps the nation do its part in the fight against global warming,” it says. “In 2013 alone, wind power averted 132 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions—as much as would be produced by 34 typical coal-fired power plants,” adding, “But with the United States and the world needing to move toward a future of 100 percent clean energy in order to prevent the worst impacts of global warming, America must do much more.”
Currently, wind generates about 4 percent of electrical power in the U.S. But the report points to nine states—Iowa, South Dakota, Kansas, Idaho, Minnesota, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Colorado and Oregon—that currently produce more than 12 percent of their electricity with wind, and two states—Iowa and South Dakota—in which wind already provides more than a quarter of their power.
There is enough potential wind energy to power the U.S. ten times over, the report says, but tapping offshore wind power will be key to reaching this goal. It cites the success of operational wind farms in Europe as an indicator of what this could mean for the U.S. in terms of producing clean energy.
Anastasia Pantsios|December 4, 2014
Shining a Light on Women Leaders in the Power Industry
Meet the three finalists for the POWER-GEN 2014 Women of the Year Award, the winner of which will be announced next month.
TULSA, Okla. and NASHUA, N.H., — In early 2013, a group of women, dubbed the Women in Power committee, assembled in Orlando, Florida to figure out how to honor women who have dedicated their careers to the power industry. The industry is male-dominated with men making up more than 75 percent of the workforce, according to estimates.
The Women in Power committee believed that it was important to give recognition to the pioneering women who have worked to advance the power industry. To do this, the committee asked power industry stakeholders to nominate women they admired for a Woman of the Year Award, which would be given out at POWER-GEN International. To judge the nominees, the committee came up with three focus areas. 2014 is the second year for this award.
The first and most important accomplishment that the committee believed a potential Power-Gen Woman of the Year should have made is advancing the power industry. In addition, the committee judged nominees by their leadership abilities, as well as their ability to collaborate with, influence, and mentor others. Finally, the committee believed that a potential Power-Gen Woman of the Year should impact her community through industry associations and other organizations. After four months of collecting nominations, the 19-member committee voted on the nominees and came up with three finalists, who are described below.
One of these women will be named the Power-Gen 2014 Woman of the Year at the annual awards banquet on Monday, Dec. 8, which takes place at the Disney’s Odyssey Pavilion at Epcot in Orlando, Fla. The banquet is part of the POWER-GEN International Conference and Exhibition and the co-located NUCLEAR POWER International Conference and Exhibition, Renewable Energy World Conference & Exhibition, North America and the Power-Gen Financial Forum.
The 2014 Power-Gen Woman of the Year will give a keynote speech during the Women in Power Luncheon on Tuesday, December 9 at the Orange County Convention Center also as part of the co-located conferences.
Here’s a look at the finalists:
Diane Drehoff – “I like to be a trailblazer…I like to be first.”
Throughout her 42-year history in the Power Supply industry, Diane Drehoff has been part of many “firsts.” She was the first woman in Westinghouse to call on an electric utility for Power Systems equipment. She was the first employee in Westinghouse to be nominated for and selected to be an IEEE Congressional Fellow. And she led the Westinghouse Power Generation business to become the first US Power Generation business unit certified to ISO 9001 Quality Standards.
Her interest in power plants started when she was 10 years old. “My dad was a generation account representative for Westinghouse in Oklahoma City. One Saturday, he got a call from the plant personnel over at the OG&E Belle Isle power station, a small 15-MW turbine. I guess that my dad had child care duty that day, so he took me and my sister with him to go over and talk to the plant people about an issue they were experiencing. When you are 10 years old, a turbine generator, even one that is only 15 MW, is an impressive sight. I was fascinated by the size and complexity of all of the piping and components that I saw and was quite interested in understanding just how all of that equipment could produce electricity.”
This initial spark of interest in power generation led to her Electrical Engineering degree from Stanford. She joined Westinghouse out of college where she worked in diverse areas such as sales representative, generation projects manager, and director of total quality for power generation. Says Drehoff of her early years in the industry, “I was very excited to be selected as a spokesperson in 1980 for a balanced energy equation in the U.S. I had the opportunity to talk to media across the country about the need to support all types of energy sources including solar, wind, gas, coal and nuclear. I felt this was an important message for Americans to understand and support.”
For many years there were very few women entering the power industry as a profession; Drehoff was always quite visible in terms of her performance and overcoming apprehensions about women in the business. She adopted a posture of being just one of the team and never felt that she was treated differently than male associates. She was a model for putting her customers’ needs as the highest priority and rallying the team she worked with to go the extra mile to provide the best service possible. During her career Drehoff has experienced at least a half a dozen major power plant failures that required extensive repairs and replacements. In each case, she was able to provide leadership and creative solutions that resulted in successful and timely restoration of those units to service.
Drehoff’s years of experience and success both at Westinghouse and at Siemens have made her one of only a few women in the company who have achieved a top leadership position. Her diverse background and industry experience have enabled her to have a clear understanding of today’s power industry needs and to steer the Siemens service products and offerings in a direction that enhances the performance of the power industry assets she serves. She was recently a featured speaker in the Women of Siemens series, where she spoke to a global audience of 300 women and men about her career and the lessons she has learned throughout her 42 years of work experience. She was able to reach employees in Europe and Asia and has been contacted by many of her listeners to give further perspectives on their career paths. Drehoff gives her time and effort to coaching and mentoring early career professionals to encourage rewarding careers in the power industry. She is currently a mentor for the Women Unlimited Lead program in the Orlando, Florida area, a program for women of diverse companies and locations which focuses on women identified to be candidates for executive roles.
Of her illustrious career, she says, “I have always taken pride in being very proactive in providing services to our power customers that maximize their ability to be online providing power to their customers. I am completely committed to being a 24 hours per day, 365 days per year support team for the power industry.”
Colleen Layman – She truly demonstrates and lives the Society of Women Engineers tagline, “Aspire, Advance, Achieve.”
Colleen Layman has over 20 years of experience in the engineering design, construction, commissioning and operation of power generating facilities. Currently as a vice president and the industrial water principal at HDR, Layman works closely with HDR engineers across the country. She is also the boiler chemistry expert within the power generation group at HDR. Working in the power industry, a traditionally male-dominated field, for the past 20 years has been both a challenge as well as an opportunity in her experience. Layman says: “For much of my career, I have been the only woman in the meeting room, a situation that I have grown to be comfortable with over the last 20 years, but a situation nonetheless that I continue to hope will become less and less frequent. Over the years after walking into many construction trailers at power plant sites that were full of men, I have learned that I can choose to allow my solo female status to be a benefit to me or a detriment. Being the only woman (or one of only a very few women) in the room or at a meeting, the others at the meeting will tend to remember me after that meeting simply based on that solo status. How they will remember me, what impression they will have of my skills or expertise is in my power to control and is where I can use ‘being the lone woman in the room’ to my advantage.“
Layman has been an integral leader with the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) since the year 2000 and is currently serving on the Society Board of Directors as president-elect of the organization, which boasts a membership of nearly 30,000 worldwide. “The desire for female mentors is probably one of the most fundamental reasons that I originally joined SWE and a key reason for my continued involvement. Through SWE I have had the opportunity to network and connect with other women in many different industries, but with similar work-related challenges and experiences. These women have become my support system — they answer the questions that often male mentors simply can’t and provide understanding and advice when I feel overwhelmed, need a confidence boost to give something new a try, or just want someone to listen. They have also instilled in me the importance of paying it forward and mentoring other women (and men) coming up in the ranks behind me, something that I greatly enjoy doing.” As part of her SWE activities Layman takes part annually in Congressional visits organized by the SWE Government Relations and Public Policy Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. where she meets one-on-one with elected U.S. officials to increase awareness of the need for and the importance of increased diversity and inclusion in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce.
Layman’s path into engineering had an unusual start. “I was really unaware of what engineering was until my senior year of high school. My calculus teacher, Sister Socorro, approached me in the hallway between classes one day and asked the question many high school seniors dread “What are you planning to do after you graduate?” My response was a simple one that I expect she heard many times during her career, “Sister, I don’t know.” Her response was simply that she believed that I was going to be an engineer. Of course, since I didn’t know very much about what an engineer actually did, I just looked at her with a rather blank stare. But she took the time that afternoon, and several more afternoons over the next couple of months, to explain to me what an engineer did and why she thought that engineering was the perfect career for me. I listened and was probably not 100 percent convinced, but I trusted her and followed her recommendations on what to major in and what schools to apply to. And, thankfully I followed her guidance as she was 100 percent right; today I cannot imagine being happy doing anything else. She was a tough teacher, but I remember her fondly for taking the time to get to know me and direct my skills and interests in the right direction.”
“Be yourself, be authentic” is the best lesson that Layman ever learned. “To succeed you need to be comfortable and confident in your own skin; pretending to be something that you are not, for instance pretending to be ‘one of the boys’ at work, is counterproductive and does not lend to doing your best work or being happy doing that work. Organizations also derive the most value from diversity when people feel comfortable to be themselves and to voice their opinions and ideas freely. I can contribute more to the success of my organization, and in turn be more successful myself, if I don’t censor my ideas based on what I think others in the group will accept or want to hear.
Throughout Layman’s 21-year career in the Power Industry, she has provided leadership to her project teams, quality engineering to her clients, and inspiration to young men and women aspiring to become engineers.
Mary Powell – “I can’t imagine a better time to be in [the Energy] business.”
Since Mary Powell began working at Green Mountain Power (GMP), she has transformed the organization, turning it from a business almost in bankruptcy into one of the leading utilities in Vermont and the nation. Currently CEO of GMP, Powell recognized early on that customers ideally want their energy to be three things: reliable, clean, and low cost. Powell’s vision was to achieve these three goals, and she has persevered and moved forward by energizing and inspiring her team to build upon her vision. Her commitment to renewable energy was far ahead of the curve for the utility industry, and many of the programs that were initiated by her leadership have now become standard requirements. By owning wind and solar systems, GMP is able to control costs more effectively and therefore pass these savings onto its customers. GMP now owns two wind projects and several solar projects throughout the state, and more projects are in development by GMP and with development partners. Powell recognized the value of customers generating their own solar energy and wanted to reward them for doing so. This reimbursement program kicked off net metering solar within the state, and GMP was a leader in this. It was also important to Powell that it was easy for customers to easily navigate the permitting and interconnection process. She spent significant time creating an efficient process for customers to remove any process roadblocks that would discourage customers.
Of her early years, Powell says, “I grew up in a theatrical home and went to a specialized high school for the arts. I actually believe that my training in the arts is a key part of what has fostered any leadership success I have had. Thinking broadly and colorfully about the possibilities ahead of us has been a key part of what has inspired me and helped me to work with teams to achieve transformational work.” Powell has consistently bucked the traditional utility culture. She has moved GMP forward as one of the leading utilities in the nation by creating a culture focused on being “fast, fun, and effective.” She believes people are at their best when they are having fun. The GMP Colchester office has an open floor with Powell right up front and center in her standing desk near the front door. There are no gatekeepers needed to speak to her, and she is often found reaching out to speak to her employees. Although there are over 600 individuals who work at GMP in multiple offices throughout the state, Powell has made it a priority to get to know everyone.
“I have been a non-engineer in an engineering world and I think that part of my success has been in developing a deep appreciation and understanding of the technical aspects of our business but, at the same time, looking at them from a perspective of possibilities.” She is often heard saying that a thousand conversations are what make a difference. Without knowing her employees or customers, Powell wouldn’t be able to learn what she needs to know in order to lead the team. Her down-to-earth and compassionate spirit lends well to this type of leadership style, and by casual discussions with employees, colleagues, and even customers, she is able to learn from her stakeholders and share her vision for GMP. This also leads to spur-of-the-moment mentoring on Powell’s part, and she often forms informal groups to discuss topics such as women in leadership roles and work/life balance. Through open dialogue she inspires and mentors all those who work around her.
One of her most important lessons learned is “you will never lose if you focus on doing what you believe in and bringing your authentic self to your work. It is so important that we have a “north star” that guides us and anchors us, when needed, to what we know we believe and value and to what we would love to see accomplished.”
As Powell looks forward toward the rest of her career she says: “I am so excited about the possibilities of radically transforming our energy delivery system to one that is much more interactive with customers and communities. We recently launched a partnership with NRG that I am convinced will have transformative results and I see unlimited possibilities for adding value to the lives of the customers we serve, the economy and the environment.”
Robynn Andracsek|Contributor |November 20, 2014
Generating Heat and Power from Waste Is Focus of BioEnergy Tour during REWNA
Renewable Energy World Conference, North America and Power-Gen International Attendees visit an energy garden at the start of Power Generation Week in Orlando, Florida.
Orlando — Forward-looking Disney doesn’t fool around when it comes to waste. In fact, the billion-dollar operation has been separating its waste for more than 20 years and recently began using its organic waste to generate power. How that power is created was the focus of Monday’s tour of the Harvest Power Orlando Energy Garden.
The facility has 3.2-MW of capacity to produce power, 400 kW of which it uses to power its own operations. The other 2.8 MW are exported to the local utility, Reedy Creek Energy Services, at a wholesale rate of $0.06 per kWh. Reedy Creek Energy Services is the municipality created to serve Disney’s 25,000 acres of amusement parts and attractions in Florida.
The Harvest Power system starts with food waste and FOG (fats, oils and grease) from Disney as well as T-WAS (thickened waste activated sludge) from the nearby wastewater treatment facility. The food waste is continuously fed into a turbo separator, which removes packaging including tin cans and cardboard boxes. After separation, the food waste slurry is combined with FOG and T-WAS biosolids and sent to the anaerobic digester where it ferments for 28 days before heading to the mix tank for 4 days and then the post-digester. At the end of the process, Harvest Power is left with fertilizer pellets that it sells for $800 per ton. Disney has a 20-year contract with Harvest Power to supply food waste, which it does in a big way. According to Dole Doerr, plant operator, Disney delivers up to 100 tons of food waste every day and 20,000 gallons of FOG.
Through the anaerobic digestion process, the food waste, FOG and T-WAS create biogas, which is cooled, scrubbed and then fed into two 1.6-MW capacity generators to create power. During the power conversion process, waste heat is also captured and used in the drying process to make the fertilizer pellets. The electricity is fed into the grid and meets about 3 percent of Disney’s electricity demand.
Doerr said that the waste-to-energy plant produces 31,000 cubic meters of biogas every day, runs 24 hours a day and employs 10 people. The system is the largest private biogas facility in North America and cost $25 million to build when it was constructed in 2011. Harvest Power received an $8 million grant from the U.S. government and the remaining $17 million was privately financed. Entec Biogas GmbH and Environ built the anaerobic digesters.
As one might imagine, odor control is important. “It’s all about the odor,” said Doerr, who explained that the Odotech odor detection technology that is in use at the plant not only detects when there is a strong odor in the air, but also knows from which direction it is coming and how to neutralize it.
Jake Jacobson of Ring Power took the 25 tour attendees (all with ear plugs) through the building that houses the two generators. Jacobson explained that Ring Power operates the two units plus one piece of switchgear and pointed out the substation, located right outside of building.
Guy Van Doren of LAN Associates is assisting Harvest Power with the minor modifications to the plant and explained to attendees how the waste heat is captured and used. He said the Harvest Power Energy Garden works so well because it can use the heat in its operations. “When you have even distribution of heat and electricity and you can use the heat from the generator you have an ideal situation,” he said.
Jennifer Runyon|Chief Editor|RenewableEnergyWorld.com|December 08, 2014
Fracking ban introduced
We’re at an important moment in the debate over fracking in the Florida Everglades: Senators Darren Soto (D-Orlando) and Dwight Bullard (D-Miami) have introduced SB 166, a statewide ban on this dangerous threat to our land and water and the health of our communities.
Progress Florida has been fighting fracking in our state throughout the year. We’ve helped demonstrate that it’s possible to make progress on this critical issue despite a governor and legislative leadership soaked in Big Oil’s money. Earlier this year, we helped stop two bills in the legislature that would have denied the public’s right to know what chemicals are pumped into the ground during the fracking process. When an illegal acid fracking operation was discovered on endangered panther habitat in the western Everglades, we helped convince the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to pull all drilling permits for the offending company, Hughes Co.
The victories have had an important impact on the debate over fracking. Now that a statewide ban has been introduced, we can’t afford to let up now. Let’s support Sens. Soto and Bullard in this critical effort.
As Sen. Bill Nelson wrote to state environmental officials over the summer, “We cannot tolerate expanded industrial drilling activities that pose a threat to the drinking and surface water so close to the Florida Everglades.” The same goes for the rest of our state.
Please sign #2 in “Calls to Action” above.
Banks Fear Risk of Investment in Fossil Fuels
In a move that’s likely to cause consternation in some of the world’s most powerful corporate boardrooms, the Bank of England has disclosed that it is launching an inquiry into the risks fossil fuel companies pose to overall financial stability.
A growing number of senior figures in the financial community—some of them controlling many millions of dollars worth of investment funds—have been pressing fossil fuel companies to disclose how investments would be affected if energy reserves became frozen or stranded by regulatory moves associated with tackling climate change. Photo credit: Ellen Gibson / Fossil Free Future
Mark Carney, governor of the UK’s central bank, has written to British Members of Parliament telling them that his officials have been discussing whether or not coal, oil and gas reserves held by the fossil fuel industry are, in fact, unburnable.
“In light of these discussions, we will be deepening and widening our inquiry into the topic,” Carney says.
The burning of fossil fuels releases hundreds of thousands of tons of climate-changing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
The idea is that if global warming is to be tackled and catastrophic climate change averted, such energy resources will have to be left where they are—under the ground. They will, in effect, become frozen or stranded financial assets.
Carney’s letter, written at the end of the October this year but only recently made public, is addressed to the British parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee.
Carney tells the Committee—which has been carrying out its own investigation into the frozen assets question—that a special unit within the Bank of England responsible for identifying and reducing risks in the financial system, will also be considering the issue “as part of its regular horizon-scanning work on financial stability risks”.
Joan Walley, the head of the Audit Committee, told London’s Financial Times that investors should consider what effect regulatory action on climate change would have on their fossil fuel investments.
“Policy makers and now central banks are waking up to the fact that much of the world’s oil, coal and gas reserves will have to remain in the ground unless carbon capture and storage technologies can be developed more rapidly,” Walley said.
A growing number of senior figures in the financial community—some of them controlling many millions of dollars worth of investment funds—have been pressing fossil fuel companies to disclose how investments would be affected if energy reserves became frozen or stranded by regulatory moves associated with tackling climate change.
Carbon Tracker, a not-for-profit thinktank based in London, has been warning of what it sees as the dangers to investors and to the entire financial system of continued investment in the fossil fuel industry.
Vulnerability of assets
“The Bank of England has set a new standard for all central banks and financial regulators on climate risks by agreeing to examine, for the first time, the vulnerability that fossil fuel assets could pose to the stability of the financial system in a carbon constrained world,” Carbon Tracker says.
The question of stranded or frozen assets has been raised at the latest round of global negotiations on climate change taking place in Lima, Peru.
Christiana Figueres, the head of the UN’s Climate Change Secretariat, told the Reuters news agency that the long-term goal of negotiations must be the elimination of all greenhouse gas emissions by 2100—a goal that could not be achieved unless most fossil fuels were left in the ground. “We just can’t afford to burn them,” Figueres said.
Kieran Cooke|Climate News Network|December 9, 2014
Goal to End Fossil Fuels by 2050 Proposed at Lima Climate Talks
A draft negotiating text was circulated yesterday at the UN climate summit in Lima, Peru that would cut carbon emissions to zero by 2050, earlier than many other proposals, and could spell the end of the fossil fuel industry. It’s one of the most ambitious proposals to come out of the conference.
According to The Guardian of London, the countries behind this aggressive proposal to address climate change include Norway, Sweden, the Marshall Islands, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Peru and Panama. Their hope is that it will provide a negotiating framework heading into next December’s final talks in Paris.
The 33-page draft text suggested that developed countries reach peak emissions by next year en route to eliminating them entirely by 2050 and achieving negative emissions by 2100. It noted that “the time frame for peaking may be longer in developing countries, in the context of equitable access to sustainable development.” and suggested pathways to achieving its goal.
Reaction from environmental activists was positive, although they cautioned that it will take some determined advocacy and hard work to keep it in the final agreement to be hammered out in Paris.
“I think we have to say to ourselves that the chances of this stuff staying in the text are down to all of our collective efforts in demanding that this stays in the text,” Ruth David of Greenpeace UK told Guardian writer Graham Readfearn. “This is not only civil society but also progressive businesses who have to make their voices heard in keeping this in the text. The chances of this stuff surviving are dependent on the efforts that we collectively make to influence politicians to do the right thing.”
“This text won’t be settled here,” Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists told The Guardian. “It is an options text that then needs to be translated into a legal text and it won’t be decided until the last night at Paris. So which long-term goal survives the end of the day we won’t know until a year from now. But there was incredible political momentum coming out of the climate summit in New York where about 60 national leaders endorsed the need for a long-term goal as part of the Paris agreement and that number is continuing to grow. We have more and more businesses, faith groups and unions speaking out—there is a momentum building around this and I think by Paris next year the chances of a strong goal staying in the agreement are probably much greater than they are right now.”
On the other hand, major carbon emitter Saudi Arabia said the 2050 goal was not achievable. Khalid Abuleif, Saudi Arabia’s lead climate negotiator, told the Financial Times, “We really don’t think it’s realistic at this stage with the current technology and current economic model base we have.”
Anastasia Pantsios |December 9, 2014
Al Gore Urges Obama to Reject Keystone XL Pipeline
Democracy Now! is broadcasting from the United Nations climate summit in Lima, Peru, where high-level talks have just gotten under way. Here is the coverage from today:
With an impassioned plea for climate action on Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry is the highest ranking U.S. official to attend the annual U.N. Climate Change Conference since President Obama took part in the 2009 Copenhagen talks. While Kerry spoke for 30 minutes, he never addressed an issue on the minds of many: the proposed Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline. Kerry must make a final recommendation to Obama about whether the $8 billion pipeline should be approved. Amy Goodman speaks to former Vice President Al Gore, who attended Kerry’s speech, about why he wants Obama to reject the Keystone XL. She then tries to raise the issue with Kerry and top U.S. climate negotiator Todd Stern, but both refuse to answer.
The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Lima, Peru, has entered its final day of scheduled talks. Deep divisions remain between wealthy and developing nations on emission cuts and over how much the world’s largest polluters should help poorer nations address climate change. On Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry flew into Lima and made an impassioned plea for all nations to work for an ambitious U.N. climate deal next year in Paris. Kerry said time is running out to reverse “a course leading to tragedy.”
We speak with youth activist Alyssa Johnson-Kurts of the group SustainUS about rules at the United Nations Climate Conference that require protesters to submit banners and slogans for approval. She says the regulations bar mention of specific names, officials and projects. “We tried to submit a banner that would have an arrow with Keystone XL in one direction and a livable future in the other direction and they rejected that proposal,” Johnson-Kurts says. Civil society faces increasing separation from what takes place inside the conference. “The irony of course is that very few restrictions are placed on the fossil fuel companies that come here,” notes our guest Jamie Henn, co-founder and communications director of the climate group 350.org.
For the first time ever, delegates at the U.N. Climate Change Conference are talking about entirely phasing out fossil fuels by 2050, setting up a showdown with the energy industry that profits from their extraction. We speak to Jamie Henn of 350.org about the state of the U.N. talks, the world’s growing divestment movement, and President Obama’s comments casting doubt on the Keystone XL this week on the “The Colbert Report.”
While the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has claimed that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline would create 250,000 jobs, labor researchers say the jobs figures have been vastly distorted. We speak to Sean Sweeney, director and founder of the Global Labor Institute at Cornell University and Bruce Hamilton, vice president of Amalgamated Transit Union.
We wrap up our week-long coverage from Lima at the United Nations Climate Conference, where negotiators are hours away from the formal end of the talks. “If developed countries don’t put down the resources that the poor countries need to prepare for climate change to protect themselves from the real impacts they are facing already, then you are going to leave poor people around the world facing hunger, facing increasing poverty without being able to cope,” says Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam. “Yet they didn’t create the crisis of climate change, and they don’t have the means of solving the problem of climate change on their own. So it is an issue of justice, an issue of human rights.” We also speak with Dipti Bhatnagar, climate justice and energy coordinator at Friends of the Earth International, who helped plan a die-in at COP20 to call attention to those ignored in the global agreement under negotiation.
Democracy Now!|December 12, 2014
Legislators will decide whether to limit impact of environmental initiative
House and Senate Republican leaders are preparing legislation to rewrite many of the state’s existing environmental laws to respond to recent passage of Amendment One, which requires the Legislature and governor to set aside one-third of all taxes collected from the documentary tax on real estate transactions to preserve environmentally-sensitive land and protect and improve water quality. Lawmakers warn that painful tradeoffs lie ahead. This photo was taken in Rainbow Springs State Park in central Florida northwest of The Villages. Courtesy of Florida Department of Environmental Protection
TALLAHASSEE – Florida environmentalists say they were forced to go to voters to get permanent funding for land and water protection because legislators neglected the need for too many years. But now — even though Amendment 1 passed with 75 percent of the vote — the Legislature will get the last word.
House and Senate Republican leaders are preparing legislation to rewrite many of the state’s existing environmental laws to respond to the amendment, which requires the Legislature and governor to set aside one-third of all taxes collected from the documentary tax on real estate transactions. Lawmakers warn that painful tradeoffs lie ahead.
How legislators make those tradeoffs will determine whether the implementation of Amendment 1 is a cordial affair — in which both proponents and lawmakers agree to compromise — or whether the debate becomes a test of wills and, potentially, lawsuits.
“In this new reality, as we work to apply this new portion of our constitution and faithfully implement the will of the voters, there is going to be some pain,’’ said Senate President Andy Gardiner in a speech to the Senate on Tuesday during the swear-in ceremony for members.
Gardiner conceded that the proposal to generate between $10billion to $20 billion for environmental causes over the next 20 years could “make a significant impact on the future of water and natural resources,” but emphasized that “implementing this amendment will be a challenge.”
Amendment 1 is expected to raise between $300 million and $500 million a year for projects intended to preserve environmentally-sensitive land and protect and improve water quality. At its core, the amendment weakens the Legislature’s most coveted power — the power of the purse — by taking away the ability of legislators to control a small piece of the state’s $75 billion budget.
As a result, Gardiner’s message was directed at both environmental advocates, who drafted the amendment, and his fellow lawmakers, whose power has been clipped by the proposal.
“We already spend hundreds of millions of dollars of doc stamp revenue and other state revenues on many initiatives that benefit Florida’s environment and natural resources,” Gardiner said in his speech. “The challenge facing this Senate is the impact Amendment 1 will have on transportation, affordable housing, and economic development, and other priorities which also receive doc stamp funding.”
Environmental groups don’t see these trade-offs as an either-or. They argue that legislators should use the doc stamp revenues to restore full funding to environmental programs that are already in law, instead of drafting new legislation.
“All the programs are already in place,” said Will Abberger, director of the Florida Water and Land Legacy, which put the amendment on the ballot. “They just need to be funded.”
The groups also believe that, as the economy recovers and real estate transactions increase, revenues from doc stamp taxes will be enough to also expand housing and transportation programs.
Clay Henderson, an Orlando lawyer and one of the amendment’s authors, said the Legislature would not be facing this challenge if it hadn’t “zeroed out any land conservation in the last few years and cut back on water resource protection.”
The ballot initiative came about after Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature repeatedly cut programs that protect the state’s vulnerable springs and watersheds, and dismantled the Department of Environmental Protection division in charge of acquiring environmentally-sensitive land.
During that time, funding for Florida Forever, the land buying program used to protect water supplies and habitat, dropped from $300 million a year to a total of less than $29 million over the last four years. The governor and legislators used the savings from those cuts, and revenue from the doc stamp tax, to lower taxes and steer money into other spending priorities.
Amendment 1 was intended to reverse that trend, and repair the degradation of water recharge areas and the state’s aquifer-fed springs.
Critics are worried, however, that legislators will do to Amendment 1 what they did to state lottery funds and education – used the dedicated funding source to supplant, not enhance, existing programs.
“It’s a $20 billion poker game,” Henderson said. “We’ve seen the effects of massive pollution on the Indian River Lagoon and all of our springs are harmed. You can’t fix this by moving money around.”
House and Senate leaders say they will honor the will of the voters.
“It’s absolutely going to require a lot more money and we’ll find it,” said Rep. Richard Corcoran, a Trinity Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
But Sen. David Simmons, R-Maitland, Gardiner’s point man on the issue, said he believes the amendment is so broadly written it gives lawmakers the ability to replace money now spent on existing environmental programs with the doc stamp money.
“I believe that the wording of the constitutional amendment gives the Legislature broad authority to deal with it — and that includes transferring those programs that are general revenue over to the doc stamps,’’ he said. “We are not going to play shell games.”
House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, a Merritt Island Republican, has signaled he wants an increase in funding for land and water protection but prefers a go-slow approach that prevents a ballooning of doc stamp revenues as the economy recovers. His staff is working on reorganizing the funding of all environmental programs and creating an accountability system for the money.
Henderson warns that voters will not support attempts to pay for existing environmental programs by supplanting general revenue money with doc stamp funds.
“What part of 75 percent do they not understand?” he asked, referring to the vote results. If legislators refuse to put enough new money into fixing the state’s water woes, the environmental groups will “go back out to the thousands of people who signed petitions and gave money and remind legislators” on Election Day, or take them to court, he warned.
When it comes to deciding which environmental projects will get funded, Eric Draper of Florida Audubon urges legislators to do what has worked in the past: “the legislature creates criteria and the agencies decide what projects to do.”
Florida Forever projects, for example, are chosen by a 10-member citizens panel appointed by the governor and state agencies based on objective criteria. Similar programs exist for the Rural and Farm Lands program, the Water Sustainability Trust Fund, Rails to Trails, the Florida Communities Trust, SWIM and the Conservation Land Management program run by the Division of State Parks.
“If there’s just one pot of money and the Legislature starts handing the money out in the Appropriations Act, it becomes a lobbyist-driven process,” Draper said.
Simmons said he supports having the Legislature provide the parameters with projects selected using a “scientific approach” that addresses the needs of both state and local governments.
Gardiner said that legislators will conduct public hearings beginning in January in an “open dialogue” about “what Amendment 1 will mean.”
“We’re not here to advocate one way or the other,” he told reporters, “but we want people to understand the potential impact.”
Mary Ellen Klas|Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau|11/23/2014
Four Recreational Trail Projects to Begin
~Projects develop new community recreational trails~
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida Recreational Trails Program executed four contracts in four counties for the development and renovation of trails. After being awarded competitive-grant funds during the 2013 and 2014 submission cycle, these four projects can now begin.
The Recreational Trails Program provides competitive-grant funds to local communities to renovate, develop or maintain recreational trails and trailside facilities. Contract agreements are for two years, with two one-year extensions permitted pursuant to the recreational trails program administrative rule.
“Without the grant funds provided through the Recreational Trails Program, some of these community projects might not exist,” said Rick Mercer, director of DEP’s Office of Operations. “We are happy that the contracts are now in place and the work to develop and renovate these recreational trails can begin.”
The four contracts executed by the Recreational Trails Program are as follows.
- The village of Palmetto Bay – Funding will be used for the renovation of the west restroom and 2,000 linear feet of 6 to 8 feet wide, multi-use asphalt trail and related facilities.
- The city of Rockledge – Funding will be utilized for the construction of 12,513 linear feet of 12-foot wide, stone multi-use trail, with a bridge and related facilities.
- The city of Chiefland – Funding will be utilized for the construction of 1,200 linear feet of 12-foot wide, porous asphalt trail and related facilities.
- The Foundation of Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce – Funding will be used for the construction of 1,705 linear feet of 8-foot wide multi-use trail, 16 benches, signage and related facilities.
The Recreational Trails Program is a federally funded assistance program of the United States Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration. A portion of the grant awards must be matched by the grantee. In Florida, the competitive-grant program is administered by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Land and Recreation Grants section within the Office of Operations.
latashawalters| December 5, 2014
Conservation amendment’s passage revives hopes for sugar land buy
Florida voters’ overwhelming approval of the water and land conservation amendment has revived hopes the state will buy some sugar land to send Lake Okeechobee water south, but environmentalists are wary about how lawmakers will use the money.
Nearly 75 percent of voters passed Amendment 1 in November to set aside 33 percent of real estate transaction taxes over 20 years to buy, restore, improve and manage conservation lands, including rivers, the Indian River Lagoon and Everglades.
More than $600 million will be available next year and the Legislature will decide how to appropriate the money in its March-through-May session.
Environmental groups such as the Everglades Foundation want the state to buy 46,800 acres of U.S. Sugar Corp. land south of the lake to send excess water into the Everglades, therefore virtually eliminating discharges into the St. Lucie River estuary.
The state has set aside $90 million over the next three years to raise the Tamiami Trail in Miami-Dade County to allow water to flow more easily into the Everglades, so the next step should be to buy land to move water south, said Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg. He was former Gov. Charlie Crist’s chief of staff and helped draft a 2008 U.S. Sugar Corp. land buy, but the state purchased only 26,800 of the 187,000 proposed acres in 2010.
State OKs Harmony Ranch buy for wetlands
The South Florida Water Management District Board of Governors on Thursday morning approved a plan to buy about 1,800 acres of Harmony Ranch, a site west of Hobe Sound where houses and businesses once were proposed, and restore it to a water-cleansing wetland.
The board agreed to spend $17.2 million from the Florida Forever Fund and combine it with $3.2 million from Martin County to make the $20.4 million cost.
The county’s share is from the half-cent sales tax residents paid from 2007 to 2012 to buy land for parks and conservation.
The land is roughly a third of the 4,500 acres of pasture along Bridge Road west of Florida’s Turnpike where Palm Beach developer Otto “Buz” DiVosta once planned to build 4,000 houses and 2 million square feet of business space.
EPA Proposes New Rules To Curb Ozone Levels
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency unveiled new rules today to reduce emission levels for smog-causing ozone, which is linked to asthma and other health problems.
The draft measure calls for lowering the threshold for ozone from 75 parts per billion to between 65 ppb and 70 ppb. The agency said it would take comments on an ozone level as low as 60 ppb.
“Bringing ozone pollution standards in line with the latest science will clean up our air, improve access to crucial air quality information, and protect those most at-risk,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a statement. “It empowers the American people with updated air quality information to protect our loved ones — because whether we work or play outdoors, we deserve to know the air we breathe is safe.”
The Clean Air Act requires the agency to review standards every five years. The ozone levels were set at 75 ppb in 2008 by President George W. Bush’s administration.
The new rules are likely to draw opposition from industry groups as well as Republicans. Critics say the standards will hurt jobs and adversely affect an economy that is only just recovering from the Great Recession.
Jay Timmons, the president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, said today that the proposed rules would jeopardize the manufacturing sector.
“This new standard comes at the same time dozens of other new EPA regulations are being imposed that collectively place increased costs, burdens and delays on manufacturers, threaten our international competitiveness and make it nearly impossible to grow jobs,” Timmons said in a statement. “Before the Obama administration moves the goalposts with yet another set of requirements that will make it more difficult for manufacturers across the country, they need to allow existing ozone standards to be implemented and give time to American businesses to meet those already stringent and onerous requirements.”
Rep. Pete Olson, R-Texas, told the Los Angeles Times that the current ozone standard was healthy and the new levels would hurt the economy.
“The law as it stands now says [the EPA] can’t look at jobs,” Olson told the newspaper. “But if you don’t have jobs, you don’t have health care, and that is a public health issue.”
The EPA’s McCarthy rejected those claims in an op-ed article on CNN.com. She said states will have until 2020 to 2037 to meet the new standards, depending on how severe the area’s ozone problem is.
“Critics play a dangerous game when they denounce the science and law EPA has used to defend clean air for more than 40 years,” she said. “The American people know better.”
The rules must be finalized by Oct. 1, 2015.
Krishnadev Calamur| November 26, 2014
Watch: Baby Sea Turtles at Risk from Plastic Pollution
Ocean debris is a serious problem with nearly 80 percent blown in from landfills or transported through our waterways until it reaches the ocean. And plastic bags make up a significant amount of that pollution. To illustrate the toll plastic bags take on our land, sea and wildlife, Boomerang Bags, an Australian non-profit working to reduce the number of plastic bags, presents the “Bag Monster”.
Watch this humorous, yet poignant, short video to see why we need plastic bag bans everywhere:.
Cole Mellino|December 2, 2014
Europe Passes Historic Limits on Plastic Bags
European Union (EU) members would have to set goals to reduce the amount of lightweight, one-use plastic bags in circulation under new draft rules agreed upon by member countries. The rules would require that EU countries do one of two things: institute policies that would reduce bag use from the current level of nearly 200 per person annually to 90 by 2019 and 40 by 2025 or require that they not be given out free plastic bags after 2018. The rules would apply to bags thinner than 50 microns, which comprise about 90 percent of the plastic bags used used in Europe and the ones mostly likely to become litter or waste.
“This is an historic moment for all of Europe,” said European Parliament member (MEP) from Denmark Margrete Auken, who is steering the legislation through the European Parliament. “For the first time ever we have agreed on ambitious measures to reduce the amount of plastic bag waste in the environment. This is good news for the environment and all Europeans who expected the EU to take ambitious action on plastic bags. As front-running countries have demonstrated, dramatically reducing the consumption of these disposable bags is easily achievable with a consistent policy. Swiftly phasing out these bags is a readily-implementable solution to the pervasive problem of plastic waste in the environment.”
One of those front-running countries is Italy, where the bags were banned in 2012. Italian Minister for the Environment Gian Luca Galletti expressed support for the EU action, saying, “The agreement reached enables Europe to effectively tackle a very relevant environmental problem, thanks to the joint efforts of its institutions: today we have the right tools to greatly limit the use of plastic bags and to disseminate new environmental best practices that contribute to developing waste management in the individual states and at European level.”
According to the European Parliament press release, “In a business-as-usual scenario, consumption of plastic bags is expected to grow further. Estimates also suggest that over eight billion plastic carrier bags became litter in the EU in 2010.”
That, of course, is fine with PlasticsEurope, the representative organization for plastics manufacturers. The group said of the proposed limits, “It opens the door for member states to ban not only plastic bags but other types of packaging. Such an inconsistent political framework would hinder investments and innovation and would create barriers to trade in packaged goods in Europe.”
The group favors charging for plastic bags instead, something the UK already has on the table, although its Tory representatives to the European Parliament oppose the new EU rules.
“Plastic bags blight our countryside and oceans and kill millions of marine animals each year,” said MEP Catherine Bearder, a Liberal Democrat. “The Lib Dems in government are already set to curb plastic bag use by introducing a 5p charge next year. It makes sense for the rest of Europe to follow suit. I’m deeply concerned that Conservative MEPs refused to support legislation to reduce their use across the EU.”
In September, California became the first U.S. state to pass a law banning one-use plastic bags although many cities and counties have already taken action.
Anastasia Pantsios|November 28, 2014
9 Ways to Cut Out Plastic
Plastic is piling up everywhere. It disintegrates into tiny pieces that wash into rivers, lakes and seas, along with those tiny microbeads that come in many body washes and facial scrubs. There are huge gyres of plastic debris in the oceans with tens of thousands of tons of plastic. Plastic bags end up in the stomachs or birds, fish and other wild creatures, and plastic bottles and food containers end up in landfills where they can remain for hundreds of years.
But more cities and counties including the state of California are banning those single-use plastic bags so many stores give away like they were candy. And more consumers are becoming conscious of what they can do to avoid adding to the problem. You are probably already doing some of these things; think about doing a few more.
1. Even if the store tries to give you those one-use bags, don’t take them. In the last few years, reusable tote bags have caught on in a big way. Countless stores now sell them cheaply—usually 99 cents, in case you forgot one of the many you got as a promotional item at an event, meeting or conference. You can find totes that scrunch up into packages half the size of your hand and slip easily into a pocket or purse when they’re not in use. But if you do forget your tote and the store doesn’t have any for sale, don’t let them bag your stuff with only one or two items per bag.
2. Everywhere you go it seems like someone is passing out bottled water, another big waste-maker. Take along a reusable water bottle to that meeting or seminar and avoid picking up yet another bottle of water. And don’t buy those cases of individual water bottles for your home. If you like to have spring water or distilled water on hand, many stores sell gallon jugs that can be refilled.
3. Bring a thermos to your favorite coffee shop or that sandwich joint where you like to have lunch, and pass on the Styrofoam cup, as well as the one-use lid and the plastic straw. Ask to have the sandwich in paper if possible, or if you’re eating in, ask to have it unwrapped.
4. If you find yourself with plastic containers on hand, recycle. Use them for craft projects like you did back in Girl Scouts or make planters for seed-starting or growing herbs or sprouts. If you’re not artsy or don’t have a green thumb, give them to a local arts organization or scout troop which can put them to use. Everyone’s pushing recycled art these days so they’ll be glad to have them.
5. At the grocery store, look for foods with a minimum of packaging. As much as possible, avoid prepackaged foods wrapped in layers of plastic. And if you shop regularly at a farmers market or farm stand, bring back whatever you took got your purchases in. These small entrepreneurs can usually reuse those apple and berry baskets, egg crates and other containers.
6. Buy products like cleaning supplies and cat litter in cardboard containers instead of plastic if possible. And speaking of cat litter, those plastic jugs can really pile up—but some pet stores now offer refillable cat litter containers. Considering how many the average cat owner goes through, this is a great way to cut down on plastic waste. Your cat will never know the difference.
7. Throwing a party? Don’t buy a lot of plastic cups and silverware and then throw it all away when the guests leave. Use glass and silverware—or if you don’t have enough silverware and you’re worried guests will break a glass, wash and reuse the plastic. Don’t think “disposable.”
8. Make sure your cosmetics, including your toothpaste, don’t have those microbeads that have found their way into our lakes, rivers and oceans. More and more brands are phasing them out; look for those environmentally friendly brands.
9. Alas, today’s electronic devices—and all the plastic casing they contain—are meant to be disposable rather than repairable. Try getting a little longer life from each; don’t think you need the latest and most feature-laden gadget. And if something can’t be fixed for less than it would cost to buy new—sadly, too often the case—don’t just toss it in the trash. Look for a facility that accepts old electronic items for recycling.
Anastasia Pantsios|December 4, 2014
Food Waste Diversion is Key to a Sustainable Community
Over 20% of our country’s landfills consist of food we throw away.
When this organic waste breaks down in the landfill with other types of waste, it produces methane gas. When organic waste breaks down separate from the other waste in your composting bin, it creates carbon dioxide. Both methane and carbon dioxide are greenhouse gases, but methane is over 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the earth’s atmosphere. Plus, the compost created from the diverted organic waste is a nutrient rich soil that can be used to garden. Diverting food waste is important because it turns something usually considered waste into a resource, which also decreases the amount of emissions from landfills.
Our project, Zero Waste Composting, has worked with area businesses, restaurants and schools to help divert food waste from landfills. Reducing organic waste has had a significant impact here in Iowa City. Our landfill is able to now produce more compost for the community to use. More people are educated on why composting is important and how they can take part in reducing organic waste in landfills. And, it saves space in the landfills, is economically viable because it generates money for the landfill, and produces less harmful greenhouse gases.
The diversion process and its benefits shouldn’t only be limited to our community. Many communities can get involved and help decrease the amount of food waste being sent to their landfills. Diversion can take place in homes, schools, restaurants and businesses.
At home, families can create a backyard compost pile that can benefit their garden. Food scraps, like coffee filters, egg shells and vegetable and fruit scraps can all be composted in a home composting area. Schools, restaurants and businesses can also start diverting their food waste. It’s an easy transition, with many third-party businesses willing to help. Most food waste, including meat and dairy, can be diverted when being sent to a commercial composting facility. The food waste is then hauled away to a composting facility.
Other cities and towns can learn from our successes and divert food waste from their landfills as well. Communities should start by contacting their local landfill to see what options are available for organic waste diversion in their region. Schools, restaurants and businesses should then educate students, employees and consumers about the benefits of composting before implementing a diversion program. If a compost facility is unavailable in a region, communities can still divert organic waste by showing families how to create backyard compost piles and compost their home food and yard scraps. The model we used is simple, and many communities can implement it.
Lillianne Brown|senior|Iowa City High School,|Iowa City|member of the Zero Waste Composting team|winner|President’s Environmental Youth Award in 2014|2014 December 10
Groundbreaking Study: 5 Trillion Pieces of Plastic Floating in World’s Oceans
You’ve probably heard of the 5 Gyres, those huge deposits of plastic found in rotating masses in the world’s oceans. Now a new study released yesterday by the 5 Gyres Institute provides the first comprehensive estimate of how much plastic there actually is in the world’s oceans. It found that plastic was not just confined to the gyres, but was widely dispersed throughout the oceans. The report was compiled from information gathered during 24 expeditions from 2007-2013.
The estimate concludes that approximately 5.25 trillion plastic particles—about 269,000 tons—have ended up in the oceans. It looked at both microplastics and macroplastics. Previously, studies only look at particular size classes of plastic so their density estimates were much lower. The study showed that, despite a loss of microplastics from the surface of the five gyres, there was a large volume and widespread distribution of the smallest of the microplastics in remote ocean areas.
“When The 5 Gyres Institute formed, we set out to answer a basic question: how much plastic is out there?” says Marcus Eriksen, director of research for the 5 Gyres Institute. “After six long years and a wide-reaching collaboration, we have completed the most comprehensive plastic pollution study to date. We’ve found microplastic ocean pollution, in varying concentrations, everywhere in the world. Our findings show that that the garbage patches in the middle of the five subtropical gyres are not final resting places for floating plastic trash. Unfortunately, the endgame for microplastic is dangerous interaction with entire ocean ecosystems. We should begin to see the garbage patches as shredders, not stagnant repositories.”
Plastic, swept into the ocean from rivers, coastal activity and shipping lanes, degrades into microplastics as it travels from land to distant parts of the oceans. These plastics have been found in ice cores, coastal sediments, the circulatory system of mussels, zooplankton, lugworms living in sediment, on the sea floor and in the water column. The widespread dispersal of microplastic is an issue since smaller particles absorb more pollutants which are then ingested by marine organisms.
“The garbage patches could be a frightfully efficient mechanism for corrupting our food chain with toxic microplastics,” said Eriksen.
The 5 Gyres Institute hopes the new information will spur more people, businesses and government agencies into action.
“Knowing that plastic pollution becomes hazardous waste in the ocean, it is essential that innovative products and packaging designed for recovery replace the single-use, throw away culture of the past,” said Eriksen. “The good news is, we don’t have to go out and clean the oceans, and if we stop adding to the problem, the oceans will clean themselves. It’s time to focus our mitigation strategies upstream from production to disposal. The status quo is not acceptable. Our goal is to vanquish the idea that oceans can bear our waste and to usher in an age of restoration and responsibility.”
Anastasia Pantsios|December 11, 2014
FEMA Flood Control Policy in Desperate Need of Overhaul
Now that streams here in Oregon are rising with runoff from autumn storms, I’m reminded that when it rains it pours. Oregon’s last major flood was in 1997. We’re due. And in every region of the country, high water inevitably reoccurs over and over again.
More important, the floods are going to get worse. Ironically, both droughts and floods will become more extreme according to the models of climate change.
First, let’s look at the bright side. Biologists tell us that floods are fundamentally good for rivers, even though the initial results might look a little rough. The scouring actions of floods create deep pools that every angler knows are essential as cold-water refuges for fish. Floods rearrange cobbles into riffles needed for aeration of water, create habitat for invertebrates that become fish-feed, and accumulate gravel essential for spawning fish—salmon, for example. Floods recharge groundwater that we depend upon later in the year, and they nourish riverfront forests—best habitat of all for wildlife. The rub is not that rivers flood, but that we’ve built houses and businesses directly in the way.
Even after a century of aggressive efforts to “control” floods with dams and levees costing taxpayers dearly, America suffers increasing flood damages averaging $8 billion per year according to the National Weather Service. One reason is that we keep adding more development on the floodplains.
To address the long-standing problem, and to replace disaster relief, Congress in 1968 enacted a National Flood Insurance Program with this logic: the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) would subsidize otherwise unaffordable flood insurance for people who are already located on flood-prone land, but only if their local governments acted to eliminate flood damage incurred by future development. In other words, to accommodate mistakes of the past but not of the future. Zoning is the key: areas expected to flood at least once in 100 years have been designated as floodplain (courts have consistently upheld open-space zoning for floodplains since the 1920s).
Under the Program, the amount of damage should have shrunk by attrition. However, owing to influence by the building industries, the FEMA-approved flood zones have not halted floodplain development. Rather, they’ve allowed for “flood proofing” by adding fill to artificially raise the level of the land or by elevating structures on pilings.
FEMA’s approach hasn’t worked. Earthen fill that’s trucked-in to raise the level of floodplains pushes the water elsewhere—onto neighbors’ properties—like a rock dropped into a bucket of water that’s already full. Structural reinforcements have proven no match for riverbank erosion or channel migration, which has occurred ever since rivers began to run. Furthermore, errors of mapping and the increasing intensity of storms have delivered floods far exceeding those expected on the agency’s maps, which continue to allow vulnerable investments.
As a result, new development that was supposed to be risk-free continues to sap insurance subsidies and also, disaster relief funds have been doled out at $6 billion even in years without budget-busting events such as Hurricane Sandy. What was supposed to be a catalyst for ushering development to safe havens has become a subsidy for even more development squarely in the path of damage.
There’s plenty of room for construction elsewhere; only 5 percent of America’s landscape is flood-prone. But because of development built in harm’s way, the Flood Insurance Program runs at a whopping $24 billion deficit, somehow tolerated in an age when conservative taxpayers rail against programs as essential as education and health care. Why are floodplain developers given a pass that pushes such a sensible program toward bankruptcy?
This topic is timely because the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries department is considering a new rule directed at the FEMA program. Floodplains in Oregon and California, for example, would be mapped more accurately. Development in acutely hazardous areas would be stopped. Though universally needed, these sensible steps would apply only on the agency’s home turf: streams where endangered or threatened species of fish and wildlife still exist, including coastal waterways in the Northwest that are vital for coho salmon.
This modest proposal deserves support. Beyond that, the Flood Insurance Program cries for overhaul.
The alternative is greater flood damage, skyrocketing private and public costs, and unnecessary human suffering. And all the while, we taxpayers are underwriting the destruction of our rivers’ precious natural qualities.
It’s time to quit making the same mistakes over and over again.
Tim Palmer|December 2, 2014
GTM Research Reserve Invites Public to Hike the Trails for the Holidays
~Step out of everyday living into the sights and sounds of nature~
The GTM Research Reserve reminds everyone that the holiday season is a great time to bring the family and out-of-town guests to the Ponte Vedra Beach and Marineland reserve sites to explore the trails or to visit the Environmental Education Center’s Exhibit Hall. The five northern trails are located near Guana Dam in Ponte Vedra Beach in St. Johns County. The southern trail is at the River-to-Sea Preserve bordering the town of Marineland at the northern tip of Flagler County.
“The GTM Research Reserve is a wonderful place to visit during the holidays,” said Michael Shirley, Ph.D., director of the GTM Research Reserve. “The Education Center provides a unique indoor activity that is especially popular with children, while the outdoor trails provide a great way for everyone to experience Florida’s beautiful natural environment.”
The GTM Research Reserve encompasses almost 74,000 acres of estuary and uplands, and offers nearly 17 miles of great trails for walking, hiking, biking, horseback riding, dog walking, nature viewing and picnicking.
Trained volunteers give free interpretive trail and beach explorations. Maps are available in the GTM Research Reserve’s Environmental Education Center and at the GTM Marineland field office for hiking on your own. Explorers might see aquatic wildflowers, a tidal salt marsh estuary (where the river meets the sea), great blue herons, snowy egrets, storks, roseate spoonbills, pelicans, owls, deer, gopher tortoises, mussels, clams and oysters.
The trails are open daily from 8 a.m. until sunset. Horses and leashed pets are allowed on the Guana Ponte Vedra Beach trails and dogs are allowed on the trail at Marineland. All pets must be on a 6-foot leash at all times. There is a $3 parking fee per vehicle at the Ponte Vedra Beach site.
Please visit www.gtmnerr.org to download a trail map or to reserve a spot for one of the free guided explorations.
latashawalters |December 5, 2014
An Insurance Policy for Climate Change? How Seed Banks Are Protecting the Future of Food
By now, most Americans know that the world’s rainforests are being cut down at an alarming rate, coral reefs are dying from ocean acidification and warming and the sea is being overfished to the point of exhaustion. We are in the midst of an unprecedented collapse of biodiversity, the largest extinction event since the dinosaurs disappeared from the earth 65 million years ago.
It is essential that we preserve the remaining crop varieties that we still have.
But fewer people have heard about another ongoing mass extinction that involves the foods that we eat. More than 75 percent of the fruit and vegetable varieties that humans once consumed have already gone the way of the woolly mammoth and the saber-toothed tiger, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. And half of all domesticated animal breeds have been lost in roughly the past century.
Apple historian Dan Bussey says that of the 20,000 named apple varieties that have been cultivated in North America, only 4,000 remain. Thousands of varieties of rice once flourished in the Philippines. Today, less than 100 varieties survive. And similar numbers could be cited for virtually all of our food crops.
This massive loss of diversity is — you guessed it — the result of the rapid spread of industrial agriculture and the increasing standardization of the food industry, where unconventional varieties have been squeezed off of supermarket shelves.
A third of the world’s land area is dedicated to agriculture. Farmers’ fields and pastures comprise (after the oceans) the second largest ecosystem on the planet. This vast tract has been largely transformed into sterile monocultural deserts in which all other organisms are suppressed with agrochemicals, and only the cash crop is allowed to thrive. Whether it is soy in the Brazilian Amazon, wheat on the Ukrainian steppes or corn in Iowa, a single high-yield variety typically dominates the landscape for as far as the eye can see.
It is a system that has proven to be fabulously efficient and productive. But this productivity has come at a cost: Once rich soils are quickly being “burned” by the continual application of petroleum-based fertilizers; fresh water aquifers are pumped dangerously low for irrigation; streams are poisoned with herbicides and pesticides and vast dead zones fan out from river deltas like the Mississippi, which drain toxic agricultural residues far out into the sea.
But even apart from this ecological damage, some agronomists question the wisdom of planting only one crop. If the single seed variety that everyone is sowing turns out to be unsuited to future climactic conditions, or lacks resistance to insect and crop diseases which are going to be increasingly on the move into new areas as climate change advances, then we will be out of luck. We won’t have the genetic diversity on hand to breed new, resilient varieties that can withstand the rigors of a climate-changed world.
The roughly 1,750 other seed banks worldwide are functioning as a kind of Noah’s ark.
That’s one reason that it is essential that we preserve the remaining crop varieties that we still have, says John Torgrimson, the executive director of the Seed Savers Exchange, the largest US organization dedicated to preserving heirloom seeds. “While not every traditional variety tastes great or looks great, its genetics may be invaluable 50 or 100 years from now when the climate is different,” Torgrimson told Truthout.
“There are qualities in varieties that we don’t even know about,” he said. “It might be resistant to a particular disease; it may grow well in a particular region; it may have certain traits that will allow us to deal with climactic conditions going forward. Diversity is an insurance policy.”
But it is an insurance policy that has become increasingly hard to come by. In earlier times, farmers saved their own seeds in the fall for replanting in the spring. In the 1930s, a scant 0.5 percent of farmers planted store-bought hybrid seeds, according to Torgrimson. Today, that number has soared to over 90 percent. “Big companies, like Monsanto, Dow and DuPont, are pretty much driving what farmers are growing,” he said. In some cases, farmers are actually forbidden by contract to collect the “patented seeds” from their own harvest for replanting next year.
The end result is that the incredible agricultural creativity demonstrated by farmers painstakingly breeding ever-new varieties of fruits, grains and vegetables over hundreds of generations has now effectively ground to a halt in the United States and much of the developed world, replaced by a small cadre of crop scientists creating commercial varieties in high-tech labs and experimental plots for sale by multinational corporations.
In the face of this growing consolidation, groups like Seed Savers and the roughly 1,750 other seed banks worldwide are functioning as a kind of Noah’s ark to preserve crucial genetic diversity during our current flood of monoculture and high-tech industrial seeds. One organization that is working regionally to preserve the United States’ agricultural legacy is Native Seeds Search, based in Tucson, Arizona, which collects traditional drought-tolerant varieties of corn, wheat, beans and squash (called landraces) for use locally and in other arid areas around the world.
Technology has largely transformed modern farming into an assembly line operation.
The group’s former director, Bill McDorman, told Truthout that they aren’t just saving the seeds; they are also gathering tribal stories about how to grow them, when to plant, how to tend the plants and how to store the harvest.
“There are fields where Hopi blue corn has been grown successfully every year for the past 60 years, with no external inputs, no fertilizer; they never watered it; that’s what they have learned to do over a thousand years, so for us just to take a few of those kernels and say, there are some genes in there that we can use, misses the point,” he said.
These genetic resources, McDorman says, need to be used to seed a new kind of farming modeled on the successful place-based agricultural systems of the past.
“The Hopi elders tell us to share, share, share, get this stuff back out and into a vibrant regional agriculture; that’s the real way to save them,” he said. “In an era when 10 companies own 87 percent of all seed [varieties], it’s time for the rest of us to find what’s left and use that to start our own agriculture based on our own seed-saving.”
Recently Monsanto approached Native Seeds Search to buy rare teocinte seeds, the wild ancestor from which our present-day corn was bred. Modern plant breeders are keen to acquire the hardy forebears of crops, which contain genes that are suited to harsh conditions in the wild. By crossbreeding these resilient weeds with their far less hardy domesticated cousins, breeders hope to produce new varieties that will be suited for survival in a tougher future.
Native Seeds Search “politely turned Monsanto down,” said McDorman, fearing perhaps that the agricultural giant might attempt to patent the teocinte and claim it as its own exclusive “intellectual property.” The group stamps the words, “These seeds are not to be used for commercial development with a patent outcome,” on all of the packets that they sell.
There is little effort to develop locally adapted crop varieties, whose sale would be too modest to interest big agriculture.
To date, Native Seeds Search has preserved 2,000 unique landraces native to the American Southwest. Even more ambitious in scale and global reach is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a facility tunneled under a mountain on the island of Spitsbergen in the Norwegian Arctic, which stores over 783,000 different crop seeds from all corners of the earth. Svalbard founder Cary Fowler conceived of the frozen repository as a backup for regional seed banks worldwide, one place shielded from natural and human disasters where all of the world’s remaining varieties could be securely stored.
Svalbard came none too soon. The rice seed bank in the Philippines was recently destroyed by fire. Afghanistan’s gene bank, which contained hundreds of unique breeds of apricot, almond, melons and plums, was ransacked during the fall of the Taliban. Iraq’s seed facility located in the town of Abu Ghraib was looted and destroyed during the insurgency against US forces.
Last April, the seed bank in the ruined city of Aleppo, Syria — the very region where agriculture is believed to have started 10,000 years ago — shipped its entire collection of barley, fava bean and lentil seeds, along with ancient races of durum and bread wheat, to Norway for safekeeping.
Fowler told Truthout that most other regional seed banks around the world are not faring much better. “If you look at these seed banks, what you see is not a pretty picture. There are virtually none that operate on a secure, multiyear budget,” he said. “Many lack backup cooling systems for when the electricity fails. There is a slow drip, drip of extinction as germination rates decline. That’s just not the way to manage a resource that you may need not just next year, but 50 years from now.”
“They have to get these seeds into the hands of farmers.”
But the biggest problem, Fowler says, is that these facilities have never conducted a genetic inventory of their own collections. He compares it to having a library, but no card catalog to help locate what you are looking for on the shelves. We need a massive research push, he says, to study the traits contained in seeds and ultimately to make use of them in developing new varieties that are suited to future climactic conditions.
But who is going to pay for this? In the past, government sponsored agricultural research, often through the network of state-run land grant agricultural colleges, which bred seeds and developed farming techniques suited to their own regions. These programs, however, have been decimated in recent years.
“The University of Arizona even as late as the ’60s had a state of the art center to study agriculture here in Arizona and produce new varieties for the desert,” said McDorman, the director of Native Seeds Search. “Their funding to do that has been cut every year for the last 17 years. They are down to $5,000 annually to do research on local varieties. Their 1,700-acre state-of-the-art farm was recently leased out to Monsanto to do research on genetically modified cotton for use in North Africa. Why? Because the only money for research nowadays comes from large industry.”
It’s not just state agricultural programs that are being gutted. The same cuts are happening at the federal level as well, according to Fowler. “In the late 1800s, the federal government — we didn’t have a tea party then! — was sending out 20 million boxes of seeds to farmers for experimentation purpose, and this is how we came to have crops that were adapted to all of the ecological niches in this country,” he said.
Nowadays, by contrast, with government effectively out of the research business, there is little effort to develop locally adapted crop varieties, whose sale would be too modest to interest big agriculture. In fact, for many of the fruits and vegetables that we depend on, there is virtually no research at all. “The private sector is focused on a handful of major seed crops [soy, wheat and corn],” Fowler said. “So they are not putting major efforts into quote unquote ‘minor crops,’ which may be minor for them economically, but major crops for the rest of us nutritionally.”
To date, Native Seeds Search has preserved 2,000 unique landraces.
This research gap is especially acute in poorer countries. “What is going to convince big seed companies to put in the investment to produce varieties adapted to ecological niches in Africa when people there can’t even afford to buy the seed?” Fowler said.
His solution: “National seed banks around the world should figure out which traits and seed will be needed [to adapt to changing conditions] and distribute them,” he said. “They have to get these seeds into the hands of farmers and empower them to be the breeders and developers that underdeveloped countries lack because they don’t have a big and viable commercial research sector. They’ll do it. Farmers like to experiment, to try something new; they love that.”
One such farmer-based project is Parque de la Papa or Potato Park, a 22,000-acre, farmer-led potato preserve located in Cusco Valley in the Peruvian Andes where six Quechua communities have banded together to grow more than 600 native breeds, which come in all shapes, sizes and colors, from purple to yellow and red, in the region where potato cultivation began.
Climate change has been warming the Andes, where temperature rises have been documented since the 1950s, forcing farmers to grow their cold-loving varieties at ever higher altitudes. “Farmers in difficult environments such as mountains and drylands are at the front line of climate change,” Krystyna Swiderska, an agricultural specialist at the International Institute for Environment and Development, told Truthout. “They are already experiencing the impacts of climate change and are having to develop ways to adapt.”
In earlier times, farmers saved their own seeds in the fall for replanting in the spring.
During the insurgency of the terror group Sendero Luminoso in the 1980s and ’90s, many highlanders sought refuge in urban areas, abandoning their farms and imperiling many potato varieties, some of which were planted on only a handful of fields and were lost. Fortunately, many other breeds had been preserved by the International Potato Center (CIP) in Lima, which distributed them to farmers after the insurgency ended in 2000.
When the great potato famine led to the starvation of a million people in Ireland during the mid-1800s, most of the potatoes grown on the island were of a single variety, the Irish Lumper, which was susceptible to the blight. In stark contrast, Andean farmers plant a wide diversity of varieties. CIP director Barbara Wells compares it to “modern investors in the stock market, who diversify their investment portfolios to deal with the risk and volatility in the stock market.”
“I plant about 250 varieties of potato,” said farmer Lino Mamani, of the Potato Park. “Planting a diversity of potatoes is vital for food security — it means we will always have food. This practice comes from our ancestors.”
In the past, farmers’ traditional knowledge was largely ignored by agricultural scientists, and viewed as unscientific and untested. Nowadays, there is a growing respect for what they know.
“We view farmers as researchers,” said CIP scientist Stef de Haan. “They are continually innovating and are probably ahead of the curve when it comes to adaptation since they are in the field identifying problems and evaluating options.”
Swiderska, the agricultural specialist, agrees that farmers are some of our best guides to adapting agriculture to a climate-changed future. “Traditional knowledge is holistic, focusing on the interconnections between different parts [soils, water, biodiversity, culture] and on complexity of systems, rather than reductionist like science. It is a different type of knowledge, but just as important,” she said.
Technology has largely transformed modern farming into an assembly line operation, in which farmers have left decisions about which seeds to plant and what pesticides and fertilizers to apply to the big agricultural corporations that supply them.
But now, with climate change disrupting regional agriculture around the world in very different ways, some farmers want to take back the control they had relinquished to big agriculture. They are hoping that, with the help of the incredible seed wealth developed by their ancestors over countless generations, they can continue to feed themselves — and us — in the uncertain years ahead.
Richard Schiffman|December 10, 2014
Putnam set for leadership role in conservation debate
TALLAHASSEE — There are lots of cooks in the kitchen as Florida faces the related tasks of drafting conservation plans along with seemingly incongruous rules for cleaning and preserving water supplies.
Ranchers and developers want to shape any new regulations. Environmentalists want reforms in practice and not just on paper. The king-making business lobby in Tallahassee wants to ensure this spring’s coming debate over water and land conservation doesn’t present any bumps in the road for future growth. And politicians galore are looking for opportunities to claim credit.
Corralling these interests and addressing the state’s potentially crippling water shortages will depend on the political leadership of some key figures.
Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, declared last year the Legislature would act this spring on water policy. Gov. Rick Scott has touted his recommendations for conservation land buying after years of zeroing it out of the budget.
But the politician who will have the some outsized say-so is Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. The Bartow Republican was proselytizing on Florida’s worsening water woes when Scott was campaigning to dismantle Florida’s growth and environmental rules.
While environmentalists have long viewed Florida’s agriculture commissioner position as a mouthpiece for Big Sugar and agriculture interests, the current occupant is well-respected and an all-but-declared serious gubernatorial contender. As evidence of his growing clout, look at what happened at a Cabinet meeting last week.
Scott wanted to vote down a proposed easement agreement to protect 322 acres on a central Osceola County cattle operation called Camp Lonesome. The acreage contains wetlands, prairie and pine flatlands that drain into Lake Marion and eventually the Kissimmee River, a prime target of restoration efforts to save the Everglades.
The governor voted against the project, because he said its $549,000 price tag was too close to the appraised value, and the state should try to cut a better deal. But Putnam then respectfully argued for why voting it down would be dangerous.
He argued if the Cabinet planned to keep approving conservation projects as the real-estate market recovers — and the Amendment 1 mandate voters approved last month means they basically have to — policymakers should stop making arbitrary judgments based on how close the sale gets to the appraised value.
Panther habitat near Naples and bear habitat outside Orlando are going to be more valuable for either ecosystem protection or more intensive development.
“We either need to consider each individual parcel as it is brought to us, or we need to adopt a policy on what we’re willing to pay,” Putnam said. “But we can’t have ambiguity for the landowner who doesn’t know whether they are negotiating in good faith with the state.”
Camp Lonesome proved as much for Scott. The Cabinet overruled him, after Putnam was joined by Attorney General Pam Bondi. “I think we can do better for our taxpayers, but the motion carries,” Scott said, tersely.
Afterward, he said Florida’s 28,000 acres of purchases during his first term showed he supported conservation of environmentally threatened ecosystems.
But this is exactly the kind of land buying that Florida’s agriculture and development industries, Republican policymakers, and the business lobby want. It’s a vision of how Florida will continue to try to have it both ways: remaining a development magnet for retirees while trying to keep from choking off its most threatened spaces.
And Putnam is clearly going to keep wielding outsized influence over the land and water conservation debate.
Aaron Deslatte|Orlando Sentinel
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